In the Modern World, knowledge of other languages and an understanding of different cultures are not optional extras but an essential part of being a citizen. At St Hugh’s we also aim to make learning languages stimulating and enjoyable.
French is taught by four subject specialists to all children as part of the normal school curriculum from Nursery to Year 8. There are three native speakers in the department. This early start not only makes it easier for them to progress in French but facilitates the learning of other languages later in life. By the time they leave pupils should have a clear understanding of French grammar, the confidence to express themselves freely, both orally and in writing, and some experience of communicating in French with both adults and children.
Many of our pupils go on to study foreign languages at A Level and beyond, and to encourage a general interest in languages we offer language clubs from Year 5.
High points of the French Department’s year are the trips to France. We organise two of these, one in Year 6 and the other in Year 7. These visits contribute enormously to the success of the children at Common Entrance and in their scholarship exams.
In Year 6 the children stay in a residential centre outside Paris and follow a programme of educational and cultural visits in order to get them better acquainted with France, its language and culture. They spend two days in Paris visiting the Orangerie, ‘Eiffel Tower’, Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, Montmartre and Sacré Coeur among other sights, and they take a boat-trip on the River Seine.
As part of their introduction to the French way of life, the children spend a morning at a market where they are given euros with which to choose and buy their own lunch. This is a very popular activity and a good opportunity to use their French and do some shopping. They also spend an afternoon in Versailles where they visit the palace and are able to appreciate some of the cultural wealth that France has to offer. We aim to give children as much background information as possible before their departure so that they are able to place their visits in a cultural and historical context. This trip is always a great success.
Children in Year 7 (11-12 year olds) have a French language immersion week in a chateau in Normandy. Here, they follow a programme of activities in French. These include climbing, an assault course, bread-making, archery, rafting, initiative exercises, circus skills and aeroball, as well as visits to a market and to ‘St Malo’. They are under the supervision of French moniteurs, who help them practise the language and become better acquainted with the French way of life. This is always a very popular week. The children leave with a greatly improved ability to speak the language and, more importantly, the confidence to use it.
We have a link with a French school in Paris and in Year 6, during the Easter term, the children exchange correspondence. The letters are a great eye opener for them. They learn about each other’s customs, school and home life in a very informal manner and for all the children of both countries it is a wonderful opportunity to practise the language learnt in the classroom, forge new friendships and broaden their horizons. In addition the topics covered in these letters are a useful preparation for Common Entrance.
The French Department runs revision clubs, catch-up session, a conversation club and for some older pupils a weekly “lunch in French”. In addition, in Year 8, after the Common Entrance exams, all pupils have taster sessions in Spanish and Mandarin. Language-learning is primarily about communication with people from different countries. We aim to make this a positive experience so that the children of St Hugh’s will become outward-looking and eager to gain a lifelong interest in different countries and cultures.