Monday, July 22, 2013

Learning Languages the Charlotte Mason Way - Parents' Review, Programmes, and Miss Mason Herself (Part 2)

In Part 1, I went through Francois Gouin's suggestions regarding foreign language study.  As we know from the programmes, Miss Mason did use his series in her schools, and she approved of many of his methods--particularly in the ways they took a sharp detour from the contemporary approach.  Just to touch on a few points from my last post, I think we can take from Gouin some basic principles of language study for young children; for example,
:: an emphasis on listening and speaking before reading and writing
:: the use of copywork and recitation to cement knowledge
:: the use of narration and visual memory to assimilate the language
:: learning in the context of sentences and series of sentences rather than simple words
:: the delay of grammatical explanations and rules
:: the importance of accent and conversational ability

Now, his prescriptions are very particular: though he did encourage teachers to adapt his content to match their students' experiences (it was very important to him that the series learned be actions the student had personally witnessed or experienced), he did not encourage them to use his methods in ways other than he specified--at least not if the teacher expected the results Gouin promised.  We can understand why, I think, from this passage from "When and How To Begin Modern Languages" by Clara L. Daniell:
"A slight amount of gesture and action will help to give life and stimulate imagination, but to go through the whole series of actions is apt to make the lesson ridiculous. A big girl learning German on the Gouin method, and taking the series "Walking," was balancing herself with great difficulty on one foot while struggling through the sentence 'Ich hebe den rechten Fuss auf.' 'Ich hebe den rechte (hop-hop) das rechtes (hop-hop) die rechten (hop-hop, hop). . .' Of course, she felt tired, disgusted, humiliated, and fully convinced that, for her, at all events, German was an impossible language. I think Gouin might justly exclaim 'Save me from my followers,' for some extraordinary teaching has been inflicted in his name by those who have quite failed to grasp his psychological reasoning or his method."
(As a sidenote--if you look up modern usage of Gouin, you'll find something similar.  Lots of gestures, not a lot of content.)

Of course, we are free to use Gouin's methods however we please in our homeschools, adapting as needed.  BUT we don't want to lose sight of his principles in doing so.  I think we Charlotte Mason homeschoolers can understand this well.  How many parents come to Miss Mason's work super excited about it all...but then soon they're creating unit studies to go with Our Island Story (forgetting narration entirely), having their child memorize chronological lists of artists and composers (forgetting music and art appreciation entirely) and keeping their children so busy with timeline cards and even living books that they rarely have time for free play outdoors or a simple nature walk? We are free to be as CM-ish as we want, more so or less so depending on our family's needs--there are lots of different ways to homeschool!  But if we expect the results Miss Mason promises, we should attempt to understand both her methods and the principles behind them.

So--how can we adapt Gouin in a way that suits our needs yet still grasps his "psychological reasoning" and avoids the "ridiculous"?  I think that's precisely what the PNEU did, and by reading their suggestions, along with Miss Mason's thoughts from Volume 1 and 6, we can gather a host of examples as to how we might do that as well.

I'm going to be referencing the following articles:
:: "How to Learn a Language" by Rev. Henry Bell (I'm actually not quoting him here--his is simply an enthusiastic endorsement of Gouin a year after the work was published into English.  If you want to understand the benefits of Gouin's method, I would suggest this article.)
:: "Nursery French" by Frances Epps
:: As well as Miss Mason's suggestions in Volume 6 (pg. 210-213 and pg. 276) and Volume 1 (pg. 80-81 and pg. 301-307)

It's obvious from reading the Parents' Review articles by teachers (I'm thinking particularly of Daniell) that they had read Gouin's work personally, and the programmes for the years following the publication of his book into English list several pages from Gouin lesson books on the syllabus each term.  For example, the programme for Term 44 includes "The Gouin Method: French Lessons on the Gouin Method, by F. Themoin, Part I., for children (Hachette, 1/2), pages 11-20. Make new sentences with the words learnt in the Series."  So these educators were familiar with "the Series" and had experience with how to use it as one tool among several.  The articles do not agree completely with one another (for example, Daniell suggests starting a second language as young as possible, while Tetley suggests thoroughly grounding the children in English study before starting a second language in later elementary years, and so on), but they agree in most of their suggestions, and I found them to be very useful in thinking through our studies here at home.  So here is a look at some of the other kinds of assignments PNEU teachers were using in their classrooms.

:: Picture lessons.  By this, they refer to a certain activity: a picture is shown to the class, and the teacher describes the scene.  The children do the same, so it becomes a form of narration.  This is a very basic type of narration and was very popular in the early Forms.  
"There is a real comprehension and not mere parrot mimicry in these lessons. For instance, with a class of little girls of seven or eight years of age, the teacher tested the reality of the impression produced by her words in this way. There was a snow scene depicted, and after a few phrases about people and animals walking in the snow, the teacher said in the same tone "L'eglise marche dans la neige." Not one child repeated this in parrot-fashion; with twinkling eyes and a burst of merriment, they enjoyed the absurdity of a church walking in the snow." (Daniell)
But not all picture lessons are created equal:
"Picture lessons are very good for this oral work, but they want to be treated skilfully. Some of the pictures specially prepared by Hoelzel for the teaching of languages are, in my opinion, too full of incident; one cannot be sure that the eyes of the pupils are so excellently under control as to look only at the parts given in the lesson. Even if they were, there is a temptation which the teacher finds hard to resist—that of giving the children too much at a time. For small classes the coloured plates of Christmas numbers of the illustrated papers often serve very well if judiciously selected—scenes that illustrate home-life, with children, dollies, animals, and so on." (Daniell)
:: Literature.  After picture lessons comes literature lessons: the teacher reads a short literary work (first, sentence by sentence, later whole fables or fairy tales), and then the children would narrate in the foreign language.
"Books with plenty of pictures and short tales should be chosen first; then a continuous story of simple words. Division into syllables is very puzzling and makes reading very slow and pronunciation choppy. A book that can be finished in one term is better than a more lengthy one. Stories of French or German history, handled in a skilful manner, can be utilized as the pupils advance, they will respect themselves and their work more if their foreign lessons are not all in story-book form. Conversation is easier about real events, and seems better worth spending time upon." (Daniell)
and from Miss Mason herself:
"Children in Form IIB have easy French Lessons with pictures which they describe, but in IIA while still engaged on the Primary French Course children begin to use the method which is as full of promise in the teaching of languages as in English, that is, they are expected to narrate the sentence or paragraph which has been read to them. Young children find little difficulty in using French vocables, but at this stage the teacher should with the children's help translate the little passage which is to be narrated, them re-read it in French and require the children to narrate it. This they do after a time surprisingly well, and the act of narrating gives them some command of French phrases as far as they go, much more so than if they learnt the little passage off by heart." (Volume 6, pg. 211)
:: Poetry.  
"Poetry should be learned by heart from the earliest lessons. It helps the child to appreciate and understand the sound and rhythm of the language more than anything else; and of course can be made the medium for numberless questions." (Tetley)
:: Vocabulary through conversation.
"In the picture lesson, care must be taken to avoid merely naming the objects represented—the actions must all be brought out vividly, and thus the verbs of every-day use are practised." (Daniell)
"Now, here we must insist on the answer repeating, so far as possible, every word of the question..."Each sentence is followed by a question to which the sentence itself supplies the answer; or, if in question form already, answers must be suggested at first and will soon occur to the children.  In this way the form of each kind of sentence becomes so fixed in the mind that it is reproduced automatically and without conscious effort. Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions fall into their right places. There is no casting about for "quand," "ou," "pourquoi," "comment"—no thinking in the mother tongue to be translated word for word into the foreign speech." (Tetley)
"Again, the child's vocabulary should increase steadily, say, at the rate of half a dozen words a day. Think of fifteen hundred words in a year! The child who has that number of words, and knows how to apply them, can speak French. Of course, his teacher, will take care that, in giving words, she gives idioms also, and that as he learns new words, they are put into sentences and kept in use from day to day. A note-book in which she enters the child's new words and sentences will easily enable the teacher to do this. The young child has no foolish shame about saying French words––he pronounces them as simply as if they were English." (Volume 1, pg. 301)
And for the younger student--and the older too!--this conversation can and should take place out of doors:
"The French lesson may, however, be made to fit in with the spirit of the other out-of-door occupations; the half-dozen words may be the parts––leaves, branches, bark, trunk of a tree, or the colours of the flowers, or the movements of bird, cloud, lamb, child; in fact, the new French words should be but another form of expression for the ideas that for the time fill the child's mind." (Volume 1, pg. 81)
:: Games and fingerplays.  Used for fun, but used sparingly, for "children soon think it very much beneath them to play at lessons, they are quick to feel the pleasure and dignity of work."  At the start, however, games can "help to practise the ear and tongue."  (Daniell)

:: Songs, particularly those with actions.  Songs in the foreign language were a standard part of memory work/recitation, with students learning one or two per term.
"Songs bringing in some of the words learnt in the picture lesson help to vivify the impression, and are a reward for good repetition." (Daniell)
"With regard to songs, they can be made useful sometimes to fix more firmly the lesson of the picture. Following a farm picture, "Il etait une bergere" might be taken...A delightful little pastoral play can be made out of it for little children, too. Other songs in which the actions bring into play the various parts of the body, as in "Savez-vous planter les choux?" or in which the different musical instruments are named, or birds, etc., etc., may be chosen." (Daniell)
:: Grammar through copywork.  According to Daniell, reading and writing should be deferred until age eight (which, incidentally, is about the time a student would be beginning written narrations as well).  Once they have reached that age, though, written work would commence in the Gouin style:
"the blackboard will be wanted, and the sentences referring to the actions in picture or song can be written down...The next step will be to copy the sentences for themselves in writing. Soon they will begin to ask questions about plural endings and agreement of adjectives (not, of course, in that grammatical way, but they are almost sure to notice the differences in spelling), and with skilful leading they can find out reasons and rules bit by bit and will remember them because the joy of discovery will be theirs." (Daniell)
:: Conversation with a native speaker.  The common use of a French governess to teach the little ones isn't practical for most of us, but I wonder whether an hour conversation session weekly with a native speaker might be possible.
"It is not often advisable that young English children should be put into the hands of a French governess or nurse; but would it not be possible for half a dozen families, say, to engage a French lady, who would give half an hour daily to each family?" (Volume 1, pg. 302)
:: A careful emphasis on pronunciation.
"When reading is begun, the greatest care must be taken for the first year that the child should not attempt to pronounce the words till he has heard them from the teacher. First impressions are wonderfully strong, and prevention is better than cure. Even after two or three years' practice it is better for the teacher to read first." (Daniell)
:: Plays.  Francis Epps has some delightful suggestions on how to implement play-acting in a foreign language, including even some charming examples!  (Angela--you need to take a look! :))  She also describes her reasoning behind such assignments:
"It is difficult to find anything more delightful to children than all "pretend" games, in which they have the bliss of "being" someone else. This love of impersonation may well be turned to account to help on the Nursery French, by arranging little plays in which the mother takes a leading part, and also prepares the little actors before they begin, prompts them during the performance, and by thoughtful as well as playful repetition fixes the new words or sentences in their memory." (Epps)
and others suggest such activities as well:
"Plays are useful to counteract that excessive shyness in speaking a foreign language which seems part of the heritage of a free Briton. A good deal of effort and concentration will be wanted to master the parts, but I have known this concentration to be amply repaid by the real hold the phrases have taken, and the consciousness of knowing something has given an immense impetus." (Daniell)
:: Travel.  Would that we could all jet off to a foreign locale for a little real-life conversation... :)
"Help at home in conversation is most valuable, and something might be done in the holidays. There are many delightful spots in Brittany or Normandy where summer holidays might be spent." (Daniell)
Lots of great suggestions, no?  I think that a combination of these methods will keep us plenty busy over the new few years!

Speaking of, before I wrap this up, I want to touch briefly on what Miss Mason's schools were assigning to and expecting of their older students.  Here's a section from Volume 6 that gives some insight into what a high schooler's lesson might look like:

"The French mistress gives, let us suppose, a lecture in history or literature lasting, say, for half an hour. At the end the students will narrate the substance of the lecture with few omissions and few errors. Here is an example of the sort of thing Mr. Household heard, on the occasion of a short visit to the House of Education, Ambleside,––
'A French lesson was given to the second-year students by the French mistress, a native of Tournal, who came to Ambleside in 1915. She had been teaching in England for some years but had not previously come into contact with Miss Mason's methods. Those methods were exactly followed during the lesson. There was the book of recognised literary merit, the single reading, and the immediate narration––of course in French. The book was Alphonse Daudet's Lettres de Mon Moulin, and the story read was 'La Chèvre de M. Seguin.' Before the reading began, a few––a very few––words of explanation were given––of course, in French. Then nine pages of the story were read straight through by the mistress, without pause or interruption of any kind, at the same pace that one would read an English story. The students followed by ear only: they had no books. As soon as the reading ended, on the instant, without hesitation of any kind, narration began in French, different members of the class taking up the story in turn till it was finished. All were good; some astonishingly good. To all French was a tongue in which they could think and speak with considerable facility. Yet the time given to French is two hours and three quarters a week only. Such results compel attention. It may be added that last year the writer heard a history lecture on the reign of Louis XI given in French by the same mistress to the then senior students, and the content of the lecture was narrated in a similar manner, with the same astonishing success.'" (Volume 6, pg. 212-3)

and from earlier on:
"Each Form has its own texts to read and narrate, so students are building on their skills from the early years and applying them to literatures in the foreign language: Thus Form II is required to 'Describe in French, picture 20.' 'Narrate the story Esope et le Voyageur.' Part of the term's work in Form III is to 'Read and narrate Nouveaux Contes Français, by Marc Ceppi.' Form IV is required amongst other things to "Read and narrate Moliere's Les Femmes Savantes.' Forms V and VI are required to 'Write a résume' of Le Misanthrope or L'Avare,' 'Translate into French, Modern Verse, page 50, 'Leisure.'" (Volume 1, pg. 211-212)
So narration remains the main method of learning--this is the listening/speaking portion of the studies.

According to the programmes, the reading/writing portion usually takes the form of tried-and-true traditional grammars and exercises:
"I have hardly touched on the question of grammar—of writing exercises—of composition—of translation. There is no doubt that, however much we may try to clear away the thorns and nettles, there will still be a pretty thick hedge to be struggled through—still a considerable amount of rules and difficulties that nothing but sheer grind can conquer. One of the most ardent of the reformers of modern language teaching was asked, "What do you do about French irregular verbs?" "You must ram them in," was the reply." (Daniell)
And literary readings form a large component as well: in the case of Italian, the task of students in Form IV and V (high school) might be, for example, "Read three cantos from Dante's Il Purgatorio and compare with Longfellow's translation."

This certainly gives me something to aim for!

Soon I will be back with Part 3: our Italian plans for this year (second grade), as well as some resources I'm hoping to include in the future.  In the meantime, please do share if you have suggestions--I would love to hear them!

Update: here's Part 3 - Designing a Course of Study!


  1. Both your posts on this are very helpful. Thanks!

  2. Thank you so much! I did a hurried post on foreign language acquisition on my own CM blog last week, but this one is so much more thorough! Thanks for doing all that legwork for us!


    1. Thanks, Megan! Someone linked your post last week on the forums--good stuff! I think we read most of the same articles. :) I saw some other really interesting-sounding articles on the PR lists, but unfortunately, they're not available online yet. And it's nice to see that you guys are doing Italian too! I'm planning to talk more about Italian specifically next time--basically the various resources I've cobbled together for us to use so far. ;) I just wish there were a CM-friendly Italian course for kids out on the market right now. (And if you find one, please do let me know!)

  3. Thank you for all the research you've done. I'll be using this as I plan our studies in Spanish.

  4. I am planning studies on Korean and German in our first year of homeschooling and was struggling with how to do this the CM way - your series has been very, very helpful. Thank you!!

    1. How have your Korean plans gone? My husband is Korean, but I am the primary teacher (more of a facilitator as far as Korean goes) for our kids. The oldest is 4 so I am starting to look ahead and see where we want to go and how best to get there, both with teaching them and with my own studies. Korean is a very difficult language, so I would love to hear about your experience these past couple of years!

  5. Ah, so helpful!! I've been reading some of the passages you referenced from Mason, with my focus more on the study of the ancient languages. As much as possible (with a dead language), many of these same approaches can be (and likely would have been) utilized in the study of Latin and Greek, but it seems she only speaks obliquely of them here. I have been impressed with her use of narration (in the foreign tongue), and had not even considered the other CM methods involving copywork and picture lessons. Of course these would be part of the process! This is a wonderfully thorough article!

    1. I know you have thought a lot about language learning, so thanks so much for your kind comments. This is a topic I have been really interested in ever since embarking on Italian with my kids, and several years later, we are still using these same methods. I'm loving the CM approach to languages. :)

  6. This is so good and so helpful, Celeste! Thank you for sharing this information with us! As someone who does not speak a foreign language and would like a boxed or scripted (with audio, of course) way to implement this, would you recommend Cherrydale Press? (We are going to do Spanish).

    1. I just replied over on your FB question, Kelly, but yes, as long as they still offer the mp3s for Spanish, I think you could use it as a non-speaker. Series are really ALL about learning through repetition, so it's definitely scripted and would be helpful -- especially when combined with some other audio resources like songs, rhymes, or picture books read aloud in Spanish, all of which you can find on YouTube, Librivox, etc. If you take a bit of time and set up a page of links for yourself, then play a couple things a day and practice your series, I think you could make some good progress and it wouldn't take you much prep work! I hope that helps. :)