Helping Your American Child Get Started Learning French

You are a French native; perhaps your spouse is a French native as well. Your child was born in the US and will obviously be an English speaker, but you want him or her to speak French too. It is a part of his/her culture, and it would be a great advantage in life to be bilingual. Learning languages is not easy. What if you could gift your child with language skills without too much effort? That is what this article is about: little effort for great benefits.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SAY SOMEBODY IS BILINGUAL?

A bilingual person is someone who speaks two languages. A person who speaks more than two languages is called ‘multilingual’ (although the term ‘bilingualism’ can be used for both situations). Multilingualism isn’t unusual; in fact, it’s the norm for most of the world’s societies. It’s possible for a person to know and use three, four, or even more languages fluently.

BENEFITS OF BEING BILINGUAL

Studies suggest that bilingual advantages in executive function are not limited to the brain’s language network. Bilingual people show increased activation in the brain region associated with cognitive skills like attention and inhibition. For example, bilinguals are proven to be better than monolinguals in encoding the fundamental frequency of sounds in the presence of background noise. So, in a noisy restaurant, it will be easier for a bilingual person than for a monolingual person to encode what the other person is saying.

BILINGUAL EDUCATION AT HOME

One of the biggest challenges for parents of intercultural couples is how to begin their child’s bilingual education.

There are two scenarios. The first is when the whole family is native French speaker and speaks the minority language at home and the outside language is the majority language. In this case the child should acquire both languages quite easily, as both will be used in a balanced way. The baby will learn basic vocabulary and basic French words at a early age in a real French immersion.

The second case is when one parent speaks a minority language or each parent speaks a different minority language. Very often parents will choose the “one parent one language” technique.

The important thing is to start early. The earlier you start the better, but there is no age limit. The older a child is, the more difficult it will be to learn French without an English accent, but complicated does not mean impossible.

If you are scared of having a child with language difficulties, don’t anymore. Many studies exist and show that being learning a second language as a child does not cause any linguistic or learning problem.

ROLE OF PARENTS

 The French speaking parent will adopt the habit of speaking French to the child, getting the support of the non-French-speaking spouse.

The non-French speaking parent will need to show a positive and encouraging attitude towards the French language (this makes French relevant and interesting for kids; it also makes him/her feel secure).

HOW TO LEARN FRENCH

 METHODS OF LANGUAGE LEARNING

Here are some ways of teaching French. A good method to teach French , or an other new language, is to do it by playing with kids. They won’t even notice that they learn something new.

LET’S SING

For the little ones, lullaby nursery rhymes allow a more playful and pleasant approach to the language. But for older children, it’s also possible! Let’s discover our favorite songs and sing along with them. 

LET’S PLAY WITH WORDS

There are many games around language. A simple search on the Internet will allow you to find the one that suits you best. To name a few: “neither yes nor no”, “who am I?” (you have to find an object or an animal or a job with questions about size, color, tools, etc.), the charades game, the dictionary game, but also word puzzles and crosswords!

 Jokes and riddles are little gems! They help a child understand that a word can have several meanings depending on the context. Moreover, this process brings a lot of good humor around French!  Laughing and learning, a perfect combo.

READ ALL KINDS OF BOOKS

Of course, the benefits of reading are well known! Reading before going to bed, for example, allows the child to fall asleep with many new French words still in his head that the brain will assimilate more quickly. It doesn’t matter if we read aloud to our child or if he/she reads alone: the main thing is that our children are confronted with other worlds, other concepts in their mother tongue.

There is no better way to learn basic French vocabulary. 

Take pauses to make sure that every word is understood.

 And to go further, why not talk about the book with your child afterwards? From the status of passive learning (“I read a book”), we move to the status of active learning (“I use the words I just learned to talk about the book”). Ready to grab a French book? We offer a huge selection of the most popular kids’ books with relatable characters like Nathan and BarbaPapa:

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    Nathan – Regarde je lis – Mila et Noé à Paris
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    Nathan – Petit Nathan – Coucou Hibou – Comptines pour petits doigts
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    Bordas Vacances – Je rentre en Grande section
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  • Grund - Mes premières chansons de France
    Grund – Mes premières chansons de France
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HOW TO REMEMBER WHAT THE CHILD HAS LEARN?

REPEAT

The more our child encounters a word, the more easily he will get hold of it, it’s as simple as that. Thus, the useful words, those he will have to use every day, will be learned first. For the others, you will have to be imaginative to propose them regularly without it being too repetitive and boring.

MAKE CONNECTION WITH WORDS

To develop the vocabulary, associate words of the same family (sun/solar/sunny …). Its connections facilitate memorization.

DRAWING (TO LEARN HOW TO SPELL)

How to remember that the French word “serpent” (snake) starts with a “S” and not a “C” in French (they sometimes have the same sound depending on the vowel right after it)? Draw a snake wrapped around a tree!

PRACTICE

At home speaking with you, your family, watching Tv or listening to radio, books. But also by meeting people who speak French. Here is a list of some associations represented in Florida.

LES ALLIANCES FRANCAISESFLAM ASSOCIATIONS, the FIAFE network (Fédération International des Accueils Français et Francophones d’Expatriés) often organize activities or events for families, some of which offer French classes. This is also a good way to meet local French-speaking families.

The is internet is full of tools helping practicing and testing your level of French language. If your child speaks and reads French fluently, it is maybe time for more. Adding grammar and spelling to his/her skills will give your kid a complete knowledge of the second language.

If you really want to keep up with the French school program, you can register at the CNED  offers a program called “complementary international schooling”. A follow-up certificate is provided, and if 75% of the homework is returned, the level obtained is also certified and it follows the French school program.

 MYBULLETOYS – HOW WE CAN HELP YOUR CHILD’S LANGUAGE SKILLS

MyBulleToys believes that children are born with a natural sense of curiosity and love of learning, which can be supported by engaging their existing interests and curiosity to “connect the dots” to other subjects. Wanting to provide her children with creative French educational products (and finding none available in the American market), the founder of MBT recognized a need to supply them.

Now, every child can learn a variety of subjects the fun way (including French) through My Bulle Toys’ educational toys and supplies. Our items engage children and capture their attention to ensure that the lessons imparted aren’t quickly forgotten.

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    Bordas – Bravo les maternelles – Mon cahier avec plein d’activités de maths
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    Nathan – T’choupi – Mon cahier ardoise – Les premiers tracés
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    Nathan – T’choupi – Mon cahier ardoise – Ma petite section
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  • Nathan- Coffret Montessori dinosaures
    Nathan- Coffret Montessori dinosaures
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IN SUMMARY

DO’S

Don’t give up

Either your child is embarrassed to be different than other children he/she knows and does not want to speak French, or it is just too difficult and it flows better in English.

In both cases it will pass, you just have to find a way.

Show your kids all the benefits of being bilingual and encourage them. They are special, they will be able to travel easily, their brain is more flexible etc…

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Maximize exposure to the French language regularly

Read, watch French TV, listen to French radio, call and visit family, look for a French club etc.

Finding the time is the number one problem for many parents who teach their children French themselves. No matter what methods, books or materials they choose, consistency is needed.

Find a motivation

You will have to find something to interest your child. If you start at a young age, it won’t be necessary: babies and toddlers want to please their parents and are playful, so you will just have to find games and play with them. You can even teach him usual words with a book. When your child will grow up, find incentives (a future trip in France, an allowance to buy stuff for your next visit to France), make contest (whose French language is better? your kid or a cousin/a friend’s child?) etc..

DON’TS

Don’t make fun of your child

Do your very best not to laugh if your child has a weird accent, for example. This is totally normal, but your child will be watching your reaction to get feedback on how they’re doing!

If your kid says something that is cute and makes you smile, like a funny mispronunciation, try to say still. They need to be secure to learn correctly. Many children are very sensitive in these new situations and need to be reassured in their learning.

Don’t correct them too much

 You don’t want them to lose confidence. Bilingual children who are constantly corrected will not want to speak the language for fear of making a mistake. One way to correct them is to simply repeat the sentence in a correct way. 

Stay flexible 

 If your child is sick, tired or anxious, the reflex will be to speak English, even with you. It does not matter; it is necessary to be consistent while remaining flexible. One or two days won’t change anything, and you don’t want this learning to start getting conflicting.

Teaching your child French should be a fun family activity that brings everyone joy and benefits, so try not to create too much pressure: children are natural learners, especially when it comes to their parents’ languages, and will soak up information like a sponge. You’ll be surprised how quickly your child is chattering away in French!

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