TOS Crew Review: French Essentials

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I’m always looking for ways to successfully integrate foreign languages into our homeschool.  So, when the opportunity arose from TOS Crew to use and review French Essentials, I was delighted.  French Essentials is a complete online language learning curriculum that is easy and fun to use, as well as interesting and thorough.  We were given the Full Access Online Program for an entire year, which includes all modules, or levels of their curriculum.  This was provided free to us….and what a gift it is!

What are the things that can make teaching a foreign language in the home a challenge?  Mostly I’d think it would be pronunciation…..did you put the accent on the right syllable?  Did your child pronounce that word correctly?  Or perhaps it’s lack of experience on your part.  Did you struggle with foreign languages yourself, or did you dislike them?  I think there are so many advantages to learning a language in homeschool for both children AND parents, yet parents can be intimidated to try or unsure of what curriculum is best (as well as most affordable) to use.

Although it’s been quite a few years since I learned French in high school and college, I’ve always loved the language itself; the way it looks and the way it sounds; the simplicity of its pronunciation; the way it shows up frequently in American life ( as in café au lait, baguette or even “Allons-y!” if you’re a “Doctor Who” fan).  However, I’ve tried a number of different curricula rather unsuccessfully over the years, never really settling on one that was both enjoyable to use and excellent in its auditory, written and spoken forms.  I’m happy to report that finally, in French Essentials, we’ve found a curriculum that’s all of those things I’ve been looking for!

French Essentials was created  for home educators by French instructors Greg and Irene Shone, whose children attend school in French and are homeschooled in English.  Their French Essentials team is composed of native Francophones from all over the French-speaking world, from France to Quebec to the Republic of Mauritius.  The curriculum itself is designed so that the student can:

  • see French words
  • hear them pronounced by native French speakers
  • speak in French themselves
  •  write exercises in French
  • take tests at the ends of each section, to show language acquisition
  • learn about French culture

Once a membership has been purchased, parents will download the lessons, which are organized into modules, onto their own computers.  The download process is pretty straightforward and works on both Macs and PCs.  (System requirements include an Internet connection, and the latest versions of Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash Player and Quick Time {for PCs only}.)  The student can either start at the very beginning of Module 1, Lesson 1, or can take a placement test (if some French has already been learned) to see where he should start.

The lessons are completely self-sustaining and require no parental instruction (unless you just enjoy French and want to join in), other than assigning and checking work, and making any adjustments to language learning as needed..  French Essentials suggests a learning program for each grade level; because Jackson is in 6th grade we’re following their recommendations.  This means that we’ll aim to complete two modules this year (Modules 1 and 2) and each year following, until Jackson reaches high school, when we’ll aim at completing one module per year.  This enables him to have an adequate amount of time each week to complete each lesson portion, plus  have time for vocabulary review and testing.

frenchessentialsscreenshot_zps981045a1[1]This is a shot of the online portal you’ll be able to access once you’ve purchased a membership.  You can see that there are three areas for you to access for French studies:  the Download Area, which contains all 5 modules (more are continually being developed and uploaded, by the way) with all French lessons and activities; Online Exercises & Lesson Tests, which includes tests for each lesson beginning with Lesson 4 of Module 1, as well as practice activities like online flash cards and games to enhance vocabulary; and Culture, which teaches the students a bit more about French life.

frenchessentials4_zpsa088c965[1]The tests are somewhat customizable; parents can select whether they want the test questions to be written, true/false, multiple choice, or matching, though French Essentials recommends that tests be taken with the written exercises and at least one of the other three forms.

frenchessentials2_zps530122b6[1]In a typical week, our goal was to complete four days of French work.  That included doing two to three lessons from Module 1, then using the other day or days for review work.  As any foreign language student knows, review is a necessary part of language acquisition!  French Essentials’ online flash cards and games make these fun and pleasant activities.  I’m also assigning Jackson writing exercises that are simply composing a sort of French-English dictionary; writing his new words in French with the English meaning across from them.  We also like to make our own actual flash cards from index cards, and we can use those for both review and games like Concentration.  The good thing about that is that he can always do some French review, even if we’re not at the computer!

French Essentials Mod 1 part 2Each lesson is self-sustaining and complete, and begins with a stated goal or objective.  Here is what a typical lesson looks like:

  1. New vocabulary/phrases, and how or when to use them
  2. Listening to each word or phrase, pronounced by a French speaker
  3. Reading about each word or phrase and learning grammar associated with it
  4. Learning more about why each word is pronounced a certain way, and why that is
  5. Listening to and repeating each word
  6. Watching a French instructor use the new vocabulary with a variety of French speakers
  7. Interacting with the (recorded) French instructor in conversation
  8. Writing the words
  9. As directed, going to the French Essentials website and taking the test for the lesson

2013_1111_142903AAFrench Essentials has truly met not only our needs for French instruction in our homeschool, but my hopes and dreams as well.  I think the computer format really holds Jackson’s interest; the lessons are interesting in part because they include so many varieties of activity.  Learners of all types should easily benefit from this curriculum’s design and format…as well as coming away with some fantastic language learning!  I can happily recommend French Essentials  for parents who speak languages and for those who don’t; who’d like to integrate French language learning into their homeschools in an enjoyable way.  French Essentials recommends that students be at least in grade 3 when beginning, and they recommend the following modules per grade level:

  • Grades 4 through 8:  Modules 1-5
  • Grades 8-9:  Modules 5-6
  • Grades 10-12:  Modules 7-10 (the last 5 modules are currently under development)

The French Essentials curriculum can be purchased via their website in several formats.  You can purchase full access access to all modules for an entire year (like we were given) for $149.95.  Or, you can purchase a single module at a time for $69.95.  This subscription page enables you to view what the curriculum’s different modules cover.  The downloads are yours to keep once the curriculum has been purchased.

French Essentials has become a delightful addition to our daily homeschool work.  Jackson is learning a wonderful language while seeing it, hearing it and writing it.  The lessons are interesting and move at a comfortable pace.  Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew, and discover what other homeschool families thought about French Essentials!

Enjoy!  –Wren

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