Sunday, September 27, 2015

l'alphabet français II : répétez !

Okay, so now you have listened to more French alphabet songs than you'd ever thought possible.  Enough listening!  You won't learn the sounds and the names of the letters until you get comfortable pronouncing them.  So clear your throat, take a long drink of eau, and try these out:

"Military-style French Alphabet": An English-speaking French teacher walks you through her version of the alphabet, set to the rhythm of a familiar military cadence ("I don't know but I've been told…").  This ten-minute video is very thorough and offers opportunities to practice single lines at a time slowly and then build up to saying the whole chant more quickly.

Watch this quick example first:

But this guy's cuter: Tom from is a young Frenchman who earnestly teaches Anglophone viewers how to say the French alphabet.  Do watch this too so that you hear a native speaker pronouncing the letter names:

Want to keep practicing but don't want to keep watching these same two videos over and over?  (Oui!)

These websites have simple pronunciation activities:

From, click on the letter and repeat:

From, words that start with each letter to listen to and repeat:

This page from the BBC focuses on the trickier sounds for anglophones, including nasal vowels.  Strangely, it neglects to include U.  (My high school French teacher always told us to "round your lips as if you're going to say "ooooo" but then say "eeeee" instead.")

And, finally, here's another activity that reinforces on the vowel sounds, courtesy of

Coming soon: l'alphabet français, part 3, which will feature games and apps about the alphabet….

Friday, September 25, 2015

l'alphabet français I : chantez !

It's time for my tutees to learn the French alphabet (and for my four-year-old to stop mumbling "elmo-elmo-pé" when she gets lost in the middle of the song)!  Let's start with some chansons (songs)...

First, some traditional alphabet songs with Mozart's familiar melody:

La chanson de l'alphabet, featuring a man's voice accompanied by a calm acoustic guitar:

The letters appear on screen, along with the lyrics at the end of the song: "Maintenant je les connais/Toutes les lettres de l'alphabet."

This one, from the website Le monde des petits, has a child's voice singing the alphabet and gentle synthesizer music; it's the one Gwyneth likes best (she actually sings along, and she's very picky about that sort of thing):

The lyrics end a little differently: "Maintenant je les connais/Chante avec moi s'il te plaît."  This 20-minute video continues with a catchy animated song about the numbers 1-10, assigning a rhyming characteristic to each of them ("le sept aime les chaussettes"), and then includes a second alphabet song after the numbers, this one like a lullaby.

My favorite French version of the traditional alphabet song, however, is the accordion-spiced ABC & 123 Cajun from Michael Doucet (founder of the popular group Beausoleil).  Unfortunately, no one has made a cute animated video of it or posted a live version on YouTube, so for now, listen to the promotional clip (#7) on Amazon (and consider buying the album, Le Hoogie-Boogie, Louisiana French Music for Children--it's delightful).

But why limit ourselves to the usual versions?  You might like some of these fun, less-traditional French alphabet songs:

Alain Le Lait's L'alphabet en français, funky and animated:

The lyrics are simple: multiple repetitions of the alphabet, each followed by "c'est l'alphabet en français."

You will probably recognize this next melody for the alphabet song: it's the aria "L'amour est un oiseau rebel" from Bizet's Carmen.  I think it's genius!

A nice change from the major-key alphabet songs is this one; it's simply a different melody with those same 26 letters:

Ditto (the exact song, but this video features barnyard fowl rocking out):

This next video introduces each letter of the alphabet, accompanied by a drawing of an animal that begins with that letter.  The singer/narrator pauses just long enough for the viewers to repeat after him.  I like that the animal names appear onscreen, and especially that not all of the creatures are the ones you'd expect.  (Cigogne for C, for example, rather than the more common chat, chien, or cheval; and not an éléphant but rather an écureil for E.  And who doesn't appreciate a good "N is for narval"?)

And if you like learning a word along with each letter, then you should check out Les Alphas, a video introducing the alphabet via characters shaped like the letters.  Each one represents the sound(s) that the letter makes.  Some are cute (the dame and her extremely ample derrière) and some confusing (you'll think the C looks like a chenille, but it's actually a cornichon, while the N, which is supposed to be a nez, looks like the love child of a champignon and a crotte).  I also can't help thinking that the jet d'eau looks too much like a sperm.

(Did you notice the limace for L?  Whose idea was it to make its mascot a slug?!)

I do wish each of the words were written onscreen--especially since it appears that this video is part of a program for teaching (French-speaking) children to read.  Curious to see more?  Check out this clip that focuses on the vowel sounds and this one that introduces the back story of the planète des Alphas.

Now, take a trip back to the 1980s with Chantal Goya and her live-action on-stage spectacular featuring  little girls in matching sailor suit dresses; larger-than-life chickens, cats, and an egg with limbs; and Madame Goya herself with such a sweet voice and such large shoulder pads, gently encouraging us to "Apprends l'alphabet en chantant" :

(This video is simultaneously horrifying and enthralling, isn't it?  I bet you couldn't look away from the singer and her sprightly, singing, head-tilting minions.  I'm so sorry for inflicting this earworm on you!)

So…which one is your favorite, and why?  Which one(s) would you be happy to never hear again?

Stay tuned for part 2 (practicing repeating the alphabet) and part 3 (playing games online to practice the alphabet).

Friday, July 31, 2015

new resources to share!

Although it still is (and no doubt will always be) a work-in-progress, I have been updating my "French Teaching at Home" page with more books, games, songs, resources, and more.  Please take a look and tell me if I'm missing any of your favorites!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

jeux de mots avec Griffin

Griffin loves to play with words in all three of his languages--he tells and invents jokes, plays word games, does crossword puzzles and word searches, and even makes up puns.  Here's his best one in French so far--I am soooo happy that he has fun doing this sort of thing!

Maman : Oh, non, je me suis trompée. [Oh, no, I was wrong.]

Griffin: No, Mom, you're not all wet!  ["Trempée," soaked, is pronounced the same way as "trompée," wrong.]

Maman: [giggles appreciatively]

Griffin, on a roll: And you're not an elephant, either!  You're not "trompée" !  You don't have a trompe ! ["une trompe" is an elephant's trunk; he turned the noun into a new adjective, "trunked."]

(Okay, so I guess you had to be there.)

Here's one more example.  During a long car ride on vacation, Griffin and my mom and I were playing "Last Letter/First Letter" in French.  (One person says a word, and then the next player says a word that begins with the last letter of the previous word, and so on.)

After a while, they were getting stuck on "E" and "R," both of which appear very frequently in French.  Knowing that the words for some animals' young are formed by adding a suffix like -on (ourson, chaton) or -eau (éléphanteau, souriceau), Griffin started adding these suffixes to words where they don't belong, and in such a confident voice that my mother believed that words like rhinocéroseau (baby rhino) actually existed!

(Again, you had to be there--but I'm really glad that I was.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bonjour, bonjour ! Comment ça va ?

As a parent who only speaks French to my American children, I work as an unpaid teacher 24/7.  But I also have several private tutoring clients, parents who actually pay me to speak French to their children!  I really enjoy teaching French to these kiddos, but being with my own children reinforces that 30 or 60 minutes a week is not nearly enough for these other kids.  

Therefore, I'm starting to recommend videos that the kiddos can watch at home to reinforce what we cover during our private tutoring lessons.  Here are some fun videos to practice listening comprehension of words and phrases related to greeting people and asking how they're doing:

"Bonjour, Hello" by BASHO and Friends -- song with onscreen lyrics and lots of repetition of several ways to ask and answer "how are you" in French; designed for non-native speakers; no photos, videos, or other illustrations of what the words mean.

"Comment ça va" by Juli Powers -- an upbeat song for children that presents lots of options for responding to the question "How are you?", with photos illustrating each sentence and the lyrics in French at the bottom of the screen.

"French Greetings Song" by Natasha Morgan -- a gentle song with onscreen lyrics that appear as the singer writes and draws; features also common questions such as "what's your name" and "how old are you," plus numbers.  Each question or response is repeated three times in French and then the English equivalent is given.

Also from Natasha Morgan, here is her translation of "Two Little Birdies," this one with Fifi and Blanche, who greet each other, state their names, and then fly away.  Short and cute and clear!

"Bonjour" by Alain Le Lait, a short song with a rock and roll feel presenting several phrases in French worth memorizing: how are you, I'm happy to be here, thank you for coming.  A nice feature: the lyrics appear at the bottom of the screen (accompanied by happy, headless, dancing Gumbies) at the beginning but not when the verses are repeated.  Good for listening comprehension!

"Bonjour" by Louis and Josée of Mini TFO (a show for children on Canadian television), a short song featuring real live people who invite the watchers and other children to join them at the playground; no onscreen lyrics.

"Bonjour" from the Disney film "La Belle et la Bête" -- this is the opening song where Belle walks through her village greeting the other residents.  Sung in French; no lyrics onscreen, but you can read the transcription of the song and the dialogue interspersed here.

"Bonjour, bonjour" is a fast, catchy song by L'autobus à vapeur, a group that does songs in French for children (native speakers).  This video is a version sung by a children's choir, accompanied by a cute cartoon and onscreen lyrics.  (You can hear the original song here, no lyrics or video.)

Which one(s) do you and your kiddos like best and why?  Recommendations for other songs about French greetings?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Gwyneth "can't stand" my French!

My daughter (who recently turned four, which gives me hope for my sanity, as she's no longer a "threenager") is very, very good at pushing my buttons, and she is realizing that perhaps the best way to do this is to claim that she doesn't know what I'm saying and that I need to translate it into English for her.
joyeux anniversaire !
"Mommy!  I can't 'stand your French!  Say it in English!"

Deep breaths.

Don't let her know that I'm frustrated and saddened.

Recognize that yelling, "Mais si, je sais que tu me comprends!" doesn't improve the situation.  [But I know you understand me!]  To which she will reply, in English, "No I don't!"

Just smile, rephrase, repeat.  Point, gesture, demonstrate.  Hug, rephrase, repeat.  Hug, repeat.  Hug.  Câlin.  Hug.

"You can take a picture of me, but you can't make me smile."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

how to get a seven-year-old to pay attention during French storytime

Ask him if he wants to read one of the books to the little kids!  Here's Griffin with T'choupi au cirque, about the beloved penguin's trip to the circus with his grandfather.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

nine years of blogging

My blog is older than my children!
Happy Ninth Birthday to my poor neglected blog!  Can't complain--the reason I'm not writing as regularly is because my energy flows into my family, my library job, my French tutoring, and volunteering.  (But I promise, I think about language acquisition and books and teaching all. the. time!  Just don't usually get around to writing about it.)

Occasionally I shower.

Best birthday present ever: being included on Love France, Learn French's list of top 100 sites! So since I have nothing else to add for now, go on over there and see Ryan's exhaustively researched and helpfully annotated list of websites, blogs, and other resources for students of this fun and beautiful and infuriating language.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

French storytime: le vert

After day after uncharacteristically rainy day here along Colorado's Front Range, our lawns are lush and weedy, our skies cloudy, and we are all rolling our eyes about the fact that for the second year in a row, it snowed on Mother's Day.  So in honor of our soggy springtime, I picked GREEN as the theme for my most recent library storytime.

After "Dans la forêt lointaine," our usual opening song (which happens to be about birds in the woods, so, green), we read and discussed a nonfiction board book about the seasons, Au fil des saisons.  Well, as much discussion as you can get from toddlers and preschoolers.  In other words, we named the seasons with help from the grown-ups; exclaimed about how pretty the tree in the book was; established that the apples were red, the leaves started out green but turned to red and orange and brown; and waved bye-bye to the baby birds as they left their nest.

To transition, we sang and danced to "Savez-vous planter les choux," a traditional song about planting cabbages with different parts of one's body.  Perfect for this time of year, and very much in keeping with the green theme.

And what else happens in the spring?  The caterpillars transform into butterflies, which means I had to read the French translation of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, prosaically titled La chenille qui fait des trous (the caterpillar that makes holes).  Everybody loves that little caterpillar!

And once you've spent time with a little green caterpillar, it just makes sense to move on to a little green mouse, so then we sang the vaguely psychodelic song "Une souris verte," in which the narrator catches said little green mouse by its tail, shows it to some gentlemen (who tell him to dip the mouse in oil and water in order to turn it into a hot snail--wtf, right?), and then tries to resettle it in cozy new homes (his drawer, his hat, and his--ew--underpants), each of which it objects to.  The song closes on the indelible and cringe-worthy image of the souris verte leaving trois petites crottes in the singer's shorts.

In other words, the children loooooooved it.  And not just the boys!

We concluded with another French translation of a familiar picture book, Ed Emberley's Go Away, Big Green Monster (thanks, Carol, for showing me the French version!).  This one is such a favorite for storytimes because the kiddos get to yell "Va-t-en!" (go away!) at the monster a lot.  (Go on, try it yourself!  Feels good, doesn't it?)

After our good-bye song ("Ainsi font font font"), we did a petit bricolage to close our green afternoon--a craft project that involved gluing torn pieces of brown and green construction paper onto a black-line drawing of a tree (copied onto card stock).  I also printed out some cute little clip art pictures related to trees--apple blossoms, apples, bird nests, owls, beehives, and squirrels.  (I am very fond of craft projects that require no artistic ability and very little prep on my part, especially since I do these storytimes on a volunteer basis!)

Gwyneth got tired of gluing before she finished her tree.  Oh well, she's three.
So, happy spring, all.  Hope you've got lots of vert where you are, too.

Friday, April 24, 2015

random Frenchy, teachy things

No time for full blog posts this month!  But at least I can make a bulleted list of some of my recent Frenchy and/or teachy thoughts….

gratuitous shot of G&G at the zoo

  • A mom I know who occasionally uses her non-native French with her teen daughters told me that she has discovered a way to cut down on the speed and intensity of their arguments: she announces things like curfew in French, and when the girls protest, they have to do so on French too!
  • Grandrabbit's Play, where Carol and I taught two French classes for kiddos, closed last month, so we won't be teaching there again.  :(
  • But I now am leading three separate weekly French tutoring sessions: one with a four-year-old, one with a group of siblings ages four through nine, and a duo of ten-year-old boys.  (See those toes down there?  These three very different classes are keeping me on them!)
  • The afore-mentioned siblings are already bilingual (from Spanish-speaking homes), and it's sooooo cool to observe how completely unfazed they are when I speak French to them for 30 minutes at a time.  No freaking out, no funny looks, no demands for translation.  It's like they know that they'll get it eventually, and in the meantime, they are understanding enough to have fun.
  • I saw the four-year-old at school; she was wearing a t-shirt with an owl on it, and when she saw me, she pointed to it and said "hibou!  hibou, Sarah!"
  • The mom of the other four-year-old told me excitedly that she can't wait until she and her daughter can converse in French.  Should I tell her that half an hour once a week won't lead to that anytime soon?
  • Griffin is really enjoying the following three resources in French: the magazine "Youpi! J'ai compris!" along with the free animated videos on nonfiction topics available on Brainpop and the geography games on Jeux de geographie
  • Gwyneth continues to assert that she doesn't know how to speak French whenever I ask her how to say something or other in French.
  • Gwyneth also continues to tell her nanny, "My daddy doesn't talk French or Spanish.  My mommy talks French and English.  I talk French, English, and Spanish."
  • Her pronunciation (in English) is gradually improving, which means that "Spanish" sounds like "panis" or "panish" now, instead of "penis."  (Oh, the shocked stares I intercepted when strangers heard my three-year-old announce, "I wike penis.  Mommy wike penis too.  Daddy don't wike penis.")
  • Gwyn and I attended a classmate's birthday party where we and one other family were the only anglophones there!  I ate spicy salsa, drank hibiscus cooler, and practiced my Spanish.
  • I've done three storytimes in French at the library this semester, and they're going well.  Themes: love (in February for valentines day), animals, and Paris. 
  • We've had two French playdates so far, each very different, and for the next one this weekend, I'm going to bring more games and puzzles and toys (and thus fewer French learning games).
  • Several private schools are offering French camps this summer, and I'm determined to send Griffin to one or two of them.  And there are Spanish camps in the area, too--including one at a farm!  I bet both kids would like those.
  • I need to make more time to blog and read the blogs of those I admire!