Fran�oise Duffell answers a reader’s query about what to look for in a residential language course for her and her family...
Q)I would like to arrange a languagelearning holiday in France for myself, my husband and two children, aged 5 and 7. I have done some research and it looks like the most intensive method would be a residential course but there are lots available and it’s hard to know what to look for. What sort of things should I be considering when choosing the course and what sort of preparation should we do as a family? from: Mrs B Griffin
A)As you know from your research there are indeed many methods available to improve your French. The huge range of books, CDs and classes are convenient and relatively easy to use. They have their place but a residential course that immerses you in the French language and culture provides one of the best foundations to language learning. Many people consider them to be the best way to significantly improve your French in a relatively short period of time. The exposure to French that a residential course provides will improve your basic language skills and probably most importantly, it will build your confidence. This seems to be one of the most important factors when learning a language. When choosing your course, look for one that covers the needs of all your family. A course that has a good combination of teaching hours, activities and excursions would be a good choice for you. As your children are younger, they would benefit from a balance of tuition time and fun activities that reinforce the lessons of the classroom. If you capture their attention and keep them engaged, then learning French will be a pleasure for them. Look for a course that provides separate tuition for adults and children. This type of course would be most suitable for you as it is likely your children are a different level from yourselves and also children learn in a different way from adults. Also, it’s a good idea to look for a course that arranges for your children to spend time with French children of a similar age who have little or no English. Children have an extraordinary ability to absorb information and generally do not suffer with the inhibition and self-consciousness that we do as adults so this type of exposure can be helpful for your children. The other point to consider is the benefit of having separate tuition for you as parents. If you are not in the same class as your children, the natural instinct as a parent to protect and assist them is not an issue. You will have your own time and space to learn, in a way that suits you, without worrying about your children. If you decide on a course where the family has separate tuition, make sure that your social time, activities and excursions are spent together. That way it will seem more like a holiday rather than a learning experience. The activities and excursions should be an opportunity for you all to listen, understand and speak French. For example, a visit to a local market is a great opportunity to fully absorb the language and culture. With the wide range of courses available, I would advise you to look for a course that has an experienced native language teacher. You will be more likely to try and communicate with them in French and less likely to lapse into English, and who better to teach you their own language? They will be very keen for you to achieve good pronunciation and should give you tips to achieve this. If you feel confident in your pronunciation you are more likely to speak French and after all this is the purpose of the course.