Tuesday, August 29, 2006

French music for the would-be francophone baby

As many of you know, I've been researching while I write this blog and take care of my baby nephew. Reading about the history of bilingualism, theories of second language acquisition in children, and anecdotes about bilingual kids is definitely interesting, but right now I'm more interested in finding out what works well so I can start applying it right away with Carl. Specifically, I've been wondering about music lately: I've found lots of music in French for children, and I play it almost constantly when I'm watching him, and I leave some for his parents to play on the other days. Here's what I want to know:

• Does playing music in French help at all when he's only six months old?
• Should we be reinforcing it some or all of the time, like showing him pictures of items that appear in the song and saying the words and/or using gestures to mimic the actions of the songs, or singing along with the songs, or translating the gist of the song into English? Or using baby sign language to illustrate the song?
• What's the best frequency? Should we play one CD--or even one song--over and over for a day or a week or more so that he gets very familiar with it? Or should we expose him to as much as possible?
• Will he be confused when his parents and grand-parents, who speak exclusively in English with him, play music in French? (My research has indicated that even infants can recognize different languages and have expectations about who is "supposed" to speak what.)
• And finally, how does his age factor into it? (He can't very well be encouraged to sing along yet, and we're just barely starting to use sign language with him.)

Okay. Any advice or ideas are much appreciated!


  1. I think it helps even though he's six months old. Reinforcing would be great but I would not translate at all. He'll figure that out in time by himself. I would suggest playing as much as possible as often as possible. Any regular exposure to the target language can only be helpful. I don't think he'll be confused, especially not when you're starting early like this. It will seem very normal since it will be the norm, if that makes sense. Even 'passive' exposure is helpful.

  2. Hi Sarah,
    I totally agree. I have tons of French music for the kids, and played it from the time they were born. I think any type of music, at any age, (Ok, maybe not gangsta rap s) is good for kiddos, whether it's for language exposure or not.
    I've got some great CDs.
    je t'appellerai.

  3. Sure, any music is great, but I wouldn't say it's the magic potion for helping a child to become bilingual. The best thing for your nephew is to hear YOU talking to him in French and French only even if he can't answer back yet.

    We've brought up our boys bilinually English/German from birth and it has worked out really well for us.

    Good luck to you!

  4. Thanks for chiming in, Christina. I think you're right that the best thing is lots of comprehensible input from the people who speak French in his life (er, that would be just me).

    What's been hardest for me is training myself to carry on an extended monologue in my foreign language, knowing that my nephew can't reply (and won't be able to for months)! (I'm really more of an introvert.)

    Would you consider letting me profile your bilingual kids on this blog? You can email me at babybilingual (at) gmail (dot) com. Danke!