I've been hearing more and more about parents who don't speak a certain second language but who are interested in having their children learn it--kids attend Montessori or internationally-oriented preschools and elementary schools where they learn languages that their parents don't know, Chinese is exploding in Chicago elementary schools, and here in Colorado, Anglo kids attend Spanish-English bilingual schools and leave 5th grade fluent in Spanish while their parents remain monolingual.
So it seems indeed possible that your children can learn a language that you don't speak (yet or ever), and in fact, you can help them without being fluent yourself! Now, some researchers and educators will protest that only native speakers should teach languages to children, that you're doing the kids a disservice if you don't expose them exclusively to the most authentic and natural and perfectly-accented speech. But frankly, if that were true, then nine-tenths of the foreign language teachers in this country would be out of a job and the US would have even fewer speakers of foreign languages. Look at me: I started learning French in high school, didn't have a native speaker as a teacher until I studied abroad as a junior in college (except for a couple of weeks at French camp through Concordia Language Villages), still speak with a noticeable American accent, but have managed to stay employed as a French teacher at a university for seven years now (and have even won teaching awards, if you don't mind my bragging). So while in a perfect world, everyone would have access to native speakers of every language they want to learn, the kids I tutor and the college students I teach will be just fine with me at the front of the classroom. (Besides, being a native speaker of a language does not imply that you know how to teach it, whereas someone who did have to learn it in a classroom--rather than acquiring it as a child--has a better idea of what works and what the students will struggle with.)
In other words, people who speak another language with an accent are still far better off than people who speak only one language.
Anyway, Corey, who is raising her children with English and German, is considering adding French into the mix, even though she and her husband aren't French speakers. (I don't know if they've studied some along the way or not.) She asked me for some suggestions for materials to help them. So here's what I can recommend so far, and I hope it will prove useful to other parents or caretakers or teachers, especially those who aren't fluent in French themselves:
Music, lots of music: I'd vote for a combination of French folk songs, comptines (nursery rhymes), and children's music along with songs specifically written for children learning French as a second/foreign language. The former are authentic with a wide variety of vocabulary and grammatical structures and cultural contexts; the latter will be easier to understand and often about everyday life (eg, greetings, what's in a kitchen, days of the week, body parts) and thus kids (and parents) will be able to sing along more quickly and then use the language in other situations. Moreover, these typically include English translations of the French lyrics.
Resources for music: For authentic songs, try Kidzup.com (my favorite album so far is Mes chansons préférées, but Mes comptines is great too and perhaps easier to understand than some of the songs), Putumayo (I particularly like their French Playground), Michael Doucet's Le Hoogie Boogie: Louisiana French Music for Children, and Comptines à chanter and Les plus belles comptines des petits lascars (the latter includes directions for fingerplays to accompany the comptines).
As for original songs for learners, I like the gentle, lyrical, and occasionally silly Muriel's World, the catchy and often silly albums by Alain LeLait (Yadeeda.com), and Baby's First Steps in French, which has traditional French children's songs that have been modified to include all the possible different sound combinations in French, plus comptines and sections of "parentese" (or "baby talk," very simplified, repetitive statements and questions like what a parent would say to an infant).
I'm less impressed by--mostly because these songs didn't engage the four-year-old and six-year-old girls I tutor and because my one-year-old nephew's still too young to sing along and play games in French, and thus I haven't explored them extensively--French on the Move for Kids (designed for ages 3-8) and Hop, Skip, and Sing French for Kids (ages 2-7). On the plus side, these two are more than just songs; they include games activities that adults can do with the kids (like Simon Says), translations, and vocab lists from the songs.
Okay, this post is getting long. I'll close for now; click here for Part II about videos!