Although many parents’ first reaction is to hire the help of a tutor, a one hour a week exposure to a tutor is not going to do much for a toddler or a young kid. Kids learn by repetition — constant repetition — and learning a language is no different.
The best solution would be to hire a French nanny to speak with them all day, or move to France — but this is not an option for most of us. And what about the ever so sought after French playgroup? I never found one myself, so good luck with that…
So, in the end, the best tutor for your kid will have to be you.
How can my child learn French if I don’t speak it myself?
If you do not speak any French, then start by taking a couple of hours of lessons for yourself. Learn things like colors, animals, basic counting, politeness, and the pronunciation for a small, easy toddler books. You can now easily find teachers in your area or even over the phone – read about my phone lessons. A couple of things you need to make sure when choosing a tutor: make sure he/she is a French native since a proper accent is essential here. You will also find many free resources online, but again make sure you only pick the ones with matching audio recordings so you can learn the proper pronunciation.
Teaching the basic language skills to a young child
Once you have the basic pronunciation and vocabulary down, then start doing repetitions with your children. For example: use French numbers whenever counting anything like climbing stairs, use French politeness at home (is there anything cuter than a English speaking child saying “Merci”?), use French color names when drawing, etc… Make sure you exaggerate the sounds and the shape of your lips, speak “Motherese”, that’s how toddler learn any language, including French of course.
But it has to be fun
For the both of you. So make sure you pick a time when he/she is not tired, and send a lot of positive energy, laugh, cry out of joy when she/he utters a French sound, so your kid associates French to a good time, and you too have fun in the process.
Use the right tools
There are plenty of good tools to help your kid learn French: CDs, books, DVDs, even softwares developed specially for kids. Pick something interesting for his/her age, and something you will enjoy hearing over and over as well.
Develop an interest in the French language and the rest will follow
At a young age, the key is to help your child develop an ear and an interest for the French language, not to transform them into the next Voltaire or Sartre. Children at a young age want to show you they understand, and live to please you. If you can show them how happy it makes you when they speak French, it will be the best incentive there is in the whole word.