Sunday, April 01, 2007

So you don't speak French, but you want to help your children learn it? Part IV: Everything else

Now that I've described music, videos, and different types of books that you can use to teach your children French--even if you're not a French speaker yourself--I'll conclude this series with other materials and resources that could prove useful.

Toys, games, and CD-ROMs:
The Leapfrog Learning System offers interactive books in some foreign languages (here's an example in French). You buy the base and the books separately, and then the child listens to the story, answers questions, touches pictures, does various activities, and so forth. While some French and many Spanish books can be purchased in the US, it's probably more efficient to buy the base and the books in a country where the language is spoken. (I've heard that some cartridges bought in other countries won't play on a base from the US, but I'm not sure.) And if you're going to French-speaking countries (or have friends or family there who can ship things to you), you may as well pick up age-appropriate toys that pronounce words and sentences in French for your kids to play with (you know, Speak-and-Spell, Teddy Ruxpin, or whatever the equivalents are in 2007!). In fact, you can even find some French-speaking toys here in the US (my nephew, for example, loves his trilingual remote control that counts, sings, and says other words in English, French, and Spanish).

You might consider more structured CD-ROM-based language learning programs for older children, like Rosetta Stone. These programs, offered in thirty languages, are extremely popular for adults, but are also marketed for home-schooling parents who don't speak the language they want their children to learn.

I imagine that other CD-ROMs and computer games exist as well to help children learn languages. Besides, any of these that are in French (not necessarily designed to teach English speakers) would be useful, once the child has started to learn the language--any recommendations?

Websites: Next, I'd like to mention a few websites that I've already described here at Bringing up Baby Bilingual, ones that provide reading and listening opportunities in French for kids:

FLES resources (links to other websites for kids learning French, like "adopt an escargot")

The BBC's very interactive and kid-friendly French for Children website

Petit Ours Brun (click on the link to take you to the magazines' home page, then click on the four pictures at the top of the page for activities)

French Embassy children's pages with simple cultural readings

Reading A-Z's printable children's picture books (plus some shorter chapter books) in French

Lire et récréer with stories, poems, and more, including worksheets (all in French)

Mama Lisa's songs and nursery rhymes

(You can also check out the links listed in the right margin for sites that offer suggestions about how and why to teach languages in general to kids, blogs of families raising their children with more than one language, and lots of other resources!)

Other children: Keep in mind, however, that simply providing music, videos, books, and games is not enough. Your child needs to understand why she has to learn French and feel like it's important and useful and fun, and working on it at home by herself is not going to be convincing enough. On the other hand, if she has the opportunity to interact with other kids who also speak French, then her motivation and fluency will increase. To that end, find or create a French-speaking playgroup for kids of her age, or at least invite francophone children or families over to your house from time to time. If your child is old enough to type on the computer, get her an e-pal (an email correspondent), or have her write letters to an old-fashioned pen pal. With a webcam and microphone, your child can even "visit" with friends or other children in other countries!

If your child is elementary-aged or older, I fervently recommend sending her to Lac du Bois, a summer French camp part of the Concordia Language Villages. (I went to French camp and Swedish camp in high school.) At Lac du Bois, campers pick out a French name, exchange their American money for euros, live in cabins named after French cities, eat French food, sing French songs, play French games, take fun French classes, do arts and crafts in French--everything you might expect from summer camp except that it takes place in the target language. It's an amazing program that makes learning about languages and cultures so much fun, so natural.

Any other ideas? Please let us know!

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