The use of song enhances french aquisition

June 15 2012

London, ON – Dr. Nadine de Moras, a professor of French at Brescia University College, teaches French in a manner that is different from that of most language instructors. Based on her research, her 20 years of experience in teaching, and the attention she pays to both the curriculum and the students’ needs, she has designed courses and material that observably improve and advance the language learning of her students.

Her master’s and PhD research focused on second-language acquisition in general, and the mastery of pronunciation patterns, among which liaisons (or links between words such as les_ (z)enfants), in particular.  de Moras discovered that native and non-native speakers’ production depends directly on the input (frequency) which they had received.

Because, usually, non-native speakers have not been exposed to the target language as much as native speakers, they tend not to acquire the language as accurately as native speakers. First, de Moras tested the learners’ familiarity of liaisons, knowledge that reflects their mastery of the French phonetic system. The results indicate that after studying French for an average of 10 years in school, Anglophone students produced 61% of liaisons, compared to 96% for native speakers. This indicates that students clearly do not master the French phonetic system.

de Moras tested the effects of different types of instruction (repetition, correction, and explanation) on the students’ progress. The instruction given to the group that made the most progress included repetitions, while that given to the group that made the least progress was based mainly on explanation.

de Moras affirms: “I concluded that, based on my research,  a language class can only be effective if students receive extensive exposure to, and repetition of, the language, in addition to both receiving corrections accompanied by explanations, and considerable opportunity to practise. Explanations prove to be the least effective method.

This research has weighty implications for language teaching. Unless second-language learners have been exposed to the same language structures many times and have had the opportunity to hear and practise them extensively, they simply cannot master them.

de Moras also noticed that language instruction in most classes principally addressed the learning style of visual learners (power point presentations, books, essays, written tests and assignments, etc.) and that relatively little was done for auditory and kinesthetic learners. Yet, teaching a second language should place the appropriate emphasis on the auditory and kinesthetic aspects of learning a language.

Finally, de Moras also observed that most language courses concentrate on grammar and written language, with a small oral component. If students learn vocabulary, it is usually that of the formal written language that is presented in books and texts.  Informal language is rarely taught, even though, very often, it is the language which students need and request to learn.

How, then, does a weekly three- or four-hour class provide the necessary extensive exposure, repetitions, and practise of vocabulary and pronunciation? It has been de Moras’s pedagogical project to redesign and adjust the lessons of all her language classes to provide precisely that, given the constraints of the curriculum.

The use of songs is prevalent in children’s education yet songs are virtually absent from adult education.  de Moras redesigned an existing fourth-year French course at Brescia (Fr 4900A), so that it is based on songs instead of texts, a redesign from which, she observed, adult learners of varying ages benefited. The songs were carefully chosen with a view to providing content in which informal vocabulary and pronunciation are prominent. Students listen to the songs until they know them almost by heart. The songs provide a basis for the study of pronunciation, language variation, language registers, vocabulary, and culture. In class, students practise the new vocabulary and language registers in pairs or small groups.

Over the years, Dr. de Moras’s instruction style, selection of content, and design of curriculum have met with success, in terms of the learning goals she has set for her students. It was, and continues to be, the success achieved by the students enrolled in her French 4900A course, a course in which she has applied to the greatest extent the results of her research, which has been the most consistent, and the most confirmative of her instructional theory. Students remember the content of the course over the long-term, generally they have higher grades, and demonstrate greater recall when tested. If the grades are good, Dr. De Moras is very often able to correlate them to her course design: the material lends itself to understanding and memorization; course content is useful, interesting and enjoyable, characteristics which motivate students to do their best; finally, the exercises, assignments, and tests provide the extra repetition needed for long-term retention.

Students report finding Dr. de Moras’s approach to teaching “original, effective, very insightful, and refreshing.” Many of her students describe her as an excellent professor, dedicated to enabling her students to achieve academic success and satisfaction. Dr. de Moras continues to make a significant impact on the academic life of her students at Brescia University College.

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