There is a lot of info out there on learning a language. And quite rightly so! It is one of the best skills you can have (in our humble opinion!) From language apps to blogs to forums – there is a lot to sift through.
Good information on teaching children a language is a bit harder to find. However, we have done the leg work for you! Here are some of the blogs that we like at Mini Languages. Have a read and let us know what you think!
French For Little Kids Instagram. A daily dose of French aimed at young kids. Animated vocabulary, activities to inspire you and grammar tips. Plus, a vlog with helpful tips from anything from reading in French to useful expressions you can use with your little one. Why do we like it? A good range of quality activities and friendly advice… Oh ok, and it is our Insta account…. but really it is a great resource!
Le Toboggan Website and instagram. This is an Australian book store and although many of you reading this blog will be UK based, it is worth checking out as they review kids foreign language books on there and have some really fun stock.
Bilingual Monkeys Website and other social media. Successful author and father to two children in Japan, Adam Beck blogs about his journey raising bilingual kids. He is relatable and humorous. His often releases funny quotes and memes relating to raising children with more than one language that make me giggle and remind you of the lighter parts of languages. A refreshing approach.
Multilingual Parenting Website. Although the style of this blog could maybe do with a refresh the articles are very useful. They touch on important aspects of raising bilingual children and many of these ideas and discussions could still be useful to monolingual carers.
Multicultural Kids Blogs Website. As you can read from the title, this blog has a focus on raising cultured kids. In their own words, they create “educational and parenting content which celebrates global cultures, languages and belief systems”. They aim to promote diversity in all its forms. Pretty cool huh?
So have a read through… let us know what you think!
I love a psychology-based parenting book. Not fluffy celebs prattling on and giving their two pennies worth but real scientific findings in early years’ cognitive development.
I am also fascinated with teaching strategies. I have tried and tested my own ideas and gauged responses from hundreds of children in my classes over the years. My heart lies in nurture-based, child-led methods like Montessori and it’s ethos is very much integrated into my language programme.
One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.
Ask the expert!
For nearly 4 years, my children and I have been attending a playgroup called Montessori Mornings. This is run by Rosita and her business partner Sorour. Both are trained Montessori-educators and are close to achieving their dream of opening a Montessori nursery in Edinburgh in 2019!
I asked Rosita if she would give some details on Montessori as I know many parents who come to my classes would find her knowledge really interesting!
At the end she gives details on her newest project.
Here is what she shared…
Hi Rosita! Firstly, can you tell us briefly about your background?
Well, I was a working mum until I had my second child. I found them both so fascinating that I eventually realised the only thing that interested me was watching them grow and learn. Also, I really wanted them to grow up bilingual and the only way they were going to learn Farsi was if they heard it from me! Eventually I dived in and did Montessori training, which was a huge help to me as a mum.
Dr Montessori never set out to create a method of schooling. She was doing systematic research on what makes children thrive – empirical research done primarily by observing children. And pretty early on, she discovered principles that she felt very strongly should be universally applied to education.
So the core principle is that it is education based on the child; their particular psychology, their stages of development, etc. This sets it apart from other approaches that start out with a philosophy and try to mould children to fit a particular set of expectations.
The Montessori ethos is that children can and do teach themselves, given the right environment. And so our role is to prepare that environment to suit how each individual learns.
I love the fact that the Montessori Method is child-led. I think educators or class-leaders can often be so set on achieving their own goals that they don’t let children be in control of their own learning. For what ages is the Montessori Method applicable?
Dr Montessori’s emphasis was on the first six years, because these are when the brain is most absorbent, but she later developed programmes for 6 to 12s and, before she died, an outline of a 12 to 18 programme based on the special capacities of adolescents. Today, Montessori is even being used in therapies for people with dementia!
Are there subjects that the Montessori Method particularly lends itself to?
Montessori often referred to the way small children absorb language effortlessly to illustrate how they absorb all learning. When my kids were little, I found it amazing how they learned to talk in two languages simultaneously. You know, all those cute mistakes they make are actually really telling of a very systematic brain.
Children crave language because they are busy constructing their own language, and their understanding. In this early, super-eager stage, we give them correct grammar and the correct names for things, to help and not confuse them. When they hear the same words later in childhood they immediately tune in and are interested in everything because they have been ‘primed’ by their earlier experiences.
So I would say language is the one objective that weaves through the entire Montessori curriculum. Another is movement. Children learn through their senses, so they need to see, touch, smell, experiment with tactile things, and move their body.
Is there a set way for introducing foreign languages in Montessori?
There isn’t a set way for introducing foreign languages in Montessori, but if there were it would probably look a lot like Mini Languages, where it is the familiar expressions and objects that are used, with props, songs and actions, and a lot of repetition.
Finally, I hear you have big plans in Edinburgh – how are they coming along?
Prior to my Montessori training, I would never have imagined I’d be starting a nursery because what I did before was so unrelated! But Sorour and I are really excited that we are going to be able to put everything we know into practice. Language and literacy will be a big part of what we are going to be doing, as is working with people in our local community – that’s why we’re doublly excited about Mini Languages!
So there you have it…
Plenty of insider detail on Montessori. You can implement the ethos of independence by letting children undertake daily tasks themselves from a young age. You can arrange your household so that children can access toys, crafts, clothes and even snacks themselves. Also letting children explore learning materials without excessive adult intervention to cultivate a life-long love of learning!
If you are in the Edinburgh areas and love this ethos as much as I do you should check out Casa Montessori – opening soon…we also hope to collaborate with the nursery and run language sessions there. So the perfect educational environment for happy, thriving and future-proofed kids!
Let’s face it being able to converse in a second language is pretty cool. It is also hugely practical when travelling and a great selling point on your CV. But is that it?
Well actually… research has revealed that the impact on the brain is the most fascinating part. It has been proven to boost overall mental agility, creative thought and problem-solving skills.
Furthermore, what about the simple fact of teaching your child that there is a big wide world out there? That there are different cultures to uncover and adventures to be had?!
“The critical period”. There is some evidence to support the idea of there being a ‘critical period’ between age 0 and 7 when the developing brain is more plastic and able to process additional languages. I would say there is truth in this but that you can start a language at any age. For me, the main driver for starting early is to ensure a positive relationship with language learning from the outset. Spark their curiosity for languages now and you will be amazed how they grasp opportunities to build on this foundation in the future.
Starting a language in the early years gives children a head-start before school (where language tuition is still relatively patchy). Let’s face it we are all ambitious for our children’s futures.
But mostly, it is quite frankly amazing to see. It never fails to bowl me over when a two or three-year-old of monolingual parents sings a French song to me or follows instructions in French after only a few weeks of learning a new language.
Let’s bust a couple of myths, shall we?
“Children will mix up languages.”
The human brain was potentially never meant to be monolingual. In fact, it can easily process several languages at once. Bilingual children sometimes mix languages which is actually positive as it shows that the brain is able to flexibly flick from one to the next. Like a cerebral work out.
“My child should master English first.”
Similarly, to the above, starting a second language will not impede the development of the mother tongue. Studies actually show that it increases overall communication and boosts brain development.
How on earth do I begin teaching my toddler or preschooler the foundations of a new language?
Whether you are thinking, “I was never good at languages” or “I am pretty good at languages, but how do you talk to a toddler?” there IS a way for you to start today.
What is important is making it fun and manageable. I can recommend a step-by-step approach which you can easily adapt to your own routine. You will see results quickly – and you will have fun whilst giving your brain a work-out.
STEP 1. Identify the moments you have time together
There is always at least one time in the day when you have one-on-one time (or one on two, one on three for larger families).
Getting dressed in the morning?
STEP 2: Find songs to sing in your chosen language
Use this one-on-one time to introduce a song. If you can find a song which matches up with the activity you are currently undertaking, i.e. a water related song while you are in the bath, then even better!
At class this is exactly how we get started. We learn a series of carefully selected songs then build on the learning with toys and interaction with an experienced teacher.
If French is your language of choice, I am happy to share some suggestions for you below (feel free to get in touch for Spanish ideas as well):
Build this into your routine and you will both learn all the words in those songs! Effortlessly.
STEP 3: Once you have established these songs into your routine and feel like you are learning them. Take it further.
In class I always share simple activities for keeping up the learning at home. Here are some of them:
Talk about the weather in the morning – make some cards from paper plates. Draw pictures on one side and the type of weather on the other. Leave them beside the fruit bowl and choose one and say the weather every morning over your ‘petit déjeuner’ 😉
Watch out for the Mini Languages French Facebook group which I am starting soon which will have free activities and videos (email me for info)
Simple steps, when made fun will have lasting effects! Remember the goal at this age is to pique their interest and demystify languages. By the time they start formal education they will be miles ahead and you have given them a positive experience showing them that languages are part of life and fun!
If you are looking for support in a fun welcoming environment where you will see results quickly, join us at Mini French or Mini Spanish. Classes are Edinburgh for age 0 to 8. Or ask your nursery to get in touch with us to start classes there.
France is often cited as the gastronomic capital of Europe, if not the world. Did you know that French cuisine has even earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List? And who could argue? It is fair to say that the French take their food pretty damn seriously.
From personal experience, the most striking difference between the UK and France in this regard is their attitude towards, and knowledge of, food. You are expected to know your camembert from your époisses and your cèpes from your champignons de Paris… Initially, this could be interpreted as snobbism but scratch the surface and you will discover genuine respect for food provenance and quality ingredients.
17% of French children (age 6-17) are overweight
French Ministry for Health 2015
When it comes to “les petits”, French children are often lauded as having fantastic eating habits. A 2015 study conducted by the French Ministry for Health showed that 17% of French children (age 6-17) were overweight and 4% were classed as obese. However, these figures are significantly less than the European average. Furthermore, this rate is stable in France. Whereas in the majority of countries the rate of childhood obesity is on the rise.
However, they are doing something better than us. What is it?
That said, as with all other European countries the French are dealing with an obesity epidemic – 17% of children are overweight. This is not insignificant. However, they are doing something better than us. What is it?
Being a cross-cultural family, my husband and I often find ourselves pulled in two different directions when it comes to many issues. However, I have to admit that when it comes to eating, we side more with French culture. So I have been pondering on what exactly it is that keeps the French achieving lower obesity rates? How can make practical changes in your own home to set a good example for your children? Well, here are my top 5 “food lessons we can learn from the French”. See if you agree…
1. The French eat together
Breakfast in France is not a bowl of cornflakes in front of Paw Patrol or a coffee gulped as you run out the door. Breakfast is a sit-down meal. Set the table. Warm the milk. For a strong start to the day, connect as a family and fill your belly French style. Dinner is the same. Mum and Dad sit with the kids. Everyone eats the same meal, at the same time – a bit later than in the UK and it just works. Their attitude? Don’t have time? Make some.
2. The French eat big meals
For me, this may be the cornerstone to French eating routines. A meal is a meal. It isn’t two slices of sliced white bread, plastic cheese and a limp leaf of lettuce. It is a warm dish with meat, vegetables, pasta or rice. Or a packed salad drizzled in olive oil. It is, above all, a pleasure. It rewards your body for its morning efforts and sets you up for the afternoon. This goes for kids as well – at school canteen and at home.
3. The French don’t snack
Clearly linked to eating consistent meals, you won’t see kids snacking all day long. Breakfast is hearty. Lunch is an affair. Your next official eating interval is at 4pm for your ‘goûter’. Since becoming a mother I have always implemented this. Yes, there are times when your kids are just starving and you give them a chunk of bread or fruit outside of meal-time. But really, a filling snack mid-afternoon should be sufficient to see you through. It is ok to be hungry sometimes.
4. The French eat in season
A big one and the one which is hardest to implement in the UK due to our lack of affordable local markets. The French respect the seasonal food calendar and tend to have favourite summer and winter recipes. This means fresher, higher nutrient content and reduced food miles. Endives in summer and ratatouille in winter? Snigger. Not sure what that even means? Check this website to see what is in season this month!
5. The French value quality
There is a reason the French high street is enduring better that ours. Bakers still line the streets and local butchers are not hard to find. And I think this is due to the value placed on quality ingredients. It is not unusual to spend a decent amount of your weekly wage on your meat, cheese (and wine). Food is a pleasure and not a fuel. With a starter, a side and a dessert (which could be plain yoghurt and fruit), you are not talking huge quantities of meat or key ingredients, making it an affordable method even for families. Plus, children are treated to little luxuries like local cheese and charcuterie, hors-d’oeuvres on special occasions and pastries from the patissier… Appreciation and portion control are the lessons here.
Of course, there will be French families who do not fit the above description exactly but I can tell you that they will be the exception to the rule. While UK and American influences are creeping in, I have faith that the French will maintain their strong foodie culture. It is doing them, and their children, the world of good. Moreover, if there is a culture which can stubbornly endure – it is the wonderful French.
So what is funny is that I often have parents in class who have very decent French – some could even read ‘Le Monde’ newspaper or watch the French news… but they do not know how to speak to little kids 🙂
In this infographic series, I will provide fun and useful words for speaking to your child.
I have always disliked the term ‘baby brain’ (I have also heard it be called ‘momnesia’). New parents have so much on their plate, of course, their focus is elsewhere! However, there is scientific backing to suggest that mothers are impacted by a lack of concentration and focus.
It is true that as a new parent you can feel like your brain is not functioning correctly. You could even be forgiven for thinking that you were losing brain cells in those first crazy years of parenthood. We just focus on this new arrival who turns into a testing toddler and then an active preschooler… It passes in a flash and we can forget to embrace it.
But what about #selfcare? How about using your time with your child to learn and grow WITH them?
Why keep learning as an adult?
We create new neural connections in our brain when we learn and practise something new. These neural connections enable our brains to process information more quickly and keep our minds sharp.
Additionally, studies show that those who continue ‘exercising’ their brain in adulthood reduce their risk of, or delay, certain types of dementia.
So, when you find yourself in charge of a little one and the day is stretched before you, see it as an opportunity. There are LOADS of activities you can get up to with your young child to keep your mind active.
Here are my top 7 brain-stimulating activities for parents:
Sewing – Although this may not initially seem baby-friendly (pins, sewing machines…!), I know several Mums who have used their extra time at home to learn basic dressmaking or home furnishings. Edinburgh’s Red Thread Studio runs baby-friendly midweek classes. I have not been but it looks awesome! Red Thread Studio
Podcasts – Parenting is a funny thing. At times you don’t have a second for yourself. Then sometimes you suddenly find yourself in need of entertainment i.e. baby falls asleep on you or toddler falls asleep in the car just as you arrive at the supermarket – potentially wasted time! Not if you have a back up of podcasts to listen to! Download several to your phone on a subject which is new to you and sit back, listen and learn. Two of my fave are TED Radio Hour and Stuff You Should Know (SYSK) but you can find literally thousands of awesome quality podcasts. Not sure how to download a Podcast? Read this article.
Free online university classes – These days we have access to a world of knowledge at our fingertips, literally. In recent years, there has been a rise in access to quality learning-programmes online – for free! For online courses created by universities, check out Future Learn. You can browse their enormous catalogue of subjects, enrol and learn: any time any place.
Yoga – It is quite obvious that any regular exercise has physical health benefits. Most people are also aware of yoga’s positive impact on our sense of wellbeing but did you know about its brain age-defying properties? A recent study has shown a link between regular yoga sessions and a higher number of brain cells! The good news is that you can easily start yoga with your child and many groups out there can support you. In the Edinburgh area, check out YogaBellies parent & child classes where you will get a warm welcome from Jen, Louise or Rosy.
Museums – Not on your list midweek? Think again! Museums these days are mega-child friendly and also pretty quiet during the week in Edinburgh. I have had whole exhibitions to myself while the baby sleeps in the pram or even crawls on the floor beside me 🙂 There is also always caffeine nearby. I go a lot with my 3-year-old and she loves looking at the paintings and is now quite at ease in a gallery! The National Galleries Scotland run BYOB talks (Bring Your Own Bump!) “Monthly informal gallery chats for grown-ups with their wee-est ones.” Amazing!
Languages – Of course, this is where my passion lies and I would encourage you to grasp this opportunity with both hands! Learning a new language has huge proven cognitive benefits. Brushing up on our existing level can seem daunting but believe me, it is not all that hard. At Mini French (or Mini Spanish coming next year) you can learn along with your child. The language coaches are trained to keep parents and children engaged and you will come home feeling brighter in every way!
Socialise with purpose – Finally, as parents of young children, we ALL have days when we are overwhelmed and can barely function (in fact I am writing this in bed with a toddler next to me). On these days, meeting up with fellow parents who are all in the same boat is very important. There are social groups around the country. One very good one in Edinburgh is MumUnity. A supportive bunch of Mums run by Amber, the founder of Lottie’s Boutique. You will be met with no judgement and a cuppa. Your mental health is paramount. At Mini French, you will also meet lots of cool, like-minded parents. Our aim is for every parent to get a warm welcome and many stick around for a coffee after.
So there you have it… which brain-boosting activity will you start this week?
Learning a language together is all about simple steps. Just start somewhere! When you start to see results you’ll be spurred on to achieve more 🙂
Let’s start with counting in French. Below is a manageable home lesson plan to learn to count to 20 (or 10 if that is your child’s current counting level).
1. Start with singing numbers in French together
Music is a very powerful learning medium.
Here is a video from YouTube which I quite like… be warned it gets stuck in your head but that is the point!
At Mini French, we incorporate several counting songs into our sessions. One example is “Un, Deux, Trois nous irons au bois” (1, 2, 3 we will go to the woods!)
2. Put counting in French into daily practice
As a parent, you will already be aware that children learn through ‘doing’. Here are three simple ideas:
Snacktime: Select a snack today which is made up of small parts i.e. grapes, raisins, crackers…Count them out into a bowl together. Grab a teddy. Count out a snack for teddy. Let your child count out the snack for you. You could add in “Miam! C’est bon!” (Yum! It is tasty!)
Walking: Pass the time and encourage your little one to keep up (!) by counting in French when you climb the stairs or are walking to the car or bus. I know a good song for this but I can’t give away all my secrets in one go… 😉
Shopping: Count the food as you place them in the trolley or at the checkout. This could lead on to learning fruit names. Download my fruit poster here.
This is also something you can ask your care provider to get involved in. Most adults can manage to learn to count in a new language and will relish the challenge! My childminder was delighted to speak in French a little when she looked after my youngest.
3. Play a counting game: bingo or a ballgame
Bingo: Remember that it can be hard for young children to verbalise new words so asking to point at words is easier. Download my bingo printable. There are three levels: ‘Niveau 1 – Niveau 3′.
Ballgame: Keep things moving! Children are very active learners and like to have hands-on experience. Grab a ball and kick or throw to each other and try to get to 20 (cheating is allowed!)
So there you have it, adding some small activities into your busy day can be very effective in giving your child a headstart in a language.
Positivity and encouragement are the main resources in your language teacher toolkit. This will boost your child’s confidence and have a snowball effect in their language learning. I see it happen ALL the time at class. Those parents who put in a tiny bit of effort at home through music or games will result in their children having a solid grasp of the foundations of a second language in their preschool years.
I am often asked how to find good quality French children’s books in the UK. I love children’s books. Our house is full of them! My children have learned a huge amount of their French vocabulary from books I purchase in France. I received great feedback on a post I wrote last year with my French book recommendations on Amazon.co.uk but the selection they have currently is not extensive.
Other than that you can pick them up in French bookshops, supermarkets and vintage markets. But what if you are not heading to France this year and have exhausted the Amazon list? Or you are looking for a special present for your little one? Or even to improve your own French (I’d highly recommend kids books for language learning).
Monthly to your door
What if I were to tell you that there is also a service where you can have brand new, professionally selected, French kid’s books delivered monthly to your door…(I should note at this point that I have no affiliation with this service).
L’école des loisirs is a renowned French language publishing house specialising in children’s books. They created the Max Book Club (L’école des max), offering subscribers eight books a year from November to June to reach a wider audience. Fortunately for Brits this service is available internationally.
We have been subscribed to the service since my children were pretty much newborn thanks to their French grand-parents and I would highly recommend it. I like books from a range of publishing houses but I think most of our family favourites are from L’école des loisirs.
There are eight ‘series’ or categories within the book club. Each series is designed for a certain age group. I would recommend sticking to the early age series’ BEBEMAX or TITOUMAX as they are suitable for up to age 3 and age 2 to 4 respectively but the vocabulary will be challenging enough for non-French speakers. They have simple sentences, bright illustrations and engaging stories which will have you learning French together through age-appropriate vocabulary.
Through their website you can also peek inside the books to see the level. The website is quite comprehensive with some audio versions available. I’d encourage you to check it out.
How do you subscribe?
There are two types of subscriptions: Individual or Group. My family qualifies as a ‘Group’ as we have three children all receiving books (from different series). This qualifies us for a slightly reduced rate. £35 – £42 per child (depending on series). So if you can find two other willing friends, you could subscribe as a group as it is an attractive price for kids books. You will receive the books in one package to a single address.
Otherwise, you can sign up as an individual. Prices start at £48 for the BEBEMAX series. If you have any issues or questions there is a UK contact email address on the website.
To note, if you subscribe after November you receive all the previous books for that season – so you can sign up at any time – perhaps a Christmas idea from a generous relative? Or one for the Santa list?
Finding French children’s books in the UK can be tricky but reading can be a really wonderful way to improve, not only your own French but your cultural awareness. So why not check out the book club and receive a little language gift every month?
It has been a very busy few months! Mini French has been signing-up a record number of children to our programmes. We are obtaining consistently high re-sign up rates from families and have started working in many new nurseries who are all giving us great feedback.
My teachers and I work hard to ensure that our programmes are highly engaging and very effective. We focus on babies to age 7 as I am passionate starting a language in the early years. It is a very specialised role to be able to entertain and engage this age group but sooooo rewarding!
But how did Mini French begin? Watch the Story of Mini French to find out!
For happy brains and bright futures, join Mini French!
When you start a language with your baby or young child, you are embarking on a rewarding journey. Most parents these days are keen for their child to gain the foundations of a second language. However, many parents do not know which age to start a language with their child or how to go about it!
Knowing that other parents in your area have started this journey can give you confidence in your decision. So let’s hear from one of the lovely Mums who comes to my sessions and learn from her experience! Jack’s Dad has also joined us on many occasions! Remember any parents or grandparents who would like to join are more than welcome at the sessions.
What is your background in French?
I am half French.
What were the main reasons that led you to think about starting a language with Jack?
I grew up in a multi-language household and it really encouraged me to travel and be curious about different cultures. I think it is so important to instil an awareness of different languages and cultures from an early age but in a fun way.
What age did Jack start Mini French?
He started at just over three months old.
What do you like about Mini French?
Felicity is hugely enthusiastic and is excellent at both capturing and keeping the attention of the children. She has excellent props and toys to go with the songs. It’s so imaginative.
Did you have any reservations before you started?
I wondered whether the classes would be wasted on such a young baby but I sang the songs at home and they quickly became firm favourites. He also really responds when anyone says “coucou” to him!
How does Jack react in the sessions?
When he was really young, Jack just watched and listened but seemed to really take everything in. He is now more mobile and tries to crawl to collect the toys himself. He watches and tries to learn from the older children in the class.
What is Jack’s, or your, favourite French song?
“Deux petits canards au bord de l’eau”. It’s now the one song that immediately soothes him.
What are your hopes for his language journey in the future?
I don’t want to force another language upon him but I would be thrilled if he continued to learn French – or any other language for that matter. It would also be so lovely to see him speak to his French relatives.
What would you say to parents thinking of starting a language with their children?
It is so important for it to be fun.
So there you are! Watch your baby grow and learn through a new language. I am here to help. Why not get in touch today?