The techniques of teaching the passé composé / imparfait distinction: A theoretical and pedagogical review

Open Access
Conway, Daniel J.
Area of Honors:
Interdisciplinary in French and Francophone Studies and World Languages Education
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Heather Mc Coy, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Heather McCoy, Thesis Supervisor
  • Matthew Edward Poehner, Honors Advisor
  • Willa Zahava Silverman, Honors Advisor
  • French
  • education
  • French education
  • world languages education
  • foreign language education
  • tense
  • aspect
  • tense and aspect
  • grammar
  • pedagogy
  • grammar teaching
  • passé composé
  • imparfait
This thesis will examine the linguistic and theoretical underpinning of the pedagogical techniques associated with teaching the passé composé and imparfait in French. These two verb tenses, having no straightforward equivalent in English, are notoriously difficult for teachers and learners alike, by virtue of their high formal and functional complexity. These challenges are compounded by the notoriously convoluted and outdated pedagogy of this grammar point; in particular, the rules and explanations found in most textbooks can mislead and confuse students. The solution to this problem, and the goal of this thesis, lies in a thorough understanding of the linguistic nature of the French tense-aspect system and how it relates to English, so that teachers might derive a clear and unequivocal approach from this knowledge. This thesis will also approach the question of the best sorts of activities for introducing, practicing, and mastering the passé composé and imparfait—ones that go beyond cookie-cutter grammatical drills focused on output, but that rather employ input-focused techniques such as a stress on narrative discourse, the archetypal context for these two tenses. Ultimately, this thesis will provide alternative approaches to teaching this grammar point that are based in current second-language acquisition research and that can be applied to grammatical pedagogy in general.