View Lessons by Subject > World Languages > Relevance
(French): I have observed that teenage girls prefer to talk about themselves more than any other topic, and that they give their best effort and excel the most when they are given license to personalize the topic. This can pose a challenge in a foreign language class when the objective is to master a given set of vocabulary that has little to do with a girl’s interests (how to shop for groceries, for example). There are several practices that I employ in my classroom to motivate girls to learn.

First, every attempt is made to keep the lesson in the target language (in this case, French). The girls are permitted to discuss just about anything they like as long as they express themselves in French. Mom made her mad? Computer crashed? Favorite TV show was on last night? All of these topics are fair game for class discussion because the conversation takes place in French. Many girls are eager to jot down new vocabulary words they need to express an idea. Others will comment that a particular word that they know from a different context suddenly makes more sense in the conversation. Similarly, writing assignments are also personalized. If the essay is meant to practice a particular verb tense, for example, the girls are free to write about a topic of their choosing as long as they demonstrate competence using that particular verb tense in writing. Additionally, during the year the class reads a novel about a teenage American girl who spends the summer with a host family in France and who must navigate the kinds of social situations to which the students are accustomed. There are, obviously, times when a specific set of vocabulary simply must be learned whether the girls like it or not: social skills for navigating French society politely (the use of “bonjour, Madame” when entering a shop, for example)

Every attempt is made to maintain high-interest vocabulary. A vocabulary list of foods, for example, is incomplete if it does not include a teenage girl’s favorite snack foods, yet it will also include traditional French snacks. This permits a measure of familiarity when formulating a vocabulary list while maintaining a logical progression (one might not enjoy eating Brussels sprouts, but it is certainly useful to know how to say that word lest one encounter the vegetable on a menu!).

A specific example of this practice is a lesson in which students learn how to manipulate adjectives with irregular endings - dry and boring on a good day. Each student creates a Power Point presentation that is a family album. They choose photographs of members of their families. Pets are often included. They must write sentences to describe each photograph incorporating the irregular adjectives. They then record a narration so that I am sure they are pronouncing the adjectives correctly. On presentation day, everyone wants to go first, and the girls are so proud of their “albums photos.”
(Spanish): The difference between the Imperfect of the preterite and the preterite tense in Spanish is perhaps the most challenging concept any second-year Spanish student must learn. The differences, while not necessarily subtle, reside mainly in the context of the sentences and often require an understanding of nuance that a second-year Spanish student rarely has any way of knowing. You can explain the rules any way you want, but in order to solicit the *click* that indicates that, by golly, this 15-year-old person has gotten it, you need to find text that is both highly relatable and exciting. To that end, the young ladies of my Spanish 2 class were told to find a song in Spanish that used both tenses, and were instructed to prepare a presentation in the target language that explained why each tense was used and the context in which it was used. They were also instructed to bring in a 30 second clip of the song they had chosen.

The songs chosen by the students varied in genre from cutting edge regeatón to the most staid and clichéd boleros. On average, they admitted to having had to listen to 4 or 5 songs before finding an appropriate one to use. Their understanding of the context in which the songs used the imperfect and the preterite came easily, and the drudgery of grammatical analysis was alleviated, at least for a little, with song. The presentations forced the students to operate completely in Spanish for their duration, but without being onerous or heavy handed. The lesson included laughter throughout, as pop song after pop song was taken apart.