Bonjour! I have mentioned a few times that I have started to teach French to Frida, and I have received quite a few questions and requests for more information. I hope you find this post useful! I want to caveat this post by saying that I’m essentially making this up as I go along, but so far it seems to be working well for us.
Why did you choose French?
My mother is French, and I was raised bilingual. Sadly my French is very rusty now, and my vocabulary is quite limited, but it’s by far the language that I am the most comfortable with. The fact my mother speaks French is a big pull too, as she will be able to help support the learning we do when she sees Frida (and the inherited French story books don’t hurt either!)
My husband can also speak French which is useful. He’s not fluent but he has a good basic grasp of the language (though he managed conversations with my beloved late grandfather about politics in French on more than one occasion so perhaps I am not giving him enough credit!)
Hopefully we will all improve as a family – teaching Frida is a great motivation for me to regain and improve my language skills. Our nephew who is a eighteen months younger than Frida is being raised bilingual as my mother spends time with him every day, so it will be great for Frida to have a cousin she can speak French to in time!
I do think there is huge benefit to learning multiple languages as a child, and in time I would love to introduce perhaps even a third or fourth language to Frida if she shows an interest (although there I would be way out of my depth so I would have to really teach myself and perhaps find a tutor or class to support us).
Why are you teaching her now? Why not from birth?
I didn’t teach Frida French from birth for one main reason – I was exhausted. Because my French is so rusty it takes real conscious effort to speak it, and I just couldn’t fathom it for a long time (read: years) after she was born. I don’t count myself as bilingual these days – though hopefully one day I will be again – so it made no sense for me to try and kill myself teaching my newborn a language I couldn’t comfortably speak.
I decided it was time to start being intentional about teaching Frida French a few months ago when she started showing a real interest in the language, asking what different words were and soaking up the French vocabulary I told her. This is definitely a sensitive period for language, so it makes sense to start sooner rather than later.
Although I wonder sometimes if we should have started sooner, I feel like having a solid base in English to work from – with a rich vocabulary and good understanding of sentence structure – can only help her learn a second language.
How are you teaching her?
I have taken a very relaxed approach to teaching French to Frida, and it has been driven as much by her as it has by me.
The main way we have been exploring French together is, perhaps unsurprisingly, through books. I have bought a mix of stories Frida already knows, simple French board books, and some “naming books” such as 199 Images Du Jardin which are brilliant for increasing both of our vocabularies.
I have designated part of our morning time rhythm to French, so each day we aim to read a short book in French or learn a few new words. This is the only “formal” learning we do, as most of our French is learnt by chatting during the day. I might start talking to her in French, saying some words and pointing things out, but more often than not it is instigated by Frida asking “What is X in French? How do I say Y in French?”. She is delighted by language – rhyme, puns, homonyms and so on – and takes a lot of joy in learning a second one. It’s something she has really taken the lead on, which is amazing to watch.
We also sometimes sing some basic nursery rhymes together. Frida especially loves head, shoulders, knees and toes in French!
In terms of next steps, I need to make more of an effort to set time aside each day to talk to Frida in French, apart from learning new vocab or reading a book. It sounds bad but often I just forget! So I think I need to find a way to consciously weave this into our daily rhythm, perhaps at a set time each day.
I’d like to start reading some French poetry with Frida too, even if she doesn’t quite understand it all yet, and I’d like us to listen to and sing more French songs together. I would also like to explore potentially taking Frida to a French class or playgroup, as I feel she would benefit from the immersion.
We are not using any sort of curriculum, though I wouldn’t rule out using one in the future as she gets older as I think I may struggle very much with teaching her grammar as I can’t honestly say I understand it myself (I think I drive my husband mad as when he asks me “why is X said like this?” my response is always along the lines of “I don’t know, it just sounds right”).
I need to up my game in terms of seriously improving my French, and I’m sure Sam feels the same way. I think I need to do the same things I am doing with Frida for myself! Buy myself some French books or magazines, listen to more Francophone music, watch some French box sets, and try and challenge myself to really increase my vocabulary and grammar.
When I decided to write this blog post (a few months ago!) I asked my Instagram followers if they had any tips and I received the following brilliant advice:
Use set phrases for set times: Exclusively use the language you’re teaching at certain times of the day e.g. at the end of the meal to let each other know you’ve finished, or when getting dressed or washing hands. You just need to be consistent and eventually repetition or recognition will come.
Book doubles: Buy favourite books in both languages. They may want more “baby” books to begin with as they are getting to grips with the language. You might notice your child begins to bring just you the foreign language ones!
Translate: When reading foreign language books or singing songs, translate line by line, paragraph by paragraph, or song by song rather than word by word. This is so that your child is exposed to whole sentences and sentence structure. If you find translating hard then consider using “dual language” books or as suggested above buying copies of books you know and love in a second language.
Music and songs: Watch and sing some nursery rhymes – or other songs! – in the language you are learning. Once they have a grasp of the language, audio books, cartoons, and films could all be used too.
Don’t forget to speak in full sentences too: When your child is in a good mood, start speaking your second language. Use English as well if needed, but try and use complete sentences in the language you are learning rather than just words.
Find classes: Language classes, playgroups, dance classes, music classes – the list of options including a foreign language is long. Classes aren’t necessary but finding a class your child loves can be helpful in encouraging the foreign language.
Are you teaching your children a foreign language? I’d love to hear your tips if you are! This is very much a learning process for both of us, so any advice or ideas will be gratefully received. I’ll keep you updated on our progress!