Since you’re here reading this, you probably don’t need any convincing of why to teach your children French and what the benefits are! I’m just going to touch on this briefly as there may be more reasons than you initially think and you may discover some that might surprise you, as well looking at the differences between language acquisition and learning and some ideas about how to teach your child French and to help you incorporate French into your child’s life.
Why you should teach your children French
I feel that the most important aspect to consider - and perhaps often overlooked - is that teaching your child French is not just about speaking and understanding the language but rather is about fostering a wider view of the world and raising a global citizen. It’s a way to connect to another culture - whether you have links to it through your heritage or perhaps just want to learn something new - and to appreciate and embrace diversity. Learning a foreign language also teaches about tolerance, acceptance, cultural sensitivity and empathy. Raising our children to be curious, compassionate and accepting is one of the best ways to set them up for success in their life, whether they end up speaking their second language fluently or not.
Of course there are also plenty of cognitive benefits as well and your child will reap many of these benefits even if they don’t achieve full fluency in the language. So don’t worry if you’re not a native speaker or if you’re learning along with your child.
The brain is a muscle, and when we learn another language we strengthen and develop it. Learning a language increases the density of grey matter and strengthens the white matter tissue in the brain. Grey matter is associated with muscle control, memory, emotions and sensory perception. White matter connects the grey matter areas together. Language learning results in these networks becoming better integrated, which makes them more flexible and allows for faster and more efficient learning and results in improved problem solving and multitasking abilities.
Some of the benefits of second language learning enhances problem-solving skills, critical thinking, listening skills, memory, concentration, creativity and mental flexibility.
Differences between language learning and language acquisition
I’d also like to take this opportunity to look at the difference between language learning and language acquisition, as this can assist in how you approach French with your child. Anyone can learn a language; however, young children have the ability to acquire language.
Language acquisition is a subconscious process, while language learning is a conscious process. Babies and young children subconsciously acquire language just through hearing it, then they begin to speak it. As a child gets older, at school they begin the process of learning the language - writing, reading, spelling, grammar and structure. Adults can also either acquire or learn another language - for example, living in a foreign country with full immersion in the language will result in language acquisition, while taking a course and consciously studying is language learning.
The Early Years (ages 0-5) is the perfect time to expose your child to French as they will be able to acquire the language alongside their maternal language without a conscious effort to learn. It is an intuitive process that potentially allows the language to be more deeply embedded.
It’s important to consider that your child can be exposed to hearing another language but without active engagement from them, they may simply understand it but not speak it. That’s why it’s especially beneficial to provide kids with a variety of experiences and opportunities to participate in language activities. Recently a child enquired why I had so many puppets and I replied that they were for my work - they concluded that I must be an entertainer! I laughed and replied that I usually call myself a teacher, but “teachertainer” might be a better title in some ways because it really is all about having fun. If you make French fun and engaging then your child will start to pick it up and with a bit of encouragement they will respond!
How to teach French to kids
At a very young age, simply speaking to your baby and regularly exposing them to French provides the opportunity to acquire the language - infants and children acquire language through interaction with a caregiver. But there are many other ways to incorporate language learning opportunities into daily life which are useful especially if you’re not a native speaker - through songs, books, films, social interactions, and other activities. Here are eight ideas of ways that you can introduce French language to your child and create a variety of different learning experiences.
Over the following eight weeks, I will expand on each one of these ideas in more detail, with suggestions of what you can do including examples and resources to support you. You might also like to check out our series L’exploitation de l’album where we look at a specific book which is focused on a particular theme, then propose other activities that tie in with that to create further opportunities to use the language with your child.