We asked Marie-Claire Thauvette, the founder and CEO of Fast Forward French, a French tutoring centre in Ottawa, for her quick and easy tips for parents and kids who are beginning French immersion for the first time in kindergarten or Grade 1 this September.
1. Make learning fun One big mistake parents often make while rushing to prepare their kids for French is forcing it on them, and forgetting to make the experience fun. You may be worried about how your child will survive in a new environment, but don’t let your anxiety show. Kids will follow your lead, so teach them not to worry and that it’s no big deal. If kids associate learning a new language with having fun, they’ll enjoy it. Choose an activity that your kid likes and encourage your little one to speak French during that activity, even if it's just a few little words. You can also try making their playtime the French-speaking time of day so they’ll associate the new language with an activity they already love. Turn learning into a game. For example, get the kids to count in French, but for every fifth number they can do something fun like jump. (“Un,” “deux,” “trois,” “quatre,” and jump on “cinq.” Then jump on“dix” and so on.) You can change the number to every third number, or whatever you prefer, to keep the game fresh each time. If your child is showing signs of early reading or word-recognition skills, you could try a matching game. Write the names of things on a set of cards or pieces of paper and then place pictures of them in another pile. Then see if the kids can match“le chien" to the picture of the dog. Make sure the definite or indefinite articles—le or la, un or une— are always part of the noun on the card, too.
2. Sneak French into their daily routine When the kids wake up in the morning, ask what day of the week it is and let the kids answer in French. For the first couple of times you try this out, say the word in French first and have your child repeat it back to you. Then after a couple days of practicing they’ll be able to answer on their own. You can also ask your child to describe the weather or the temperature outside in French. Ask your child to announce it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner in French at that time of day. You can also make a rule that any time a colour comes up in conversation, everyone uses the French word.
3. Say it out loud When introducing the alphabet to your child, don’t just focus on memorizing the letters; practice the sounds too. Get them to sound out each letter. Always encourage your little one to read out loud so you can hear their pronunciation. There are many sounds that differ between French and English (such as the “h” sound, which is always silent in French). If your little one isn’t quite ready for a whole book, try saying a few words out loud and practice different sounds such as “ou,” “oi” and “ez.”
4. Chantons tous ensemble! Another great way to learn French is to sing it. Sing some French songs together at home or in the car on long drives. Check out Charlotte Diamond, Jacquot or Suzanne Pinel on YouTube for some simple and catchy tunes about food, animals and the seasons.
5. Try taking a few classes Worried you might not know the correct pronunciation for some French words? It’s a common concern for parents. Remember to never correct your child’s pronunciation if you are unsure. Try taking a few classes or attending a few tutor sessions to improve your own French. If you’re anticipating that your child may struggle, you could pre-emptively sign up for extra parent-and-kid tutoring sessions as well. Be sure to keep a French dictionary and a French-English dictionary at home in case your kid asks what something means and you don’t know. Try Mon premier Larousse: Le dictionnaire des 4-7 ans $6, amazon.ca or check out your closest bookstore.
6. Let them watch TV Kids love watching TV, so why not try some French cartoons? There’s a French version of Dora The Explorer (Dora L’exploratrice) or you could try to find the French version of one of your child’s favourites. Just try a quick search on YouTube. Another option is turning on the subtitles or French dubbing on Netflix. Simply select the speech bubble option on the bar and soon your little one will be enjoying Caillou, Animal Mechicals, The Adventures of Chuck and Friends and more in French.
7. Talk about it The simplest thing you can do to support your child is having a positive, open-minded attitude about the program. Help your little one understand that learning a new language can be fun. Your child may still be a bit nervous, but that’s normal. Be sure to listen to your child's concerns. It may be something as simple as not knowing how to ask to use the bathroom in French. Assure your kid that the teacher will teach the class all the key phrases, but you can also practice saying at home to ease the transition.