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French Professor Develops Web Site With Worldwide Following

What’s the most “viewed” page on the Southwestern University Web site? It’s a set of teaching resources developed by Aaron Prevots, an assistant professor of French.

What’s the most “viewed” page on the Southwestern University Web site?

It’s a set of teaching resources developed by Aaron Prevots, an assistant professor of French.

Prevots has created a Web site devoted to teaching and learning French through music. It’s called “French through Songs and Singing,” and can be found at www.southwestern.edu/~prevots/songs/. The site became available to the public in October 2006, and already gets between 25,000 and 30,000 “hits” per month.

Prevots has been singing songs to students with his guitar since 1996, when he was a graduate teaching fellow at Brown University. He says the idea for the Web site came about when he began to reflect on how to incorporate music more in French language, literature and culture classes while also sharing the educational benefits of the experience.

“The original impetus for the site was students, who over the years enjoyed learning language and culture through songs and expressed great interest in this aspect of my courses,” says Prevots, who has been a member of the Southwestern faculty since 2004. “It was not unusual for them to applaud the role of singing as an invaluable activity for improving speaking and comprehension.”

Prevots received a grant to support his project from the Associated Colleges of the South and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He recorded and mixed an initial set of 50 songs to post online, then developed the Web site. “I wanted to ‘virtually’ facilitate the sing-alongs that had been so popular in my courses,” he explains.

Prevots says most of the material on the site draws on traditional forms from France, Louisiana and Canada. “I wanted to explore French and Francophone cultures the way folklorist Alan Lomax did with music generally – by gathering together songs passed down from generation to generation and bringing them together as an archive,” he says.

A few tunes on the site were written by Prevots himself, typically based on the model of folk favorites.

Today, “French through Songs and Singing” is a blossoming multimedia educational tool featuring streaming MP3s; annotated words; articles on music, culture and pedagogy; and extensive teaching links. For those interested in playing along, it also has downloadable lyrics with chords. A handful of songs are offered with additional slow versions to facilitate learning.

Prevots says he has received feedback on the site from teachers all over the world, including Amsterdam, Dublin and Rome, just to name a few. He says “Blues d’être,” for practicing irregular verb conjugations, is a particular hit.

Prevots plans to further expand the site this summer thanks to a Cullen Faculty Development Grant from Southwestern. This will enable him to add another 50 songs and related research to the site. He also plans to add a second set of contributions from professional recording artists.