Saturday, December 08, 2012

French words for English workbooks

coloring before Christmas 2011
If your preschool child is anything like mine, he has amassed quite a collection of coloring books and workbooks and maze books--in English.  But which parent spends more time sitting with him, reading the directions, supplying the scissors and paste and marker caps, encouraging him to stay in the lines and off the carpet?  Moi.  The one who only speaks to him in French.

While it would be fun to have cahiers d'activité like these from France to do with Griffin, it isn't actually necessary, because it turns out that most any coloring page or worksheet can be discussed just as easily in one language as in another.

That being said, I did have to check with some of my French friends to make sure that I was translating correctly when helping Griffin with his activity books.  For example, turns out that "dessine un cercle autour de" isn't the best way to render "draw a circle around"!

(You'd think I'd know by now not to automatically choose the word-for-word translation.)

So, because I don't trust my memory any more--and because even when Griffin has finished all his preschool workbooks and outgrown his coloring books his little sister will no doubt be by my side with a stack of new ones--here is our list of French Workbook Vocabulary!

Griffin enjoys arts and crafts more as a four-year-old than he did when he was younger


Associer: to match (to connect two items on opposite sides of the page, for instance)
Barrer: to cross out
Chercher les différences: to find the differences (between two similar pictures, for example)
Chercher les intrus: to find the ones that don't belong
Choisir: to choose
Colorier: to color
     Colorier a l'intérieur des lignes: to color inside the lines (also, colorier uniquement l'intérieur, sans déborder, sans dépasser and ne pas dépasser le trait)  
Colorier l'image identique au modèle: to color as indicated in the model
     Colorier par codes: to color by number
Dénombrer: to tally, to count the number of
Entourer: to draw a circle around
Faire une ligne: to draw a line (not dessiner une ligne)
Relier: to connect
    Relier les points: to connect the dots
Remettre des images dans l'ordre chronologique: to put pictures in order
Reproduire: to copy
Souligner: to underline
Suivre les instructions: to follow the directions
Tracer: to trace
Trier: to classify, to sort
Trouver: to find

Three preschoolers coloring on the same page--how often does that happen?!

Un autocollant: sticker (also, une gommette is used by some as a synonym for autocollant, while for others it refers to the type of sticker you have to lick--not self-adhesive--or a specific type of stickers in the form of shapes and letters)
Une brosse: an eraser for a blackboard or dry-erase whiteboard
Un cahier: notebook
     Un cahier d'activités: workbook
     Un cahier de coloriage: coloring book (not livre de coloriage)
Un coloriage: a coloring page
     Un coloriage par codes: a color-by-number page
Un crayon: pencil (also, un crayon a bois)
     Un crayon de cire: wax crayon (such as a Crayola); readers on a WordReference forum also offer un pastel, une craie grasse, un crayon gras as options)    
     Un crayon de couleur: colored pencil (or, apparently, many people also use this term for colored wax crayons)
Un ensemble de couleurs: pattern--sort of--we couldn't really come up with a satisfactory word to describe a pattern (WordReference suggests un motif or un dessin)
Un feutre: a marker (as in a pen for coloring), not un stylo (pen for writing)
Une gomme: an eraser for pencil marks (not un effaceur, even though effacer is the verb to erase)
Le graphisme: penmanship, handwriting
Un labyrinthe: maze (by the way, pronounce all three syllables distinctly, or else it sounds kinda like "lapin," thus thoroughly confusing your French friends--true story!)
Une mosaique: mosaic
Un point: dot (as in connect-the-dots)

Okay, so what am I missing?  Which of the above expressions need to be tweaked?  (last updated on February 7, 2013, to reflect the comments below)

Griffin likes to decorate the letter G

Coming soon: a post featuring links to free printable pages for creating your own custom workbook in French for your toddlers and preschoolers!


  1. We grew up calling regular crayons "crayon de cire"; wax crayons. And pencil crayons were "crayon de bois."

  2. Thanks for this! My little boy is only 11 months, but I suspect I would quite easily make the mistake of literal translations when the time comes! Hopefully now I won't :-)

  3. This is so so useful Sarah thanks a million for taking the time to share it.

    Ref autocollant, - That's the first word I taught Poppette for sticker but some French friends recently told me I would be better using une for a while I would say both words together to get Poppette used to the concept and now just use gommette ...

    Looking forward to your next vocab set :D

  4. Bonne Maman, Johanna, Holly B--thank you! I have edited my list to reflect your suggestions. I also consulted the following WordReference forums:


    Stickers: (I added a post asking about "gommette," since WR doesn't list it at all)

    1. Okay, "gommette" update: my Belgian friends have decided that "un autocollant" is the self-adhesive sticker, whereas "une gommette" refers to the kind that you have to lick.

    2. No, "une gommette" is not the kind you have to lick (maybe in Belgium but not in France).

      Un autocollant is self-adhesive, as "une gommette". The only difference is :
      - gommette represents shapes (circles, triangles...), or letters only.

      Do not hesitate to contact me if you want to check any information. And thanks a lot for your list, it's very helpful for my English.

    3. Merci! So "autocollant" is the general term for stickers and "gommette" is a certain type of sticker. See, we don't make that distinction in English--no wonder the dictionaries I consulted aren't terribly helpful.

      I was hoping that this post would be useful for French speakers too--thanks! It sounds like you and I have a lot in common. Thanks for offering to answer my future vocabulary questions, too!

  5. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe for "complete the pattern" etc., DD's preschool uses something along the lines of "suivre l'algorithme." She will talk in those terms, which I find hilarious.

    It's impossible to translate "pattern," I think. Maybe some of her little workbooks use "motif" as well, so I'll have to check.

    I don't believe I've ever seen a French child use regular old wax crayons. DD has a box or two but doesn't like to use them! I think they go straight to markers and once in a while colored pencils.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Michelle--I had no idea that wax crayons were so uncommon in France! It doesn't surprise me, though--the French seem to be much more careful about penmanship and interested in writing implements that offer more precision than a wax crayon can. (On the other hand, this means that French children must be missing out on those fun crayon crafts, like shaving down the broken pieces and melting them in between sheets of wax paper with an iron to make "stained glass."

  6. Oh, and they *do* have whiteboard erasers - at least the younger kids do. DD had to buy an individual whiteboard this year, and I sent it without the eraser (since it wasn't on the list and I didn't dare). She came home all sad because the other kids had one, and I think it actually might be "effaceur." I'll have to verify that one. I don't think it's a "brosse" but weirder things have happened...

    1. I think I was told that the whiteboard eraser was the same as for a blackboard: "brosse" or, as was hilarious in a secondary school French class "un tampon."

    2. Yes, I confirm the whiteboard eraser is called "une brosse".

  7. Un tres grand merci! I am teaching my little preschool girl French as well & will employ this tactic & phrases immediately. I'm also looking forward additions you make to the list as well as the forthcoming vocabulary list.

    BTW: In case you're interested, Amazon has an affordable elementary book of French reproducibles--below is the link. I just ordered a copy today & so I hope it will be worth the $8 I spent--we shall see!

    1. I bought that book earlier this year, flipped through it, then set it aside and thought "I'll have to look at this in depth later! Wonder if Griffin is old enough to do some of these activities?" Then I forgot about it (thanks for the reminder!). Now that he is reading, maybe it's time to pull it out again!

      Let us know what you think about it....

  8. I just stumbled upon this blog tonight when I googled: french magazines for kids. I am a music teacher in a francophone school in northern Alberta. I was raised bilingual by a franco-albertan mother and an anglo-speaking father. I speak to my children about 90% french, 10% english, which are mostly slang words or "Franglais". But now that I am back into teaching after a 6 year maternity hiatus, I am definitely brushing up on my proper french. This blog will prove to be very handy, if nothing else than to give me ideas for activities for my youngest students, who are in kindergarten, some of them in a francophone school but with very anglo-dominant parents.
    Just to clarify: a francophone school is one students whose maternal language is french receive their education in french. However, because of our bilingual legislation, the policy states that under special circumstances, a child whose parents are VERY desirous for their child to reconnect with their ancestral french roots (ie: grandparent was french-speaking) they may attend the school. There is a formal letter and interview process and all that.
    As a result, our school has gained a very positive reputation in the community and a lot of anglophone families are invoking that special circumstances clause and sending their kids to our school. So they walk in the door knowing ZERO french and our mandate is to instruct in french not in an immersion style of teaching, but as french being a first language. Not the same as French Immersion. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not understand the difference and enroll their children in a francophone school when an immersion program would far better suit their needs. I have taught in both systems.
    So...hence my desire to find activities to teach French (while teaching music) to anglo-dominant students.
    Anyway, cheers! And I subscribed to your site :)

    1. S! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Your teaching situation sounds frustrating to experience but awfully interesting to hear about.

      I had never thought about what it means for a francophone school in Canada when monolingual anglophones show up and have to learn the same things as everyone else. I suppose it's somewhat analogous to schools here in the US with students who are recent immigrants and don't know any English yet. Typically those students spend some of their time in the classroom and some time with English literacy specialists. Does your school have the equivalent for French?

      But how fun that you as the music teacher can develop lessons that will teach French along with music! Er, maybe not "fun" for you, when you're faced with blank stares from your students, but what a worthy and motivating challenge. And of course, preschool and early elementary teachers (of any language) rely on songs and rhymes to help kids learn.

      Anyway, nice to "meet" you, thanks for subscribing, hope to share some useful info and activities. And I've added you to my blogroll!

  9. What a useful post! I had similar issues when we started doing craft activities. I ended up buying a lot of cheap activity books in French for this very reason. My kids couldn't read yet, but I needed to know how to explain the games to them!

    1. "Cheap activity books in French"--I suppose those are a lot easier to find on your side of the pond! Lucky duck. :)

  10. Your experience with raising children bilingual is the inspiration for me. It's hard to do it if both parents are of the same origins, but we both speak English fluently, sometimes simply switching conversation into English. Children, surprisingly, after series of such experiments jumped in and started responding in English. It's fun!

    1. Hi, and thanks for commenting! May I ask how old your children are and how consistently you speak English at home? How wonderful that the kids are eager to speak their non-native language with you--many of the children I've met or read about are very resistant to using a non-dominant language with their parents.

    2. My children are 6 and 10. We try to do that on daily basis. When I walk them to and from the school we have almost one hour of "walking through English" :-)

    3. Fantastic idea--the walk creates a consistent, low-stress environment for practicing English and having quality time with a parent!

      Do the children speak English with each other? How have you encouraged that? So far, Griffin hasn't shown a lot of interest in speaking or reading in English to his sister.

  11. Un crayon de cire: wax crayon (such as a Crayola); No, we don’t use “crayon de cire” I used to have some of them when I was young, I said “Crayons de couleurs”

    Colorier par codes : to color by number, humm, I would say "Colorier par numéro"

    Colorier a l'intérieur des lignes: we also say "Colorier sans déborder"

    1. Oh, "colorier sans deborder" sounds much easier--that makes sense. I also like "colorier par numero" but was reluctant to use it because it sounds like a word-for-word translation from English.

      If "crayons de couleurs" are Crayola-type crayons for you, what do you say for "colored pencils"?

      This is so much more complicated than I had anticipated!

  12. Bonjour. I left a message about this post befoer but wanted to add what I've learned about since then. Take a looky-loo at & for pre-made worksheets & activities (all done in French, of course). My daughter's French preschool teacher shared these sites with me recently & so I'd 'pay it forward' & share this goldmine with others. At first glance, they look quite useful, present material in ways I wouldn't have thought, & (most importantly) allow me to avoid 're-inventing the wheel'. Hope you like the sites too!

    1. Thanks for sharing these authentic French resources! I've poked around both and found Coccinelles to be promising--lots of well-done worksheets to print out for free (plus workbooks available to purchase). What I've seen so far, though, is too high a level for Griffin right now, like labeling a diagram of the parts of a volcano or the names of bones in the human body. Is this the type of work that a French preschooler is expected to handle?!

      What have you found most useful on the Coccinelles site for your preschooler?

      As for the CNED site, I'm having trouble figuring out where to find the worksheets and activities for young children--help, please!

  13. Hello everyone. Firstable I would like to congratulate you on the blog. I have 2 children who speak Spanish, Portuguese and French, and I try to colect the linguistic´s experiences in a blog, aswell. I hope you enjoy it.

    1. Hello Sonia! Thanks for introducing yourself. I am so impressed by your multilingual family--and you left your comment in English, which means you must speak four or more languages! Very cool.

      I've browsed through your blog, which really makes me wish that my Spanish was better so that I could understand more of it. (One day my son will be able to translate it for me!)

      Have you seen this blog before: The author is a Brazilian married to an Austrian living in Namibia; she writes in English. She hasn't updated it in a couple of years but I enjoyed hearing about Portuguese in Africa!

  14. Hey, thank you very much for these tips!