Wednesday, July 31, 2013

summertime slide

No, not that kind of slide.  That's the fun kind!
I've been volunteering at our public library's Homework Center since 2005, tutoring kids on a drop-in basis in whatever subjects they need help with, which means lots of math, lots of language arts, and occasionally everything else--even Spanish!  Very few students come in for French, unfortunately, though that's my favorite class to tutor.

However, a boy whom I have known for years now told me something that delighted me: he decided to take French in middle school because of me!  So now whenever he sees me around the library or the neighborhood, he greets me with a "Bonjour" and a "Ca va," and he even makes an effort to speak French to Griffin, too.  At the Homework Center this past school year, we reviewed vocabulary and played games and did worksheets in French together.

We even played a few games in French on my iPad!
His mother recently asked me for some suggestions of what he can do during summer vacation so as not to forget what he worked so hard during the school year to learn.  This phenomenon, known as the "summer slide," exists in all school subjects, but especially math, reading, and languages.  Use it or lose it, right?

And since getting a solid understanding of the basics the first year or so of language learning--as well as developing confidence and a genuine interest in the language--is so crucial to your success if you're hoping to continue with it, I want to help my young friend and all other language students find ways to have fun with it and keep practicing over the summer!

Griffin on his last day of preschool
( I type this post, I recognize my hypocrisy: Griffin just completed nine months of Spanish immersion preschool, and other than taking him to the occasional Spanish storytime or helping him get through an Easy Reader book in Spanish, I have done nothing to help him review what he has learned. But our French time together is so precious, I don't want to replace any of it with Spanish right now, and his dad doesn't speak any Spanish!  Maybe my husband should start playing Spanish music for kids when Griffin's in the car with him.  We should find some Spanish lullabies for bedtime, too.)

So as long as I'm preparing a list for my favorite middle school French student, I may as well share it here on the blog.  Your suggestions, ideas, and questions, as always, are very welcome!  This post will provide some general advice for children (or adults!) learning any language but on vacation for a few months; my next post will offer specific resources for young students of French.
What, you're not here either?
If money is no object (ha!  if that were true you'd probably be reading this while yachting off St. Bart's and would roll your eyes and say "duhhh" when I suggest that you travel with your kids):
  • Hire a nanny or au pair who is a native speaker who will live with you and interact with the whole family in the target language for the summer
  • Engage a private tutor who can spend an hour or two a day with your children
  • Travel to a country where the language is spoken and sign your children up for summer camps, music lessons, and similar activities
  • Send your children to the Concordia Language Villages (Minnesota) or Middlebury College (Vermont), where they can attend residential immersion camps (or day camps) in over a dozen languages; Concordia even offers camps and classes for the entire family!
campers at Concordia's Russian village
If any of the following are available in your area:
  • Sign your children up for day camps in the language (such as this one at a private school near us in Boulder or these at the Denver International School).
  • Sign your children up for classes that meet weekly during the summer (such as this one offered at a children's museum in Lafayette or these at the Alliance Francaise in Denver).
  • Take your children to language-specific storytimes at libraries (such as these ones in French in Boulder County or this one at the Alliance Francaise in Washington, DC).
  • Host an exchange student who speaks the language.
For example, the Alliance Francaise in Denver offers art classes for kids in French!
If your children are more or less beginners (after a year of middle or high school language study, a semester of college, or some exposure via camps, travel, or family members), encourage them to try the following:
  • Play games in the language on a computer, tablet, or smart phone (such as these apps for games and interactive books in French).
  • Modify games that you already know or own so that they are in the target language (such as writing a letter of the alphabet on each square of Chutes and Ladders, prompting the players to say a word that begins with that letter; hangman; Go Fish).
  • Read and reread a little every day--the stories and articles and dialogues from your textbook, song lyrics, kids' books, comic strips.
  • Watch videos (songs, cartoons, movie clips) in the language on YouTube, especially those with the words onscreen (such as these easy tunes in French).
  • Watch familiar movies with the soundtrack and/or subtitles in the target language.
  • Borrow language-learning videos from the library and see if any of them appeal to you; it's probably not worth purchasing them unless the child is fairly young and will tolerate multiple viewings that don't bring anything new.
  • Borrow language-learning CDs, DVDs, and books from the library; purchase the one you like best to listen to in the car and at bedtime.
  • Try out Rosetta Stone or Mango Languages software.
one of my Pinterest playlists of French music videos

If your children are at an intermediate or advanced level, encourage them to do all of the above, plus:
  • Write letters or emails to teachers, classmates, friends, or family in other countries, then read their replies.  
  • Try to find a new kid "keypal" (email penpal) who speaks the language!
  • Sign up with LiveMocha to do conversational language exchanges online for free.
  • Watch unfamiliar movies and television shows in the target language, with or without English subtitles, depending on the student's level.
  • Stream radio stations, news reports, and podcasts to develop listening comprehension skills (we like Radio Ouistiti for French).
the LiveMocha logo
And, of course, read:
  • Read, read, read, and then read some more!  
  • Read books for children and magazines for adults and simplified stories for students and short stories and plays and essays and newspapers and restaurant menus and comic strips.
  • Reread the stories and articles and dialogues from your textbook.  
  • Read the French translation of a favorite, familiar book in English.  
  • Listen to a story online and read along with the words.  
  • Read lyrics while listening to music.  
  • Read websites on any topic that interests you (skateboarding? politics? art?  Justin Bieber?) and online newspapers and blogs.
  • Then reread the ones you liked best--you'll always understand more and read more fluently on subsequent readings.

Moreover, to increase familiarity with and interest in the cultures and countries where the language is spoken, your child could:
  • Read books in English (fiction and nonfiction) about or set in the country.
  • Watch movies in English that take place in the country.
  • Watch documentaries and travel shows in English about the country (check your public library and Netflix's streaming service).
  • Visit websites about the country, its history, its art and architecture, and other cultural aspects.
  • Read cookbooks focusing on the country and then prepare some traditional foods.
  • Interview (or simply chat with) people who have visited or lived in the country.
  • Take virtual tours of museums and cities via websites and apps.
  • Research a singer or musical group in a genre that interests you--find out how they got famous, what characterizes their music, which songs they are best known for, what the critics have to say, and which other musical acts are similar.
  • Using travel guides from the library and online research, plan your dream trip--what places would you visit and why?  What would you do there?  What would you eat?  Where would you stay?
  • Go on a virtual shopping spree via websites for department stores, supermarkets, and other shops in the country--decorate your dorm room, update your wardrobe, buy a scooter, furnish your home, do the grocery shopping for a fancy party.
So what are you waiting for!  School starts back up soon--don't let yourself lose more of that language!


  1. Go on Amazon and check out 2 books:
    1) Play and Learn French w/ CD by Ana Lamba and Marcella Summerville

    2) French for Beginners by Angela Wilkes (this one is out of print, didn't get updated to include a CD, but if he can read French, it may not matter--excellent resource to have on hand!)

    1. Hi Anonymous, and thanks for the recommendations! "PLay and Learn" is a great resource (though perhaps geared more for elementary students than middle schoolers).

      I hadn't heard of the Angela Wilkes book before, but Usborne does indeed do a good job with their language learning books for kids. I checked it out on Amazon and it looks very cute. Like you say, if my student can read it (and is already familiar with many of the concepts the book introduces), it will be a useful, fun review!

  2. I will agree to this post. Though I think watching movie and reading books are the two most important ways to help babies become more aware of another language.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Chris--though I will have to disagree with you about watching movies as a technique for language learning for babies! Children should have little or no screen time before age two. The research also tends to say that having children watch language learning videos has only limited success--when the adult (parent or teacher) is interacting with the child as they watch it together is much for effective.

      But books, oh yes, reading books to little kids is the best teaching technique--in any language!

  3. Hey, WILL you write a post about Griffins first year of PreK? It should be interesting to see how he adapted to the Spanish language experience.

    Also, are there any videos of Griffin speaking French? I've never heard him speak French....

    Can you write a little more about what its like for you--raising your son in French. Do people ever ask you questions about why you speak to Griffin in French? How do your parents feel about it?

    I'm looking to raise my kids in a non-native language and I feel so scared thinking about it...

    1. Bonjour Karilyn and thank you for your questions! I do indeed need to post about Griffin's experience in Spanish immersion preschool and to find some videos of him using his languages in action.

      In the meantime, though, you could check out this post for my thoughts about raising my kids in my non-native language:

      As you will see, it is indeed scary--but totally worth it. Where are you located and what language will you use?

    2. Hi Sarah, sorry for the delay. I would speak Spanish and I'm currently in Florida but who knows where I will be in the future? I would love to move to Puerto Rico or somewhere in S. America for a couple of years--beef up my Spanish and teach.

      I would like to live in Japan for a while also. I love Japanese food and would love to learn more about their culture!

    3. That sounds fun and ambitious, Karilyn! Good luck to you. I think teaching abroad is a fantastic way to improve your Spanish. (Working in a French high school for a year--interacting with the other teachers and chatting with the kids outside of class--did wonders for my French.)

  4. Yes, I would love to send my daughter to Chinese summer school if it is open. A lot of Chinese moms sent their children to China during the summer to avoid summertime slide. It is a good idea but yours is more economic and realistic. Thank you for those wonderful tips!

    By the way, you are more than welcome to link-up with me. Just click “Add your link” and copy/paste the URL of your blog post at Keep in touch!

    1. Thanks, Lina! It sounds like you are active enough in using Chinese with your daughter that she's not in danger of losing the language anytime soon.

      Thanks for the invitation to the link-up party--I'll check it out!