French Comes Alive

Every year the entire third grade at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs performs a play entirely in French.  It is the hardest challenge for the students who have been studying the language in class since grade 1.  “In third grade the child is eager for harder work,” says Patricia Hrebenach, the French teacher for grades 1-8,  “for this play, we work from a written script but I don’t give it to the students to read.  Instead, we work on the play through gesture and repetition.  They come to understand the meaning of the play by assigning French words to the actions more organically.” Ms. Therrien’s third graders waved their French flags proudly as they sung “Le Marseilles” at the start of their French Market play.  Soon the audience was introduced to the characters who frequented “Le Marché Parisien.”  Over the next thirty minutes, they performed the trials and tribulations at the market until finally a student stepped forward and said “Le fin”!

Grade 3 performs the French Market Play

Meanwhile, Ms. Ravenstar’s seventh grade was preparing to spend a week in Quebec.  The trip includes a stay in Quebec City and dog sledding further up north.  “This trip gives the students incentive to do the difficult task of orally communicating in French, which also gives the student a sense of independence that empowers them to risk speaking to native Quebecois” says Hrebenach.  While in Quebec, the students learn about the culture as well as the language.  Eating escargot and going on a scavenger hunt through old Quebec gives them a real sense of place.  The trip will culminate with a written report (in French) about their experiences.

These two events are the highlights of the lower and middle school curriculum of the Waldorf school.  Madame Hrebenach explains that “our classes are designed to give students a sense of the language, and through that sense, a better understanding of the different cultures that bring a language to life.”

Research has shown that younger students learn languages much more easily than older ones.  Students who learn a second language have improved cognitive abilities, better problem-solving skills, a stronger memory, and many other advantages (https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows).  In fact, a recent article put it simply that learning a second language “makes you smarter” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html)

None of this mattered to the Waldorf third graders at the moment.  Ms. Therrien’s class was beaming at the end of the play, and happily went about cleaning up while munching on the baguette and cake that made up some of the props today.  Ms. Ravenstar’s class watched the performance today, knowing they themselves are a weekend away from being completely immersed in French language and culture.