Learn French through Theatre – curious arts

My drama course at Alliance Française in Paris is completely in French!

For the past five weeks, I’ve been enrolled at Paris’ top language school, Alliance Française, on a mission to seriously brush up on my skills and to meet other French-speaking people. Thanks to my French Immersion high school diploma, I was assessed for this intermediate level French course. There’s no question my rusty Canadian-French has already improved just by living here and being surrounded by the language. But it was always my plan to join a French class once we were settled in so I could get more guidance and support with the language. Plus, a language class, regardless of what language you’re learning, is a fantastic way to meet other people because you have to talk to them – that’s the whole point!

At L

At L’Alliance Française, with my Dad, also a U of A B.Ed grad, on his recent visit

French through Theatre uses theatre rehearsal techniques and text work to improve French speaking, listening and reading skills. It blends the grammar and verb conjugations with the up-on-our feet, moving-about-the-room and scene-work elements of a drama class. The class has a supportive, low-stress environment that is facilitated by our incredibly calm and knowledgeable instructor, Sylvaine Hinglais. My classmates come from all around the world – USA, Brazil, Spain, Turkey, England, Bulgaria, Libya and Greece. We’re all there for the same reason – to learn – and it’s pretty amazing that French is the common language that unites us all.

Just some of the great people in this class. Our teacher, Sylvaine, is center.

Just some of the great people in this class. Our teacher, Sylvaine, is center.

Our class is very busy and very active. And sometimes, very loud! We usually start with a general discussion of what’s been going on in our lives – your standard drama-class ‘check-in/ice-breaker’ activity. Sylvaine gently corrects us as we chat and we repeat what she says to improve our speaking. From this discussion, she’ll write a few key expressions on the SMART board, questions or statements commonly used in real, everyday conversations, and from there, the lesson emerges organically.

We still do verbs and conjugation drills, but the key difference between how I hated French grammar as a high school student and how I actually enjoy it now is the use of active rehearsal techniques. We’re up on our feet, moving in a circle and speaking to each other as we conjugate our way through our daily assigned verb. We’re put on the spot, just like real conversation, and the energy picks up as we get in the zone. It’s challenging and exhausting but a great way to practice the basics without being bored.

My favorite part of the class, however, is the scene work. We use scripts by well-known French playwrights, such as Eugene Ionesco, Jean-Paul Sartre, Sacha Guitry, and Raymond Queneau, to name a few. The scripts double as worksheets, so we can continue to practice important concepts like verb conjugation, prepositions, direct/indirect pronouns and pronunciation.

We work together to complete these tasks, and then we’re back up on our feet, listening to and following Sylvaine intently as we work through the pronunciation through slow, deliberate and exaggerated speaking. We also add movement and gestures to key words to help us get the correct rhythm of the speech. These active techniques appeal to a wide range of learning styles – visual, auditory, movement/kinesthetic – and as a result, we all experience success in some way.

In addition to daily verb conjugation and vocabulary homework, we’re always assigned a small section of the script to learn, both characters’ dialogue, and perform during the following class – sans script. Daunting, perhaps, but at the same time, so much fun!

I still break my scripts down into units, beats, and character tactics, just as I did when I was a drama student. My scripts are a mess of highlighting and scribbled notes but instead of the scene’s blocking or technical notes, I’m jotting down the verb tense information, conjugations, phonetic pronunciations of pesky sections of dialogue, synonyms for the vocabulary – all that other language stuff that’s just as important to the scene as the words the characters speak.

My messy script full of verb conjugation, pronunciation and vocabulary notes, plus the scene

My messy script full of verb conjugation, pronunciation and vocabulary notes, plus the scene’s units and beats.

I love performing the scenes in class and supporting the other students. It’s amazing to see the improvements and the increased confidence in my fellow classmates, and I can hear the improvement in my pronunciation and I feel more confident in my own skills and every day speech. I’m so thankful to be part of this great group of courageous learners, in this fun, safe, encouraging environment.

No judgement, just learning. That’s the beauty of this drama-language class.

Tout est possible!

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