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.
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.
Here is a simple autumn craft you can relate back to your French classes! Make a cute snail with a conker and plasticine or PlayDoh, sing the song “Petit Escargot” and explore the meaning of the song together 🙂
Children are kinaesthetic learners so singing and making together is a fab way to learn.
Porte sur son dos,
Aussitôt qu’il pleut.
Il est tout heureux,
Il sort sa tête !
Carries on his back,
His wee house,
As soon as it rains,
He is all happy,
He pops out his head!
Roulez la pâte à modeler ! Roll the plasticine/ PlayDoh
2. Faites une fente à l’un des bouts à l’aide d’un cure-dents ou un couteau pour enfants. Split one of the ends with a toothpick or child friendly knife.
3. Modelez les antennes avec les doigts. Shape the tentacles with your fingers.
4. Mettez le marron dessus et pressez légèrement. Place the conker/ chestnut on top and firm down gently.
5. A l’aide d’un cure-dents, faites les yeux et la bouche! Use the toothpick to shape the eyes and the mouth.
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!
Hands up if you love a city break or a holiday! But isn’t it hard to know whether a destination will be good with children though?
I think Lyon is a great all-year-round destination. It has everything to make it a great break – culture, food, sunshine but also lots of parks and opportunities for summer and winter sports. It is easy to get to from most UK cities.
So here are some TOP TIPS and ideas from a local resident. Mathilde is a midwife, macaron maker & my sister-in-law! She knows Lyon!
Hey Mathilde! Thank you for sharing your knowledge of Lyon!
Let’s start with some practical information for families…
What are the most accessible airports for visiting Lyon?
The best way is Lyon Saint Exupery airport. After landing it’s about thirty minutes to the city centre.
Another option would be by train. The Eurostar stops at Lyon Part Dieu railway station, right in the city center.
It’s two hours from Paris by train, and two and a half hours from Edinburgh by plane!
What is the easiest way to get from the airport to Lyon centre?
From the airport, there is the Rhônexpress (www.rhonexpress.fr) a tram that gets you into the city center within thirty minutes. There’s a tram every fifteen minutes. However, at 26€ for a return ticket, it’s quite expensive (discounts for advance booking).
So people in Lyon developed a less expensive way. Check out the “Blablacar” app where you can share a car. If you want to use this then just make sure to have your own booster seat.
Which neighbourhoods would be good to stay in?
I think the best area to stay as a tourist would be Vieux Lyon because you are in the old city, which is classified as UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s down the Fourviere Hill where you have the best view of Lyon!
If you love shopping, you could stay on The Presqu‘île (French for “peninsula”) which is in the heart of Lyon. Near Bellecour or Cordeliers.
For going out (so maybe not with kids!), stay in the new Confluence neighborhood. Here you will find many clubs and this is where the festivals tend to take place.
If you want to see the Lyon family way of life, Croix-Rousse Hill is another good area for you!
What about getting about in Lyon?
Buses, trams, a four-line metro and two funiculars linking Vieux Lyon to Fourvière and St-Just are operated by TCL (Lyon public transport journey planner in English). There are information offices where you can obtain transport maps at major metro stations throughout Lyon.
Tickets valid on all forms of public transport cost around €2 (ask for a carnet of 10 to save a few euros) and are available from bus and tram drivers as well as machines at metro entrances.
Looking at gastronomy now! Yum!
What dishes is Lyon known for?
Lyon is the capital of gastronomy! It’s well known for les bouchons lyonnais – traditional, small restaurants or bistros. You can eat “quenelles”, “joues de porc”(pig’ cheeks), la rosette (best saucisson ever!) or, a local favourite, tripe! You should try “la cervelle des canuts” (literal translation: “brains of a silk worker” but it is actually a delicious local cream cheese served sprinkled with parsley) and finish with a “tarte à la praline”!
But it’s well known for every kind of food from all over the world.
If you are feeling flush, you will find a huge number of Michelin star restaurants in la rue du Boeuf in Vieux Lyon, or check out one of the bistros in the Boccuse chain.
Where else can you sample these foodie delights?
You must try the numerous markets, every morning at locations across the city.
There is also les Halles de Lyon, Cours Lafayette or the Part Dieu neighborhood where you can buy meat, oysters and all other kinds of French food. Not to mention the best bakeries in the world! If I do say so myself! Treat the kids to a delicious French pastry.
Where should you head to eat with a young family?
There are loads of outdoor terraces where you can enjoy some sunshine and play Bocce (similar to French boules) or Molky in spring and summer. Le Bistrot des Maquignons has a nice terrace in the summer.
You also just HAVE to try a “bouchon” like Notre Maison in Vieux Lyon (reservation necessary) or the bistrot Brasserie de l’Est by Boccuse in the Brotteaux neighborhood (this is situated in an old train station, there is an electric train just above your head!)
The Malting-Pot in the Sans-Soucis neighbourhood has a big terrace where children can play and run about while you enjoy a nice selection of beer!
What top cultural activity should families head to see?
Wandering in Vieux Lyon is just beautiful and the new Confluence museum is really adapted for kids. You’ll find dinosaurs’ skeletons and lots of exhibitions!
What outdoor activities are there in and around Lyon?
There is so much to do! We have the highest climbing wall in France, which is suitable for for kids too. There is also a bike rental system in Lyon making it easy to rent bikes to get about.
The Parc de la Tête d’Or is the green jewel of the city with a zoological garden, boats to rent on the lake, a greenhouse and lawns where you can have a lovely picnics. Then there are the Rhône docks which are all pedestrianised (plus bicycles). At night the barges open their bars and that’s where you will find most of Lyon hanging out! You can head there for a drink, a meal or just to meet friends and family!
For winter sports, Lyon is only one and a half hours from the closest ski resorts.
Or is you are looking for some beach action For the beach, it’s one and a half hours by train from Marseille!
There are a lot of swimming pools, the most well known is the Piscine du Rhône, which is situated on the Rhône itself! You feel like your swimming in the river!
Are there any good festivals for families?
Well in May, you have Les Nuits Sonores which is a famous electro festival.
Then all summer from the first of June until the 31st of July is les Nuits de Fourvière, a culture festival with famous groups and singers from all over the world… Every show takes place in the Gallo-Roman theatre, with a breath taking view of Lyon!
If you are just strolling about, every weekend you will be sure to find a food or wine festival plus flea markets and book markets.
And what makes Lyon a great winter city break is the Fête des Lumières which takes place over four days. During this time a variety of different artists light up buildings, streets, squares and parks all over the city. It is truly beautiful! See last year’s here.
Any other nice cities to visit driving distance from Lyon?
About 45 minutes away by car is the medieval city of Perrouges which is really well conserved and great for a day trip!
Another amazing place to visit is Annecy with it’s old city and beautiful lake!
Why do you love Lyon?!
Because it’s a beautiful city, with lots of green spaces! You can easily cross the city by bike, or on foot. Plus, people spend a lot of time outside enjoying the terraces and you have everything you need to be happy! It’s a city for families and students! If you are fond of sports, the Alps and the Med are not far away, so you have plenty of choice! It’s not unusual to see people in their ski suits on winter’s weekend and in the summer everyone is in t-shirts! The best of both worlds.
So if you visit Lyon after reading this then let us know! Visiting France is a great way to absorb the culture and practice your French.