Learning French · Teaching French To Children

Advice From Someone Who’s ‘Bought The T-Shirt’

imageOne of the nicest things about blogging is that you suddenly meet amazing, likeminded people in this virtual space that your chances of meeting in real life are close to zero. One such person is Catherine who contacted me about my blogposts on teaching my children French with encouragement and sound advice. Can you believe that? It’s extraordinary isn’t it? 

Having emailed back and forward a little I simply couldn’t keep her wonderful advice to myself so, I tentatively asked, if she would write a guest post – and to my delight she agreed! Below is her open letter to me and, if like me, you can’t get enough after you’ve finished it, pop over to her blog as its well worth a read. The poignant post about her son’s decision to stop believing in Father Christmas is especially lovely. Enjoy!

 

Hi Andrea,

Thank-you for providing me with an opportunity to share my story and for giving me an excuse to spend a delightful afternoon fossicking through the un-packed boxes, still reposing in our garage after our recent (it was wasn’t it?) move of 2 ½ years ago …

Treasures revealed included my grandmother’s wedding ring that I thought that I had lost (amongst some baby teeth that the fairy must have forgotten to deal with), some old love letters, hand-made picture frames from my children when they still loved me unquestioningly – and my old notes for ‘Talking to baby in French’ (which I have re-named French for Baby and You).  All in all, a good hunt!

But, before I go on about me, congratulations, once again, on setting out your goals so clearly (learning French, helping your children to learn French, moving to France) and working so hard to achieve them.

My own children are now 12, 16 and 19 and we returned to Australia from France, 3 years ago. We had set out in 2009 for one year (the children were 6, 9, and 12 at the beginning). This turned into 3 1/2 years.

Back-tracking a little, after the birth of my 3rd child, I decided that I would only speak French to him, which was a challenge even though I was a French teacher with years of experience. You see, the vocabulary that I needed to use with him was nothing like what I had been teaching to secondary students! In the beginning, I was quite intimidated and would lower my voice when speaking to him in public, so as to not attract attention to me. Very quickly my family and friends thought nothing of it. It was just what we did.

Twelve years on, I still only speak to him in French and my son thinks of the time before my daughters learned to speak French, as the beautiful period when we had a secret language.  I think he would have liked that to remain the case.

It was clear, though, that, being a non-French mother, and not living in France, I could not do it on my own, if I really wanted to give him the best chance of language acquisition. So, I joined French playgroups, sent him to a French pre-school and worked alongside a native French student to build my new vocabulary. For a long time before our departure to France it seemed like I was spending more of my days in French than in English.

At the time, even though I was totally aware of the enormity of what I was trying to do with my son, I still thought that everyone could do it (and that they should!). And, of course, a teacher never knows how to not want to teach others, hence my attempt to create a resource (French for Baby and You) that would help me, but could be used by all non-native-French speakers who wanted to give their babies this language gift.

I promised to look this resource out for you, hence my trip down memory lane amongst the boxes in the garage. But, my hand-writing could be described, at best, as scrawl and coupled with random use of the lines on each page, rather illegible. So, I will need to give you what I’ve got in instalments, as I decipher them and type them up for you.

I have not read all of your blog, but a couple of things jumped out at me – French vocab post-it notes around the house are great for the constant reinforcement of the words AND the gender. I do also agree that, alongside learning some situational French, some grammar is essential. This gives you the framework to be able to construct your own sentences – after all, real life is not always formulaic. Thirdly, being prepared to laugh at your mistakes and put yourself in what you know will be uncomfortable language situations will help you learn faster – both in your conversation groups before you go, as well as when you arrive.

For the children, what you are doing is spot-on – listening to French CDs in the car, watching simple French DVDs and speaking and playing with them using simple French is to be recommended. The only thing that I would be cautious about is using both English and French in the same ‘play’ session. In theory, if one parent can only speak one language and the other, the other, it is thought to be better for the language learning. Even when you are doing snippets in French, I would apply the same principle. Just keep to French (this is where I tried to help myself by writing up my little book).

My nighttime routine with my son always included a story in French and when he was old enough I ordered him some magazines – Youpi and the like. They were fantastic, as they were a special treat that arrived in the mail, had stories, activities and were very cute (much better than downloaded worksheets). The other CD that I would highly recommend is Baby’s First Steps in French
http://www.amazon.com/Babys-First-Steps-French-Erika/dp/0609607413 . I loved this and would put it on as my son was going to sleep.

A couple more ideas –

For each of my children, just before I turned off the light, I sang them a special nighttime song. For my son, it was Fais dodo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB-RUwDaz20 but I changed the words to Fais dodo, Noé, mon petit fils and you could do the same for your children. For a girl it would be ‘Fais dodo, Name, ma petite fille’.

A couple more simple tactile play ideas – perhaps as you are changing or cuddling your baby:-

Bélier, Bélier, Bélier, Boum – Say it aloud, bring your heads closer and touch foreheads gently on the word ‘boum’. (Bélier means ram)

And

C’est une toute petite bête

image
Qui monte,
Qui monte,
Attention, elle a une plume
Pour chatouiller les beaux bébés!

This one is about a little insect creeping up on the baby holding a ‘feather’ (your fingers) to tickle her.

I’ll finish for now by adding that as my older two daughters had not had the benefit of this language learning, they arrived in France knowing bonjour, merci and how to count to 10. Despite this, they settled into French schools with minimal discomfort and are now bilingual, so different paths can lead to the same end result.

Here’s to your journey. You’ve made a great start and I’m sure that your children will thank you for this one day.

Kind regards,

Catherine

PS If any of your readers would like to contact me directly with questions, or for pages of French for Baby and You (after I finish re-typing it!), I’d love to hear from them. I can be found at my blog But you are in France, Madame or email cb222@me.com

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