Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

Multimedia technology in the teaching of French

Dr. Mark A. Pegrum
Department of French Studies
School of European Languages
The University of Western Australia
Funded by the Teaching and Learning Committee of the University of Western Australia, and in collaboration with Dr. Rosemary Lancaster, I have recently put the finishing touches to a multimedia/WWW laboratory programme for First Year French Studies, and am currently working on a similar programme for Second and Third Year French. The central resource for these programmes is a website entitled WebFrench which I set up in 1996, and which feedback indicates is now consulted internationally. Structured assignments require students to search for information relevant to their French courses - from Parisian tourist sites to pop culture figures, from daily newspapers to sports results - and even to correspond with Francophone site editors. WWW resources are complemented by the use of CD-ROMs, as well as my own software, created in collaboration with Mr Mike Fardon of the Arts Multimedia Centre, which I have tailored to the students' cultural studies courses. As a result of the success of this project we are considering a commercial development of these materials beginning in 1998.


Wondering what art exhibitions are currently showing in Paris? Need to know the price of a train ticket from Lyon to Marseille? Want to read today's edition of Le Monde? Like to see a preview of Chanel's spring collection? How about watching the trailers for this year's winning films at Cannes? Or reading a new interview with Catherine Deneuve? Or listening to a song by the latest Parisian techno sensation? Or perhaps you'd like a recipe for canard a l'orange? Or some details of Moet's most recent harvest?

If anything has become clear in the last year and a half - since the implementation of a multimedia programme for French students at the University of Western Australia - it's this: that students are hungry for precisely this sort of information, for this kind of contact with the language and culture they are studying. Fortunately for the contemporary generation of teachers, all this information is available at the touch of a button, thanks to the World Wide Web. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Georgia University of Technology indicates that French is the second most frequently used language on the WWW. This has important implications for the teaching of French in a location such as Australia, so far removed from the principal French-speaking communities of the world. Although the percentage of French language sites falls far short of those in English, there is nonetheless a staggering and rapidly increasing number of superb resources which can make an enormous difference to the quality and breadth of our teaching. Above all, access to absolutely up-to-date information gives the students an understanding of the contemporary French and Francophone world, coupled with a sense that they are studying a language which is not musty or stale, but rather the vehicle of a dynamic and vibrant youth culture which has much in common with their own.

In 1996, I began developing a multimedia/WWW laboratory programme in conjunction with Dr. Rosemary Lancaster's Cultural Studies courses in the Department of French Studies at UWA. This programme was introduced into both the First Year Language course and the Languages Other Than English (LOTE) teachers' revision courses, Levels II and III. Some students, in particular the secondary teachers involved in the LOTE programmes, required several introductory lessons in the Arts Multimedia Lab, where they were shown in step-by-step fashion how to explore the possibilities of the Web. The vast majority of the students who come to us from school-level French studies are in fact already familiar with procedures for navigating the Web, but those who are new to cyberspace quickly make up for lost time, and many of them are soon amongst the most enthusiastic Web surfers.

To avoid the enormous time wastage sometimes incurred by Web searches, students are directed to begin their exploration of French/Francophone cyberspace from my own website, entitled WebFrench, which can be accessed at:

It functions as a central index of interesting and useful French and Francophone resources worldwide, organised according to a submenu system similar to those seen on many CD-ROMs, which is designed to speed up the process of retrieving information on particular topics. Students can access around a thousand addresses internationally simply by clicking on items listed in any of the submenus. Since the establishment of this website late in 1996, I have had a large amount of encouraging feedback from around the world, and many suggestions for new links have been forwarded to me, mostly from France and Canada.

During their lab sessions, students are set assignments which require them to seek answers to informational questions in relevant sites on the Web. The questions set do not rely purely on textual material but attempt to make use of all the media available on the Web, so that students must also study and compare photographs, watch videos and listen to spoken and musical audio files. The assignment topics relate closely to thematic areas broached elsewhere in the French courses. For example, LOTE Level III students studying Paris before participating in an overseas trip to the French capital are asked to access practical information on subjects ranging from weather and ticket prices to metro routes and the location of parks, from restaurants worth visiting to upcoming museum exhibitions, from Parisian painters and writers to prominent politicians. First Year French students, on the other hand, are asked to imagine that they are on their way to Paris, and to work in groups to organise their trip; this includes checking out ticket prices on different airlines, planning stopovers and booking accommodation, budgeting for transport, food and entry to tourist sites, and setting up a daily itinerary.

In another assignment, First Year students, who are exposed to a range of French and Francophone music over the course of the year, are asked to obtain biographical information about contemporary pop singers, and to compare and contrast different songs and music styles. A media assignment asks students to read articles in the latest editions of newspapers and magazines, and to compare and contrast the stances adopted by different journalists across the political spectrum, and in different countries. As the Web programme is developed in 1998 to include Second and Third Year French students, the assignments will be correspondingly more demanding. For example, students will be asked to complete practical tasks such as finding out banking details from the major French banks, studying the different political parties and deciding which one(s) they would support, investigating French charities, and posting a French-language curriculum vitae on the Web as well as writing an application for a job advertised by a French or Francophone company (both of these latter activities may be carried out "for real", if the students so wish). More light-hearted topics will include writing a tourist brochure for a Francophone African country, and following the major sporting events of a given season.

A number of the assignments set require, or at least allow, students to communicate with Francophone editors or organisations online. First Year students, for example, are asked to write an e-mail to a movie star/pop singer/fan club of their choice, and they are encouraged to actually send these. Many in fact do so, and a large number receive replies. Second and Third Year students will be encouraged to use the Web not only as a resource in seeking employment or exploring the possibilities of further education at French/Francophone universities, but will also be asked to write letters to newspapers and magazines.

The students' response to the WWW has been overwhelmingly positive. The Web has opened up new fields of contemporary information and interest, while the presentation of materials in a variety of media has added a vibrancy lacking in text-based lessons. Frequently-heard comments are of the nature of: "I wish I'd known this was here before my last trip to France!" or: "I could've used this for my literature/politics/history assignment!" or: "Where can I get this album?" or simply: "Can we do more of this?" A large number of the assignments also lend themselves to pair and group work, which fosters a co-operative and enticing learning environment. But perhaps most rewarding of all are the assignments where the students themselves go online, writing to and very often receiving replies from French/Francophone editors. Suddenly they are part of an international Francophone cyberspace community, and are using what they have learned to really communicate with others on subjects of common interest. It is also encouraging to observe that many students invest their own time to explore the French Web well beyond the demands of the assignments set, looking up sites or sending their own e-mails on topics which appeal to them personally, while a few have even ventured onto French language chatlines.

For all the advantages offered by the Web, it should nonetheless be noted that there are potential and actual problems. The Web is still under construction, which offers the exciting possibility of new sites appearing constantly, but also means that sites frequently shift address or are incorporated within other sites, so that indexed sites must be checked regularly to ensure that they are still at the same address as a month or two previously. Because the materials are updated so regularly, and the information is so current, assignments must be flexible, and will certainly require alteration from year to year as the "answers" to the set questions change. But perhaps the most frustrating problems of all concern the often slow responses of foreign servers, especially when many students are trying to download information at the same time, though this problem is alleviated by setting Web assignments which the students are asked to complete in their own time. This is of course not always feasible in introductory sessions. And there is always the possibility of the system crashing totally - so that it is worth planning a backup lesson of a more traditional kind!

In our multimedia programme, WWW resources are complemented by the use of CD-ROMs, and also by a number of Storytime Programmes (based on an authoring shell created by Mr Mike Fardon of the Arts Multimedia Centre) which I have directly tailored to students' courses. They involve excerpts from videos and songs which are thematically relevant to the students' work, and include language and comprehension exercises which the students are required to complete in their own time. Generally speaking, the introductory exercises entail student self-correction with the help of hints from the software programme; the extension exercises are handed in for marking by tutors. In 1998, we will be introducing an automatic dropbin system, whereby students can "hand in" their work - whether based on Storytime, or on the WWW - on the computer, without the need to print it out on paper. Assignments will then be collected by tutors from a central point. Obviously, in the initial trial stages of this programme, students will still have the option of handing in work in the old-fashioned way!

The original work on this project was conducted solely with funding from the Department of French Studies, but a grant from the Teaching and Learning Committee of UWA for the second half of 1997 allowed me, in collaboration with Dr. Rosemary Lancaster, to put the finishing touches to the First Year and LOTE multimedia programmes, as well as to overhaul and update my website, and to begin work on a multimedia programme for Second and Third Years. The First Year Cultural Studies programme, of which the multimedia programme is an integral part, functions as a complete unit, and it is our intention to begin work on a commercial release of this material as an integrated course. The first stage of this project involves the projected publication, in 1998, of a book of exercises centred on my website, aimed at secondary school French learners in Australia, and functioning as a resource guide for the many teachers wishing to start incorporating WWW activities into their French teaching. A large number of language teachers, as suggested earlier, find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their computer-literate students; it is hoped that this book will, amongst other things, help bridge the gap.

The vast amount of quality resources offered by the WWW almost guarantee that it will come to play an increasingly important role in the teaching of French, and indeed of European languages generally: for the third most common language on the WWW is German, while the fourth and fifth are Spanish and Italian respectively. Used wisely, the Web can go a long way towards alleviating the traditional problems of a lack of materials which are both completely up-to-date as well as of practical and/or interest value.


  1. WebFrench. http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/EuropeanWWW/Markwebsites.html

Please cite as: Pegrum, M. A. (1998). Multimedia technology in the teaching of French. In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 255-258. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/pegrum.html

[The Proceedings web pages Editor regrets that a correct representation
of the character set for French cannot be made available here.]

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