Grammar school students learn French for the fun of it

January 17, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Of all the classes offered by the Freedom Area Recreation Council this winter, second-grader Daniel Neeley chose French.

"He likes things that are unusual, something where he stands out a little bit," said his mother, Linda Neeley. "Kids like to know something other kids don't know."

Most children in Carroll elementary schools don't know a foreign language, because no schools offer it as part of the curriculum. The earliest foreign language classes are in eighth grade, and even then, Spanish is the only one.

The void has been filled only now and then, when parent groups or recreation councils offer language classes, said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary education.

Linda Powers, an Eldersburg mother and one-time elementary school teacher, volunteered to teach French through the recreation council.

Children from throughout South Carroll have signed up for the six-week session. The classes meet after school Tuesdays at Piney Ridge Elementary School.

After his first lesson Tuesday, Daniel Neeley was displaying his newfound skills before he even left the classroom, as he read to his mother the first sentence he learned:

"Le drapeau de France est bleu, blanc et rouge."

Translated into English, that means "The French flag is blue, white and red."

It was duplicated in the name tags the children wore, which said, "Je m'appelle Daniel." Or Christine. Or Jennifer.

Mrs. Powers, whose children attend Eldersburg Elementary School, said she knew the council members had wanted to offer the class some time ago, but didn't find anyone to teach it.

In the meantime, her daughter, Christine, 7, kept asking her mother to teach her to speak French.

"She's my inspiration," Mrs. Powers said. But she figured she might as well teach a few more children as well.

"I thought it would be a lot more fun to involve other children. I really enjoy working with children," she said. "It is the greatest reward I can think of."

Mrs. Powers also believes children should be introduced to foreign languages as early as possible.

"The world's getting smaller," she said, noting that children in other countries often learn English and sometimes a third language along with their native languages in school.

"I started in the fourth grade, in public elementary school in New York," she said. "Everybody took a foreign language.

"I think the early introduction to it enabled me to stay with it," she said. "It was more fun than just taking it for a grade in high school."

On the first day of class, Mrs. Powers taught the children the sentence about the flag.

She played a tape and turned the pages of a corresponding book about a teddy bear character that started with beginning French conversational phrases.

"When she says it's very easy, I don't agree with her," Mrs. Powers told the children as she put the tape on pause.

"So if you don't get it right away, don't think it's very easy," she said. "By the end of six weeks, you'll be able to listen to this and understand it."

Mrs. Powers said the purpose of her class is to introduce the children to French, to the sound of it.

"I'm not putting emphasis on speaking it," she said. Listening is more important, she said, and children learn their native languages first by listening and understanding months before they can speak.

Carroll schools have no plans to offer foreign language in elementary grades any time soon, but it is a worthy consideration, Mrs. Mangle said.

"It is one approach to building children's language skills," she said. "Many times when you study a foreign language, you improve your English language skills."

Studying a foreign language causes children to pay more attention to structure, vocabulary and other aspects of their native language that they may have previously taken for granted, she said.

Mrs. Neeley said that Daniel was surprised at how many French words are used in English, and how close the two languages are.

And he was impressed that his mother recognized a few French words, such as blanc, which means white.

Jennifer and Peyton Zeher, who attend Liberty Christian School, learned some French while living in France last year. Their father, Michael, an engineer, was working there.

Martha Zeher, their mother, said she was glad for the opportunity to enroll them in the French class, although Jennifer is also taking Spanish at Liberty Christian, where she is a fourth-grader. Peyton is in first grade.

"I thought it would be a waste if they learned it there [in France] and didn't continue it," Mrs. Zeher said.

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