An Claidheamh Soluis, 13 October, 1906.
Apt and piquant comparisons play a large part in good language teaching. The teacher who has taken “Le garçon” as the theme of his first two object-lessons will take as the theme of his third some common quadruped between which and the garçon he will draw a number of broad and striking contrasts. In Belgian schools the horse is the animal most commonly selected.
Should the school be in the country the teacher, keen to seize the opportunity of an effective and realistic object-lesson, will march the whole class into the playground, into which he will introduce an actual horse. In Ireland, “asailía an mháighistir” would probably be more easily available than a horse, and would form quite as interesting a theme of discourse. Should the muster not be fortunate in the possession of an asailín, the parents of one of the children would very gladly lend the services of the family beast of burden. The class groups itself around the somewhat astonished quadruped, and one of the youngsters is called out to stand beside it as the joint theme of the lesson. The point-by-point comparison of their school-fellow’s outer anatomy with that of the asailín is bound to appeal to the children’s senses of curiosity and humour.
Should it be inconvenient to provide a real horse or donkey a model or even a toy could be used. Excellent models of all the commoner domestic and wild animals can be had from at least one school-furnishing house in Dublin. In the absence of a model a picture would do, or even a rough blackboard sketch. But the best of all substitutes for the living animal is undoubtedly the Image Animée.
The Image Animée is the joint invention of M. J. Mehauden, the Principal of the Ecole Communale of Molenbeek St. Jean, and M. G. Wyninex, Professor at the School of Industrial Design, Ixelles. It is a cardboard figure, realistically coloured, and furnished with movable joints. In the hands of a skilful teacher its possibilities are endless. It can be utilised in every imaginable form of Direct Method teaching (including, of course, the teaching of grammar); in that useful type of lesson which has as its object the cultivation of the observing and reasoning faculties and the imparting of “general information;” and finally – this being its most characteristic and interesting use – in the teaching of composition, whether in the vernacular or in a new language.
The complete collection of Images Animées published for Mm. Mehauden and Wyninex by J. Lebègue et Cie., 46 Rue de la Madeleine, Bruxelles, includes animals, men, women, children, simple household articles (chairs, baskets, boxes, bags, cans, sweeping-brushes, etc.), carts, wheelbarrows, saddles, guns, swords, toys of various kinds, caps, hats, etc., etc. Each cardboard figure can be fastened to the blackboard by means of a drawing pin. The hats and caps can be placed on the heads of the men and boys; the guns can be put in their hands; the horses can be saddled and yoked; the wheelbarrows can be pushed along. The objects form, in fact, a set of cardboard marionettes which can be manipulated pretty much as the operator likes. With the complete collection (which costs, I think, twenty francs), is issued a book in Flemish and French which explains the system and includes a number of interesting specimen lessons.
To proceed. The teacher, in the absence of a real horse, attaches the Image Animée of a horse to the blackboard. Beside it she (we again for reasons already explained drop into the use of the feminine pronoun) pins one of the cardboard boys from her collection. She then, having first tested the pupils’ knowledge of the previous day’s lesson, submits them to a further test by asking them to name on the cheval parts already named in the case of the garçon – la tête, le cou, l’œil, etc. She will not fail to draw attention to the fact that the cheval possesses an appendage which the modern garçon does not, – la queue. Next she concentrates on the legs, – les jambes. She counts the legs of the horse, – un, deux, trois, quatre. The brighter children have realised at once what she is doing, aided by the similarity of the names of the numerals with those in their mother-tongue. For the benefit of the slower pupils the teacher counts up to four on her fingers and on the half frame. She calls out four pupils and counts them. She counts four chairs, four windows, four marbles, four pennies. She makes four strokes on the black-board. She writes down the figures 1, 2, 3, 4. She raps the desk four times. The more readiness and resource she displays, the more she varies her processes and hits on new and startling devices the better.
Having impressed her meaning clearly, the teacher announces:
“Le cheval a quatre jambes.”
She now refers to the garçon’s nether limbs; un, deux; and announces:
“Le garçon a deux jambes.”
Endless play for conversational drill is afforded by these two sentences. Again: Paul a deux jambes; Henri a deux jambes; Etienne a deux jambes. Paul a aussi (a new word dropped incidentally; its meaning is soon apparent to the class) deux mains. Etienne a deux mains. Mot aussi (pointing to herself), j’ai deux mains. NOUS (making a wide sweep of the whole class) avons deux mains. Le cheval a quatre jambes. Nous avons deux jambes.
The sentences are next made interrogative and negative; conversational practice follows; and the whole concludes with a short phonetic drill.
Note the early stage at which the verb to have, with three of its forms in the present tense, is introduced. In one instance I heard the forms of “have” introduced in the very first lesson; the language being taught, however, was English, and there was little grammar to be remembered, owing to the absence of inflection in the article, etc. In teaching Irish I should reserve “have” for a later stage, harping in the earlier lessons on the verb “to be,” which is, of course, a much greater crux in Irish than in English or French.