A distinguishing characteristic of the Neurolinguistic approach is the following teaching sequence: oral ▶ reading ▶ writing.
This sequence is the foundation of a literacy-based approach to language learning, that is, an approach that focuses on learning to use the language rather than learning about the language.
In the oral part of a lesson, the teacher uses a model sentence first so that the students can create sentences themselves based on this model, in order to participate in the conversation. The teacher also takes care to ensure that the students understand the conversation. In order to assist the students’ comprehension, the teacher may use gestures, mime, objects or pictures, but during the oral part of the lesson he or she does not write anything. At least half of every lesson concentrates on the development of oral language to help the student develop the internal grammar, or implicit competence, which is essential to be able to use a language spontaneously. When the creation of an internal grammar precedes the learning of external, or 'conscious' grammar, which is used for writing, learning a second language proceeds more rapidly, and more effectively, than when one learns grammar rules first. It is also more natural. Think about how you acquired your mother tongue. Learning about the relationships between words and their written form, or external grammar, implies conscious learning, and comes later in specific steps of the reading and writing lessons.
At least half of every lesson concentrates on the development of oral language because it is the development of this skill that is required to build an internal, or non-conscious, grammar. Without this grammar, students cannot use the language spontaneously. When the creation of an internal grammar precedes the learning of external, or 'conscious' grammar, which is used for writing, the whole process of learning a second language proceeds more rapidly, and more effectively, than when one learns grammar rules first. It is also more natural. Think about how you learned your mother tongue.
After the oral part of the lesson, reading begins. The students learn to read what they are able to say. At the same time as the students learn to read, they also enrich their vocabulary and begin to develop their external, or conscious, grammar. In this part of the lesson their attention is drawn to the connections between sounds and the way they are written, as well as agreements and verb forms. This sequence is the natural way to go, as it is what occurs in mother-tongue development.
In the third phase of the lesson, students learn to write what they can say and read. In this part of the lesson the teacher helps the students, first of all, by writing on the board a model of a paragraph that the students compose with the teacher. They examine it for organization and language accuracy. Then they write their own paragraph.
Lastly, the students integrate their three skills by reading and discussing each other’s compositions. When this is done, we say that they have completed the literacy 'cycle'.
Teaching Oral Language
In general, there are three parts to an oral lesson:
- The 'warm-up', where students talk with each other using vocabulary and structures they have already used; one student often plays the role of the teacher (mini-prof), or leads the discussion;
- The principal part, where students learn new structures and vocabulary relevant to the theme they are discussing;
- A concluding activity, where students use the new vocabulary and structures in a wider context.
In the principal part of the oral lesson, there are eight steps to follow that have been especially developed to enable students to learn to communicate easily. The steps help the learners to use and re-use, in different situations, a small number of sentences and words to express a personal message. It is by using a relatively small number of structures many times that students are able to develop their implicit competence, or internal grammar. The teacher always gives a model first so that the students are able to create sentences themselves in order to participate in the conversation.
This is an example of how the steps work.
After all the steps are completed, the students use the structures they have just learned in a more informal activity.
There are also two teaching strategies that are used during all oral activities in the classroom. Their use is crucial to the learning of a 'non-conscious' or internal grammar.
- The use of complete sentences by the students when answering a question. This strategy is necessary in the beginning stages of learning the new language in order to develop an internal grammar. An internal grammar is composed of connections between ALL the elements of a sentence. It cannot be developed if the student is using only isolated words or parts of a sentence.
- Immediate oral correction, and immediate re-use, of the corrected sentences. If the students’ oral use and re-use of the language is not accurate, the student's internal grammar will not develop accuracy. Oral accuracy is a skill; it is not dependent upon having a knowledge of grammar rules. In Intensive French, oral correction replaces the teaching of many grammar rules.
Teaching Reading and Writing
For both reading and writing, there is also a recommended sequence of eight steps based on a conception of learning literacy skills that is specific to a second language.
For reading, students must first learn the new relationships between the sounds and the way they are written. This contributes to preparing them to learn to write the language; this is where external grammar is taught. Grammar is always taught in a context. See the following example of the steps for reading.
For writing, there are also eight steps to follow. As with oral development, the teacher first creates a model for the students. Then they write their own composition.
For more information, consult this CASLT document about teaching literacy in a second language.
Importance of Projects
In Intensive French, language is always used to express messages; it is never analyzed out of a context. This is why, to direct the learning, each teaching unit includes two or three mini-projects, as well as a final project closely linked to the unit’s theme. The emphasis is on the message that the students wish to express about the subject being discussed. Internal grammar cannot be acquired by doing exercises; students must be concentrating on the message they are trying to get across, not the forms of the language being used, to develop the 'non-conscious' or internal grammar necessary to use the language spontaneously.
Keeping in Touch With Parents
It is important for teachers to keep in touch with their students’ parents. Usually parents like to know what is happening in their child's classroom, especially if they do not speak French themselves! Here are two examples of letters addressed to parents.
Interview with Michel Paradis
Teachers who may wish to understand more about the development of implicit competence, or an internal grammar, may also like to listen to this interview with Michel Paradis, Emeritus Professor at McGill University, a researcher and specialist on language acquisition, who developed the neurolinguistic theory of bilingualism on which the Intensive French approach is based.
Participating in a Training Session
To learn how to use the teaching strategies that are necessary to make the approach work, teachers need to participate in a training session. Few Faculties of Education offer teacher training in the NLA, even though there are many school districts that require teachers with this training. Currently, as far as is known, the following universities offer courses on the NLA:
- Western University, Ontario, offers a credited training session for teachers of Intensive French during a summer session. For more information, contact France Dupuis.
- University of British Columbia: contact Linda Osborne.
- University of Regina, Saskatchewan: contact Linda Osborne.
- Memorial University, Newfoundland and Labrador: contact Gennita Bartlett
- Université Laval, Québec, has recently begun to offer credited training sessions: contact Steeve Mercier
Training sessions are also offered by provincial or territorial Departments/Ministries of Education or by school districts. Normally, these training sessions are given every summer either in one five-day session, or in a two-day session followed by another three days in the early fall. Consult the French Program Specialist at the provincial/territorial Departments/ Ministries of Education, or consult the website for CASLT (The Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers) where details about these summer sessions are published.
12 to 14 March: Calgary School Board (Ruth Radetzky)
23 July to August 4: Western University French Immersion School (France Dupuis)
13 to 17 August: Whitehorse, Ministry of Education (Pascal St. Laurent)
Teachers who attend one of the training sessions receive a copy of the Teachers’ Guide for Intensive French, which contains all the instructional units and suggestions for the content of each lesson. There is a guide for each level of the program: Pre-Intensive French, Intensive French, Post-Intensive French I, II, and III, and Post-Intensive French IV, V, VI and VII. The guides are only distributed to those teachers who have participated in a training session.
All teaching materials are in French. However, the introduction to the Teachers’ Guide, written by the co-authors of the program, is available in English, courtesy of the Province of New Brunswick, and may be consulted here: New Brunswick Guide for Post Intensive French in the Middle School.
To be able to offer a training session, it is necessary to have taken a training session designed for NLA teacher-trainers. Such a training session can be organized upon request. For more information, contact one of the following persons: