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How To Learn French

Teaching Children French – Pitfalls & Bad Habits

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on July 28, 2009
What to Avoid Teach French to Children - Learning Tools Online Resources

If you want your children to speak French, you have to make up a plan of action, and stick to it in the long run. As a mother to a French English bilingual child, here are my tips on what you should and shouldn’t do to successfully teach French to your kid.

1 – Be firm and consistent

It’s likely that at one point your kid is going to show some resistance. Like wanting to watch TV in English instead of French.

If you give in ONCE, then it’s going to be a struggle each and every time! Kids are super stubborn. You have to be strict, and everyone in the family has to be on board.

Of course your child will prefer doing what is easier – it’s absolutely natural.

However, we all know the attraction TV has on kids. So use it: present TV as a special treat. And that treat comes only in French: so it’s French TV, or no TV at all.

Same goes for music, stories etc… See the French learning tools for kids I personally recommend here.

2 – “But my kid won’t understand French”

Maybe at first, but then they’ll guess.

Adults rely so much on language that watching a show in a foreign language is usually painful…

But for toddlers, their native tongue IS a foreign language. Do you think a kid really understand every word of Dr Seuss’ books?

So hearing French is only going to make things a bit harder, but not impossible for these geniuses that kids are.

They have an amazing ability to guess from the context, and are curious about everything… and this is a great help in any language learning.

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3 – Prepare a good answer when your child asks: “why do I have to learn French”?

When our bilingual daughter Leyla was 3 years old, she asked me:

  • “Why do I have to speak French at home and watch TV in French ? All my friends watch TV in English and English is so much easier”.

I answered that French was the language my family spoke. That I spoke French with my Mom, my sisters, and couldn’t imagine speaking another language with my daughter. That to me, French was the language of love (that really did it).

Then I added:

  • “Besides, if you don’t speak French, then how are Bonne Maman (my Mom), Grand Père (my Dad) and all your cousins going to understand you when we go to France ?”.

A year after, we moved to France… and Leyla asked:

  • “Why do I have to watch TV in English now? French is so much easier”…

And I replied:

  • “Speaking English fluently will be a great opportunity for you when you grow up. It will help you to get a better job, it will help you when you travel all around the world”.

I then added:

  • “Besides, how are Draven and Alaysia (her good American friends) going to understand you when you visit them if you don’t speak English? Furthermore, English is our secret language here in France, and I like speaking English with you.”

She nodded.

I had good arguments. I was prepared for the question. You must prepare as well because that day will come.

Here is our French English bilingual daughter Leyla at age 4.


4 – Be realistic about your goal

Unless you, your partner or your nanny is fluent in French and constantly talks French to your kid (and if you don’t live in a French speaking country) your need to be realistic: it’s unlikely your kid is going to be bilingual.

But that doesn’t mean you cannot “introduce” him/her to French, and develop his/her interest and ear for French.

This introduction to the sounds and logic of French will make a huge difference when your kid is old enough to study French.

I’ve witnessed it many times: early introduction to a foreign language does make a lot of change.

5 – 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 make them fluent instantaneously.

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.

Voilà, I hope this helps. I invite you to read my articles on:

I know for a fact that the best way to learn French is to do so in context: check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided pronunciation. 

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