Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: French Essentials

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Nearly all the foreign language studies in our household, especially this past year, have revolved around various forms of Spanish curriculum. While that has been wonderful, one of my children has always had a strong desire to learn French instead!  Until this point, we had not explored this further as we simply had not come across a suitable and affordable program for her to use. Then we were given the opportunity to review French Essentials through The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew. We were given one year to the Full Access Online Program on the website.

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Online Portal

French Essentials began as an effort of two native French homeschool parents, Greg and Irene Shone, who put together French tutoring lessons at the request of their friends. It developed into a DVD program. In order to grow and be more affordable for more families, they decided to build an online portal where families could purchase the lessons in modules, and access all parts of the lessons in one central location.

There are 6 modules currently available, with another 4 modules being developed and coming soon. Students can move at their own pace through the modules. If a student already has some French knowledge, they can start off with the online placement test to see which module they should begin with. If they have no previous French instruction, then it is suggested to start with Module 1.

What is the recommended age for this curriculum? Students need at least a 3rd grade reading level to be able to work in this program. Modules 1-5 are equivalent for use in grades 4-8. Modules 5 and 6 are suggested for junior high level. High school level (grades 10-12) can use modules 7-10 (with previous use of this program, or prior French instruction).

What is this program like? French Essentials really is a total immersion French program. Once you purchase access to the online program, you will be able to download your written lessons for your entire module. The lessons contain built-in audio links, so that everything you need for the lesson is right on your desktop. The lesson will instruct you to 'click a link to hear the correct pronunciation, and then repeat it', or give directions to practice with your teacher. The audio links can be repeated as often as desired in order to practice the new words or phrases.

Not only does French Essentials have written lessons that contain audio links, but once you are on the website, you can go to the interactive section that corresponds with your module, and have further review. There are a number of varied review opportunities, such as flash cards to review new vocabulary, games, and tests. The flash cards and games have numerous options, such as choosing English to French, or French to English. You also have the option of choosing to listen to the words/phrases being said, or reading them.

Testing: The online tests have several options - fill in the blanks, multiple choice, or matching. The parent can choose the level of difficulty depending on the student's age and abilities. Older students would be required to know actual correct spelling, and not just 'how to say' the words, for example. Younger students, on the other hand, might be required to be able to just recognize the correct matches, but not have to know how to write them out. The tests are graded immediately by the computer, to make it easier for parents.

Does a parent need to know French for their child to use this program? No! The parent may want to learn alongside the child, but everything the child needs to work through this program is included for them, right at their level. Each module contains a handy parent checklist that allows the parent to keep careful records of what the student has accomplished, and to keep track of their test scores. It really helps the parent to know that all the material has been covered.

Parent's checklist

What about written work? Each lesson contains downloadable worksheets for plenty of review! I was amazed at how much book work was included in addition to the actual lesson. The worksheets vary in intensity, with a good mixture of fun breaking up the tedious review exercises. And never fear....there is a teacher key available on the website for the parent to download. Again, a working knowledge of French is not a necessity for the parent!

A really neat feature: Melissa really enjoyed the French culture videos that accompany the lessons. Level One includes six short videos describing various aspects of French culture. We were surprised to learn how many countries have French as one of their official languages! It was about three times more than what I expected!

Total immersion: French Essentials seeks to meet the needs of all types of learners. The work is presented with diversity to satisfy all the learning styles. There is written work, audio, video, and plenty of review options. The only thing missing is having an actual French person sitting in the room with you, giving you instant feedback.

How we used this program: My 7th grader, Melissa, is the student using this program. After signing up and gaining access to the website, I easily downloaded the first few lessons of module one, and we began to work on it. Module one contains twenty lessons, and my plan was to get through the first 'introduction' lessons quickly, moving Melissa on to the meatier portion of the module. I found out that she was not ready to move as quickly as I thought and was getting very frustrated, so we slowed it down, and have completed one lesson a week, spending about four days on each lesson. This has been a much more enjoyable pace for her.

Module one lessons are about 70 pages long total, and start the student off with learning the French alphabet, as well as simple greeting and friendly phrases. Overall, they will learn about 160 new vocabulary words and phrases. Because of the varied review methods, the students really do learn this vocabulary inside out. Each lesson has a set of printable worksheets, and I also printed those out and put them in a binder for Melissa.

We typically would spend two days on the actual lesson itself, reading it over, and listening to the audio prompts in the lesson. Melissa would practice and repeat as instructed. The corresponding worksheets for the lesson would take us one to two days to complete, and then Melissa would spend one day on the website doing extra review games and practice for that lesson. This is also when she would explore the culture videos or take the online test. I haven't used the tests a whole lot yet, since she is just beginning, but I know they will come in handy as she progresses into more difficult material. Each day had an overlap of various activities...we would start the lesson first, but then move on to worksheets and complete one or two pages each day, until they were finished.

My opinion:  Prior to beginning this program, Melissa knew about ten French words. She desperately wanted to learn French, though, so we set off on our journey. I have to say that this program was much more work than I was expecting! When I first learned that module one was considered appropriate for third grade and up, I think mentally I was prepared for much easier lessons. The program is definitely more intense than I anticipated. This actually turned out to be a positive factor though, because although we have had to go much slower than I planned, Melissa is learning a lot more than I thought she would! I view this program much more as a junior high/senior high school level course, and not as an elementary course, although younger students definitely could get something out of it. When using all aspects of the course as instructed, be prepared for an intense study of the French language, and a thorough workout of all your linguistic tendencies!

For the future: Melissa is enjoying learning French, and seems to have a natural knack for repeating words with the accents of the speakers in the video clips. I am excited to have her learning the language that she had such a longing for. She will continue with module one, and I hope to have her complete module two this year as well. Since we were given a one year membership for this review, I will have Melissa use that time to go as far as she is able in her French journey. I would definitely be interested in purchasing more modules in the future so that Melissa could further her studies. I think the layout of this program is more than adequate to give a thorough French education to my aspiring Francophone!

Computer requirements: Since this program is accessed through an online portal, the user should have a good working knowledge of downloading so that they are able to acquire their lessons. The program is available for both Mac and PC users, and utilizes Adobe Reader and Quicktime. There is a good deal of technical help on the website in case you run into problems with any aspect of the program.

So what does it cost? There are two ways to purchase this program. Modules can be purchased separately, one at a time, allowing 90 days of complete access to all components of the program, for $69.95. Or you can purchase full access to the entire set of modules currently available for a whole year for $149.95.

See how other Crew members are using French Essentials in their home by clicking the banner below:

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