Un or une?  Le or la????

Every French teacher knows that gender of nouns is difficult to teach. Just as every pupil knows the frustration of there being no straightforward answer to the question ‘how do you know whether a word is masculine or feminine?’

Some have tried to come up with theories such as girls’ clothes must surely all be feminine? They may be initially encouraged in this theory by the fact of ‘une jupe’( a skirt)  and une ‘robe’ (a dress)  However, once they meet ‘une cravate,’ (tie)  and ‘une chemise’  (shirt) that theory is out the window (la fenetre)  Let’s just cut to the chase – the French word for  uterus – surely that will be feminine??? No , it’s le utérus.

Not that it’s a good idea to use this example with 11 year olds in their first French lesson at school. Their first encounter with gender of nouns is with the lexical set of classroom items (un stylo, un crayon, une gomme, une trousse) At first, it may all seem such fun – playing games such as bingo and 3 in a row but at some point the grammar point has to be made clear.  So, how do you help pupils come to terms with this concept? 

One way is to teach them that whenever you learn a new French noun you really have to learn it as a chunk of two words so you learn un stylo not just stylo and worry about the le/un bit later.

Another way is to encourage pupils to group the vocab into two lists : the ‘un’ words and the ‘une’ words.  You can use colour coding and practice some clever memorization techniques to master this concept to make it as pain free as possible.

There will certainly be more blogs to follow on this topic but the advice above will be sufficient for most beginners.

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