French Class: A Means to Cultural Empathy and Understanding

From French Teacher Madame Harper:
Foreign language instruction in Waldorf schools strives to impart a deeper connection with others. For Rudolph Steiner, each language is the manifestation of the Folk Soul of people, the cosmic being who stands behind and protects that "folk." The study of a language other than our native tongue brings us into contact with another Folk Soul. This study can broaden and enrich our own character, encouraging characteristics that might otherwise lie dormant.

The study of another language can also give us a deeper understanding of, and sympathy with, another people or nation. It allows us to transcend our narrow national, inherited outlook. For Steiner, learning another nation's or culture's language is an effective way to achieve that understanding, to become "cosmopolitan."

Rudolf Steiner's view of education was not one of human beings who are restricted by their sense of nationality, but of human beings who think--and therefore feel--in an international, multilingual way. A key pedagogical principle from Steiner is that from 1st grade through 3rd grade all foreign language instruction is based on the conversation between teacher and pupils. Grammar is not taught explicitly in these first three years. Learning to speak, to listen, and to understand is the only goal. The children learn to speak the foreign language in the same way they learned to speak their mother tongue, through listening and imitation.

How this vision manifests at Orchard Valley Waldorf School
Our 8th grade class started the year with the French Revolution and is currently working on a project about famous French people. Did you know that the hot air balloon was invented by two French brothers, Les frères Mongolfier?

The 6th/7th grade class just completed a project on the French-speaking countries in Africa. You can take a look at their work on the bulletin board in the grades building. Students were surprised to learn how many places they could travel by knowing French! Moss McCurdy (Miss Peggy's husband) was a special guest in the class, and he shared some of his travel stories and photos from the years he lived in Senegal.

The 5th graders were happy to start their first correspondence with another French class in Maine. They made beautiful postcards for their pen pals and are looking forward to receiving their letters. What a great way to start working on their writing skills in French!

The 4th graders have been introduced to their first lesson book. We have been working around the fall theme, L'automne, making our Loto game and learning a poem. They are also learning a French folkloric song called V'la l'bon Vent!

In the 2nd/3rd grade classroom, students have been learning about fruits and vegetables in French and are currently working on a mini skit of the French Market. Achetez mes beaux légumes!

Meanwhile in 1st grade, we heard the story of "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" ("The Little Red Riding Hood") with puppets and learned few French songs. Also, we just introduced Crepes Fridays! We eat delicious crepes and learn a song about them. Learning a foreign language also means experiencing the different aspects of its culture with food, dance, and songs. Bon appétit!