Friday, July 25, 2008

French by Immersion

Language professor Pierre J. Capretz of Yale University is both a pioneer and a genius.

In 1987, he developed a video-based French immersion curriculum called French in Action. FIA is lively, fun, and (most importantly) involves learning French by a method of immersion that blends classroom-type instruction with being thrown into real situations involving real French people, all vicariously through video. Thus, the student learns to speak the language by involving gestures, humor, facial expressions, and cultural ways of communication that go way beyond conjugations, drills, and vocabulary.

FIA has become a "cult classic" among French students, and although the series is now over 20 years old, it continues to be used in universities and on public TV as a vehicle for learning the French language. The use of the "natural method" combined with an engaging story that draws the students into the narrative is similar to Hans Oerberg's approach to Latin that I use with my middle school students.

I first ran across the videos a few years ago while at seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (the local public library there is absolutely top-notch!). I found FIA to be extraordinary.

A reader of Father Hollywood (I don't know if "Donna" wishes to be identified) tipped me off just recently that the entire FIA series of 52 videos is available to be freely viewed online right here!. In fact, the Annenberg Foundation offers many other video courses that can be viewed online, including similar immersion language courses in Spanish and German - as well as a great many other academic subjects (browse around for yourself and see what's there!). It's a smorgasbord for the autodidact.

Interestingly, FIA is not without controversy. As is almost all too predictable, the political incorrectness that typifies much of French culture did not escape the feminist scrutiny and conformist ire of the upper-crust east-coast academic establishment.

I guess the Wellesley and Amherst gals were "offended" at the French being, well..., French. Oh la la, imagine that! High heels, handbags, and cigarette smoking! Oh mon Dieu! I suppose they were also miffed that there aren't any abortions or lesbians in the series. Oh well. C'est la vie.

But you gotta love Professor Capretz's reaction. He said he would "not change a thing." Good for him. One can almost see him do that patented dismissive "Gallic shrug" in response, or perhaps a more forceful: "Non, non, et non!" Either way, the unexpurgated and unbowdlerized versions of all 52 episodes - untouched by the wet blanket of the fun-free feminist neo-puritans - are available for anyone with access to a decent internet connection to watch and learn from. At least for the time being.

I guess given that the French have fairly recent experience in resisting the Nazis, it comes in handy in dealing with them in their latest academic incarnation.

Vive la Liberté et vive la France
! And merci beaucoup to Mme "Donna" for the tip!


Rosko said...

Merci beaucoup! Look forward to watching them.

Father Hollywood said...

Bonne chance!