The Easy French
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Charlotte Mason and foreign language

Charlotte Mason recommended using the theories of François Gouin. His work is recorded in his book entitled L´art d'enseigner et d'étudier les langues (1880). It differs from the Berlitz method in that the Berlitz method uses object lessons, while Gouin methods are more in-depth. This discussion will give you a view into Monsieur Gouin's methods.

His journey was an interesting one. He was a professor of Latin who lived in France in the nineteenth century. Using the methods he had used for teaching Latin, he traveled to Germany and began learning German by memorizing a German grammar book and the 248 irregular German verbs. At the end of a vigorous 10 days he emerged from his room to try his new found knowledge by attending a lecture at the Hamburg University. He did not understand one word, nor could he distinguish any of the irregular verbs.

He went back to his room to try again. This time he drew on his knowledge of how he had learned Greek by tackling the Greek roots. He then decided to memorize eight hundred German roots and, of course, he would need to rememorize the grammar book and irregular verbs. He felt that "the foundations of the language, as well as the laws and secret of its forms, regular and irregular" would give him sure success. He again did not understand one word!

His next attempt was conversation with the locals. This turned out to be very humiliating. He then decided to translate Goethe and Schiller, but to no avail. This still did not help him converse with the German people. He then spent months memorizing a book of dialogues; this did not work either. He spent another month memorizing the thirty thousand words in a dictionary. He stated after this attempt, "…I understood not a word-not a single word!" He tried reading again, but still the communication barrier stood.

He went home to France, in his eyes, a failure. His homecoming brought an amazing revelation to him. He discovered that while he was gone, his three year old nephew had developed into a little chatterbox. He studied child language acquisition and attained many insights. He discovered that he and all other language teachers were teaching the wrong way!

Monsieur Gouin's method has as foundation the "Gouin Series" or what he calls the "language series." These series take basic life tasks and divide them into steps. Learning occurs by actually performing the action or visualizing it intensely while speaking. This method differed widely from the neo-Humanistic method of grammar-translation that was so prevalent at the time, and still continues to inundate our foreign language methods. Monsieur Gouin believed that the lessons should start with a domestic series. The child obviously first learned from those around and therefore he felt it was a great start.

Many programs interpret these directions by having elaborate drawings for the child to view. This is not in keeping with the Charlotte Mason Method nor is it what Monsieur Gouin desired. Watching the action or creating enough of a verbal description that the child can picture the action was his goal. The Gouin Series has deeper parameters than this simple explanation though.

Presenting the subject matter to children in a comprehensive way in order to elicit the desired actions and/or thought is a difficult task. If we give children pure French sentences and ask them to do actions that would demonstrate these sentences or ask them to think upon these actions, they would tire of such an exercise quickly! As Charlotte Mason is famous for saying, "Don't bore children with twaddle!" Mr. Gouin suggested using the native language as a means for bridging to the desired language. In this way the comprehension is retained, yet new language is learned. Translating this theory into a lesson we would describe our scene, yet interject foreign language words, thus giving comprehension and new learning.

This bridge also gives the student permission to use words and phrases in the context in which they are taught. It shows them how to integrate the French language into their world. On page 74, Monsieur Gouin states, "To learn a given language is to translate into this language the whole of our individuality." He did not say translate sentences, but translate the whole of your individuality. The translation of our actions, manner and culture into that language is the key in understanding how the language works and how we work in that language.

Many curriculums do not include the culture of the language. This is a grave error in that the whole of the person is expressed through the language. If you do not understand the people, you will not understand how to speak in that language. For example, the French are very particular in their distinction between acquaintance and friend. Their language and the manner in which they express themselves, both verbally and in writing, reflect this. Missionaries know this fact all too well. It has been the deciding factor of salvation or damnation in many peoples.

Monsieur Gouin also stressed the lesson be done in context and relationship. As children originally learned language with these aids, they should learn their second language in the same fashion. Although Monsieur Gouin never suggested using stories in order to teach these lessons, I believe that Charlotte Mason would have been pleased if such a characteristic could be added to the lesson. Miss Mason suggested that a French nanny be hired amongst a couple of families in order for French to be taught to their children. Since that is impossible for most of us, then we must find another solution. The telling of stories, I believe, is that solution.

Monsieur Gouin's series were also directed to be in logical succession. The character and properties of the exercise, in addition to its development must be taken into account. Learning masses of disjoined words with no purpose does not aid a student in remembering the language, even if they remember the lesson. If the goal of instruction is to get through the lesson, then memorization will suffice. However, if it is learning the language then development and meaning must be addressed. The series we learn must be in relation to our world and experiences, and have relation to what we will need to learn to communicate with the foreign person.

A great quote of Monsieur Gouin's is: "the frequency of repetition of each term is proportional to the relative value of this term…" page 76. Monsieur Gouin stressed the importance of using high frequency words. The words that the foreigners used the most often in their language, and not a translation of our own high frequency word lists, is what Monsieur Gouin desires for the student to learn. What good is it to use the words we most use in our language, if they are of low frequency in the foreign language? This is another area that the neo-Humanistic method fails.

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