My parents-in-law have asked me for French lessons so that they'll be able to understand their grandson regardless of what language he's speaking (and if he's anything like his cousin Carl, he'll spend years making sentences that include both languages)! I'm delighted with the idea of teaching some French to my in-laws (and maybe my hubby will join us?), but now we have to figure out how to approach it. It won't be like teaching a beginning French class at the university or tutoring other adults, because these folks won't necessarily need to know how to read and write in French. And it won't be like working with Carl, because I have had hours at a stretch to barrage him with French, without expecting him to actually say anything for the first year or more--us grown-ups' time is much more limited and we tend to expect quicker results.
Here's what I'm thinking of focusing on, vocabulary-wise: high-frequency nouns and other words related to babies and children (body parts, words for baby gear, verbs like "to eat" and "to sleep" and "to poop"); high-frequency commands and questions ("come here," "don't do that," "what's that?"); endearments; names of family members (Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandad, Auntie, Uncle); high-frequency adjectives and descriptors (big, little, colors); numbers up to 20; and comptines (nursery rhymes) and simple songs. (Click here for some baby vocab in French, if you're curious.)
I'll probably streamline the grammar, for example, only explicitly teaching the first person and third person singular verb conjugations, because that's what we use most commonly with small children ("Baby's eating," "I'm watching Baby"). Or should I throw in first person plural too ("we're reading a book")? And we'll stay in present tense, because children speak exclusively in present tense for a long time. (Plus, the past tenses in French don't get tackled until the end of the first year anyway, and that's in situations where the classes meet every day or every other day and include lots of written homework!) On the other hand, I won't neglect syntax, especially since French usually places the adjective after the noun it modifies.
I would love some input from my readers on this challenge. What else should I include (or consider dropping or modifying)? Should I ask them to get some of those "Learn French in Your Car" tapes so that they listen and repeat adult sentences too (which would help their pronunciation, improve their listening comprehension, and increase their vocabulary)? Should we work out of a textbook (a French for Conversation book, for instance, though those are often geared towards prospective travelers, or perhaps pick and choose from the user-friendly textbook I used to teach from)? Should I try to contextualize everything by, say, starting with a song and teaching the vocab and grammar within the song, or do more list-based work? Should I take advantage of some of the video-based courses that exist for beginning French (like the goofy 1980s French in Action or the excellent but shorter and more challenging Le Chemin du Retour)? Should we invest in a CD-ROM program like Rosetta Stone for them to practice with at home? (And then encourage them to supplement it with some of these ideas?)
Of course, I'll ask them to tell me more about what they want to learn and what they want to be able to accomplish with their grandson(s), and I'll let that guide me when planning lessons. But I'm hoping that some of you will share either what you have done in similar situations or what you would want to do/learn if you were in my in-laws' and my places!
And I hope you'll also join me in commending them for their motivation to learn a new language, especially when they don't envision traveling to places where the language is spoken. It's a big commitment. Moreover, I'm relieved that I haven't had to justify why I'm planning on speaking French to my children--so many of you have had very tense moments with family members who don't understand why the children are being raised with more than one language. I mean, not only do I not have to talk my in-laws (and my husband and my own parents) into the idea of having bilingual grandchildren, but they don't want to be left out of the fun!