Le début détermine la fin

How do we start teaching French at Michaela?

“L’école, c’est crucial : le début détermine la fin.” – Abd al Malik

Our year 7s have had three weeks of secondary school French. Our pupils have been introduced to our favourite character, Monsieur Forgeron. What do our new pupils have to say about Monsieur Forgeron?

Of course, Monsieur Forgeron is none other than Barry Smith, our Deputy Head. He has the most remarkable rapport with the pupils, which allows for this kind of innocent cheekiness and provides a lovely basis for some great language to start pupils off.

We pick words that are, in theory, phonically challenging; words like ‘malheureusement’, ‘chauve’, ‘Monsieur’ and ‘dingue’ with unfamiliar vowel combinations, silent letters and non-English pronunciations. We then teach them explicitly, and draw links between those words and other ones. ‘moi, noir, soir, revoir, foire, patinoire’.

We’ll do this regularly, until the patterns are embedded. It also exposes the kids to loads of French, which they remember as much as a result of the phonic patterns as the meaning. It’s a way of reinforcing their understanding with the sound and vowel patterns as a hook. It seems to work.

We have precious little classroom display, but we do have posters featuring the common letter combinations, as a reminder of the differences on which we focus. They make such a huge difference to pupils’ pronunciation, which in turn engenders huge confidence and enjoyment of the process of reading.


I’ll write next about how we read, and how we present the language to pupils so that they understand, remember, employ and manipulate it.  However, I believe that our simple focus on phonics and the written word at the very beginning creates a fantastic foundation for everything that follows.  Our oldest year group are in year 9, and it’s wonderful to witness what they can do even at this stage, from such humble beginnings.  Here is a clip of year 8, one year into their French learning careers:

We’re hiring for September 2017.

If you like what you read, and think you’d enjoy teaching like this, get in touch. Come and visit. Michaela is a growing school with fantastic pupils, excellent teachers, a real focus on subject expertise and a no-nonsense approach.  If you love teaching the French language, and are fed up of games and pictures, drop me an email at jlund@mcsbrent.co.uk.  Apply to teach here: http://mcsbrent.co.uk/french-teacher-vacancy/