Getting my five-year-old interested in French

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Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby elsmandino » Wed Feb 12, 2020 4:02 pm


I am a long-time poster on here, still struggling with the French language (improving, but rather slowly).

When my son was born, my wife and I always had the intention of ensuring that he learnt French.

By way of background, my wife's late mother was French, so we thought it would be rather nice for our son to be able to do the same.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law died well over ten years ago, so we missed out on the opportunity to have my son learn from here (and indeed me).

My wife was born in England and has an English dad and, unfortunately, fell into the trap of only speaking English - she has a GCSE in French but nothing beyond that.

Fast-forward five years and we have suddenly realised that we need to get our son learning French as soon as possible, before his brain starts reaching that age where it shall become more of a struggle.

We have tried to get him to watch French "stuff" on his tablet - Peppa Pig, Youtube videos teaching vocabulary etc. but he either complains that he doesn't want to watch something he cannot understand or just ends up looking out the window and ignoring it altogether.

We have also tried putting Netflix programs on, in French, but again he tends just to ignore them as he cannot understand them.

Our approach clearly isn't working and any advice would be much appreciated.

We don't want to make him miserable, and potentially put him off French for life, but we know that he will thank us, later, for any French he does now learn.
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby Cavesa » Wed Feb 12, 2020 4:40 pm


First of all, it is beautiful, that you want him to learn French and to give him such a gift as early as possible. I am sure it will all end up well and he'll grow up into a wonderful and bilingual person.

However, I don't think your approach is good at all. He is not a baby, he will not learn like one. I totally understand his frustration with watching content he cannot understand at all. The adults don't do that either, why should he have more patience than us. The method "let's just sit him in front of foreign tv" can work to a limited extent, but only if the foreign content is so much better than anything available in the native language, that the child will not mind the language barrier any longer. But that is simply not gonna happen to an anglophone kid. Especially if you are not offering him anything new and fascinating, just "damaged" versions of shows he knows in English.

He is at the unfortunate age, at which serious language learning is almost non existent on the market. He is not a baby. But he can learn a different language than his first one to a high level, even to the same level or better. If you put him to a French school instead of an English one, he'll turn out basically equal to the native French kids. If you put him in a bilingual school, he might turn out bilingual.

Aside of the moving abroad or bilingual school options, there is very little stuff available. Vast majority of language teaching for kids is trash. The "teachers" and schools offering evening classes abuse the good will of the parents, often monolingual, and just play uselessly with the children, leaving them perhaps with nice listening skills, but nothing else. Kids get frustrated by lack of progress too. It is so sad to hear the kids 8-10 year old complain in a very adult way that they have been learning a language for 3-5 years and have absolutely nothing to show for it. It can demotivate them from language learning right at the real beginning of their path.

I'd say your best bet is paying for serious individual tutoring. You'll have to find a high quality teacher, who is not only good at teaching kids, but also at teaching them to a solid level. It won't be easy. Work on your French too, so that you can keep up with their progress, check the results you are getting for your money, and profit from opportunities to practice together (especially as a source of motivation).

There are also other factors in play than his age. What is he like? Is he more of a playful child, or does he read books already? Or does he like to be read to? Does he learn fast in general, or does he need to take time? Is he more of an introvert or an extrovert? All that plays a role and should be taken into account by the teacher.

But if you don't manage to get a teacher now, don't despair. Yes, it is true that starting early can be an advantage. But truth be told, it is severely overestimated in reality. Many of the children starting early are just as bad at the language as their peers starting later. And vice versa. If he starts at 9 or even 12, it may still not matter. The amount of work he'll put in will be the most important part.
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby DaveAgain » Wed Feb 12, 2020 5:08 pm

If you ask at the information desk at your local library they may have information on local french clubs, those clubs would almost certainly include parents like yourself who could offer you the best tips, and perhaps some Francophone playmates for your son.

As you're learning French yourself, you could start talking to your son in French. It might help you both :-) (several posters have mentioned doing this with their children)

This might also be a good time for your wife to research her family tree, and find some french cousins. :-)
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby Speakeasy » Wed Feb 12, 2020 5:09 pm

As my wife and I were not blessed with children, the last time I spoke with a five-year-old was -- I can hardly believe it myself -- some 68 years ago. So then, while I am unqualified to respond to your question, and while I endorse absolutely everything that Cavesa has had to say on the matter, I will venture to suggest that you consider the Learnables French programme which, apparently, is suitable for children as of age seven and older (yes, I know that there is a considerable difference in development between a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old). I have not used these courses myself; however, the reviews concerning their use with children seem positive. Although these materials are rather expensive when purchased directly from the publisher, you could purchase a used French Level 1 course on eBay and try it out with your son.
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby Lawyer&Mom » Thu Feb 13, 2020 4:00 am

My kids are similar in age. They have been responsive to reading books in French. I do sentence by sentence translations, but with each additional repetition I translate less and less. I read preschool books because they tend to describe everyday living situations, and the text correlates well with the pictures. Popular titles include T'choupi, Lou les Loup, Petite Ours Brun and Léo et Popi. A notch more complex is Calliou. All of these are series, I was able to find “coffret”, collections, on The vocabulary in these books has *a lot* of overlap and really reinforces a core kid vocabulary of a few hundred words.

ETA: Stephanie Blake books are hilarious and popular with my kids. We love ”Je veux pas aller à l'école”. (Despite her name, these are books originally written in French.)
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby AnneL » Thu Feb 13, 2020 4:17 am

I read somewhere about a kid getting fluent in mandarin when the parents spoke cantonese (or other way round, who cares) just by watching mandarin language tv. In the end what you really want it for the kid to hear the sounds, as it's the hardest to catch up on later.
Can you have Netflix on a VPN so that it is in France or Canada, so it shows all the French shows? Might even work just by setting the language to French. I do that for Korean.
And indeed any activities with French kids would be great. Have you looked at in your area for French groups? A French school nearby otherwise, to see if they have activites, maybe religious stuff at least? I wouldnt bother with any formal course, it needs to be fun and easy and passive stuff is prob awesome at that age, as I do remember around that time I might switch on and off into adults conversations, not necessarily understanding all the words... You can also do the school/nursery songs, they used to have full tapes of those available.
Audiobooks from French amazon would prob be great too if you really want books.
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby risbolle » Thu Feb 13, 2020 5:23 am

Not in direct answer to your question, but I've come across a podcast series, "Le français comme j'aime", whose main subject is teaching French to one's children. I found the presentation very intelligent and a joy to listen to.
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby Axon » Thu Feb 13, 2020 6:37 am

I'm glad you're helping to foster a love for language in your family!

When I was a young child, my parents had alphabet, number, and basic vocabulary posters on the wall in my room in Spanish and French (both of my parents can hold their own as tourists in France). I also went to a once-a-week French preschool where I believe everything was in French and we learned to sing nursery rhymes. Today my language interests have only peripherally included French, but indeed I am glad that I had that exposure at a young age.

Don't worry about any kind of rapidly closing development window. That could lead to frustration if he doesn't pick it up as you think he should, and he'll feel that pressure and wonder why this is so important to you and his mom.

As other commenters have said, it's good to even just have the language in the air so that he can hear it. I think it's important to set an example as parents that you and your wife both enjoy learning and using French. Be open that this is something you do for yourself as well and enjoy it instead of a goal for you to specifically have your son learn. Explore French music and show your son that you can enjoy it even if you don't speak the language perfectly or even understand all the lyrics yet. I still remember quite a few songs that I literally haven't heard since I was a young child.

Watch videos in French with the sound on as he's in the room, both the strictly educational ones and "real content" that you find interesting even if you can't understand it. As an example, I found this video years ago (before they released one with subtitles) and I watched it three or four times all the way through even though I was picking up only the gist of each section. It's definitely going to take time to find content like that for your own tastes, but just keep coming back to French content and weaving it into your day, sharing it with your son as appropriate.
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby bedtime » Thu Feb 13, 2020 10:39 pm

The only language that a kid that age understands is fun.

I work with 3-6 year old kids on a daily basis, helping them with English literacy. I have to make reading and phonics fun. Since I work in an elementary school and I am learning French, I talk to the French immersion kids in the hall as I see them. The conversations are simple and always done in a way to sound funny and engaging. Exaggeration in all aspects is key to this.

Par exemple, here is a typical conversation at school:

Où sont tes GANTS ??? :shock: (make a gesture pointing to your hands, showing you are talking about their gloves)

If they answer in French but make a mistake, never point it out. Just repeat how it should have been said and blend it into your response:

Je nee sayee paws. (their attempt to say: I don't know)

Ah! Tu ne sais pas? Mais, il fait froid dehorrrrrrrrs! (point outside and shiver) C'est dommage. (look as if you are deflated) I'm really not looking forward to cutting off another kid's frozen hands today. It's messy. The parents get mad. Then we have to glue the hands back on... :roll:

This is the type of stuff that gets them laughing and interested. Try saying hello (bonjour) to them at the most bizarre time, but saying it with an absolutely exaggerated French accent and making it hilarious, kids love that. Add comment ça va ?, then walk away in a funny manner (like a robot or crazy person). They'll start to associate French with being fun.

Remember that you are a parent, not a teacher. Kids go to school, learn all day (In Canada they have full-day kindergarten), and then when they come home, they want to relax and play. They don't want their parents are stuffing more teachings down their throats. However, if you live in Canada (couldn't find where you live), you could put them in French immersion in grade one.

Here is the type of French music video that kids love:

The singer is 14 years old, so the kids can relate better to her. And the lyrics are silly and fun, and the tune catchy. This song has been all the rage in France the last few months.

As to introducing something like this, I would turn the video on and just start singing along to it yourself not involving or paying attention to the child at all but just having fun and being silly by yourself. You need to lure them in without showing the hook. Don't try to set the child up by saying, I have this super fun video that you'll love... because as soon as you turn it on, they might say, Oh no, not that French stuff again... before they even give it a chance.

If all else fails, and you're not able to succeed in getting them to enjoy French, stop; don't destroy forever their chance of loving such a beautiful language by forcing it.
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Re: Getting my five-year-old interested in French

Postby lavengro » Thu Feb 13, 2020 11:01 pm

bedtime wrote:I'm really not looking forward to cutting off another kid's frozen hands today. It's messy. The parents get mad. Then we have to glue the hands back on...

A bit off-topic from the conversation (by the way, the best answer is the obvious answer: "You want to eat? Ya gotta study some French."), but as a fair heads-up to you, bedtime: I have contacted provincial representatives of both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services as well as the O.P.P, and asked them to be on the look-out for an individual with below shoulder length brunette or chestnut brown hair and glassy vacant eyes who may be walking around in reluctant possession of an uncertain number of small severed hands, and that they should approach you only while wearing gants.
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