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An iPad app that teaches French vocabulary to young children has a human voice reads a word or phrase, like 'voiture de police', and the user attempts to select a photo that matches what was read.

When the user answers correctly, the human voice says something affirmative, like:

  • Bravo !
  • Vous êtes remarquable !
  • Vous êtes spectaculaire !

When the user answers incorrectly, the human voice says something negative, like:

  • Oups !
  • Tu peux le faire !
  • Essaie encore !

I can't help but notice she uses the 'vous' form for correct answers, and the 'tu' form for incorrect answers.

My reflex is to find this amusing, but is this actually exposing some rare, but standard, differentiation of the 'tu' and 'vous' forms for children that I have never encountered?

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It's just a matter of psychology. When you are failing you need be conforted and for that you don't want to sound cold. Hence the use of tu for proximity. This belongs on UX stack exchange. –  Knu Nov 15 '13 at 3:18
    
It's not very common, but that's okay. Usually, when you say "vous", it feels a bit to distant to cheer up someone who is down (<-- second case). Maybe, the author wanted to show some respect when the kid succeed, so they have used "vous", in that case. (<-- first case) –  oli Nov 15 '13 at 11:49
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I'm far from sure that's OK. I can as easily interpret a switch (in any direction BTW) as a sign of anger. It's so uncommon that I'd not do it in a teaching context as it would implicitly teach something not done; I'd not recommend that a non native speaker does it as the message will be very context dependent and could easily misunderstood; I'd not do it in a program for the same reason. –  Un francophone Nov 15 '13 at 15:17
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Answer about French language: not only this particular use of tu and vous is not standard, it just is not relevant. For the usage of tu and vous, see, for instance, this site or wikipedia. The app could use tu or vous, question of choice on what they want to convey, but definitely the same form in both, correct and incorrect cases. In educational contexts, tu will be used most of the time, chiefly with younger children. I expect most teachers up to upper secondary level will say tu to their students, the use of vous (at least in France, I can't speak for other French speaking countries) would convey a special meaning of some sort (e.g. to show respect)*.

From a learning point of view this app (here representing the teacher) might hinder the kid's future learning of the language, by confusing him about the usage between tu and vous. Whereas in some situations between natives (or with proficient learners of the language) one could play on the use of tu and vous to convey a feeling of some sort (anger, irony, etc.) it would be non pedagogical with someone starting to learn and not able to understand the subtleties of the language.

(My advice: find another app)


* Famous paediatrician Robert Debré would say vous to his young patients, thus breaking with traditional conceptions in medicine and psychology and wanting to show that infants and children were people, just like grown-ups.

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