I speak French as a second language, and I’m trying, with variable success, to teach it to my kids. Here’s what I’ve done so far, in a fun, ‘how-to’ format. : )
- Step 1: When you’re expecting your first child, plan to speak only your second language (French) to them from the beginning, unless someone else who doesn’t speak it is present.
- Step 2: When your baby is born, immediately scrap that plan because it feels so unnatural and non-intimate to speak to your newborn in anything but your native language.
- Step 3: After a couple of months, start attending a French program at the library with your baby and singing him lots of French lullabies.
- Step 4: As your baby approaches age one, start to get anxious about the fact that your plan to teach him French from a young age is off to a terrible start. Decide that if you’re going to do this, it’s time to get serious about it. Make a plan to speak French to your child at specific, regular times once they turn one. Psyche yourself up!
- Step 5: Follow your plan. (Speak only French to your toddler three mornings per week, the days you’re home from work. Sometimes less, if you’re getting together with friends.)
- Step 6: Continue to feel like you’re not doing enough, but press forward with the plan. Then, one day, randomly ask your child a simple question in French (“Where is your head?”) and see him immediately indicate the correct answer! Realize that children’s brains are amazing sponges and that even doing a little is making a big difference.
- Step 7: Your toddler turns two, and more and more discipline becomes necessary. This is difficult to do in your second language, especially when you’re frustrated with the child. Slowly begin to speak less and less French, until you virtually don’t do it at all anymore.
- Step 8: Get anxious again about the lack of French input you’re providing your child with. Start letting him watch French cartoons (“Didou, Dessine-moi”).
- Step 9: Extensively research and wrestle with the idea of French immersion preschool for 3-year-olds, as a way to give your child more French exposure. Decide against it because you’ll have a newborn at the same time and you’re not ready to spend the money.
- Step 10: When your child turns three, start doing “French fun time” with him once or twice a week. Read a French story book, do a French activity book (sticker vocabulary book and alphabet colouring book), watch a short YouTube video, and let him play a French learning game on your phone. Especially now that he’s more aware it’s a different language and he’s quite proficient in English, you want him to think learning French is fun!
This post was becoming way too long, so I decided to split it into two parts. I hope it was especially encouraging for any of you second language teachers who have very young children. Stay tuned for the rest of the steps in my next post! À plus!