Saturday, May 19, 2012

who knew spelling could be so cute?--and other cool French apps for kids

When Griffin and Carl aren't playing "Chesskers" (where they put all the chess pieces and all the checkers on the board together) or "Tatiemonstre" (where they hide and I chase them), they like to borrow my iPad.
Dictee Muette Montessori ($3.99): A French spelling game with four different levels (including one that targets specific sounds of your choice), three different scripts (uppercase, lowercase, and cursive), and several hundred words.  You see a picture, hear its name, then drag and drop the letters to spell out the word pictured.  When you have successfully completed the word, you see a fun animated fireworks-type display, which you can interact with by touching the screen.

When you tap a letter, you hear its most common pronunciation; as a result, Griffin has learned to spell words (lac, lavabo, etc.) that he wouldn't have even been able to read otherwise!  He has also started paying attention to diacritics thanks to this game.  (Hearing an anglophone four-year-old earnestly ask if cafe has an e normal or an e accent aigu means that I can honestly say that I find orthography adorable now.)

This company, L'Escapadou, also makes another educational app called La Magie des Mots, which we haven't purchased yet.

My First French Words ($1.99): Another French spelling game with multiple levels and different scripts.  This one is even more appealing to emergent readers: at the easiest level, it provides the spelling of the pictured words and "cards" showing the letters of the word out of order.  You simply drag and drop the cards over the on-screen letters (unlike Dictee Muette, where you must choose from the entire alphabet).  Levels two and three also show the letters out of order (but you have to recreate the word).  This game separates the words into categories--animals, foods, and colors--and covers fewer words than Dictee Muette.

Griffin really likes the (wordless) puzzle apps from this developer, by the way.

J'apprends les petites lettres ($2.99): This app encourages children's passive knowledge of letters: rather than asking kids to spell words or produce something, they learn to recognize letters as they trace, identify, and listen to sounds produced by the letters.  One nice touch is that the word that represents each letter's sound actually resembles it--the araignee (spider) looks like the lowercase "a," the coquillage (seashell) is in the form of a "c."  An animated kangaroo cheers on the kids as they progress through the game.

So far, we have only used the free version of his app, but I expect to purchase access to the other 23 letters the next time Griffin needs to be bribed to do something.  (Actually, he sometimes gives me his own money to pay for an in-app purchase!)  Apparently, two games--matching and memory--come with the full version.

A major downside of this activity for anglophone kids, by the way, is that it features French cursive lowercase letters, and if you don't trace them perfectly a la francaise (starting and stopping only in the approved places), you can't continue to the next screen.  Since French handwriting various from American in several important ways, this might confuse students.  (At least, it frustrated this grown-up American--"But that's not how I learned it!")

This developer, Hachette (a huge French publisher), also offers Les grandes lettres, which appears to be similar to the above--with capital letters instead of lowercase--but perhaps not quite the same, based on the screen shots on their website.

French numbers ($4.99): This app eschews bells and whistles (and excitable roller-skating kangaroos) to focus simply on recognizing numbers.  You choose the mode--in "listen," you type the number you hear, in "speak" you type a number and the app pronounces it, and in "read" you look at the number spelled out in words and then type the number.  The free version goes up to 42 (hi Douglas Adams!), but if you pay for the full version (which I didn't), you can practice much larger numbers (just in case you need to, say, count to a million in French to impress a cute guy).

(I don't know who that guy would be.)

A fun feature of this app is the choices that it offers: you can select the range of numbers you wish to focus on, for example, and whether you want to hear them pronounced as in mainland France or as in Quebec.  I think this would be a great app for students learning French numbers--we English speakers really need a lot of practice to get comfortable with concepts like 77 (soixante-dix-sept, or 60+10+7) and 99 (quatre-vingt-dix-neuf, or 4x20+10+9).  But the app doesn't really appeal to Griffin.

Erasmos, the developer, also has a version of this app for other languages (Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian), alphabet apps for these languages (with a similar approach to the numbers app, but with games for practicing), and even a French Gender app (which would probably be useful for students averse to dictionaries as well as for those who want to figure out the patterns for predicting whether French nouns are masculine or feminine).

Apprends les saisons avec Poko (currently free!): This cheerful and fun app teaches weather-related vocabulary (seasons, meteorological conditions, and clothing and activities appropriate for the weather) in context.  It offers the following games:

  • Pick a photograph for an album based on a spoken description (such as "Il est l'automne, il n'y a pas de nuages dans le ciel," which means you need to eliminate the photos showing the rain as well as the ones with apple trees heavy with fruit and deep green leaves).
  • What's wrong with this picture?  Listen to the description ("C'est une chaude journee d'ete") and tap the elements that don't correspond.  In the preceding example about summertime, when you touch a pile of autumn leaves, they are replaced by a sand castle; the girl's sweater becomes a swimsuit.
  • Complete the calendar: a weekly calendar shows the days of the week with a picture explaining what the weather was that day.  The narrator also announces the weather.  You drag and drop a drawing of an activity that the kids logically could have done that day.  For instance, when you hear "jeudi etait venteux," you add the image of the kids flying a kite to the box for Thursday.

According to Bayard's website, this app reinforces information that children should be learning in preschool, and the difficulty adjusts itself according to how many correct answers your child achieves in each exercise.

And there appear to be other educational apps from this developer that I really want to try now with Griffin, covering animals and their ecosystems; math (counting and adding); letters, syllables, and spelling; and school readiness activities.

Please do note that these Bayard apps are designed for children who are already familiar with much of the relevant vocabulary--the apps bring together the expressions and the ideas they represent in interactive, meaningful ways.  While these activities would probably be frustrating for young children who are just startng their exposure to French, they would be marvelous for older learners, including adults--they permit students to practice the vocab in context--so much more fun than stilted fill-in-the-blank exercises in a workbook!

I also plan to post about apps that tell stories in French, apps that feature songs in French, apps that are good practice for people like me whose French is strong but not fluent, and language-rich apps in English for kids learning English as the minority language.

I'm also gathering links to these and other apps on my Pinterest boards.

What are your favorite smartphone/tablet applications in French or English for children?


  1. (I had to redo this post from scratch because the formatting was screwy, so I lost the comments. I'm copying here a comment from Ostermom, followed by my response to her:

    Ostermom: Thanks for sharing these. I'm currently downloading the French numbers one. It's really impressive how you solely speak French to your children.

    I speak very basic French but I'm getting better since my son has been in French classes once a week. Sometimes I find it exhausting speaking in both English and French all day and I'm afraid he will pick up my horrible accent, but I'm persistent with it.

    1. Sarah replied to Ostermom:

      Did you buy the full version of the numbers app? If so, please let me know what you think!

      Where does Oster take French classes for toddlers? What's your opinion of them? I'm curious to hear from a teacher's perspective, especially since I'm going to offer French classes for the 0-5 set one of these days.

      Exhausting? Oh my yes, especially when you're learning right along with him!

      As far as accents go--eh, not a huge issue in my opinion. You'll find ways to expose him to native speakers (teachers, YouTube, videos, songs, friends), and he'll (probably) pick up the pronunciation better than you will! Besides, wouldn't you rather have a kid who speaks English fluently and French with an American accent than a monolingual kid? :)