I launched the free Frenchoo.com website in September 2017 to help my student master the basics of French grammar.
Year after year, languages teachers face the same dilemma: push forward with the course, or spend some time revising the basics that might have been overlooked in the past. The way we teach languages is very empirical. When students start to get gaps in their grammar, it soon hinders their performance in speaking and writing. The way examinations currently work means that linguists usually cannot afford to teach a language in the way that people natually learn it, which I outlined in another blog post here .
Two of my children are bilingual in French and English, and the other two in Ukrainian and English. At no point did I or my wife sit down with them to teach grammar. This is simply not the way to pick up a language. As your brain gets older, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick up a language in a natural way, that is by being fully immersed in it. We adults like to have rules, guidelines, models to follow. In a word, grammar. Because of the constraints of time, schools tend approach it in the same way.
So, I decided to build this website from scratch, borrowing the concept of mastery that made Khan Academy so popular: I created a progression chart for French, where mastering a key concept unlocks other concepts. In this respect, the whole of French grammar is broken down into a collection of manageable skills which, when put together, give the student a thorough and well-rounded approach to the language.
The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. Aristotle
I like to tell my students that learning grammar is pretty much like riding a bike; there is struggle at first, but when you know how to do it, you are good to go for the rest of your life. It is interesting to note that grammatical maturity happens at different times for different people. For me, it was at university that I had this "Aha!" moment when I fully understood the sequences of tenses in English.
Having a website with key concepts explained, together with application exercises as well as grammar notes gives the learners the flexibility to revisit and practise according to their own agenda. I hope that this will be liberating for teachers too, giving them time to focus on the things that really matter.