All posts by Dick


Grammar teaching in France (and Quebec)

Information mostly from Antonio Balvet (a linguist living in France with two children in school), but also from Emilie Kasazian, Sophie Cimon (?) and Isabelle Barrière,

  • “In France, there is a lot of emphasis on grammar in the curriculum (at least one hour a day in primary school). The grammatical analysis of sentences … begins at the age of six … and goes on until age 15.” (Isabelle Barrière)
  • But with much debate about content, aims and methods – see articles by Manesse, Chiss & David, and Léon (Emilie Kasazian)
  • “I did grammar analysis as a child from 1984 and for a few years. The system was well-oiled so I suspect it had been done for years. That was in Quebec, Canada, in French.” (Sophie Cimon)
  • “Theoretically, as language teaching has been reformed (both first language and foreign language(s) teaching), kids are not supposed to be exposed to any formal grammatical analysis (infamously known as “analyse logique” among pupils). Teachers are not supposed to formally teach anything resembling conjugation, syntax, spelling etc. Rather, they are supposed to emphasize communication skills, and they are supposed to teach only the relevant aspects of grammar, conjugation, spelling etc. wrt the communication skills and the documents used (supposed to be authentic documents). This is supposed to apply to both elementary school and most of all collège and lycée.”
  • “This is theory, as many teachers keep on doing what they have been trained to do. Every time some member of the ministry of education so much as hints at changing something about how French is taught, pandemonium ensues, with demonstrations, strikes and angry parents yelling at said politician(s). I can tell you that teachers are still doing spelling exercises (dictées), asking for essays (rédactions: what did you do during the holidays, etc.), conjugation exercises and so on, even among the most “modernists”. As far as I know, nothing fundamental has changed in the way kids are exposed to grammar, in spite of the different reforms that have been voted and are now a legal obligation.”
  • “As an example, I am sending you official administrative documents about how grammar teaching should happen. [See the 1998 and 2009 documents below.] The documents were clearly influenced by structuralist linguists. As a linguist, I would be happy if teachers stopped teaching kids that grammatical functions such as the subject can be found by asking the question “qui fait l’action?” (who is performing the action), or the object by “qui subit l’action?” (who undergoes the action), etc. The documents I’m sending you are official documents, which every teacher and head of school should know. As far as I know, this is far from being the case. As you will see, they emphasize the need for a consistent terminology, based on structural syntax and explicit analysis procedures. This is never taught, as far as I know: teachers keep using “article défini/indéfini” instead of “déterminant” (determiner), “adjectif démonstratif” instead of “déterminant démonstratif”, without ever explaining why something is called an “article” in some cases, and an “adjective” in some other cases. Which does nothing to make grammar analysis an appealing moment for kids. They even give exercises on concrete/abstract nouns… without ever explaining whether it is the referent (the object in the world) that is concrete/abstract or what.”