One of the things I’ve been renewing my efforts in this year has been teaching my son French. Since I speak and teach it as a second language, I’ve always wanted to teach him, and I know that the earlier I impart my knowledge to his young sponge-like brain, the better and more easily he will learn! Read on if you’re interested in what I’ve done and what I plan on doing!
(Scroll to the bottom for a quick, point-form summary)
The first year of his life, I honestly didn’t do much with French. I tried speaking it to him now and then, but there is something that feels so ODD about talking to your own tiny child in a language other than your own mother tongue. It just didn’t feel intimate enough to match the strength of the bond I felt with my baby. What I did do, to get a few seeds planted, was sing to him in French. That felt much more natural for me (it does help that I also love to sing!). French lullabies for the win! (You can Google them if you don’t know any!)
When he turned one, I decided to get serious about this French thing. So, even though it still felt a little awkward for me at the start, I began speaking to Jared in French. One of the best ways I’ve heard for little children to learn two languages is for one parent to speak one language to them, and the other to speak the second language. However, since my husband doesn’t speak French, and because my own vocabulary is still quite lacking in some areas, I decided on a different approach. I chose to speak in French to my son every morning that we were alone together, then switch to English once he woke up from his afternoon nap. I also spoke English whenever my husband was with us, or anyone else who didn’t speak French, for that matter. Since I worked two days a week, this amounted to three mornings (sometimes less) of French per week. It may not seem like much, but I was amazed at how quickly Jared picked it up. He didn’t start speaking it right away (granted, he wasn’t speaking English yet, either), but I could tell he was rapidly understanding more and more after only a short amount of time. It was working! Other things I started doing were getting French music and books from the library, which we would have playing in the background and read together; as well as letting Jared watch some French TV. I found a GREAT cartoon for toddlers on YouTube called “Didou, Dessine-moi,” which consists of short episodes in which a bunny draws different things that then come to life and interact with him. Jared absolutely loved it. And, of course, I kept singing to him in French. : )
It was shortly after age two hit that things started to go a little more downhill French-wise. Jared has never been a terrible two-year-old, but he has still been a two-year-old! And let me tell you, just as it is hard to talk to your newborn in your non-native tongue, it is also very hard to discipline a toddler in your second language! The more he fought for independence and pushed those boundaries, the less I spoke to him in French, until there really wasn’t much French in his life at all.
So when the New Year came around, that was one of my semi-resolutions: renewing my French efforts with Jared. So far I’ve managed to slowly start getting back into the habit of listening to French music and radio, letting Jared watch some French TV (several Netflix shows have French dubbing!), and getting more library books again. I bought him a bilingual visual dictionary, and we like to go through it, looking at the pictures and talking about the names for things in both French and English. I never force it, because I really want to make sure to keep learning French a positive experience for him, so he stays interested. If he asks to watch his Netflix show in English instead, I agree without batting an eye – I don’t want it to be a source of struggle between us. But I do bring it up often, and say things like “French is cool!” or “French is fun!” Simple as it is, that totally influences his opinion of it!
So that’s where I am at the moment. But I have more plans! I’m still struggling to speak French to my son myself, so I have another idea to help us both move towards that again. We are fortunate enough to live in a city with a thriving francophone community (yours may have one, too – they’re not always well-known!), which includes a francophone family resource centre. This establishment offers free programs for young kids every morning of the week! One of the libraries in town has a few French programs for kids, too. Once my workload has eased a little again, I plan to start going to these with Jared and having lots of FUN in French! I think it’ll make a difference, too, for him to hear other kids his own age speaking the language.
Next, probably once the fall rolls around, I’ll start doing a few simple French-learning activities with him. I found some books in Chapters that make learning fun, like a French colouring book and a French sticker book. We also got French/English flashcards from Walmart. There are MANY online resources and apps for teaching kids French, as well. I’ve been looking into some and will probably use them to some extent, but I don’t want to rely on technology too much, especially at this age (he’s almost 3). I’m thinking of doing something like “French Fun Friday,” so it becomes a fairly routine (and hopefully, anticipated!) event. I’ll continue with these and previously-mentioned efforts as much as I can, then, depending on where life is at and discussion with my husband, maybe we’ll put him into a French immersion preschool program next year. : )
So there you have it! The many things I’ve done and more that I’m planning to do. There are certainly challenges to teaching your child your second language, but in my opinion, it’s worth it! I encourage you not to get discouraged if you’re trying to do this, too. However much or little you’re exposing your son or daughter to another language, it makes a difference, especially with those little sponge-brains they have! ; ) And it’s never too late to start (or start again!). I’d love to hear from others who are on this journey! Comment below with solidarity, struggles, or other ideas!
Au revoir! 😀
Summary of Ideas for Teaching Your Second Language to Your Child:
(using French as an example)
-expose them to French music: singing to/with them and playing it in the background
-speak to them in French as early and as often as you feel comfortable (ideally have a set ‘plan/schedule’ of when you speak French if it’s not all the time, so that it’s easier to stick to it and for them to differentiate the two languages) ***Don’t worry about your own imperfections! Kids are AMAZING and can still learn so much from even imperfect ‘input.’ I studied linguistics and child language acquisition, so I know a bit about it. ; ) I totally use English words from time to time when speaking French to Jared… haha***
-read French books together (bought or from the library)
-listen to French radio at home or in the car to get their ear accustomed to it (audiobooks would be great for this, too!)
-expose them to some French TV/videos (online, library DVDs, etc.)
-take them to French drop-in (or registered) programs, if available in your town (you may have to hunt them down), like French music programs, story programs, etc.
-when they’re old enough, get them some fun French workbooks
-enroll your child in French immersion preschool/school
-always keep French FUN!! 😀