As I said in my first post I have two children aged 4 and 1, so their skill levels and needs differ greatly. When I’m thinking about how to teach them I have to consider something we can do all together that will benefit all of us too.
My eldest has a good English vocabulary, can compose simple and more complex sentences; asking questions, describing in detail, relating facts about what has happened during the day among other things.
She is also competent in matters that may not be immediately acknowledged.
- She has the ability to engage her mouth muscles to make sounds for all these different words.
- She is developing the ability to distinguish between closely related letter sounds such as m and n.
- she can interprit none verbal communication such as a happy face, sad face, angry face (the importance of this is essential as much of our communication, as you probably know, is none verbal)
- The vocabulary she does know will contain cognates, words that can easily be transferred to the new language through the use of an accent.
In this way she is already ahead of her little sister. It is also worth bearing in mind that if you’ve ever thought to yourself that you’re too old to learn a language that you already have these skills to a far greater, sophisticated standard than a child.
What both my daughters have as an advantage is that their developing
Additionally my daughters have a benefit in relation to adults in terms of their current language learning; enthusiasm and a lack of self awareness. At this age children are fearless and, even though you can still inhibit them by creating a stressful learning environment, their desire to do and learn everything is inspiring.
So with this in mind I’ve been trying to develop ways to teach my children French before we go.
Use the older child to teach the younger
Chose activities that the older child knows well to teach the younger one. This will mean that they already feel that they are starting from a foundation of knowledge. I say this because, despite already knowing some French, my older one is now hesitant to demonstrate her knowledge in front of people. She’s always been a little shy in this regard, but she seems to be going through a phase of self awareness that exacerbates this. Teaching her younger sister helps her have confidence in what she knows.
Also, as you know from your own children, little ones know instinctively the difference between younger and older people; just look at how they respond to another baby! Hey! It’s one of me!!! Learning from siblings is a great way to help them develop and provides an opportunity to help your older sibling develop patience and an awareness of others needs.
Use the toys you already have
One of the things my eldest daughter was already enjoying teaching her sister was how to stack the various size rings on her cone. I’ve started to join them, describing the rings firstly by their colours. As this is a French topic my eldest, La Belle Fille, knows well she joined in seamlessly. When she said the colour I would repeat it in the opposite language so my youngest, La Jolie Fille, was hearing both.
As we repeated this I started to distinguish between the rings in other ways; le plus grand, grand, le milieu, petit et les plus petit. La Belle Fille wasn’t repeating these yet, but she was hearing additional descriptors in a context.
I can’t tell you how much enjoyment we had from this simple exercise and it had an added benefit. My mother in law is always telling me that after the thirtieth time of watching your child do something it can become a little boring. How true! So doing the same things and singing the same songs over and over can get dull over time; particularly when you’re a full time mum. Even this simple addition of basic French can reinvigorate you. Especially as your often using elements of grammar that you’ve learnt, but need to continually practise like pronouns, adjectives and demonstrative adjectives.
Another game we play is a simple matching game designed for infants with household and everyday items. I say the name in French, La Belle Fille says it in English and the baby claps! As my eldest has got to know more of these nouns I’ve introduced simple sentences; oú se trouvé? C’est là! When she’s used to these simple statements I’ll add a variety of ways of saying the same thing; oú est…., plus-tu me montrer, ici, il/ell est lá, c’est ici.
Use your post it notes
You’ve probably heard of, and may well use, the tip to learn household nouns which is to write it on a post it note and stick it around the house. I can’t tell you how useful this is – a constant memory jog. When I put mine up around the house my eldest helped me. Now each time I see them I say them out loud so she can hear them; even the ones she can’t see in the kitchen. My daughter loves little sayings that we have as a family so saying la porte each time we go through the door isn’t annoying for her, just something we do!
So much language is passed to children through nursery rhymes. Their repitition, melody and simplicity are an easy way of introducing your child to basic words and concepts. When I started to teach my eldest Belle Fille French I bought CDs whilst in France with French children’s songs on them. However, although she was delighted with them and loved to join in, the lyrics were too complex for her because they were in a second language.
The last time I went to France I bought two little books of nursery rhymes for my one year old, La Jolie Fille which, due to the chip inserted into each page, she could listen to the activated nursery rhyme spoken with the French accent. She loves it, but so does her older sister and the three of us join in with them together.
For La Belle Fille I translate the words, pointing at each one or line of song, and I often hear her sing the lyrics in English before she starts to attempt them in French. The more I sing them, the more she wants to join in. So if I’m going round the house and, like all ear worms, the tune pops in my head and I sing it she will quickly follow suit and then do so on her own.
This is again a bonus for me as a French learner as it provides me with a stock of phrases such as comme il faut (properly), elle s’est envolée (she is on her way) that stick more easily.
If, like me, you’re saving for your big move to France then you may not want to spend money on a book of nursery rhymes. Well help is at hand in the form of YouTube links such as this 30 minutes of French for kids which has lots of songs including introductions, numbers, colours, body parts etc. In fact my husband, who is a little behind on his French practice, was corrected on his French yesterday by La Belle Fille!
Marie: Bonjour, bonjour… (Mumbles something)
La Belle Fille: No, it’s bonjour, bonjour, comment ça va.
She’s started to use the lyrics in other situations, for example saying trés bien to her little sister when she does something good.
Another good site is Mondes des Petits.Fr. A benefit of these sites is that many have the lyrics too so it’s easier to join in with them.
This is what’s working for us; what’s working for you?