Friday, June 25, 2010

French with Kids

Our sixth child, our language program, the project we've schemed, dreamed and worked on for over a year, is about to see the light of the computer screen and a real audience. Next week, French with Kids will "go live" as my techie husband calls it.

So, why did I need to go invent another language program for children? I did not intend to, really, I am pretty busy and was not searching for a new project. I was writing a review of the top language programs in an article on language acquisition and bilingual children. I realized that I had really better test the ones I had never set eyes on for myself. That is when I discovered that they were really designed with adults in mind. Learning a language as a child is a different matter than learning one as an adult. The vocabulary you relate to and require in everyday life is so far from the world of newspapers, coffee, market values or taking a taxi. "Put your shoes on" is a more likely candidate for an expression you will hear each day.

Even the programs written for children are lacking in good, practical, usable vocabulary. Some are funny, some are sophisticated, some are written with the classroom and international travel in mind. In every high school French book you will learn to say "My name is Gerard. I am Dutch. Let's go to the beach," and then on to "The teacher's desk is next to the chalkboard," all very useful expressions in your home in Florida or Saskatchewan. I felt there was a better way to go about this.

I have been teaching foreign languages for over twenty years. I began teaching English in Spain when I was in college. The thrill of a student who is finally conversing, reading and writing in their new chosen language is wonderful. The excitement of hearing my own children speak first English after moving to America, then French upon returning to France, is even greater. I love learning to communicate with other peoples and other cultures in their own language and I love helping other people do so too.

As a homeschooler, I had something else in mind. Homeschooling or not, involved parents can tell you that whatever it is that a child is learning, the parent learns right along with them. Why not learn together using the words you already use each day together? It is a simple idea; daily exchanges with your child translated into another language. All of the exchanges are requests that will elicit a response; either an action or a dialog. Both are guaranteed to promote memory.

Learning together as a family is more fun than sitting at a computer screen alone, too. The questions and answers of the daily lessons work together, both parent and child make an effort to communicate, Both may be rolling on the floor laughing at the other's attempts, or singing the song of the week together.

Will there be grammar, reading, writing? Yes, but in time. Complex grammatical structures are used every day painlessly and naturally. Learning about them is necessary, but not right away. I see that my own children, who have been encouraged to read every day in French these past three months, are writing with more ease and less mistakes. My dd and I sat down the other day with a Latin teacher for a lesson. I discovered that she understood not only the basics of sentence structure, but also concepts like object complements and predicate adjectives with a minimum of explanations. She could also write the French translations correctly.

So, the first step is to integrate and have fun with the language. Let it become part of your day, part of your family. Go ahead and challenge yourself to learn just one useful expression a day and let your children answer back for once; as long as it is in French!

I will post as soon as things are up and running (I can't wait!) The first week's lesson will be available for free at the web site. A bientot!


  1. Hi , do you mean that one sits with woes parent in front of the computer to learn this, cheers Marie

  2. Hi Marie,

    As I was taking a break and browsing YOUR lovely blog; (all those beautiful felted creations and that new knitted hot air balloon!)when this comment popped up from you.

    Nooooo, no, just the lessons with pronunciation are on the screen. You listen to the pronunciation then use the expression in real life. Your child too, I suppose, could listen to the pronunciation once, but it is the daily practice and exchange between the two (or more) of you that is meaningful. I need to write a post on the HOWs of the system, thanks for catching that!



  3. Hello,
    I am Waldorf-inspired homeschooler, also in Wisconsin. I checked out the July/August Home Education Magazine from the library and just read your article, which brought me here! I tried to find your French for Kids website, but did not have any luck. Is it up and running? Thanks!

  4. Hello Angela,

    I was wondering if your French program is working. I found the website, but I couldn't register. Is it still in the works?


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