Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tatie teaches the in-laws?

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!


  1. I bought French without the Fuss for my parents, and I think it teaches the basics in a presentably way while allowing the learner to feel like their progressing. It might be a starting point. My mom tried using some tapes or cds, but she felt like the French was flying at her too fast. She wanted to see the sentence and hear it at the same time, otherwise the French was just nonsense sounds. My mom did take French in high school (40 years ago) plus travel in France, so she's not starting at 0, but almost. Rosetta stone is a great way to train your ear, since the cd rom makes you listen first, then pick a picture and you hear the same phrases or words over and over again. My criticism of it is that is claims to teach you a language like a child learns it: hear and repeat. Except that French school kids practice verb conjugations because French grammar is so complicated. Lessons inspired by a workbook may be a good way to start, then add pertinent vocabulary, and maybe a cdrom to practice on their own. My mom always needs to see what she's learning to connect the written word with what she's saying or hearing. Maybe your in-laws have different learning styles? Anyway, my two cents from my own experience.

  2. Merci beaucoup, L! It's useful to have input from someone else who has helped her parents learn French. I'll take a look at French without the Fuss next.

  3. Sarah, I keep forgetting to tell you I have a comment on your song-changing post! You want me to go back and find it and comment on there or just comment here?


  4. Jeanne--oh, add it to the song post! It should still be visible on my home page for a while. Can't wait to hear what your urchins might be singing in their many languages!

  5. Do they want to be able to speak French, or do they really just want to be able to understand when their grandbaby asks for more milk? I would think the approach would be very different depending on which is the goal.

  6. Good question, Elizabeth! Mom, Dad, let us know what you want!

  7. Hi Sarah! When I used to tutor beginner adults in college, I often used the Berlitz French Phrase Book as a resource. It's designed for travelers, but contains a great deal of basic vocabulary and is very accessible for beginners. I thought it was a really useful tool.

  8. Merci, Molly!

    Croissant's grandparents have told us that what they're most interested in is being able to understand him and Carl when they say things in French. Right now that's mostly limited to labeling objects, narrating common actions, and describing things. They also want to be able to correctly pronounce common statements in French. So that's what we'll start with!

  9. Hey Sarah, does your mom plan on using any French with Croissant?

  10. Oui! (My mom actually taught high school French back in the dark ages. She's forgotten a lot of it, but has been working on it over the past four years or so, and it's coming back to her. She enjoys speaking and reading it and I know she'll get a kick out of using it with her grandson--but just not to the exclusion of English.)

    Molly, what about your Petite Brioche's grandparents--can/will any of them speak French with her?

  11. Happy day after due date! (Hang in there, copine!)

    I thought your mom might resurrect her French at some point! I'm sure it will be fun for her to use it with Croissant.

    Sadly, all of Brioche's living grandparents are monolingual. My dad's native language was Slovenian, but he refused to speak it with any of his children. My sister and I were lamenting that just the other day. She is raising her children to be bilingual in Spanish and English. I've turned her onto this blog, so you'll probably hear her story.

    While I don't think that my husband and I have the discipline or confidence to try to really make our daughter bilingual (we admire those of you who do!), I'm sure we will infuse French into our child's world through songs and sayings. I already find myself singing French ditties to my friends' baby when I'm trying to put her to sleep.


  12. Well, I wonder what other parents of multilingual kids would tell you but my son who's trilingual, only speaks one language to each person, according to what that person speaks. So, he speaks English to people outside the house, French to me and his dad or Portuguese to his (half-)brother and his dad when alone with him.
    He never mixes the languages. So I wonder if your in-laws will ever be confronted to that matter as your little croissant may just speak English to them (and his dad?).

  13. Molly--I think it's magnifique that you and Bob will be exposing the Brioche to French, even if you're not making a concerted effort to raise her bilingually. When she starts school she'll be better suited to formally learn another language, I suspect. And equally valuable, she'll be aware that other languages and other countries exist.

    Zorglub--I bet that by the time my son is a few years old, he'll know who speaks which language (at least for family members) and will use the appropriate one with us. But my nephew (just turned two) sometimes uses French with English-speaking family members! At the beginning my son will probably use them interchangeably. Did your children?

    By the way, Zorglub, would you be interested in letting me profile your trilingual family on the blog? I have a questionnaire that I'd love to have you fill out! You can take a look at some of the others (listed in the right-hand margin of the main page) to get an idea of what I'm looking for. If this is a possibility, please email me (babybilingual at gmail dot com)and I'll send you the questionnaire! Thanks in advance for considering this.

    (Any other readers, this invitation extends to y'all as well!)

  14. Oh, and my parents-in-law found this website that they've been using:

    I haven't taken much of a look at it yet but will try to post a review eventually. Does anyone else know it?