Chapter XX


 French should be acquired as English is, not as a grammar, but as a living speech. To train the ear to distinguish and the lips to produce the French vocables is a valuable part of the education of the senses, and one which can hardly be undertaken too soon. Again, all educated persons should be able to speak
French. Sir Lyon Playfair, once speaking at a conference of French masters, lamented feelingly our degeneracy in this respect, and instanced the grammar school of Perth to show that in a Scotch school in the sixteenth century the boys were required to speak Latin during school hours, and French at all other times. There is hardly another civilised nation so dull in acquiring foreign tongues as we English of the present time; but, probably, the fault lies rather in the way we set about the study than in any natural incapacity for languages.
          As regards French, for instance, our difficulties are twofold—the want of a vocabulary, and a certain awkwardness in producing unfamiliar sounds. It is evident that both these hindrances should be removed in early childhood. The child should never see French words in print until he has learned to say them with as much ease and readiness as if they were English. The desire to give printed combinations of letters the sounds they would bear in English words is the real cause of our national difficulty in pronouncing French. Again, the child’s vocabulary should increase steadily, say, at the rate of half a dozen words a day. Think of fifteen hundred words in a year! The child who has that number of words, and knows how to apply them, can speak French. Of course, his teacher, will take care that, in giving words, she gives idioms also, and that as he learns new words, they are put into sentences and kept in use from day to day. A note-book in which she enters the child’s words and sentences will easily enable the teacher to do this. The young child has no foolish shame about saying French words—he pronounces them as simply as if they were English;
but it is very important that he should acquire a pure accent from the first. It is not often advisable that young English children should be put into the hands of a French governess or nurse; but would it not be possible for half a dozen families, say, to engage a French lady, who would give half an hour daily to each family?

          The ‘Series.’—Thus, a language learned by M. Gouin’s method is ‘a liberal education in itself.’ One learns how few and simple are, after all, the conceptions of which the human mind is cognisant, and how few and simple, putting mere verbiage aside, are the words necessary to express these.
          You really learn to think in the new language,
because you have no more than vague impressions about these acts or facts in your mother tongue.
          You order your thoughts in the new language, and, having done so, the words which express these are an inalienable possession.
          Here is an example of an elementary ‘Series,’ showing how ‘the servant lights the fire’:

          “The servant takes a box of matches,                     takes.
          She opens the match-box,                                      opens.
          She takes out a match,                                           takes out.
          She shuts up the match-box,                                 shuts up.
          She strikes the match on the cover,                    strikes.
          The match takes fire,                                            takes fire.
          The match smokes,                                               smokes.
          The match flames,                                                flames.
          The match burns,                                                 burns.
          And spreads a smell of burning over the kitchen, spreads.
          The servant bends down to the hearth,        bends down.
          Puts out her hand,                                                puts out.
          Puts the match under the shavings,                        puts.
          Holds the match under the shavings,                     holds.
          The shavings take fire,                                             take fire.
          The servant leaves go of the match,                       leaves go.
          Stands up again,                                                         stands up.
          Looks at her fire burning,                                               looks.
          And puts back the box of matches in its place,      puts back.”

          But any attempt to quote gives an uncertain and unsatisfactory idea of this important work.

[1] See Appendix A.

[2] See Appendix A.

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