Saturday, September 30, 2006

Afternoons with Carlicot: Update

As many of you know, I've been babysitting my nephew Carl (or as I started calling him, Carlicot) one day a week since May; his parents, both Americans like myself, have asked me to speak only French with him. (I'm a French teacher.) (Click here to read my first impressions of what this process was like!)

Carl is now eight months old. He can crawl and pull himself up on coffee tables. He spits up less frequently and makes lots more babbling noises. In fact, his dad has heard a nasal vowel sound, which he attributes to Carl's exposure to the French language! Carl has always been a very attentive baby, constantly looking around, tracking noises and sounds, getting bored if he stays in one room too long--now even more so, if that's possible! His attention span seems to have increased, though: he will listen and look at the pictures when I read him a book now, instead of immediately trying to gnaw on it. (Click here to see him "reading.")

As far as books go, I have eight board books in French that we focus on. (I decided that story books were too long with too-complicated pictures for now--Carl's attention span, while better than it used to be, is still that of an eight-month-old!) We read about animals and seasons and shapes and numbers. On some books, he likes to lift the flaps to reveal the picture underneath. I wish I knew how much he understands!

I've also identified his favorite songs in French: "Sur le pont d'Avignon," a translation of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" in French, "Savez-vous planter les choux," and the alphabet song. He actually grins or laughs when I sing these or play them on CD (even though each CD has a different voice and slightly different rhythm singing them than I do--he appears to recognize each song in its different versions!). Basically I play music constantly in the background when I'm watching him, and I sing to him when we go for walks. When possible, the songs are thematically connected to our activities: a French drinking song, "Chevaliers de la table ronde," when he has his bottle--but I substitute "lait" (milk) for "vin" (wine)--and my friend Amy's "Fais pipi" song when changing his diaper, for example.

I'm getting better at carrying on a monologue in French for several hours at a time, and I'm trying to use that time to really focus on my own pronunciation. It still gets tiresome, though, because I'm a mostly quiet person by nature, so I'm glad to have music playing so he receives input in French even when I don't want to listen to myself talk in French any more. I'll probably start playing more tapes with stories on them soon; I would really like to have him hear native speakers speaking, not just singing. (There is one CD called "First Steps French" that alternates songs with nursery rhymes and "motherese," but that's been it so far.) And once he's old enough to watch television, we'll find him some DVDs and videos (even if it's just my asking French speakers I know if I can videotape them reading books).

Carl's favorite activities include bouncing, trying to grab the cat and or stick his hand in the cat's food bowl, eating bananas and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and refried beans, and watching cars drive by. I like to conclude our walks by parking his stroller on the sidewalk of a moderately busy street so that we can count the vehicles that pass. I announce whether it's a car, truck, bus, or motorcycle, tell him what color it is and whether it's big or small, and encourage him to wave. (He doesn't grasp that concept just yet.) And I count. And count and count and count. I sing the numbers, rap them, clap them, dance to them (and get funny looks from neighbors on their way to the bus stop). Carl loves it!

By the way, Carl's parents are also teaching him sign language. I use the basic ones (more, Mommy, Daddy, eat) with him but don't know many others. Maybe Elizabeth or Steve can write in and tell us more about that process!


  1. Bonjour Sarah! I think that it's great what you're doing..I remember that singing songs in French was my own children's favorite way to learn the language! Music and song are natural ways to have them hear the sounds before they actually start to talk. My Chris sang French songs long before he really starting speaking English :-)....ah, que Carlicot a de la chance :-) bisous, Lynne

  2. I'm finding the sign language tough.

    Since I'm just learning as we go myself, I don't have a lot to teach and I'm not in the habit of signing as I talk. The really hard part, though, is you have to have one (if not both) hands free, so you can't sign and hold him at the same time, for example.

    He likes the baby signing videos we watch once in a while, though I don't know how much he's truly absorbing from them.

  3. I hadn't thought about the problem of not being able to hold him and sign simultaneously!

    Do any readers have suggestions of how to use baby sign, how to get used to it, how to learn it yourself, etc.?

  4. See the comment by "anonymous" (a baby sign teacher with a bilingual 4-year-old) on this post: