Sunday, 16 May 2010

The importance of learning the gender of nouns.

This week I gave one of my classes their first French vocabulary test. (Don't gasp, I've only taught them for 3 lessons.)
One child asked me, "Do we have to get the "le" and "la" right?"
"Of course," I replied.
"That's not fair," said the crest-fallen child.
"Fair, schmair," I said, turning away, ending the conversation in the most mature and adult way I know.

But learning the gender of nouns is very important for students of foreign languages.
One reason for this is that French, Spanish and German have words whose meanings vary depending on their gender.

Here are some examples:

le souris (archaic) = smile, la souris = mouse
le livre = book, la livre = pound
le tour = tour, la tour = tower

el mañana = future, la mañana = morning
el papa = pope, la papa = potato
el moral = blackberry bush, la moral = morality

der Elf = elf, die Elf = team
der Leiter = manager, die Leiter = ladder
das Tor = gate, der Tor = fool

So, when that beautiful foreign stranger you've been practising your language skills on has a large mouse on her face as you explain why you don't agree with the potato's views on blackberry bushes, you're going to look a complete gate and you'll really wish you had learned the genders as well as the nouns.


Langwitch said...

Hi Dom
Completely agree about importance of gender! I always make them learn the gender and even give a full mark for them getting it correct when they do the test :o)

Steve Smith said...

I agree it's important, but I have to say that in the great scheme of things it's not that important because the examples you give Dom are rare ones. IMHO getting meaning across is the most important thing and gender is rarely vital for that.

Dom said...

Thanks for the comments. I have to admit that, yes, the examples I give are highly contrived (that's what happens when you start with a punchline and work backwards), but the point I'm trying to get across is that we do need to instil in our students that learning vocabulary and gender is very important from the outset and, by not testing gender and vocabulary, we could be doing our students a disservice.

Clare Seccombe said...

I remember one lunchtime in Spain my Spanish godmother's son saying,"¡Ah patatas asados!", and all the family shouting back "¡Patatas asadAS!" Getting the gender wrong has the same effect as saying something like "I seed him do it" or my daughter's "Her's clapping she's hands".

My KS2s are very fastidious about getting their genders right. We draw explicit attention to the gender of the nouns that we learn and what clues we have to look for to work out the genders (the beauty of Spanish!) They also enjoy making observations about gender when we are learning new words. Hopefully because we are getting it embedded in this, their first year of Spanish, it will become second nature to them later.

Now to get them as good at singulars and plurals....

Unknown said...

Rules for gender of French nouns
WEBSITE (English)
BLOG (francais)
BOOK (francais)
COMMENTS from colleagues are most welcome!