Mélodie Barthoux is the Course Director at the Alliance Française de Kuala Lumpur (AFKL). Her role as course director encompasses many elements from organising courses and programmes to counselling students and promoting the French language in schools and businesses. We asked Mélodie about working at the AFKL, why children should take up a second language like French and what methodology is practised.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at the AFKL.
My job is to organise everything related to the language courses from programmes and schedules, hiring teachers, creating a good learning environment, counselling students and parents, and promoting French in schools and companies. We offer classes for all ages – children, teens and adults – at our centres, and in schools, universities and companies. I’ve been working here for seven years and fell in love with Malaysia after living in France, Morocco, India and China.
Why is it so important for children to learn a second language and what are the benefits of learning French? Is there an ideal age to start learning a new language?
I have conducted many projects throughout the years but focusing on developing children’s classes has always been my favourite. It’s very interesting to develop programmes fulfilling the specific needs and methods of learning for each age group. Learning a foreign language is an advantage for a child. All studies agree that learning a new language at an early age is easier and faster due to having fewer inhibitions and having the mental capacity to do so. It also helps to stimulate curiosity, encourage open-mindedness, improves problem-solving skills and creativity and makes them more tolerant of diversity.
There isn’t any ideal age to start learning a new language - the earlier the better, but it is never too late. Children in Malaysia already live in a multicultural and multilingual environment and can experience other languages and develop their capacity to hear and produce sounds specific to each language.
How do the classes at the AFKL differ from the usual language class?
It’s important to understand that there are different stages in how children learn a language. Immersion is important for toddlers, while for children aged six and above, they will be learning a ‘foreign’ language. We adapt our teaching according to age, e.g. 18-26 months, 24-36 months, 4-5 years old. The teachers and I create specific programmes for each group with targeted goals, activities, methods, materials and vocabulary. The aim is to make sure the children enjoy our classes!
What is the methodology used to teach French to younger children?
Our programmes are well-structured and aimed at achieving specific goals in a way that the children aren’t aware of it. We want classes to be fun, interactive and ensure that the children enjoy coming each week and develop a real love for the French language.
From 18 months to six, our approach is fully immersive with only French being spoken in class. We explore two themes every three months through rituals and routines, songs, storytelling, games, art & craft, dance, sports and even French snacks like with madeleines, a small cake kids love! Children feel comfortable in the dedicated colourful and friendly classroom, and we encourage them to speak while respecting their pace. Some children pick up the language quickly while others take longer as they are focusing on their listening skills. Children aged seven to nine are given a textbook, but we still teach a lot through songs and games
What other activities / events does the AFKL offer the children?
There’s also the opportunity for them to learn and practice outside the class by joining the monthly storytelling session performed to music by a French actor, borrow books and DVDs from the kids’ section in our library, and attend ‘ciné-goûter (watch a French movie/cartoon with French snacks prepared by our café). There are also holiday workshops and the annual French Festival with specific performances and films for children.
What advice would you give parents who are thinking of sending their child to learn French?
French is a great language to learn and a good option for the future. French is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world and the second most popular to learn after English. Being able to speak French opens many doors – it’s a plus on a school / university application, offers the opportunity to study in France (free high-quality university courses), looks impressive on a résumé and is spoken in many countries around the world. Our expert team is passionate about sharing the French language and culture with our young learners and we look forward to welcoming more families and children to our classes.