Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Immerse yourself in the carnival!

The March edition of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival is out!  Bop on over to Hapa Mom to see the posts that Kat has gathered.

Curious about this carnival?  Read Annabelle's explanation--and join us for the next one!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

When immersion doesn't mean immersion: How not to organize a French class for children, part III

In which our beleaguered heroine (part I of this saga) gives in to the pressure from the camp organizer (part II) and creates a play in French that includes the campers' violin accompaniment, and it even kind of makes sense.

So here's how I pulled it all together....

the Pinterest board that I used to collect resources and ideas
I had developed the entire French immersion class for kids around the story Roule Galette, a folk tale similar to The Gingerbread Man, about a cake that rolls itself off the windowsill where it's cooling, through a forest, narrowly avoiding being eaten by the denizens of various fairy tales (the bear, the wolf), where it finally succumbs to the wily fox with a sweet tooth.

The students heard the story a different way each of the five days: first with me relating it in very simple French using pictures of the main characters and main ideas and lots of gestures and movements;

8.5 x 11" print-outs of the salient ideas, slipped into plastic sheet protectors
then by watching this short animated version of it;

by working together to arrange sentences in English telling the tale into chronological order;

I used a total of about ten sentences; the older students read them to the non-readers.
next, by listening to me read the story from the book, pulling out my pictures to illustrate the main characters and main ideas, but not simplifying it otherwise (the video below shows the exact text I used);

by assigning homework to create a very short comic strip based on the story;

I wrote the narration in each box in French, figuring that the kids knew the story and had heard the key words repeated often enough; their job was to illustrate each panel
and finally, by reading and acting out the simple play I had written based on the story.  The narrator speaks English, but the action takes place in French: the child playing the old man who wants to eat says "J'ai faim" (I'm hungry), the galette introduces itself politely to each animal, asking "Comment t'appelles-tu?" and "Comment ca va?" (What's your name?  How are you doing today?").  Plus, the galette sings a little song each time, which all of the actors could chime in on.


By organizing the class around the story, that meant that I could really exploit its themes: other songs that take place in the forest ("Dans la foret lointaine" and "Promenons-nous dans les bois," for example), simple description words (grand, petit, chaud, froid, vieux, jeune, beau, delicieux), numbers 1-10, and greetings, introductions, and leave-takings.

Oh, I do like contextualized language learning--who wants to memorize vocabulary lists and flip through flashcards when they can play with puppets that threaten to eat each other when they meet?!  (Each kid held a puppet during the class, since that tends to cut down on feeling self-conscious when speaking another language.)

But then being told--after the camp had started--that the students' performance on the fifth and final day of the camp had to incorporate songs that they were learning to play on their violins during the rest of the camp, well, that made me start pulling my cheveux out!

(And in the meantime, the music teachers were panicking too, because almost all the campers were brand new students as young as four who couldn't play much of anything!)

How did we do it?  I decided that there was a river with a bridge over it in the forest that the galette flees through and taught the kids to sing and dance "Sur le pont d'Avignon."  This classic folk song has a familiar, easy melody, plus verses that are easily adaptable to the characters from the story.  (Instead of "Les belles dames font comme ca," the lovely ladies curtsy like this, for example, we had "Les ours font comme ca," giving the campers the opportunity to get in touch with their inner bears, roaring and striking each other with their paws, and so on.)

The violin teachers then picked an easy-to-play phrase that became the galette's theme.


Putting it all together meant pulling the two very cool older boys to the side to play all the theme music and the dancing song (they were too cool to act in a play with little kids, anyway), keeping the narrator and the characters, and then having the galette cross the bridge in the middle of the woods so that the children could join together to sing and dance while the boys played "Sur le pont d'Avignon."


We could have used several more days of rehearsal.

(And that is an understatement.)

But the class was finally over, I had learned what not to do when organizing (and teaching) a French immersion class for kids (especially on the first day), I had developed a nice little set of lesson plans and materials that I was able to use within a couple of months with some private tutoring clients, and I had the chance to see my children (because they came to class with me) dance and do some very cute wolf impressions.

And that's what I learned when immersion didn't mean immersion.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

my son "teme"s me!

Griffin made this with his magnetic mosaic activity; it's a picture of him and me beside an apple tree with a snowcapped mountain in the background.

And he wrote "je teme" (je t'aime) in magnets above this bucolic scene!

I "eme" him so much too.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

When immersion doesn't mean immersion: How not to organize a French class for children, part II

Now, to be fair, it should have occurred to me to wonder what the campers' parents understood about the first half hour of their children's French-themed violin day camp, if they realized that a separate teacher had been hired to do a series of French immersion lessons with the  kids each morning.

Dear reader, they had not.  According to the shockingly short description of the camp, we would "Celebrate the rich culture of France through music, art, and games."

So of course some of the kids and parents were taken aback when I bonjour-ed them, puppet in hand*, invited them to sit on my Tour Eiffel blanket, and started singing and holding up pictures of les animaux in the song.  And continued thusly, even reading them an entire story, entirely in French.  For a demie heure.

(Note: the camp organizer and the other main teacher were not taken aback because they weren't actually observing my lesson, much less participating in it.  Which made her criticism of my approach especially hard to swallow.)

(Another note: You may recall that she told me over the phone that she had no idea that I would actually be speaking in French for the "French immersion class" that I had been asked to teach.  When I stopped sputtering, I gently reminded her what "immersion" means.  Her response?  "Well, a lot of fields use specialized vocabulary that doesn't mean the same thing to a layperson."  Fair enough--but not teaching.  And not "immersion."  Immersion always means immersion.)

My husband, who is very smart and puts his engineering mind and management experience to work when he sees me in distress, pointed out that had I known that the campers didn't know what to expect, I could have started the class much differently.  That is, the organizer could have introduced me to the group, explained why I was there and what I was doing, and so forth, so that the madame with the marionnette didn't seem quite so freaky.  Moreover, it would have been so much better if we had built in a "debriefing" time afterwards so that I could answer questions in English and highlight what I wanted them to take away from the lesson.

But how does my monolingual rocket scientist** husband know about the importance of debriefing in English after an initial language immersion lesson?  

Because that's what we did on our fourth date.  But that's another story.***

Anyway, whenever I taught French 101, I barraged the students with the language from the minute they walked in the porte with my excrutiatingly-well-prepared lesson designed to show them how much they can indeed glean without any English translations or explanations at all, relying on gestures, drawings, photos, cognates, and context.  And then afterwards, we would talk (in English) about how they acquired their first language via immersion (listening for 2+ years before forming coherent sentences) and how I would do my best to recreate that experience (but speed it up) in my class and what strategies they could use to make it a little easier on them and how to let me know that I needed to slow down or spend more time on a topic.

I should have realized that if I needed to be that explicit with college students, I certainly needed to explain and debrief with these four-to-ten year olds!

So that's what I did first thing on my second day of camp.  I also handed out colorful paper question marks on popsicle sticks that the kiddos could hold up whenever they didn't understand, and I told them that while everything I said while we were sitting on the Eiffel Tower blanket would be in French, I could also step off it and speak English.

Additionally, I swallowed my objections and included non-French games from them on.  With only 30 minutes a day, I wanted to maximize our French time, but the camp organizer insisted that I play familiar games like "Red Light, Green Light" and "Duck, Duck, Goose" in French with the campers. With some creative license, I even figured out how to make them all fit the theme I had picked for the class (based on the story that we were "studying")!

Speaking of that theme, I had already planned to revisit the story each day so that the children would be able to perform it as a little skit on the last day of the camp--the one explicit request that the organizer had made when she hired me.  But during that fateful phone call after my first class, she added that our French skit needed to be integrated with the music lessons that she was doing with the students.  Except that only one of them had ever touched a violin before, so they didn't know how to play anything yet, much less, say, one of the French folk songs that I was already teaching them to sing to accompany the story.

I know I used this image in my previous post about the camp, but it's too perfect not to include again.

Stay tuned for part III of this series, in which I do figure out how to make the play work with performances by the beginning violin students and also vow never to teach this camp again (at least, not for the $75 they paid me for the week).

(Feel like you're missing something?  Read part I of this series here.)

*Whenever I tutor children in French, I bring along a puppet named "Henri" who sings, dances, demonstrates, repeats after me, and (on a good day) makes them laugh.  I highly recommend that you find your own Henri if you're teaching another language to your own children!

**Oh, haven't I mentioned that he's an aerospace systems engineer?

***And one of my favorite ones, at that.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When immersion doesn't mean immersion: How not to organize a French class for children, part I

1.  Be suspicious when a woman you have never met overhears you talking about French, tells you that she's teaching a French-themed music day camp for ages 6-10, and asks if she can hire you to teach the French immersion lesson portion of the camp.

Why?  Because a person who is willing to hire a complete stranger to spend time with your children without even asking for a CV or background check is perhaps not someone you want organizing a camp for kids.  And because if one aspect of the planning makes you go, "hmmm, that seems odd," then you can probably expect more "hmmmm"s (and even a few "WTF"s).

(For the record, in case any future employers are perusing this blog, I should state that my background checks are flawless and my CV and references confirm that I have been teaching or tutoring since age 22.)

2.  When the only directions that the organizer gives you is that you should prepare fun 30-minute lessons with songs that will lead into a little performance on the last day, don't think, "Wow!  She has confidence in my abilities and isn't going to micro-manage!"  

Rather, ask yourself why she hasn't shared more about what she is anticipating, explained how your class fits into the big picture of the music camp, or given you anything in writing.

3.  Don't spend a week's worth of naptimes developing a series of lessons plans centered around a French folktale, finding pictures to illustrate the story, making puppets and cute little activity sheets, and choosing songs that mirror the setting and characters in the story.  And don't bother typing up the song lyrics and making a little packet for the kids to take home.

Because it will turn out that the camp enrollment is so low that the organizer ends up letting in kids as young as four and five.  So all those materials you create under the assumption that participants know how to read?  Well, they don't, so you will need to make changes along the way.  A lot of changes.

4.  Even after your first class, when you go all out with your puppets and songs and stories and time-tested techniques for conveying meaning in the target language without ever resorting to English, getting the campers engaged and participating while the organizer does paperwork and chats with parents, don't think for a minute that you're doing a good job.

Because the organizer will call you at home at 8:00 pm that night and tell you that she has "received complaints" that the children didn't understand what you were saying, that she was expecting you to teach "songs and games and French culture," not whatever it was that you actually did (remember, she didn't actually observe your class, and neither did the parents), and that she doesn't understand why you spoke French the whole time in the class.

Well, you will explain, it's because she specifically hired you to teach a French immersion class.  And you did indeed use songs and a story and a game from France.  Which she would have noticed.  Had she or any of the other music teachers been present.

Then she will protest, "But I didn't meant that you shouldn't speak English!"

But, dear clueless lady, that's what "immersion" means.

5. Dear clueless Sarah, if you ever agree to do something like this again, please get directions in writing and submit your lesson plans for approval ahead of time!  (And ask for more money, while you're at it.)

Coming soon: part II, wherein she tells me to "do French games like 'Red Light, Green Light' and off-handedly mentions that the performance at the end of the week will also need to include music that the campers have learned this week.

Followed by part III, wherein I share the lesson plan for my cool contextualized five-part class about the French folktale, plus some video clips of the campers' performance.

And then we'll conclude with a happy ending: a description of the wonderful French day camp that my son attended at a local private school later that summer!

Friday, January 10, 2014

learning to speak? learning to fly!

For the first two years of her life, Gwyneth didn't have much to say (using words, at least--she's been quite a shrieker all along).  For the past six months or so, though, she has started talking to us, really communicating.


Of course, it's primarily in English.


(Oh, I'm not supposed to react this way, am I?)

Gwyneth definitely prefers using English words, but she does seem to understand both languages equally well (unless her papa and I are trying to, say, brush her teeth, convince her to leave her diaper on in bed, or go to sleep before 9:00 pm).

She has a handful of words that she knows only in French, probably from books I have read to her, and when prompted, she will supply individual words in French (e.g., "Comment dit-on 'elbow' en francais?"  "Coude!"--but if you simply ask "Qu'est-ce que c'est?", she will only tell you "elbow."

At 2.5 years old, both her big brother and cousin Carl had been making four- and five-word utterances in French, so I was feeling a bit impatiente.  Yes, yes, I know that each kid has her own strengths and weaknesses and timeline, so I wasn't worried per se--just eager to hear what she would have to say for herself en francais.

So imagine my joie when she created her first spontaneous three-word sentence in French this week!  We were reading a book about the various homes for farm animals (clapier, poulailler, etc.), and she looked up at me and informed me, "Dumbo 'bite cirque."
Dumbo, l'elephant volant 

Dumbo habite dans un cirque!  Dumbo (Disney's animated flying elephant) lives at the circus!  Three words, contextualized, coherent, unprompted.


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Monday, November 25, 2013


As host of the November edition of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, I wanted to pay tribute to the upcoming US holiday of Thanksgiving.  Yes, even though I'm feeling rather resentful of this warm and fuzzy celebration, given my father's recent passing ("gratitude" is not the first emotion to come to mind this season).

But it seems that connecting with other parents all over the world who are also raising their children with more than one language and finding out what they are most thankful for in this process has helped--I see that we have much in common, that we all persevere, that we will all be thrilled one day down the road when our children tell us "Thank you for making it possible for me to become multilingual."

So I asked you all what you are grateful for on these journeys--your supportive spouse?  your library card?  your frequent flyer miles?  And the results are in!  I think they'll resonate with you as much as they do with me.

Family: Unsurprisingly, the most popular answer.  We cherish our parents' and our spouses' support, even if they don't speak the language we are imparting to our children!  Strongly connected to this answer are several writers' mentions of their families' cultural heritage as well as a discussion of how multilingualism shapes the family's identity.

Education: The second most common answer.  We praise our teachers, our schools, our children's schools, our children's afterschool enrichment programs.

Bookstores and libraries: Number three on our list of what we appreciate, from behemoths like Amazon to small local companies like Les Petits Livres to the public library.  (I am especially partial to eBay Canada for used children's books in French

Our children's attitudes: The fourth most cited answer.  We delight in our kiddos' interest in and willingness to speak the minority language(s), describing it with phrases like "zest for learning" and "contagious enthusiasm."

Community:  We so appreciate what our circles of friends, our communities (next door and online), and our cities offer to multilingual families.

Travel and the Internet: Interestingly, these two nearly-polar-opposite ideas received an equal number of mentions in our essays!  Some of us treasure our opportunities to travel to countries where our families' minority language is spoken; some of us treasure the Internet, which brings those other countries into our homes.

Everything else: One or two writers also cited the following ideas: watching videos in the target language; the way that multilingualism has sculpted self-identity and created a sense of family identity; and appreciation for the way that others react to a multilingual family.

Intrigued?  Now go take a look at all of the essays to read more about the writers' explanations of their choices!

Bilingualism and Multilingualism in Parenting and Teaching: Eugenia describes an "all-day family pyjama party" and her children's ability to switch in and out of languages with ease, concluding with "the language we all stuck to today, understood perfectly and loved using no matter who we were with was the language of happiness.  My favourite of them all!"

Bilinguebabies: Audrey praises her "very patient monolingual husband and father," her oldest child's willingness to speak Spanish to his siblings, their books, the opportunities for her family in London, and "the joy of hearing and seeing the benefits [of bilingualism] in my children."

Bringing up Baby Bilingual: I share my appreciation for my education, my family, the Internet, and my community of Francophones, Francophiles, teacher colleagues, fellow bloggers, the public library, and my son's bilingual (Spanish-English) elementary school, explaining that indeed, to raise children with more than one language, "it takes un village."

Busy as a Bee in Paris: Maria enumerates 30(!) things that she's thankful for, especially her "four beautiful children who are each embracing their multilingualism and multiculturalism with their whole hearts."  She also explains that sharing three languages (English, Spanish, and French) "makes our family so united and so unique and gives us a common goal and identity and purpose!"

Discovering the World Through My Son's Eyes: Frances freely admits that raising her son bilingually has been challenging, but now that she is successfully teaching him to read in Spanish, her "worries instantly subsided with his reaction....his excitement to learn a new language."  She is grateful for his motivation, which in returns motivates her!

A French American Life: Carol shares her many reasons for gratitude, from education to bookstores to her children's attitudes.  Being the maman of a bilingual, bicultural family has broadened her horizons and improved her outlook: "I'm a better, more tolerant, more open-minded, more patient, and I think more interesting person after learning how different languages, cultures, and families can be."

Intentional Mama: Michele meditates on grace and gratitude as a mother, world citizen, and writer, citing in particular Les Petits Livres, a French children's books rental-by-mail service, as a wonderful resource.  She adds, "I'm grateful for the time I've been able to spend living and traveling in other countries.  From Sri Lanka to Syria, the people I've met have added so much to my understanding of human nature, and I feel fortunate for these experiences and how they've changed my global perspective."

Mommy Speaks Chinese: Emy focuses on the education: her quest to find an extracurricular Chinese language program for her two children with an emphasis on speaking and interacting, unlike the stiff, serious, writing-intensive Saturday Chinese school that so many Chinese-American children of her generation attended.  "I was really happy to find an after school Chinese immersion program just two miles from my house!  It was a brand new facility, with bright cheerful classrooms, sweet smiling teachers and (most importantly) small class sizes.  Lessons included hands on cooking and crafts."

Multilingual Parenting: Rita lists her top 20 reasons that she is glad to be bilingual, including several ideas that no one else mentioned: "I have had the opportunity to read great literature in the language it was originally written in" and "When I was young I had pen pals (with pen and paper via snail mail!) in  several countries all over the world."  Moreover, she points out, "I can now help other families bring up their children to become bilingual."

Open Hearts, Open Minds: As a non-native speaker of Spanish, Lynn is most thankful for ("with the increasingly complex definitions my four-year-old is demanding, I'd have a hard time getting through the day without my favorite iPhone app"); her son's Spanish immersion preschool ("having teachers from various Spanish-speaking countries gives him the kind of exposure that it's hard for just me to provide"); and her monolingual husband who brags about his bilingual son.

The Piri-Piri Lexicon: Annabelle realizes that she is lucky for quite a few elements of her multilingual life, from the American Library in their German city to Apple TV to her parents' and in-laws' support ("never questioning our decision to raise LJ with four languages, trusting us, supporting us and helping LJ to practice her languages.  I probably would have disowned them anyway if they had raised any objections!).  She concludes with a lovely tribute to her amazing daughter who is "perfectly happy, not at all confused, silent or dumbed down by having four 14 months."

Project Procrastinot: Mercedes agrees that job prospects and test scores and lower risk of dementia are all important benefits of raising one's children bilingually.  But more essentially, as "professional nomads, living thousands of miles away from family, we don't need a language barrier to divide us even further....Speaking Spanish will be a way for Astro and Cupcake to 'belong' with their family in Venezuela, and to honor our Mexican heritage as well."

Wow, right?!

And now, please share what elements of being in a multilingual family that you are most grateful for!  What makes you nod your head vigorously in agreement?  What did we leave out?

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.  Give big hugs to your family.

Friday, November 22, 2013

it takes un village... raise children in more than one language, especially when only one parent speaks the minority language, and--especially!-- when that parent is a non-native speaker.

A lot of circles have to intersect for me to succeed in this quest, and I'm so grateful to be a part of all of them:

My education: High school, college, and grad school teachers who made French language, literature, and linguistics come alive for me; summer camp counselors at Lac du Bois (one of the fabulous Concordia Language Villages) who helped me interact in French outside of a formal classroom; my professeurs at the Universite de Savoie who tolerated this terrified but enthusiastic American exchange student in their classes, evaluated my halting literary analyses, and graciously conducted oral exams with me as if I were any other student; Rachel, my co-locataire in Chambery, who with her friends and family taught me how real French people speak outside of the classroom; and the school year I spent in Mulhouse as an assistante d'anglais, where, truth be told, I learned much more than I actually taught to my high school students.

My family: In particular my Francophile mother, whose renditions of French folk songs made up a large part of the background music of my childhood; but also my extended family, who served as  cheerleaders as I studied abroad and went on to become a French teacher; and my in-laws, who never question my passion (or my ability, or the point) of raising the children bilingually (heck, my sister-in-law and her husband even offered me their son as my first guinea pig!); and, most importantly, Ed, the love of my life, whose "hopeless monolingualism" (his words) doesn't prevent him from enthusiastically supporting my efforts to raise our children bilingually, even though he doesn't always understand our dinner conversation and doesn't know what to do with the steady stream of books entering our home.

The Internet: Providing forums for me to connect with other multilingual families and teachers all over the world; offering used French books at bargain prices from eBay Canada; serving up French music and videos via YouTube, streaming radio stations, and more; tempting me with educational (and also uneducational) apps and games in French for the iPad; and giving me free access to French stories and books, lesson plans, and more Pins than I'll ever be able to read, much less implement!

The local community: The public library that let us use their space to offer a regular French storytime; the now-defunct Parenting Place who hosted a regular French playgroup; the parents from that playgroup who became my friends and whose children spoke French to my kids over countless puzzles, dump trucks full of sand, and crayons worn down to nubbins every Monday morning for years; CCFLT, the Colorado Congress of Foreign Language Teachers, which puts me in touch with nearby teachers and parents and creates a yearly convention where I can share what I know and learn lots more; the Alliance Francaise de Denver, which offers classes, cultural and social events, and most importantly to me, a library that includes lots of children's books, CDs, and even games; the area universities plus major local industries such as aerospace, atmospheric science, and Internet companies that draw students and employees from all over the world, thus making it a non-issue if strangers overhear me speaking French to my kids in the grocery store; and even our very own Pioneer Elementary, my son's dual-language immersion school (English and Spanish), which reinforces for him the importance of knowing more than one language.

Merci, mon village.  I owe you big.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

coming up on carnival time!

In November, I will have the honor of hosting the monthly Raising Multilingual Children blogging carnival.  Because here in the US we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, I am hoping to gather posts about what you are grateful for as you raise your children with more than one language--your frequent flyer miles?  your public library?  your supportive spouse?

Please send me the link to your post about gratitude and language learning or teaching by Monday, November 18; I will publish the carnival collection on November 25.  You can email me at babybilingual {at} gmail {dot} com.

Here, I'll start: thank YOU!  Thank you for reading my blog and thank you for sharing your experiences with me and your other readers.