Teaching Prosody

How to work on the prosody of French in class? Here are a few tools and tricks which can bring some magic in class.

Some settings of prosody

–> Tones
French is not a stressed language yet some syllables are accentuated, mostly the last beat of a word or sentence.
–> Intonation
The intonation of a sentence depends on the emotion and message to send. If it’s an exclamation, a yes-no question, an open-question, a parenthesis or a simple affirmative sentence, the intonation, or melody, differs.
–> Rhythm
There are ways to cut a sentences into rhythmic groups. You need to cut sentences into groups in order of breath. It is a good exercise to start from the end, with the last word, and slowly go back to the start. In this way, you are more aware of the tone on the last syllable of your sentence and on the breath groups.
–> Duration and speed
Are you speaking fast or slowly, the speed of your sentence is one thing but the duration of each of the beats (or syllables) should be equal.

Ways to practice other than reading

–> Music
Music is an excellent way for the learners to practice on their own and to get a feel of the prosody in French. You can select songs according to your target in phonology: a specific sound you want to work on, a rhythm (slow, fast), a level of accent (exclamation, declaration…), duration (pauses, tempo), attitudes and emotions (different voices with various accents).
–> Class “choir”
The teacher can also use her/his hands or the pointer to describe a curve which shows how to utter the sentence. She/he can also use the “lalala” (or “dadada”) to describe the way a sentence needs to be uttered. Making the students do these exercises together in class brings a good atmosphere. The objective is to have everyone “sing” the sentences and go faster and faster to reach their “Himalaya” (expression of Roslyn Young).
Here is a video using Cuisenaire rods to show some intonation patterns of French. It mainly deals with ‘accentuation’, rhythm and intonation.