Teacher Avery Rueb knows what it’s like to learn French as a second language as a young adult — he’s been there himself. The American-born French-as-a-second-language teacher at Vanier College received an award from Office québécois de la langue française for his computer game Prêt à négocier that improves students’ oral French skills.
Rueb has taught English and French as a second language in several countries, and over time he noticed one common thread in his students’ struggles. « One of the things I’ve always had a problem with is getting my students to learn how to talk to one and another and talk to native speakers. »
He had an epiphany while taking a business negotiation class. « A negotiation was really a conversation, a complex conversation but one that could be used in a classroom. We have a buyer and a seller, and we have to talk about the item and then agree on a price, » he explains.
Prêt à négocier, the browser-based game that Rueb has developed over the past four years with Verdun-based Affordance Studios, was born. The game is marketed toward high schools and cegeps and also has an English version, Ready to Negotiate.
One more tool
The game is « another tool in the toolbox » for language teachers as Rueb describes, using it in his own classroom to complement more traditional writing and grammar exercises and web-based tools. Students split into pairs and negotiate over a predetermined item, which can be a pizza or a pirate ship. They first have to determine what the other player is offering and then settle on a price.
The goal is to get a better deal and win points based on the prices they’ve negotiated and for teachers to get students talking.
Many of Rueb’s students are taking pre-credit course after past struggles with school French, and some are immigrants learning two languages at once.
« We’ve all had foreign language anxiety before, the feeling that someone’s judging you, that you’re not good enough, that you’ll never be as good as a native speaker. Our students want to meet French [speakers] and use French in daily life, but a lot of them don’t have the confidence for it. If there’s a gamified approach and you’re trying to win, you tend to forget that maybe your pronunciation isn’t perfect. »
Rueb responded to the OQLF’s call for applications with no expectations and was very surprised to win at the Gala des mérites du français. « It was great just to go to the gala and meet other people who are working to promote the French language, a language that I love and that brought me to Montreal, » he says.
The Vanier teacher learned French in his 20s after watching a Brigitte Bardot film in a university film class and becoming fascinated with the language. He later moved to France and lived there for several years before settling in Montreal.
« I remember what it was like knowing what I needed to say and not getting the words out, » Rueb remembers.
Helping these students become functionally bilingual is really important to him as a non-native speaker. Learning a language is hard, but he says it can be fun at the same time.