The use of tablets and laptops in middle and high schools has created controversy in Charlottesville city schools, but St. Anne’s-Belfield School French teacher Karine Boulle has reason to rave about iPads. After 17 sessions of intense writing, translating, and coding, Boulle’s class of eighth graders completed 2Lingua Kids, a bilingual iPad app that teaches basic French phrases through a historical fiction story. Since Apple approved the free app, it has been downloaded in 26 different countries.
2Lingua Kids follows descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Louis XVI through Charlottesville, from the airport to Monticello to UVA. The app doesn’t include a lengthy vocabulary list or grueling grammar lessons—just casual conversation that is predominantly English, with French phrases and expressions scattered throughout, which can all be found in a glossary at the end. Questions asked in English may be answered in French, and vice versa, and users can tap each phrase to hear it spoken aloud.
“It helps you look at language in a different way,” Boulle said. “It’s not just a direct translation.”
St. Anne’s students use technology in and out of the classroom, from PowerPoint presentations to online class discussions for homework. Boulle was thrilled when all teachers received iPads last year, but she’s careful not to rely too heavily on gadgets. Everybody learns differently, she said, and she created the app project to incorporate skills beyond language and technology.
For Boulle’s students, the app project was daunting in the beginning.
“We were all very scared,” said eighth grader Joseph Milbank. “It seemed like quite an intense project.”
The class split into small groups and worked almost nonstop for more than a month to tackle the assignment. In addition to creating a dialogue with a substantial list of French expressions, Milbank and his classmates traveled around the city taking photos of landmarks, brushed up on the area’s history and culture, recorded themselves speaking each French phrase in the story, and learned basic coding to put the app together.
Milbank, who grew up with a French nanny, said he was amazed by how much more of the language he had learned by the end of the project.
The kids’ app is based on the original 2Lingua French, which Boulle—who’s fluent in English and French, and dabbles in Spanish, German, and Chinese—created last summer with inspiration from her family. A native of France who’s spent the last 22 years teaching language courses in the U.S., she lives in a bilingual household where she, her husband, and their preteen daughter constantly switch back and forth between English and French, “sometimes even in the same sentence.” Even the family dogs, which Boulle said she had intentionally tried to speak to in only English—“because a house sitter would probably speak English”—understand and respond to the word “walk” in both languages.
“Some things are better said in English, and some things are better said in French,” she said. “You can say exactly what you want to say, and just choose what works best.”