French is an Indo-European language and belongs to the family of Romance languages derived from the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire. It is closely related to English, due to the shared influence of Latin and to the fact that French was the official language of the English court, administration and culture for 300 years after the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century. This use of French contributed significantly to the developing English language. There are more than 1700 words that are used in both languages (for example, danger, saint, magazine, tact). In this sense French is already partly familiar to English-speaking learners. This familiarity supports early stages of learning.
French uses the same Roman alphabet as English, although its pronunciation of the letters differs significantly and the use of accents on some letters is an additional complexity for English-speaking learners. There are many similarities between the two grammatical systems, such as the same basic subject-verb-object order, but also differences, such as in the use of tenses, the gendering of nouns and adjectives, the marking of plural forms of nouns and adjectives, and the use of articles and capital letters. The sound system is usually the main challenge for English-speaking learners, including as it does some novel sounds (such as the pronunciation of the letters r and u), letters which are silent, and unfamiliar liaisons and intonation and rhythm patterns.
Understanding the diverse language competencies of students, as language learners is the starting point for developing their language learning. The changing pattern of migration to Australia is extending the range of languages students bring with them to school.
The language competency of students varies significantly depending upon the sequence of learning being undertaken and the level the student has reached.
French programs in Australian schools are offered to a range of learners, including some who are following immersion or partial immersion programs. Many are monolingual English speakers who are learning French as their first experience of another language. A relatively small number have existing connections with French, either as background speakers, second- or third-generation French Australians, or through professional, personal or other forms of connection. For students from language backgrounds with very different grammatical and vocabulary systems such as Chinese or Korean, learning French will represent similar challenges to those which frame their experience of learning English as their language of schooling; but these learners have the advantage of having developed skills and understandings associated with learning and using additional languages.
In the Languages curriculum area the focus is on both language and culture, as students learn to communicate meaningfully across linguistic and cultural systems, and different contexts. This process involves reflection and analysis, as students move between French and their own existing language(s). It is a reciprocal and dynamic process which develops language use and intercultural awareness and understanding.
For students learning French for the first time in a school language program, a key dimension of the curriculum involves understanding the cultural dimension that shapes and is shaped by the language. The curriculum is designed with an intercultural language learning orientation to enable students to participate meaningfully in intercultural experiences, to develop new ways of seeing and being in the world, and to understand more about themselves in the process.
Students use a wide range of texts designed for language learning, such as textbooks, teacher-generated materials and online resources. Their learning is enriched by exposure to a range of authentic texts from the language being studied, such as websites, films, stories, songs, television programs, advertisements and magazines. The texts and resources will become increasingly sophisticated and varied as students progress through their schooling.
Students are encouraged to use French as much as possible for classroom routines, social interactions, structured learning tasks, and language experimentation and practice.
Students will have opportunities to engage with members of the community who speak French, which in some cases will be facilitated via digital technologies.
English is used for discussion, explanation and reflection, enabling students to develop a language for sharing ideas about language and culture.