The Grammar School
Learning a Foreign Language at an early age is a gift every child should have. The brain is just waiting to be exposed to language, to mold itself around unfamiliar words and sounds, while the mouth is ready to exercise the muscles and form the letters that a new language demands. Learned early by a child, sounds of a second language come naturally, making older learners of language regret not having begun their studies at this magic age. Language is married to culture: the language students learn is a golden key to a whole world of amazing experiences. For while it is true that one might hear this language occasionally on home turf, the real excitement begins when a student steps on a plane or train and heads to a land where the language they have studied will unlock communication. Our goal at TGS is to prepare for just this moment: to engage with the Francophone, or French-speaking world, and to offer students at least one opportunity while at TGS to use their French in an authentic setting.
Here at TGS, hearing French as much as possible and learning age appropriate points of cultural reference are the mainstays of our program. The youngest children love to sing, color, dance, and listen to stories. For this reason, in preschool, kindergarten, and first and second grades, we sing many children’s songs, create stories about imaginary characters, and do coloring activities based on the stories we have heard. The materials change from grade to grade as children advance, and a smattering of written language begins to appear in the second grade, but the ideas of play, music, history, and culture remain as central themes to our curriculum.
In second, third, and fourth grades we learn topically and in a spiraling fashion: topics must be revisited annually to assure that they are not forgotten. Greetings, talking about ourselves, learning how to say many basic actions typically performed by children, and learning names of animals, which are relevant to a child’s world, make up the body of the vocabulary. A variety of songs, either traditional French songs or songs presented by our French book series (Grenadine and Alex et Zoé), are enjoyed in class, as well as stories to augment and build upon each unit of vocabulary.
Older grades focus on topics corresponding to middle schoolers’ lives. Clothing, music, language about life in school, including class names, teachers, and places, are some of the topics of interest to this age group. Students are challenged to speak, write, read, and continuously work on oral comprehension. Our variety of learning tools, from online computer games to CDs of native speakers, provide constant interaction with the French language.
Further highlights of the French program in recent years have been our ongoing pen pal exchanges with a school in Montreal, Canada. Writing letters and Skyping provide opportunities for self-expression with a native speaker, and a glimpse of life in another country. Cultural exchanges in which TGS children traveled to Canada and Canadian children traveled to visit us have created bonds between families across borders. Additionally, the seventh grade annually travels to Québec, tying geography, history, and language into a tightly wrapped bundle, deepening comprehension and expanding perspectives.
Eventually, students from TGS will take flight into the greater world, taking with them beginning language skills. They will be drawn to other cultures, and perhaps other languages, and use their communication skills to touch other people’s lives. Those interactions will be more meaningful because of the knowledge children have acquired in language classes here at TGS. As Nelson Mandela said: ❝If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.❞