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Non-native French-speaking parent - can child learn?
Thread poster: km1234
km1234
English
Jan 18, 2007

I've read one thread on a similar topic here (could only find one so far) but I've got a couple of questions that didn't come up in it, so I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts.

First the background - English is my first language and that of my family and my partner's family. I did learn French from the age of six when we spent a few years in France (I attended a normal French state school for 3.5 years). My accent is reasonable and I still read French for pleasure occasionally (I can manage easy crime novels, for instance), but I rarely get the chance to speak it (I've looked into getting French television channels but we can't put the required satellite dish up where we are now).

I now live in the UK, with my partner and two children, the eldest nearly five. I would love the children to learn some French while they're young, especially if that helps them with their accent and with understanding spoken French - I'd just like not to miss that early window, really, it's not that I want to be a pushy parent trying to get them to be super good at it for school or anything like that.

I've got two questions:

(1) Would something like having certain times when we all try to talk a bit of French every week (i.e. my partner trying to learn a bit too) help - does anyone do anything like that? E.g. just for half an hour, over a particular meal each week, or at some other regular time? What about a time when only I talk French and use pointing and so on to help the rest of the family work out what I'm saying as they learn a little bit (so it's like a game)? (It's very important to me that it stays fun.)

(2) Story recommendations - I've tried reading a couple of storybooks in French to my eldest, but have to translate as I'm going along at the moment, obviously. Is this a reasonable way to go or might it confuse him? I'm hoping at some point he'll start to remember what happens in those stories, so he's happy to listen to the French even if he's more remembering what happens than understanding it.

Finally, are there any really good children's picture storybooks in French that people would recommend? I don't mean particularly teaching resources, just good ones - the sort kids want to read over and over again and remember for the rest of their lives. I'm not very familiar with French picture books for preschoolers as the books in French I remember from my own childhood are things like Asterix, or Bibliotheque Rose and Biblitheque Verte ones for older children. I'm hoping a really good picture storybook might capture his imagination enough for me to read it often (so he hears the sound of the language a lot and maybe gradually understands odd bits) even if the vocabulary is too advanced for him to understand every word.

I would be very grateful for anyone's ideas on this. I haven't found much information out there for parents who have a language they'd like to speak with their children, but who aren't native speakers who can just go the "mummy speaks French, daddy speaks English" route. And if there are other forums out there that are more appropriate, please feel free to point me that way too!

K.


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Maria Karra  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:45
Member (2000)
Greek to English
+ ...
suggestions Jan 18, 2007

Hi K.,
Here is my view: you're right, it would be easier for your children to learn French now that they're young, especially when it comes to acquiring a native-like accent. If you had a heavy accent I would advise you against teaching them French yourself, but you wrote that your accent is not bad. I was on a plane once, and I heard an American woman speak French to her 2-year old. She had a very heavy accent, I could barely understand her. I honestly felt bad for the child! If he ever went to France, there was no doubt in my mind that other kids would make fun of him. It was the worst spoken French I'd ever heard, but of course in her mind she was helping the child learn the language.
If you were in France at the age of six, my guess is your accent isn't bad at all, so I'd say go for it.


(1) Would something like having certain times when we all try to talk a bit of French every week (i.e. my partner trying to learn a bit too) help - does anyone do anything like that? E.g. just for half an hour, over a particular meal each week, or at some other regular time? What about a time when only I talk French and use pointing and so on to help the rest of the family work out what I'm saying as they learn a little bit (so it's like a game)? (It's very important to me that it stays fun.)


I know people who try to do that (have certain times when they speak in a second language) but aren't being very successful at it. It's also not something I would do. Speaking in the second language has to come naturally, I'm not sure you can turn on the switch and say "from 5 to 6 pm we'll speak French". Try to speak French to your kids as much as you can. Don't throw French words in your English sentences here and there, make complete sentences in French, have entire conversations in French. You don't need to do this all the time, just make sure you don't mix two languages in one conversation. If you don't think you can have a conversation in French, just use short sentences; e.g. Il fait beau aujourd'hui; but don't say "it's beau today" (OK, bad example, but you get the idea).
Playing games in French is something you could try and I'm sure it would be fun. Buy a French Scrabble, or other word games that will force your kids to think in French. You can do much more than that though; take advantage of your knowledge. For example, if they're near you while you're cooking, describe to them what you're doing, in French.


(2) Story recommendations - I've tried reading a couple of storybooks in French to my eldest, but have to translate as I'm going along at the moment, obviously. Is this a reasonable way to go or might it confuse him?

Why "obviously"? I wouldn't do that. It won't confuse him but it won't help him either (well, it might help momentarily, but that's not your goal). He can figure out the meaning of the words from the context. He may not be able to understand the first time, but if you read the story a few times he'll grasp the meaning of the words. Translate a word only if he asks you too.


Finally, are there any really good children's picture storybooks in French that people would recommend? I don't mean particularly teaching resources, just good ones - the sort kids want to read over and over again and remember for the rest of their lives.


I don't know why but my nephew absolutely loved Tintin. Tintin en Amérique was his favorite, particularly a scene where some cars crashed. There were red, blue, black cars, a green ambulance, etc., which I took advantage of to teach him the colors in French.
I'm not sure the language is easy for preschoolers though. How about the Smurfs (Les schtroumpfs)?


Maria

[Edited at 2007-01-18 19:49]


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Maciek Drobka  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 16:45
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Go for it! Jan 18, 2007

Hi,

As a non-native English speaker speaking nothing but English to his children, I recommend two resources:

1. http://www.byu.edu/~bilingua

This site helped me take the plunge and drop Polish altogether in favour of English with my children.

2. http://www.nethelp.no/cindy/biling-fam.html

An absolutely fantastic discussion group for multilingual families, a handsome proportion of which teach non-native languages to their children on an immersion basis.
The list is a great source of support, instruction and encouragement.

Best of luck.

Maciek


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simona dachille  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:45
Italian to English
bilingual dilemma Jan 18, 2007

Well, i think you sound as if you have all the right intentions. My situation is a pretty complicated one too. I am an English native speaker, having been brought up in England by Italian parents. I went to an English school and spoke Italian at home. I also attended free Italian classes organized by the Italian consulate twice weekly, after school. I am sure the French consulate do the same so do give them a ring and ask.
I speak to my son mainly in English but being bilingual it comes naturally to me to change from one langiage to another without ever realizing. In fact I have noticed that I tell him off in Italian, especially when outdoors as obviously I don't feel so observed!!During his first year I found it very hard to choose which language to speak to him spontaneously but now I make the special effort to speak in English to him.
He is three and has started attending an Italian playgroup and I amazed that in every lesson he learns so much. I never force him to speak any particular language but when he is in the bath he recites all sorts of things from his lessons, ands he has only been twice!!!Children are amazing at this age.
Unfortunately, living in England they have no true necessity to speak in French so producing it will be rarer. But don't give up, it's all there in their little minds!!!
As for pre-school stuff, the Tiny Tots are great and very humourous. One of the characters speaks in French all the time and the other characters repeat what she says in English. Also I have just rediscovered Barbapapa which is originally in French and I found all the DVDs on ebay at a good price. Maybe if you look on French ebay you could find them in the original language. They are great fun and very environmentally friendly.
I have taught pre-schoolers and always used books well below their age in the foreign language they are learning. Music and songs is a great way to learn too. Try really basic French nursery rhymes and counting songs.
Good luck and hope this is of some use.


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jlrsnyder  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:45
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Muzzy videos Jan 18, 2007

There's a children's cartoon series made especially for allowing the child to acquire the target language. It's called Muzzy. My students who have seen it have loved it and have retained the phrases used in the cartoon.

Muzzy is available in French, Spanish, English, and possibly other languages, too. Just do a Google search and you'll find the website.

Richard Scarry books are available in French translation. They're fun to read together and have lots of vocabulary.

Tintin is available in DVD now. Many other DVD's have a French track, too. There's a Quebecois children's show that's available on video or DVD. It's called Passe Partout. You can probably find used copies by searching on the internet. My favorite episode is Cabane à Sucre.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the process with your child.

Janet


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km1234
English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Jan 18, 2007

Maria Karra wrote:
I know people who try to do that (have certain times when they speak in a second language) but aren't being very successful at it. It's also not something I would do. Speaking in the second language has to come naturally, I'm not sure you can turn on the switch and say "from 5 to 6 pm we'll speak French". Try to speak French to your kids as much as you can. Don't throw French words in your English sentences here and there, make complete sentences in French, have entire conversations in French. You don't need to do this all the time, just make sure you don't mix two languages in one conversation. If you don't think you can have a conversation in French, just use short sentences; e.g. Il fait beau aujourd'hui; but don't say "it's beau today" (OK, bad example, but you get the idea).
Playing games in French is something you could try and I'm sure it would be fun. Buy a French Scrabble, or other word games that will force your kids to think in French. You can do much more than that though; take advantage of your knowledge. For example, if they're near you while you're cooking, describe to them what you're doing, in French.


We've still got French scrabble sets floating around so will have a go at that when they're a bit older. I'll try to dip in and out in the way you suggest (i.e. not odd words), I do that occasionally anyway and it seems to go down OK.

I think if we tried to do certain times it would be more so that they didn't feel we were forcing it all the time, if that makes sense - I would want it to be fun so I don't want to put any pressure on at all by saying 'you must speak French now'. So we wouldn't force it, anyway. I clearly remember refusing to cooperate when we came back to the UK and my parents tried to get us to have family meals where we all spoke French. I think this was partly because that wasn't something we'd ever done in France, where we kids spoke French really just at school, with friends and between ourselves (so handy to have a secret language, and if you speak fast enough even parents with a bit of French can't follow!) - so family meals in French didn't really feel right.



(2) Story recommendations - I've tried reading a couple of storybooks in French to my eldest, but have to translate as I'm going along at the moment, obviously. Is this a reasonable way to go or might it confuse him?

Why "obviously"? I wouldn't do that. It won't confuse him but it won't help him either (well, it might help momentarily, but that's not your goal). He can figure out the meaning of the words from the context. He may not be able to understand the first time, but if you read the story a few times he'll grasp the meaning of the words. Translate a word only if he asks you too.



Hmm perhaps it's not 'obvious'! But I do have to do it because if I don't tell him some kind of a story, then he tells me one instead from the pictures (his best guess as to what's going on) - I can hardly get a word in! That's a good thing in lots of ways, just not when I'm trying to read in French!

Maybe that means reading stories just won't work at the moment, but I'm hoping that perhaps when he's got a clear idea in his head what's really happening in the story - perhaps thanks to me describing what's happening in English the first few times - then he won't talk over me when I say things in French, and may hear the words more. I'll have to see how it goes.



Finally, are there any really good children's picture storybooks in French that people would recommend? I don't mean particularly teaching resources, just good ones - the sort kids want to read over and over again and remember for the rest of their lives.


I don't know why but my nephew absolutely loved Tintin. Tintin en Amérique was his favorite, particularly a scene where some cars crashed. There were red, blue, black cars, a green ambulance, etc., which I took advantage of to teach him the colors in French.
I'm not sure the language is easy for preschoolers though. How about the Smurfs (Les schtroumpfs)?


Thank you for both those suggestions - Tintin would be good when he's a bit older I think, especially if it involves cars! I'd forgotten but I read some of those when I was younger too, though I much preferred Asterix personally.

K.

[Edited at 2007-01-18 23:05]


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km1234
English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for the links Jan 18, 2007

Maciek Drobka wrote:

Hi,

As a non-native English speaker speaking nothing but English to his children, I recommend two resources:

1. http://www.byu.edu/~bilingua

This site helped me take the plunge and drop Polish altogether in favour of English with my children.

2. http://www.nethelp.no/cindy/biling-fam.html

An absolutely fantastic discussion group for multilingual families, a handsome proportion of which teach non-native languages to their children on an immersion basis.
The list is a great source of support, instruction and encouragement.

Best of luck.

Maciek


Have bookmarked them to read tomorrow!

K.


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km1234
English
TOPIC STARTER
Barbapapa... Jan 18, 2007

simonski wrote:
As for pre-school stuff, the Tiny Tots are great and very humourous. One of the characters speaks in French all the time and the other characters repeat what she says in English. Also I have just rediscovered Barbapapa which is originally in French and I found all the DVDs on ebay at a good price. Maybe if you look on French ebay you could find them in the original language. They are great fun and very environmentally friendly.
I have taught pre-schoolers and always used books well below their age in the foreign language they are learning. Music and songs is a great way to learn too. Try really basic French nursery rhymes and counting songs.
Good luck and hope this is of some use.


...great suggestion, don't know how I forgot that! Also that's reminded me of the elephants... Babar? Will look for DVDs on ebay, that's a good idea - I'd looked for some on amazon.fr and could only seem to find Disney films. I have ordered a CD of nursery rhymes already though as my eldest does love singing.

K.


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km1234
English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the ideas Jan 18, 2007

jlrsnyder wrote:

There's a children's cartoon series made especially for allowing the child to acquire the target language. It's called Muzzy. My students who have seen it have loved it and have retained the phrases used in the cartoon.

Muzzy is available in French, Spanish, English, and possibly other languages, too. Just do a Google search and you'll find the website.

Richard Scarry books are available in French translation. They're fun to read together and have lots of vocabulary.

Tintin is available in DVD now. Many other DVD's have a French track, too. There's a Quebecois children's show that's available on video or DVD. It's called Passe Partout. You can probably find used copies by searching on the internet. My favorite episode is Cabane à Sucre.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the process with your child.

Janet


Richard Scarry would be great, I didn't know those books were available in French. I'd read really mixed reviews of Muzzy so wasn't sure about that at all, but I think it's available on a free trial so could be worth a look. Thanks!

K.


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Emmanuelle Hingant  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:45
English to French
bath time Jan 19, 2007

My parents, both native speakers of French, told me the ABC and the numbers in English at bath time. It was great!

E.


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:45
Member (2005)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Baffled Jan 24, 2007

simonski wrote:
I make the special effort to speak in English to him.


Forgive me, but the subject is how to make a young child learn a language which is not the language of the country he/she lives in, and may or may not be one or both parent's native language.

You live in England I believe, and unless you isolate and lock up your child, he is going to learn English. In fact I am sure he is doing a good job of it already.

So why are you making a special effort to speak to him in English? Wouldn't it be - how shall I put it - more sensible to speak to him in Italian, so he would also have the benefit of learning another language at an early age, just like you had? I simply don't understand the logic behind it.


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