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Need suggestions on how to teach beginners a foreign language

Hello all! I am teaching Faure's "Cantique de Jean Racine" to a class that is mostly unfamiliar with French language. Does anyone have any tips on how to effectively teach in a foreign language? This is only my second time conducting a piece. Thank you!
on April 1, 2014 3:48am
Getting the sounds of French in the ears of the students is a good first step. Depending on how much time you have, you could have them listen to a few French films, music and poetry. YouTube is great for such things. Afterwards, have them immitate a French accent or a French person. 
Go over the basic Frenchc vowel sounds as a class.  Even if you're students aren't perfect, this will help them to listen to each other and (eventually) agree.  If your students have some time at home or in a computer lab they can use this page to get the French sounds and phonetic symbols into their systems.  
As you work on the text, be patient and supportive.  It's not going to happen over night.
Hear a poetic reading of the text while seeing a translation and phonetic guide -
Hope this helps!
on April 1, 2014 5:52am
Hello Sable,
When we speak our original languages, regardless of what they are, we mostly speak in a relaxed natural manner.   Most English speaking North Americans don't do more with their lips, tongues or palettes than they need to.
But when we begin learning new languages and new sounds, the economy of minimal mouth motion continues creating very bland and inauthentic sounds.   So the first trick is to break the old habit of not working very hard.   Start with very exaggerated echoes.   Make them move their jaws, lips, tongues and palettes.   With some vowels, particularly French vowels have them sing the sounds on a pitch.   They will resist and will have to be reminded constantly.   Old habits are hard to break.
The second part of this is basic ear training.   Many won't hear the difference an English "T" or a Spanish "T" or an American "A" and a French "A" on a word like "dans."  So we are training them to hear these sounds.   We cannot vocalize anything that we cannot first hear.
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on April 1, 2014 6:38am
We are a world music ensemble that sings in over 20 languages, so we deal with your problem all the time! Whenever possible, we start with a native speaker of the language. We have Indiana University right here, so that's relatively easy to find. We write the music out phonetically rather than using IPA so it's easier to understand quickly. Then we have our native speaker go through phrase by phrase with us. Before they leave, we record them speaking the lines slowly and then faster so we have something to work with when they're not there.
As we start getting the notes down, we pay attention to pronunciation. We usually start to stray a little as we get distracted by notes and rhythm, so we periodically just speak the words in rhythm to re-focus on pronunciation.
We are working on a French song now (Marie Picard) and the pronunciation has been very challenging for us, much more difficult than Russian or Mahoi. So we started splitting the group into smaller sections until we had three people singing at a time, then two, then one by one we sang the four lines that were giving us the most trouble. Our French speaker was then able to troubleshoot each singer's pronunciation one-on-one. This probably isn't possible to do in a choral situation (we only have 9 singers), but it will definitely help if you can narrow down the number of people singing at once.
Another tip: Ask your native speaker for alternative pronunciations for people who just can't get a particular sound. For instance, few of us can get the gutteral "ch" of Yiddish. So our Yiddish speaker has given us a "Gentile" pronunciation as a substitute. It's not as good as if we were all native speakers, but it's close.
Sing on!
on April 1, 2014 7:18am
Those are all great suggestions.  In addition, it's easy to forget how very difficult the combination of learning a new piece of music and a foreign language text simultaneously is.  Teach the music with a lot of neutral syllables until your choir is comfortable with the notes.  In the meantime drill the language separately (also in rhythm) and only when both is pretty familiar, try to combine them.  When I work on foreign language works, I also create specific warm up's that use the vowel sounds of that language - often while pointing to the vowels on a white board.  Enjoy this beautiful piece!
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