Tools

Useful tools for your classroom or personal use

When he first announced Duolingo, co-founder Luis Von Ahn’s stated goal was to crowd source the translation of the internet. As the site (and subsequent application) have undergone extremely transformative development, this original goal has been tossed by the wayside. No longer do Duolingo users translate web articles for algorithms to decide which inputs are the most accurate. Instead, we have a free-to-use language learning application which overly focuses on vocabulary and rote exercises, developed mostly by computer scientists rather than trained language educators, and monetized through ads (or a paid version without ads) and high-rolling investors.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve used Duolingo on and off since the Beta release, and I assign weekly homework through Duolingo to my middle school French students. I love the “Stories” function, and I love the community interaction. That said, Duolingo is not without its flaws and lack of essential functionality for serious language enthusiasts: almost no support for grammar, no way for a Duolingo Classroom to force audio exercises, complete decontextualization of input (outside of the “Stories”), and essentially no creativity or higher-order critical thinking for responses (again, “Stories” is a good start with some of its follow-up questions). These flaws are not enough to make me stop assigning Duolingo as a supplemental activity for middle schoolers, but the recent investment from Google parent company, Alphabet, is enough for me to take a step back and question the security of my students’ (and my own) data.

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Élise Gravel, a québecoise children’s book author and illustrator, has some wonderful posters to teach children about inclusivity and social awareness. Many of these are available for free to download and print from her blog, available in both French and English. Some topics include:

  • Identifying and stopping bullies
  • What is Autism?
  • How to minimize our impact on the environment
  • Making mistakes is human
  • Boys and girls can like whatever they want to like

You can hang these in your classroom for passive impact, or you can incorporate them into your lessons by having students analyze them and share their opinions.

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French news sites

Below are some French-language news sites that I give to my students for current events presentations.

General, simplified

Print news sources

Non-print news sources

Satire

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IPA Characters

Interactive IPA chart

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Typing different languages on Windows can be a pain. In undergrad, I memorized all of the relevant alt-codes for French characters. When I started studying Sanskrit, my professor shared this US International keyboard from Carleton College. It has covered almost all of my accent mark typing needs (outside of IPA characters), and is very intuitive to use for someone who grew up with a standard QWERTY US keyboard.

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