Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools

Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools
Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools

Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools


ABSTRACT: This work dealt with the Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools. The introductory aspect looked at some definitions of language and the need for the study of French language in Nigeria, including some of the problems militating against the implementation of French language policies. Such variables as phonological awareness, reading fluency, multilingualism, gender and location of students were speculated as possible causes of students’ difficulties in reading French Language. The study was delimited to identifying and analyzing the difficulties of Senior Secondary School French language students’ reading in relation to pronunciation, lexis, syntax, and fluency. Four research questions and two null hypotheses guided the work. 

Descriptive survey research design was adopted in this research. One hundred and twenty (120) senior secondary school students of French language were randomly composed from thirteen (13) secondary schools that offer French language in the zone. A French Language Reading Achievement Test (FLRAT) was used to collate the necessary data. The study revealed that the major areas of difficulty in pronunciation were in articulation of syllable and nasalization, while recognition of suffixes and gender issue in French language grammar constituted difficulties in reading syntax, with distinction of homophones difficulties in reading lexis.


Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools




1.1      Background to the Study

     Human beings have the gift of language which distinguishes them from the rest of the animal world.  They are said to be homo sapiens by reason of language.  Man alone has the power to articulate speech and it is largely by virtue of this power that human beings can reason.  It is difficult to think of what the world of man would look like without language.  Of course, one would find it difficult to imagine the implications of such a situation, since the very thought itself would be in language.

            Language has been variously defined. According to Safra (2002) language  consists of vocal sounds to which meanings have been assigned by cultural conventions and which is often supplemented by various gestures.  Language is the medium man uses to shape and express his thought.  Language consists of a number of verbal and non-verbal presentations of ideas, concepts and these are represented through symbols and signs in the written form, by means of which our thoughts are logically and intelligibly proved to be truth.  Language gives human existence its central meaning and focus.  According to Palmer (2005), Otagburuagu and Okorji (2003), man is unlike other animals because he is homo loquens – man the speaking animal.

From the definitions of language, one could infer that there are certain features peculiar to human language.  For instance, the use of vocal symbols (speech sounds), use of gestures; nods, smiles, and of course, verbalization.  Animals and birds can vocalize but not verbalize.  Other lower animals can communicate but not with a meaningful language like human beings.  A bird like parrot can repeat or imitate human sounds but cannot say the meanings.  This is why, in considering further the features of human language, Otagburuagu and Okorji (2003) assert that all languages are dynamic, productive and communicably dependable through speech and exist in human nature as part of culture. 

Human language is used for specific purposes such as medium of expression of feelings, medium of creativity, evaluation, indoctrination, social interaction, articulation and classification of thought.  All these boil down to the general purpose of language, which is a means of communication. By implication, language is the unique property of human beings and all the developments of man, be it intellectual, ethical, political, social or economic revolve entirely on the instrumentality of language. It stimulates all forms of mobility among human beings.

This informs the fact that Nigeria, an English speaking country, as a result of colonization by the British apart from her Anglophone inclination, maintains a bilateral relationship with the neighboring French-speaking countries around her in areas of economic, political, and socio-cultural dealings.  Countries like Cameroon, Chad Republic, Benin Republic, Togo, Niger and a host of others are in constant touch with Nigeria under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States since its inception in May, 1975. French and English languages are the two major languages used for communication during deliberations in the meeting sessions of the union. This informs the necessity of the language for every Nigerian.

The turn of events in the development of French in Nigeria has culminated in the New French/English bilingual policy of French as a second language.  The policy of French becoming a second official language confers on it a status similar to that of English in Nigeria.  French, therefore, becomes a core subject at the senior primary and junior parts of the 9-year Basic Education.

The new language policy is consequent upon government’s awareness and appreciation of the role of the French language as a unifying force in the inter-regional scene among African states, viz.: “For the smooth interaction with her neighbors, it is desirable for every Nigerian to speak French.  Accordingly, French shall be the second official language in Nigeria and it shall be compulsory in schools” (FRN, 1998, 2004).  Again government has realized that operating a monolingual policy of English as the only official language on the international scene in this millennium and probably beyond may be detrimental to her democratic and developmental process (Opara, 2000).

            With this change in status, French is no longer studied as an optional language in the school but as a second language and compulsory subject. According to the National Policy on Education,   

  It has therefore become part of the educational process of the average Nigerian child.  As such, it becomes part of the means for realizing the educational objectives of helping the child to acquire permanent literacy, self reliance and other life-long learning skills through the inculcation of appropriate learning-to-learn, self awareness, citizenship and life skills ( FRN, 2004 )

To prove its commitment to this policy, the Federal Government has already adopted the three-phased implementation schedule recommended by the Ministerial Task Force for the implementation of the policy from 1998 to 2008.  The policy has conferred on the French language a privileged position of a core subject vis-à-vis its former position of an elective course on the school curriculum.  A closer look at the implementation period, suggests a serious and committed effort on the part of the Federal Government for its implementation.  One would believe that logistics put in place at the first phase under implementation is not yet completed (Okwudili, 2006).  It is rather the case that the first phase has already become a myth, as nothing seems to be happening in that regard. 

According to Ugwu (2008) the French language policy has gradually been going underground due to some obvious problems which range from human capital to material resources.  As a matter of fact, most of the teachers who are to implement the policy are not yet aware of the policy, or the proposed phases of the implementation procedure.  Logistics and resources for proper implementation are not yet adequately in place.


Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools
Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools

With the above impediments to the implementation of French language policy in Nigeria, the teaching of French language in secondary schools endeavors to ensure that the individual Nigerian child acquires the basic four language skills.  According to the West African Examination Council (WAEC) (Regulations and Syllabus, 2011), the teaching and learning of French in secondary schools in Nigeria is intended to meet the general needs of students of French including those who may wish to pursue vocational or other studies.  The aim is to develop the four language skills namely: listening, speaking, reading and writing as well as encourage critical thinking.

The focus of this study is the reading skill.  According to Simon (2008), reading is the meaningful interpretation of verbal symbols, a complex process that involves the physical, mental, and emotional abilities and conditions of the reader, his cultural background and the kind of materials to be read. It is a process of retrieving and comprehending some form of stored information or ideas in written form.

Aliyu (2009) equally observes that it is a domain of language proficiency that encompasses how a reader processes, interprets and evaluates written language, In other words, reading is a cognitive process of understanding a written linguistic message, symbols, and texts with understanding and fluency. Reading like listening, speaking, and writing is a facet of communication. Reading and writing build on wealth of oral language that children begin developing long before they enter school. Oral and written languages share common features: the same vocabulary, the same grammar and syntax, and similar purposes. However to read, students must be able to recognize in print the language that they use orally.

The attainment of the aims and objectives of national language policy in French has become a mirage as the performances of the students in Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations have been on a decline.  According to the Chief Examiners’ Reports, WAEC (2009 and 2010), the performance of the students in French language was rated below 30 percent.  The reason is attributed to the poor reading skills on the part of the students.  The report also shows that candidates from Francophone countries performed well unlike those from the Anglophone. The disparity between the performance of the students and the objectives of the study of French language as the second official language prompts the researcher to investigate the reading difficulties encountered by secondary school students of French language in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State.

Analyzing students’ area of difficulty when identified is a subsection of this work. The electronic dictionary defines analysis as “examination and determination”. It involves the separation of entity into parts for close examination. Analysis of French reading passages will therefore examine the phonological, phonemic, syntaxes and of course lexical aspects of difficulties in reading French language.

Historically scientific knowledge develops through cycles of analysis and synthesis. According to Ritchy (2011:11) “…every synthesis is built upon the results of preceding analysis and every analysis requires a subsequent synthesis in other to verify the correct results…” Analysis as a basic scientific method however implies nothing about a problem having to be quantifiable. Non quantifiable problems rely on judgmental processes and internal consistency rather than causality. At cognitive level, judgments must often be used and worked with- more or less directly. Many if not all the variables involved here are non quantifiable. The researcher however intends to synthesize the sets of these non quantifiable conditions into well designed relationship and configurations to help arrive at solutions. The areas to be analyzed include morphology, phonology, lexis and syntax in French language reading.

Reading difficulty refers to the challenges encountered by learners in reading French language. These challenges may be in the form of phonological and phonemic awareness, word decoding and phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Phonological and phonemic awareness refer to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken language. Phonemes combine to form syllables and words. For example, the word “ voix” has two syllables and two phonemes; /v/ /wa/. There are 37 phonemes in the French language represented by letter combinations such as /œ/, as in the words fleur, soeur, etc and /wa/, as in the words moi, voila etc.

Acquiring phonemic awareness is important because it is the foundation for spelling and word recognition skills. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read.  As Pesses (2002) observed, reading and learning are complementary to each other.  Both skills mar or improve the academic success of a child in the school as he/she reads to learn and vice-versa. Students at the risk of reading difficulty often have lower levels of phonological and phonemic awareness than do their classmates.

Phonological awareness assessment involves the examination of students’ awareness of the phonological structure, and their ability to articulate syllables in the process of reading. It looks at how initial sounds, medial sounds, final sounds are manipulated in the reading process. How blending phonemes, segmentation of speech stream affect reading. As a result of the nature of French language, other aspects of phonological awareness will be called into play in this study. They include the use of liaison, and the manipulation of nasal sounds known as “nasalization” in French language. Liaison or linking, strongly affects the flow of utterances. It serves as a linguistic chain that connects words. Critics often refer to the use of liaison in French as being chaotic because of the many exceptions in which liaison must not occur.

It is pertinent to note that a major criterion in the evaluation of fluency is the absence of hesitation. Hesitation here implies the act of slowing down a process as a result of uncertainty, worry or nervousness. Other assessment components of fluency include: prosody, accuracy, and rate. The exact role of expressing and phrasing – or prosody – in fluency and comprehension has not yet been determined, but it certainly is an element that signifies whether or not a student is truly a fluent reader.

Furthermore, analyzing students’ error is another factor to be considered in this study. Error analysis according to Afangideh (2004) is the study of inter-language in order to better understand the process of L2 acquisition. Inter-language errors are errors made as a result of intrusion of features of one language into another in the speech of bilinguals. A learner’s error give evidence of system of language he has learned at a particular point in the course and points to the difficult areas as well. This is why Tran-Thi Chan(1974:27) says “The frequency of error is proportional to the degree of learning difficulties”. This implies that the learning difficulties encountered by the learner determine the extent of the errors he/she commits.

The multilingual nature of Nigeria is however an imposing problem for effective French reading.  “Nigeria is made up of more than 250 ethnic groups with different political, socio-cultural, religious and economic backgrounds and languages” (Awa, 2006:10).  With the lack of linguistic relationship between French and the various languages of the country, it becomes difficult for the learners to imbibe the reading skills in French language.  For instance, it is not easy for neither the Hausa nor the Igbo or the Yoruba language speakers to find a correlation between French language and these other languages. Any attempt most of the time will lead to erroneous transfer problems.  In some cases, there are many pronunciation styles as there are students among other problems.

Apart from the above problems, the inability of the teachers to teach reading skills in the school comes to play.  According to Ojo in Omachonu (2008), students fail to read efficiently because teachers have not mapped out sufficient time to teach reading skills. Keeping students interested and motivated is sometimes a challenge. Some students who can read would rather do other things instead. Other students struggle with reading and so don’t enjoy it.

It is therefore imperative that students will be taught reading skills as a stepping stone to enhance their performance in school.  It is against this background that the researcher embarked on this study to identify and analyze the reading difficulties in French language reading skills among senior secondary school students with a view to proffer enduring solutions to the problem of reading in French language.


Identification and Analysis of Difficulties in Reading French Language in Senior Secondary Schools


1.2      Statement of the Problem

Over the years, the preliminary stage of French teaching which involves oral expression, in other words, listening and speaking attracts the students more, while reading and writing constitute problem areas for them. The relationship between reading and language development is taken for granted by many French language teachers in the schools. There is usually little or no provision for reading exercises. It is just assumed that once language is taught, students should have the ability to read. This must have informed the reason why French language has not found a solid base in Nigeria, in spite of its being declared as the Nation’s second official language by the late Head of state General Sani Abacha in 1987.

 The absence of progress was equally observed by the Centre for French Teaching and Documentation (CFTD) Enugu. The data collated in the years 2006, 2007 and 2008 by the Center indicate that there is a drastic decline in students’ enrolment in Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) in French Language. For example, in the years mentioned the percentage number of students who registered for the SSSCE were 0.12%, 0.11%, 0.22% respectively. On the other hand, 15.2%,14.9% and 17.9% registered for Junior Secondary School Certificate Examinations the same years. It is therefore evident that there is a decline in the strength of students who read French at the SSSCE level.

Could the source of this decline be traceable to reading difficulties? In the same vein, at the end of Junior Secondary School, children are expected to read French language texts confidently.  A greater number of students in Senior Secondary Schools find it very difficult to meet up with the challenges posed by new texts and the concepts therein.  The classroom teachers are also complaining of the inability of the students to read simple passages in French.

  These problems can be solved only if an investigation is carried out to find out why students read poorly.  It is a consensus among scholars that when a problem is identified it is half solved.  Therefore, the problem of the study posed as a question is: What is the reading difficulty experienced in French language by Senior Secondary School students.

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