Promoting and Teaching French to Spanish Speakers

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Promoting and Teaching French to Spanish Speakersi

Jacqueline Thomas

Texas A&M University-Kingsville
A population of students that continues to grow, speakers of Spanish form a promising pool of prospective learners of French. For both second language speakers and especially heritage language speakers, associating the relationship between the Spanish and French languages with the students’ pre-existing knowledge of family ancestry and the cultural value of the family provides a rich source of promotional ideas. Teachers of French, such as Elaine Maguire of San Antonio, Texas, have found success recruiting Spanish speakers by making explicit the connotation of familiarity, resemblance, belonging, pride, mutual support, and loyalty.
To promote French to the Spanish speaking student population, teachers have asked successful former students to provide testimonials in both Spanish and English about what learning French meant to them. Accompanied by a photograph of the student in class and distributed to both heritage and second language Spanish speakers, such testimonials can become a powerful recruitment tool at functions that many students attend with their parents such as open house or career night.
Handouts and Fliers
Similarly, double-sided handouts (again, available in both English and Spanish) inviting students to become trilingual in order to compete successfully in the global job market can be distributed to counselors, and to teachers of Spanish and English as a Second Language (ESL). The focus of these handouts is to draw attention to the family of languages to which Spanish and French both belong and their common ancestry, developing as they did from Latin. Further, the message is that as members of the same language family, they resemble each other: “If you speak Spanish, you could learn another language of the same family without too much difficulty.”
Alternatively, or in addition, tri-fold fliers that visually represent the similarities between Spanish and French can be distributed. The following image, developed by another Texas teacher for students in Copperas Cove, is powerful as the front panel of such a flier, when lines are drawn linking the letters (i.e., the two letter Fs, the two letters Rs,

etc ).



When enhanced by an image such as the Eiffel Tower and a statement such as “French is a natural companion to Spanish,” fliers can be handed out wherever speakers of Spanish gather, including in Spanish classes in high schools or universities. Students of Spanish who have no more advanced level courses left to take often find they excel when inspired to try French.


Add a second panel listing words that are very similar in spelling in the two languages—but different in English—and you have an appealing hook. For example:

pan pain

vino vin

fresa fraise

amor amour

mundo monde

número numéro

felicitaciones félicitations

sympático sympathique

fuerte fort

mal mal

evitar éviter

dormir dormir

mentir mentir

The message that only knowledge of Spanish would help a student understand the meaning of those French words (nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs) is patently clear.
A third panel can stress the advantage Spanish speakers have in some areas of pronunciation. Again, this message can be presented visually, as follows:
razón raison

pie pied

español espagnol

mal mal
Research reveals that students who have learned a second language formally have an easier time with learning a third language than students in the same classroom learning that language as a second (Thomas, 1992). Whether they have learned English or Spanish as a second language, learners have developed a conscious awareness of language as a system, which is known as metalinguistic awareness. In particular, this awareness helps learners to develop a conscious awareness of grammar rules. Therefore, devoting a panel to the grammatical similarities between French and Spanish can be effective:
√ The pervasiveness of reflexive verbs

me llamo je m’appelle

se va il s’en va

se traducer se traduire

√The placement and agreement of adjectives

la puerta roja la porte rouge

√The placement of direct and indirect objects before the verb

Ella la da a la maestra Elle la donne à la maîtresse

Ella le da el libro Elle lui donne le livre
√The difference between the use of “saber” and “conocer” parallels the difference between “savoir” and “connaître”
√The parallel between “hacer” and “faire” to describe weather
√Idioms with “tener” and “avoir” to convey “to be” in English:

tener razón avoir raison

tener frío avoir froid
A caveat should be included on the final panel in case Spanish speakers are incorrectly led to believe that, because of their prior knowledge, they would be guaranteed an “A” in French class. It must be pointed out that in spite of the kick-start provided by knowledge of Spanish, studying will be required. There are even numerous pitfalls to be avoided, such as sí + the subjunctive in Spanish, but not in French.
Not all students who are classified as Spanish speakers have the metalinguistic awareness referred to above. For students whose knowledge of Spanish is informal, similarities between French and Spanish must be made explicit by the teacher. Students who have not learned Spanish in a classroom are not necessarily consciously aware, for example, that Spanish words have gender so do not guess the gender of cognates such as “bibliothèque” more accurately than monolingual English speakers (Thomas, 1988). Likewise, many of the elements featured in the flier above, such as the parallels between “hacer” and “faire,” “tener” and “avoir,” “saber”/”savoir” and “conocer/”connaître,” must also be explained for all Spanish speakers to reap the benefit.
As a corollary, in mixed classes, the teacher has to be careful not to make those who do not know Spanish feel resentful of their classmates who do. Too much emphasis on the similarities between French and Spanish without mentioning cognates in English and French (such as tying “jaune” to “jaundice”) or in all three languages (e.g. professeur) can lead to frustration on the part of students not familiar with Spanish.
For that reason and others, such as the track record of success at French exhibited by Hispanic heritage speakers who have received schooling in Spanish, some teachers have offered accelerated classes of French for Spanish speakers. Populated by students recruited from ESL classes or exchange students, as well as students in AP Spanish or other advanced Spanish classes, the teacher designs the course explicitly to exploit the similarities between the two languages. Such French teachers further exploit the cultural similarities between Latins, (i.e. people using Romance languages) and the interconnections between French and francophone culture and Latino culture (e.g. love of soccer, Spanish artists who have lived and worked in France, South American authors who have been influenced by French authors, to name just three). Some even use materials used in Mexico or Spain to teach French or provide Spanish-French dictionaries for their students’ use.
In conclusion
The three languages of NAFTA are English, French, and Spanish. Therefore it makes sense to invite our students in United States schools to develop trilingual competence in order to compete with our multilingual competitors in the European Union. Basing our promotion and our teaching on the family resemblance between these sister languages can help us increase the number of students successfully studying French.
Works cited
Thomas, Jacqueline. “The Role Played by Metalinguistic Awareness in Second and Third Language Learning.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 9 (1988)

Thomas, Jacqueline. “Metalinguistic Awareness in Second- and Third-language Learning.” In Cognitive Processing in Bilinguals. Ed. Richard Harris (Elsevier, 1992)

i First presented with Elaine Maguire, formerly at Judson Senior High School in San Antonio, Texas, at the AATF convention in Montreal, 1998

The French Language Initiative: The World Speaks French

American Association of Teachers of French

Thomas: Promoting and Teaching French to Spanish Speakers Page of

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