04 June 2007

And Another Curriculum We've Finished Is...

The Easy French. This was used by my 7 year old.

Actually, we finished this curriculum a couple of months ago. I've been meaning to comment on it, but, well, I haven't been able to get my thoughts together on it. The problem is that I don't like, but I don't have a good reason for not liking it, so it's been hard to say much coherent about it.

It really is an easy program to use. You get a book and 2 CDs. The CDs have the audio on them, as well as some worksheets. I had a tough time downloading the worksheets to my Mac, and the CDs wouldn't work in our normal CD player -- I had to use the portable one in the kitchen (not a problem, since we typically listened to the CDs over breakfast).

The program is more of a "whole to parts" introduction to French. "Whole to parts" is often touted by Waldorf as the way to go for any sort of second language, and it does have a certain charm. But, really, it can also drive you nuts over the long run. It's one thing to have a native speaker talking to you live, when you can pause and ask the speaker, "umm, excuse me, but why did you say that phrase in that way?" and quite another to be stuck with several hours of pre-recorded conversation.

Not that you're just wallowing in French conversation without a clue what's going on. The program uses a diglot weave rather like Power-Glide Junior Adventure (in other words, much of the story is in English, with some French woven in). After listening to the story, the French vocabulary and English translations are played. The book has all of the story written out, all of the vocabulary, some explanation of French language and customs, and some suggestions for extensions, such as cooking meals, reading other books, checking out websites, and phrases to practice around the house.

The book also has phonograms in the style of Writing Road to Reading. This seems like a great idea, since one of my huge stumbling blocks with French is how in the heck to pronounce it. We ended up not using these flashcards, though, since I was using the program with a child who did not yet read English. And there, perhaps, is one of the big reasons the program didn't do much for us -- we skipped pretty much all of the written work because Kid2 couldn't read and write yet, at least when we started the program. Most of the written work is pretty mild -- much of it has to do with drawing pictures and labelling them It really wouldn't be a problem for an elementary student with a good grasp of how to form letters.

Most of the spoken CD storyline is performed by 2 women. Later on a man enters the scene to read some parts, and one lesson also features a girl. But, aha, the stories typically feature multiple characters, some of whom are young boys. So, one is trying to follow a conversation between various people without an audio cue as to who the characters are -- you have to figure it out from the context of what is said. And I do wonder if listening to so few voices helped us or hurt us with our accents. After all, one of the speakers was apparently incapable of saying the word "library" in English (she pronounced it "liberry", which drove me absolutely nuts), so how do I know that they weren't making mistakes in French?

The story line is a mixed bag. We start out listening to conversations between a girl and her cat; these conversations take place in France. My kids were enchanted -- we're a cat-centric family, and the kids are girls, so they could immerse themselves in the concept. Then, after a few lessons, the girl announces she's moving back to Montreal and leaving the cat. Ack! Ick! You don't just pick up and move away, leaving pets behind!

Now, perhaps the authors assumed that everyone knows you don't leave pets behind, so they felt no need to be explicit that the cat is staying with Family XYZ, but, y'all, I know people who pull stunts like this. They are low-life scum, to be sure, but they think nothing of just packing up and leaving companion animals to fend for themselves.

"Or perhaps," you say, "the authors didn't want to come across as preachy, you know, about how people should live their lives." Hah. Preachiness is not an issue in this curriculum, believe me. One entire lesson features 2 young boys (voiced by the 2 women who perform most of the CDs) jabbering away about how blessed one boy was to have such a wonderful mother. Now, really, when I hear kids jabbering away whilst playing, discussing how they are "blessed", I think tend to think that whoever wrote the scenario must assume Christians children are lobotomized. Ick, again. Y'all, we are a Christian family, but I feel no need to have my kids spoonfed insipid conversational models. My kids have caught on, y'know? Overall, I'd say the curriculum isn't usable for secular purposes, due both to the conversations on the CDs and the teaching hints (which explain what virtues our children should be cultivating, just in case, you know, we've forgotten them since we haven't been reminded for the last 10 minutes). I'd rather have a more secular curriculum to which I can add my own theology.

The CDs also feature some French songs. My 7 year old adored this feature, and we danced around singing Sur le Pont d'Avignon more times than you can imagine. The CDs also feature a pronunciation guide which we didn't use since we weren't using the phonograms, as well as various segments of word groups that reinforce vocabulary and pronunciation.

One of our favorite parts was the use of idioms. The program does a great job of using and explaining some expressions like "mon petite choud" (bonus: some of these expressions are used on Star Trek Next Generation, and now we're clued in to what they mean). We also liked the ideas for cooking (the book even includes good recipes). We didn't do any of the crafts suggested, although they looked interesting. We did visit many of the websites suggested. I think the curriculum does a great job of giving homeschoolers a taste of the culture.

So, thumbs up for learning about French culture and some French folk songs and idioms. Thumbs down for insipid story lines that often assume we'll forget we're Christians if we're not constantly reminded.

1 comment:

km said...

I commented here months ago...wen I didn't realize there were so many knit/homeschoolers. I found Marie Grace...and I've joined the ring. Who knew...well, I guess you did say there were many "unsocialized knitters" in the internet...so I just needed to find some. I come back every now and then to read your curriculum comentary. Thanks for doing that. I know there's so much out there...but it's alwyas nice to hear what real people have to say about a program and not just what the advertizers want you to think. km