We use a modern, flexible communicative approach consistent with the CEFR framework and guidelines in all our programs. Our methodology integrates a series of effective, class-proven techniques to optimize the learning process during instructional time online and ensure both a productive and enjoyable experience for children. Our approach emphasizes:

  • the development of strong communicative skills at an early stage vs. a descriptive knowledge of the language
  • a classroom setting that is conducive to constant oral interaction
  • a functional / notional approach to language material consistent with the CEFR can-do level descriptors
  • communicative activities as the most important part of instructional time
  • periods of active memorization of class material through repetition and pattern drills
  • the development of bilingual skills to facilitate the acquisition of language structures
  • student involvement in the program, during and after the class
Little girl learns french online with her mom at her side.

A communicative approach

Communicate in French right from the start

The primary goal is the development of students’ communicative competence – in other words, their ability to interact and convey meaning effectively in real-life situations with ordinary native speakers. All aspects of the course - syllabus, methodology and classroom activities - are geared towards that goal.

Communicative activities are initiated at an early stage in the learning process. However basic the lesson is, students are encouraged to use the class material during oral 'communicative' activities that simulate real-life interaction. Communicative skills in the four major language strands (listening, speaking, writing, reading) are described extensively in the CEFR framework.

In-person Children sitting in front of their computer with their French teacher online.

Interactive classroom setting

Small class sizes

A small group setting allows students to participate often and long enough. With a maximum of 5 participants in our online Zoom classes, we are confident that every child benefits from an ideal balance between the fun, lively atmosphere of a group and the need for frequent oral participation.

Interactive Core French class illustrating the communicative approach

U-shaped classroom

A communicative language teaching based classroom is configured to facilitate frequent interaction not only with the instructor but among students themselves during pair work or round-table discussions: tables are arranged in a U-shaped setting where everyone can view one another. Online, the use of quality HD microphone and camera contribute to recreate the interactive conditions of the physical classroom.

Supportive resources

Visual resources such as posters, flashcards, or simple notes on the whiteboard (grammar patterns, rule reminders, etc.) also play an important role in keeping conversation going during group activities. In the physical classroom, they are displayed on places easily visible to students to rely on when needed. In the virtual classroom, the teacher will make extensive use of the Zoom interactive whiteboard and annotations on portions of the screen shared.

Language functions and contextualization

Communicative functions

Rather than grammar and structures, the communicative approach focuses on the functional aspects of the language and identifies a series of communicative functions or language needs that vary in scope and are presented as 'can-do' skills transferable to different situations: for example, expressing likes and dislikes, introducing oneself, asking for information, etc.

Importance of context

Context is key in the communicative approach and functions are always described and practiced within a specific communicative context that takes socio-cultural and pragmatic variants into account (status of interlocutors, intention of speaker, language style, degree of formality, etc.) A well-known example is the ability to give basic information about oneself in the context of the classroom (with new classmates) or during an administrative meeting.

Communicative activities in the French class

Constant exposure to and oral interaction in the target language is key to assimilating class material and building strong foundations in the second language. Communicative activities aim to amplify opportunity for oral interaction in class by setting recurrent 5 to 10-minute periods of uninterrupted, guided, oral practice in French.

Example of supportive material for a communicative activity in the French class

Nature of activities

Activities are only limited by the teacher’s creativity. They can include simulations, role-play, problem-solving tasks, mock interviews, surveys and opinion-sharing, etc. Each activity focuses on a distinct topic with a clear communicative purpose.

Resources for conversation

Resources are meant to trigger conversation and provide enough material to avoid blanks and the occasional awkwardness for students to quickly have to quickly something to say in English even before figuring out how to say it in French. They include a variety of authentic or educational documents – short video clips, postcards, tickets, commercials.

In the Core French class, communicative activities are best supported by small, visual scenarios supplemented by quick review cards or notes on the board as needed. Either laminated resources or screenshared applications or documents online, their benefit lies in the constant use of distinct visual cues – images, pictures, pictograms - to represent language material and convey meaning. They are a great tool to maximize class time and keep the fun going in French.

Trial and error as a natural part of the learning process

Generally, our instructors show tolerance for inaccuracies in form or pronunciation each time the student manifests a communicative intent during the interaction. Our philosophy is that errors should never prove a brake to oral communication as systematic correction of errors can be detrimental to the development of fluency and confidence in students’ oral skills. Typically, errors will not be ignored but rather recorded and addressed in due time, at appropriate stages of the session:

Handling of errors during instruction time

Minor errors

When they are not a hurdle to conveying the meaning intended, minor errors in grammar form may be overlooked during an interaction or treated at strategic points of the activity (e.g. when everyone has taken a turn in a round table conversation).

Flash corrections

Quick and very occasional flash corrections are fine for punctual, obvious errors (word ending, conjugation tense, word missing) for short interactions if they don’t interrupt the flow of communication.

Deferred corrections

FSL instructors will resort to undisruptive strategies to address recurring errors in a timely manner during oral interaction: for example, by including in their own answer the element improperly used by a student and providing an immediate error-free version.

Recurring or significant errors

Some errors may compromise the flow of communication when they are too frequent or obvious. During communicative activities, the student is invited to rephrase his sentence or clarify meaning using basic, familiar phrases (e.g., Vous pouvez répéter, s’il vous plait ?) – just like a native speaker would. Recurring errors will be explicitly addressed during grammar lessons and targeted activities.

Exposure to French and the role of English during the class

A balanced approach

Using English occasionally for clarification can contribute significantly to the efficiency of the course, particularly at the beginner levels. As students gain more fluency in French, the teacher gradually switches to French as the medium language during lessons.

At the beginner level, it is critical to arrange from the start strategic times when French is the only language spoken in class: this is the main purpose of communicative activities but it can also take place during systematization exercises, pattern drills or vocab review.

When do instructors use English

Translation and importance of visual cues

Typically, new language material is always translated into English to ensure clarity and accuracy in meaning. However, visual cues quickly take over as students get familiar with the word they are associate with and they provide the basis for most oral activities during the session. From the initial stage, vocabulary words or expressions are presented in writing alongside an image, symbol or pictogram that provide the basis for most oral activities in the rest of the unit.

English as a medium language

Spoken English is used at the beginner level but always confined to specific stages of the session – grammar lessons, socio-cultural explanations or to clarify instructions for example. During practice activities, students are encouraged to seek clarification in French using basic phrases instead.

A methodological tool to develop bilingual skills

At a more advanced level, English comes in handy to address the more structural aspects of the language (syntax, verb conjugation, idioms). The instructor may use translation to point out the differences and similarities between both languages, allowing students gain a deeper understanding of the underlying grammar and overall a more accurate, functional knowledge of their second language. Regular translation-based exercises and oral pattern drills will also help students develop bilingual reflexes and improve oral communication skills.