Click here to read part I of this post, about my views on the possibility of raising your kids to speak a language you don't know and my recommendations for music to help you do so in French.
Videos and DVDs: If you don't know the language yourself, then it's important to expose your kids to as many speakers of the language as possible. Notice that I'm not insisting on native speakers--it can be other children, teachers, tutors, friends, and people on CDs, video tapes, and DVDs. If your children are old enough to watch movies, find their favorites on DVD and play them with the French soundtrack; the kids know what to expect, so they'll understand the story without knowing most of the words. Perhaps some children's programming on DVD (Dora, Wiggles, etc.) also has an option for French audio? Try to also find original, rather than dubbed, shows (eg, Sesame Street from France or Québec or Sénégal) to expose your kids to French and francophone culture. While creating your own vast video library can be a daunting and expensive prospect, it doesn't have to be. Instead of--or in addition to--purchasing materials online at great expense (and then finding out your DVD player is set up for a different region than the DVDs), try the following: borrow materials from public libraries and the Alliance Française, if you're lucky enough to be located near one; having a friend or relative in a French-speaking country record television programs for you (children's shows and other age-appropriate nonfiction programs, like travel, nature, and animals); ask local French speakers and teachers and parents if you can film them reading, singing, counting, narrating as they take a walk, interacting with French-speaking kids, and so on.
Here are a few entertainment-style French videos for children, recommended by Bringing up Baby Bilingual reader David Ryan: Carmen Champagne's music videos, including Un bon chocolat chaud-chaud-chaud! and Annie Brocoli's poppy, boppy videos and albums. While the latter are popular in France, I don't think they'd be a good choice for kids just starting to learn French as a second language; she sings too fast and the words aren't distinctive enough for beginners (perhaps even intermediates), at least in some of the albums I've listened to. But on the other hand, older children might not feel like they were listening to "kids' music" with her trendy sound. I don't know what her videos are like.
Additionally, some educational French videos exist for anglophone kids. I haven't looked into these in depth, but I have watched the three-volume Bonjour les amis! French made easy for children with low-tech animation and lots of gentle repetition, starring "Moustache, France's most loveable cat." It's probably a good introduction, but it won't take you very far. Then there's Muzzy, a $200 DVD or video program produced by the BBC in six languages, which is supposedly appropriate for two to 12-year olds (which is too broad a claim for me to believe it, making me wonder if it's really as good as all the hype). Can it really make kids acquire a second language as naturally as their first?
Finally, if you're trying to teach your kids French, then you probably want to expose them to other cultures as well. In that case, take advantage of videos in English (or whatever your mother tongue) that introduce French and francophone countries in ways that would interest your children. Show the budding mountaineer footage of ice climbing in the Alps and the future zoologist whales in the Saint Laurence River and wild animals in Québec. Follow the Tour de France every summer on TV with your kids. Find kid-friendly Food Network shows where you and your young'uns can fix fondue and couscous along with the chefs.
Your public library probably has lovely scenic videos to borrow, and you can always resort to preteen-pleasing dreck like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's Passport to Paris: "Sent to Paris to visit their grandfather[the US ambassador to France!], the girls [their characters] fall in love with France...and fall head-over-heels for two French boys! Sightseeing on mopeds, they race around Paris on a mission to see the city, make new friends...and stay one step ahead of their uptight chaperone. From shopping at French boutiques, to exploring Notre Dame and dinner dates at the Eiffel Tower, it's one hilarious exploit after another." [Note: I have never had dinner dates at the Eiffel Tower! I've never sped around Paris on mopeds! And I can't afford boutiques--give me the marché aux puces any day instead. At least I've never experienced the City of Lights with an uptight chaperone.] In one photo on the video jacket, we see the girls fencing with baguettes. Sounds awful, I know, reinforces stereotypes--but if this sort of thing convinces girls to learn French, then I won't call it all bad.
Please note that I haven't actually seen any Baby Einstein videos; I understand that some parents adore them, though, and that some include foreign language instruction?
Does anyone else have recommendations for videos and DVDs? I really haven't look into these yet, since my nephew is only a year old. Stay tuned for posts on books (part III) and other materials (part IV) specifically for French.