Thursday, November 30, 2017

adding another language to your happy home

Bonjour from Lac du Bois, where even if the little kids are having a blast, some of them will refuse to smile for a group photo
Coming soon: stories of my summer at Lac du Bois, running the Maternelle (the program for children ages 0-6) at an amazing French immersion camp in Minnesota!  In the meantime, an article I wrote for their blog with suggestions of how to incorporate a second language into a monolingual home:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

ventes flash! books for kids--in French--for a dollar (or a euro) each--through August 16!

I know, I know.  I don't need any more books.  (Non-packrat, non-teacher husband nods his head vigorously while bookcases cower in fear at the thought of squeezing more volumes onto their cramped, sagging shelves.)

But I want my kids to read in French (and to enjoy doing so)!  And I always can use more books for my storytimes and tutoring!

So imagine my delight when I saw that "J'aime lire," which publishes several magazines and series of (mostly) original, contemporary stories for children, is currently offering 100 of their e-books for 99 cents apiece!!!

I had downloaded their (free) app years ago; it comes with a handful of free e-books, and the rest can (usually) be purchased for between $3 and $6.  Still a good price, at least compared with the cost of purchasing and shipping children's books from France (or even Canada).  But I picked and chose very carefully and had only added a few more in the meantime.

But now, throwing caution to the vent, I went on a shopping spree--and still only spent $17!

(And husband and bookcases breathe sighs of relief.)

The sale runs through August 7, and I can't believe you're still reading this blog post instead of rushing to the website or the App Store to double or triple your own collection of French books for kids!  (I would recommend downloading the free app onto your device of choice, then buying the books as in-app purchases, but it looks like you can do it online and read the e-books on the computer too.)

Wondering where to start?  I recommend trying one from each of the following, exploring it with your children, and then downloading more from the collections that best fit you and your children's interests and abilities:

Petit ours brun, sold in collections of three stories about the friendly bear and his family (very short, content is ideal for toddlers/preschoolers, but easy for older kids as they're learning to read in French; you can also watch Petit ours brun videos on YouTube)

The Histoires pour les petits collection (the equivalent of picture books to be read aloud to children, these were published in earlier issues of the magazine; some of them are avec audio, with professional actors and music--so fantastic for kids learning French and/or learning to read!)

The Les belles histoires pour tout-petits collection (slightly shorter picture books from a different magazine for younger kids, some avec audio or avec animation) and/or Les belles histoires (geared for ages 4-8)

Les animaux du monde (interactive nonfiction books about animals, taken from Youpi, my favorite French magazine for kids); if I were you, I would go ahead and download all of these, or at least all the ones on sale!

BDs (bande dessinée--comic book), such as La famille Choupignon (aventures of a family and their pet turtle, good for younger kids) or Ariol (adventures of mischevious animals at school; see a preview in English here)

J'apprends à lire (similar to the stories in Histoires pour les petits, but designed for children who are reading independently, featuring avec audio and also hyperlinked quickie definitions for words here and there)

Mes premiers j'aime lire (very short chapter books with a color illustration on each page and the avec audio option to read along with the narrator)

J'aime lire (longer chapter books) (but still short)

Moi, je lis (slightly longer chapter books, mystery-themed)

And not (currently) on sale, but highly recommended:

Cabane magique (Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Treehouse series translated into French, featuring two intrepid siblings who travel back in time to visit and learn from different cultures; they are never truly in peril and each adventure is concluded in ten short chapters)

Les grands témoins en BD (short comic books about historical figures such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Louis Braille, Anne Frank, Einstein, and Malala)

Devinettes maxi pas bêtes (collections of 25 bad puns gathered from Youpi magazine, which my eight-year-old has loved for three years now and still delights in reading aloud, even though he has them nearly memorized by now)

Isn't this exciting?!  Please leave a comment to let us know which one(s) you tried and liked!

Friday, July 08, 2016

parle-ing francais in the north woods

Saturday afternoon, small town in northern Minnesota, gas station.  My friendly mother smiles and says "merci" to the lady who holds the door for her.

Sunday morning, small town in northern Wisconsin, my "hopelessly monolingual" (his words!) husband nods at the stranger passing him in the hallway and says "bonjour."  And then a minute later, exclaims, "Did I just say bonjour?!"

Nearly every evening since then, as we continue our family vacation, our children ask to sing "Bonsoir les loups" at bedtime.

Why?  Because for the previous five days, all five of us were immersed in the French language at Lac du Bois Family Week, near Hackensack, MN, and it's hard to kick the habit.  The mercis and bonjours just keep slipping out on their own!

Can't wait to write more about this amazing experience at one of the Concordia Language Villages.  Stay tuned...

Friday, May 27, 2016

where did the año go?!

Griffin and Gwyneth in front of their school, Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer
I sent my second grader and preschooler to school yesterday and they didn't come home.  Instead, at the end of the day, a rising kindergartener and a third grader greeted me with hugs and overstuffed backpacks and paleta-stained fingers.

a peanut of a rising kindergartener who only weighs 31 pounds--the big kids won't even notice her in the hallways and she'll get squished like un insecto--and a third grader who has lost several teeth and gained a pair of glasses in the past month!

And I cried during the end-of-the-year pre-K slide show.

Monday, May 23, 2016

where did the années go?

Ten years ago this day, before I became a mother, while I was still working full time as a French teacher, I wrote my first post on Bringing up Baby Bilingual:

This blog is now almost as old as my nephew, and now my babies--who were only hypothetical when I named the blog--are trilingual elementary school students!

Happy tenth birthday, blog.  Joyeux anniversaire!

Friday, March 04, 2016

Mes, ils yas mes mes! Commeme.

Griffin, now age eight, just this morning learned to write il y a [there is/there are] instead of ils yas [they…uh…what?]

His teacher lets me pull him out of class twice a week for French lessons with me in the school hallway, and for the past few months I've been struggling with how to balance our time together: read fiction or nonfiction? focus on writing or speaking?  accuracy or fluency? and can I get through the "teaching" quickly enough to have time to play a French word game* with him every Friday, which he considers a real treat (not realizing that it's educational too, heh heh heh)?

Griffin is the second-best speller in second grade** without any particular effort on his or our part, which I had always attributed to his voracious reading--he just seemed to pick it up.  But that's not happening with French!  (Of course, while he is perfectly content to listen to me read to him, he doesn't seek out books to read in French or Spanish by himself; his appetite for books is monolingual.)

voracious and flexible!
As a result, his French spelling is based on vague notions of what letter combinations make which sounds and the firm belief that lots of letters aren't actually pronounced, which means they can be sprinkled in with impunity, especially if he throws a few accents aigus in there to jazz things up.  Olé!

This approach, of course, is completely understandable, even natural; I know plenty of native-English-speaking adults who would claim that "their are defiantly a few peices of pizza left in the refridgerater" and not loose lose any sleep about it.  And why should they, when their meaning is perfectly clear?

But then I remember reading a note from a friend who grew up bilingual in the US with her French parents.   We were both 20-year-olds studying abroad in France; I had had four years of French classes, none with a native-speaking teacher, while she had never had any formal instruction in reading and writing for the language that she spoke fluently.  She wrote "commeme," which I assumed to be slang or some other expression I had never encountered.  Turns out that she was going for "quand même" [even so], a phrase that I didn't know until we eventually figured out how to spell it.

Aaaaand that's why us would-be bilinguals need "book learning" as well as real-life conversation experience!

So how to handle this with Griffin?  Petit à petit.  Not so much spelling and grammar that it makes him dread our "French school time" together, but enough that he each time he will walk away knowing how to spell one common word or expression correctly.  And, more importantly, why, so that he can apply that knowledge to other words.

For example, he now understands that a is a verb and à is a preposition (and, yes, he knows what a preposition is--thanks, Schoolhouse Rock!) and that mes [my], mais [but], and maïs [corn] are not interchangeable ("Mais ce sont mes maïs !" he will say, just to be contrary).  Today it was il y a, and boy, does it feel good to look down at his paper and not see any ils yas any more.

How do I pick which expressions to focus on?  Whatever is written*** so unclearly that anyone other than his maman wouldn't know what he meant, or else errors that show up frequently in his writing (sometimes these overlap).  And while I only address one or two things at a time, we sometimes go back through previous summaries so he can find the mistakes and fix them on his own.  He's been ils yasing for at least a year!  

Next up: tackling "je" vs. "j'ai."  French is fun!

And so is battling your little sister with balloon swords--en garde!
*Le pendu (Hangman) or his favorite, Le petit bac (similar to Scattergories).

**Ironically, at the school-wide spelling bee last week, he misspelled a word of French origin: personnel (he did "p-e-r-s-o-n-a-l," because he didn't know what "personnel" meant.  And why would he?!).

***What do I make bribe encourage him to write about in French?  I'll save that for another blog post.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Happy New…er…February!

I might not have posted for three months, but I promise that I'm still speaking exclusively French with my kiddos!  And leading a monthly French immersion storytime and running a monthly French immersion playdate and tutoring three children in French and teaching Griffin to write in French….I just can't find time to blog about it.

For now, I'll just have to content myself with posting a cute photo of G&G quietly sharing a book.  Moments like this fill me with such joy and peace.

Or, rather, big brother resigning himself to the fact that little sister will always be peering over his shoulder.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Quelle heure est-il? Time for some realia!

The curse of having been an ESL/EFL teacher is that I am still compelled to collect and keep examples of American culture and English language in context and comic strips and advertisements and newspaper articles and funny pictures (not to mention all of the textbooks I used as a grad student, the textbooks I taught out of, the class set of paper clocks, the flashcards, the bingo markers, the fly swatters, the puppets, the picture files…you teachers know what I'm talking about!)

Yes, that is indeed a stuffed Eiffel Tower.  Smiling broadly and sporting a beret.  Kitsch much?
And the curse of having started my teaching career in 1996 means that I'm still fighting the mindset of "I can't get rid of this--I might need it again some day!"  My email account was still a toddler at that point; I didn't have internet access at home (and probably wouldn't have known what to do with it if I did); I certainly couldn't consult with teachers across the world via listservs and blogs, or type, say, "how to teach the conditional past" into a search box on Google or Teachers Pay Teachers, and my Pinterest addiction wouldn't hit until my late 30s.

In other words, I became a teacher who believed strongly in hard copies.  If you excavate my home office, the strata go from "French with elementary students" to "French with preschoolers" to "French with toddlers" to "French with babies" (as my children grew) to "French with college students" (my job before starting a family" to "ESL with college students" to "Masters degree in TESL/TEFL" and "Masters degree in French" to "ESL with high schoolers in France," with assorted private tutoring leftovers scattered throughout (study skills!  note-taking!  SAT vocabulary! freshman composition! and my favorite tutoring story, about the two Korean boys whose parents fired me because I made their sons laugh too often when teaching them English).

This is the teaching souvenir of which I am most proud: the director's chair signed by all the actors in one of the French plays I produced at Colorado State University
Anyway.  I am trying to hang on to fewer articles and worksheets and pictures--especially since I can save them to Pinterest rather than printing them out--and especially now since our basement flooded TWICE last month on separate and unrelated occasions and I easily could have lost two decades' worth of lesson plans, worksheets, plays photocopied from Interlibrary Loan materials and carefully glossed by hand so that they'd be accessible rather than overwhelming to my students….Thinking about it makes my skin crawl.

the rusty residue of one of my three metal filing cabinets
Where was I?  Ah oui, realia.  The term refers to examples of real stuff from a country where the target language is spoken--directions for operating a hair dryer, the box that the hair dryer came in, the magazine ad promoting the hair dryer, the receipt from the store where you bought the hair dryer, the warranty card for the hair dryer.

Okay, so those are not very exciting examples, but you get the picture.  Think movie listings, driver's license applications, museum brochures, restaurant menus, chocolate wrappers, cereal boxes, classified ads, personal ads, lost pet flyers, and all those items that track the minutiae of daily life and simultaneously present language in a rich context and reveal information about what the culture considers interesting or important.

The 11-year-old boy that I've been tutoring (he's a home schooler who wants to learn French) has been learning the days of the week, the months of the year, and how to tell time ("You mean that to say 7:45 pm I have to add 12 to the 7 and subtract 15 from 8:00?  Geez.  French is weird!").  I found such a fantastic piece of realia for him that I just had to share it:

A blank schedule page?  What's the big deal?
So this emploi du temps is a nice example of a school schedule template that a French learner can fill in to practice time, days of the week, and the class names.  But that's not all!  Here are some other elements that an astute student might notice (with some guidance from le prof):

  • The week begins on lundi (Monday).
  • Time is listed according to the 24-hour clock.
  • Lunch is such an ingrained part of the day that it is included every school day at noon as a given.
  • The school week ends on samedi (Saturday--though I understand that few French schools still hold class on Saturday mornings any more)
  • The days of the week are not capitalized
  • French cursive handwriting is different (and cuter?) than American cursive.
  • The digit 1 begins with a pre-stroke like an upbeat or a tiny wing, while the 7 features a horizontal stroke that just makes it look cooler than an American seven.
  • The drawings at the bottom don't depict football, pennants, or technology.
  • But they do include the ubiquitous and very French trousse (a pencil case that sits at the top of every desk to enable students to rotate between pencils, fountain pens, and ballpoint pens of various colors as well as to underline key points with a straight edge at a moment's notice).
  • The bird icon is speaking English! 
And these are the sort of things that we teachers (should) want our kiddos to pay attention to.  If you're learning a language, it doesn't happen in a vacuum.  Verb conjugations are fine and dandy, but they don't do you any good if you show up for dinner on the wrong day at the wrong time because you misread the calendar or assumed that 18h was the same thing as 8:00.

What are some of your favorite pieces of realia, as a student or a teacher?  (And do you have any souvenirs as tacky-but-delightful than my Tour Eiffel en peluche?  You know you do.  Go ahead, tell us about them!)

Friday, October 23, 2015

an unexpected result of a parent-teacher conference

I hate soccer. Je déteste le foot.

Griffin, par contre, adore le foot.
No, wait, that's too strong.  Rather, I am ambivalent about sports and I dislike the commitment that playing on a kids' soccer team requires--two practices a week, right at dinner time (which means that we can either eat early without my husband, who is still at work, or eat later, which throws off the kids' bedtime routine), plus a game on Saturdays which can be as early as 9:00 or as late as 4:00.

On soccer afternoons, Griffin has to walk home from school, decompress from his 7.5-hour school day (he craves time by himself most days), eat a protein-heavy snack, do his homework (20 minutes or so), practice his music (10 minutes), find his shin guards and cleats and water bottle and hat, and walk to practice, all in two hours.

This would, of course, be a piece of gâteau to a grown-up, but not for a lollygagging seven-year-old.  And not for the seven-year-old's mother and his little sister who must accompany him for all these steps.

He loves her very much, of course, but sometimes he just wants her to leave him alone.
So I feel confident in blaming le foot for the fact that it's been hard to get Griffin to do anything in French at home with me lately.  He's a busy little boy, and I don't want to push him to read and write in French if he doesn't want to; he'll resist and resent it.  (Fortunately, he still willingly snuggles and listens to me read aloud in French at bedtime.)

At his first parent-teacher conference of the year, as we discussed how to keep him engaged and challenged in second grade, I had a brainstorm: I asked the teacher if I could come in a couple of times a week to do French lessons with him during the school day.  And she agreed!

So far, so good.  He's thrilled to skip the school breakfast and calendar/circle time for half an hour at the beginning of the day while spending time one-on-one with maman. We sit at a table just outside his classroom and take turns reading aloud, then we discuss what we read, then he writes a little about it, and--his favorite--sometimes we play word games. It's low-key, and lovely.

It makes me so, so happy to spend time helping him explore this language that I love.  And not having to coax or cajole him to interact in French, not having to ward off and wrangle his inquisitive, imperious sister, not having to squeeze our lessons in between snack and soccer, or chores and bath, or homework and dinner--that makes our time together all the sweeter.

my smiley garçon, showing off the chameléon he made in art class

Sunday, September 27, 2015

l'alphabet français II : répétez !

Okay, so now you have listened to more French alphabet songs than you'd ever thought possible.  Enough listening!  You won't learn the sounds and the names of the letters until you get comfortable pronouncing them.  So clear your throat, take a long drink of eau, and try these out:

"Military-style French Alphabet": An English-speaking French teacher walks you through her version of the alphabet, set to the rhythm of a familiar military cadence ("I don't know but I've been told…").  This ten-minute video is very thorough and offers opportunities to practice single lines at a time slowly and then build up to saying the whole chant more quickly.

Watch this quick example first:

But this guy's cuter: Tom from is a young Frenchman who earnestly teaches Anglophone viewers how to say the French alphabet.  Do watch this too so that you hear a native speaker pronouncing the letter names:

Want to keep practicing but don't want to keep watching these same two videos over and over?  (Oui!)

These websites have simple pronunciation activities:

From, click on the letter and repeat:

From, words that start with each letter to listen to and repeat:

This page from the BBC focuses on the trickier sounds for anglophones, including nasal vowels.  Strangely, it neglects to include U.  (My high school French teacher always told us to "round your lips as if you're going to say "ooooo" but then say "eeeee" instead.")

And, finally, here's another activity that reinforces on the vowel sounds, courtesy of

Coming soon: l'alphabet français, part 3, which will feature games and apps about the alphabet….