Tuesday, November 12, 2013

French Essentials {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

So... in case you haven't already been made aware, I'm originally from Canada. Canada has two official languages - English and French. But I don't speak or understand French in any working sense. This is my epic fail as a Canadian. I'd like to learn - I just didn't succeed at it when I was in school. I was pleasantly surprised when my seventh grader expressed an interest in learning French when we got our first look at French Essentials, and delighted when we were given the opportunity to review their Full Access Online Program.
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French Essentials is a complete curriculum package of French language instruction designed with homeschoolers in mind. There are 10 modules which provide full instruction for students in grades 2 through 12. Completing all 10 modules is the equivalent of two years of high school foreign language. Younger students would move at a slower pace, and could plan on completing a module each year from Grade 3 through 12, for example, while older students or students that already have some French background might proceed at a much faster pace. There is also a placement test for students that have already had some French instruction.

The program includes a downloadable worksheets and lessons (along with answer keys); online exercises, activities, and tests; and some French culture topics. Both the online exercises and the downloaded lesson material include audio and video of native French speakers so that pronunciation can be learned correctly. Students learn to read and write in French, hear native French speakers, and translate back and forth between French and English. The video instructors are from different French-speaking backgrounds, and the program teaches international French, so the pronunciations would accepted in France, in Quebec and Francophone Canada, and all other Francophone countries.

How did we use it? Although I do have a rudimentary knowledge of French, I still appreciated that no prior knowledge of the language is needed by the parent/teacher. That took the pressure off me, and I've been getting a refresher course with Kennady as she's been working through French Essentials. She started at the beginning of Module 1, learning the French alphabet and pronunciation rules. Then the lessons move on to simple conversation - greetings and responses, and simple question and answer - building vocabulary and context. 
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We first had to download the zip files of lesson materials and workbook, which are in pdf format. For each day, Kennady would read and listen to the lesson material, then do the online activities, and finish up by completing the workbook page(s). For the early lessons, she is able to complete the work in as little as fifteen minutes, although she enjoyed some of the online activities enough that she would spend longer. Some of the activities are in a video game type format that challenged her to translate or respond quickly, and she really enjoyed trying to better her time. I thought this was a great learning activity, because even though the responses she was working on were very simple, she was actually learning to "think in French" by doing it. The games and online quizzes can be done over and over for more practice or review. The quizzes can be customized by choosing how many questions and what format - true/false, multiple choice, or typed answer, or combinations. Since Kennady is older, we chose the maximum number of questions for quizzes and a combination of multiple choice and typed answers.
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Now unfortunately for us, our computer was out of commission for part of the last couple weeks (and this was after we got a late start on this because we were on vacation!), so we didn't get as far as we'd like to with the curriculum. But even so, with daily lessons being quite short, Kennady is often able to do two lessons in a day at this point. Our goal has been to work on it four days a week, and this is very manageable (when the computer works!) even with a busy and full schoolwork schedule. Plus, she enjoys it and is glad to work on it! She looks forward to reporting to Dad the new words and phrases she is learning, as he was more successful learning French when he was in school than I was!
What we liked best:

  • work at your own pace, with short and focused lessons
  • being able to hear many different French speakers use the words and phrases
  • Kennady enjoyed the online games, and we had the ability to customize aspects of the games and quizzes
  • reading, writing, hearing, and speaking are all used in the program
  • the downloaded lessons are in a pdf format and can be used for more than one student

What I need to mention:
  • you will need reliable, high-speed internet to use the program, as well as the latest versions of Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash Player (and QuickTime if on PC). Also, the multimedia aspects of the lessons will not work on iPad or iPod, although the 'read only' portions of the pdf lessons would.
  • although the program includes audio and video of many French-speaking people, students do not converse live with them. 
  • Modules 1-5 are currently available, with Modules 6-10 coming soon.
Our bottom line: This is such a fun and easy way to learn French that Kennady and I are learning it together. Well... I let her do all the worksheets and games and stuff, but I'm always listening in and practicing with her, so I'm hopeful that I'm learning something! Since the curriculum continues all the way through high school level, this may wind up being Kennady's foreign language credit when she gets to high school. And sometime before that, maybe we'll test ourselves with a trip to Montreal - it's been on my wishlist to visit there for years. I'd encourage homeschoolers interested in learning French to visit the website and check out the sample lessons.
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Would French Essentials be a good fit for your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website at: http://www.FrenchEssentials.com
You may want to read the FAQs page to find out more about the program and technical requirements.

Pricing: Modules can be purchased individually or in a full package. Individual modules are $69.95 each, and you have 90 days to download the lessons and workbook, and access to the online exercises, lessons, and activities. The full package is $149.95 and includes all modules, with a full year to download all lessons and workbook and access to all online materials. Visit the Purchase page at French Essentials for all the details.

Recommended ages: Grades 3-12.

You can follow French Essentials on Facebook and on Twitter.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. 

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