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!
Over 100,000 votes were cast in the 2019 Awards to find the UK’s favourite kids’ activities and celebrate the people and organisations that go above and beyond to entertain, educate and inspire your children!
Success in the Best For Learning Category
We are delighted to announce that Mini Languages was successful in the Best For Learning category in Edinburgh for the second year running! We came runner-up to Dynamic Earth – a deserving winner given they are a wonderful Edinburgh institution who does a lot for the city.
But there is more…
I founded Mini Languages in 2012 and meet so many families and children. Each one always holds a special place in my heart as I see these little ones grow and develop.
So I was bowled over to receive the Hoop Hero Award for 2019! This is “the family activity professional who has made the biggest impact local families in the last year”.
As it is voted for by parents, I was touched to read the comments people had submitted.
“Her energy is fantastic – she enjoys what she does and the children respond to that. Her classes are great fun!”
“Felicity inspired my daughter’s love of languages. She gets so much joy out of the French language and is very proud of using what she knows. This is without a doubt due to Felicity’s consistently fun, engaging and encouraging classes. At 7, she was so inspired, she decided she wanted to be a French teacher!”
“Felicity is so engaging with the children. She really goes out of her way to include all children and adults to make a fun, stimulating session.”
All the hard work is made extra worth it by this award. So thank you to anyone who voted in the Edinburgh kids classes category. It means a lot.
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.
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?
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?
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.
One Parent One Language, or OPOL, is widely touted as THE way to raise bilingual children.
To set the scene; my partner and I are both fluent in both languages (French and English) although we have different mother tongues. We live in the UK. We don’t use OPOL in our house with our three children. Never have.
They are all bilingual. Our oldest is biliterate and we are working on that with our second. We are also very concious of biculturalism.
I do emphasise that every family dynamic is different and you decide what is best for your children but here is my take on it. My view will be quite controversial to some people. I’ll also give you some specific, alternative methods.
The Positives of OPOL
Ok, I do see the thinking behind OPOL. The key to becoming proficient in two languages is exposure. It would therefore follow that a c. 50/50 split at home would be a great method to maximise your child’s exposure to that language.
The other potential advantage of OPOL is that it could be said to create ‘need’ which is the second important factor in language acquistion. Parents hope that by only speaking one language each, children will believe they need to speak that language back to be understood. Meh. Kids very quickly figure out what languages you understand. You can’t really trick them.
For me it is just too strict. Life isn’t like that. Where is the flexibility? Will a one size fits all apporach work for all international families?
Is it 50/50 parenting in your home?
When my oldest child was a baby, my husband was working five days a week in another city. I was very aware that these precious first 12 months of his life were critical for his cognitive function and language development. I was the one effectively holding down the ‘language learning fort’.
Surely OPOL in it’s strictest form would require me to only speak English with him? Wouldn’t this mean his exposure to French – our minority language – would have been significantly reduced?
I was a first-time Mum with a lot on her plate but I was determined. I sang in French, I made posters and pictures in French for him, I read and read and read French stories to him. We Skyped Daddy and his French grandparents and after the calls my brain would be in French so I would make the switch and I would speak French for the hour or so after the call. Our (non) strategy progressed from there.
Aw Man! I get the minority language?
OPOL also means that one parent gets potentially the harder job…! Shouldn’t you both show enthusiasm for both languages? If your partner speaks two languages and you speak one, then having children is sometimes the kick up the posterior you need to start learning. In our experience, the kids seeing Mummy speak French (I am a native English speaker) and Daddy speak English (a native French speaker) fluently (plus trying hard at Spanish!), has created a feeling that multilingualism is natural and part of life. Something to be embraced.
Is ‘language guilt’ healthy?
It worries me a bit that parents stress about the method of speaking to their children. Sometimes before they are even born. There is a drive and a passion for their children to speak both their lanaguages, I sincerely get that. However, feeling guilty as you slipped up and spoke to them in English instead of French/ Spanish/ Mandarin etc on top of your already ENORMOUS parenting to-do list is not good for you.
By all means think about it before baby is born. I would actually strongly suggest a discussion with your partner and close family. Find a local club or class for your minority language. Get books! Lots of them and learn nursery rhymes. But don’t panic about a strict routine or structure. It has to be as unique as your family is and you may not be able to decide how it will work until baby arrives… more on that later!
Play with the language, deepen the connection
For us, this is key. If we didn’t switch languages in our house constantly as much as we do, we wouldn’t have half the fun with our bilingual gift! Conversations might start in one language and end in another. Controversial!
I think playing with the home languages enables children to see the communicative power they have. Enabling a ‘no rules environment’ has helped to create a stress-free, love of language and a desire to continue.
Imagine a child being scolded for using the ‘wrong’ language at the ‘wrong’ time or with the ‘wrong’ person. The connection to this language may fizzle and a battle may commence…. I have seen this with a few families where their child has begun ‘rebelling’ against the language after years of detecting that there can be a ‘wrong’ language.
‘Code switching’ is also a fabulous sign of a flexible and emotionally aware brain. It can sometimes be incorrectly identified as ‘laziness’. I’ll post about this later this summer.
What does research say?
In 2007 Annick De Houwer conducted a study collecting data from nearly 2,000 families with varying language pairs (Applied Psycholinguistics: Parental language input patterns and children’s bilingual use) to judge the impact of varying bilingual strategies at home.
The results showed that the OPOL strategy did not result in a significant difference to children becoming bilingual versus both parents speaking both languages.
Bienvenido Al Mundo!
Before listing a couple of alternative methods, here is a rather wonderful story I heard which shows the power of love on the impact of your language plan. A multilingual aquaintance (and professional linguist) told me she had devised a highly structured language plan for her faimily when she was pregnant. She herself had picked up many languages in her childhood with her main language being Spanish. She had decided that she would speak to her child in German some days and English in others. Her extended family would speak Spanish to the child. Then after a long labour she was passed her new arrival. She snuggled the baby close and spontaneously whispered, “Bienvenido al mundo”.. (welcome to the world in Spanish). The language plan needed to be revised!
So what are you saying Felicity? Cross your fingers and hope for the best? No, I truly am not. I know as well as the next bilingual family that some kind of thought needs to go into your language plan. Here are ideas for inspiration.
MLAH – Minority Language At Home. I would say this could be key for families who do not get to travel to their home countries. There is always a minority language in any bilingual family. This is where your attention should be. This method has high success rates in studies.
NATURAL EXPOSURE METHOD – Ok, so I made the name of this up. Speaking to your kids A LOT in both languages. Language rich experiences as opposed to a strict timetable. Quality input. Identify your minority language and assess from time to time whether you think they need more exposure to it and address that. I think I am highlighting what many families are doing. And making it work. Don’t ever feel bad that it is not text book but do pay attention to exposure to the minority language.
As I mentioned, exposure and need are key. Find situations where you can speak the minority language. Skype Grandparents, watch cartoons or films TOGETHER in your minority language and talk about it afterwards, play a board game which uses your minority language, learn a new song and have a karaoke session…
The result in our house?
Three fully bilingual, happy children. With all bilinguals they have one stronger language and that is English. They are schooled in the UK so that is to be expected. They construct complex sentences and can converse fully in French on a range of subjects. Our oldest can also read in and write French. Ok, we have not hit teenage years or any complications that will come with that but we are fortunate to have family in France and I will be hitting them up for holidays and Skype sessions.
So my conclusions from our mini-family experiment? Exposure is key, nurture is crucial, fun is… well fun!
If you want to get in touch about any of this. Questions about your family dynamic, issues or even to give me top tips! Get in touch! I love chatting these things through. I can point you in the direction of research and great websites plus my own experience working with bilingual families and monolingual parents striving for a rich language life for more than 6 years.
But most of all, enjoy languages. They are not ‘taught’ they are life.
I spent most of my Saturday afternoon with my 5 year old trying to ‘teach him to ride a bike with no stabilisers’.
It was hard.
I had been through this experience before with my oldest child and I didn’t recall it being so stressful for either of us.
Sitting on the grass. Looking at my poor wee guy slumped at the bottom of the hill, bike slung to the side, forehead crumpled, arms crossed. I started to think of the similarities of teaching a child a new language and riding a bike… and it ended in success.
I am going to be honest. After about 45 minutes I started to lose enthusiasm for the bike riding as well. The progress was s-l-o-w. It was no coincidence that it was around this time that my son started losing interest.
I had to quickly have an ‘attitude reset’! No passive agressive over tones. No quiet sighs. Pure positivity!
This is the same with a language! If you try to sing and say the words whilst listening to a cd or at class. If you read foreign language books regardless of your accent and point out the names of fruit in the supermarket… GUARANTEED your child will absorb this positive energy and enthusiasm.
In class, the kids who really take to the language well are, not unsurprisingly, the ones whose parents are up dancing to the songs, laughing at my (rubbish) jokes and generally showing that they are interested in learning French as well.
“Right gorgeous, give me that bike!” I said, and ran back up the hill with it. “Mummy is going to have a go!”
What are your learning & thinking styles?
Three years ago when my older son learned to ride a bike, we talked about how the bike worked, why his stabilisers were holding him back, we talked strategy and then he put it into practice, trying over and over until he got there.
I find that there are TWO KEY AREAS of a person’s personality which impact acquiring a new skill: learning style and thinking style. It is ULTRA important to identify these as a language tutor as it can be quite stressful for children when you mix them up.
The three main LEARNING STYLES are visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (physical movement). Most people have heard of these. But do we pay them any heed in real life? Very young children tend to be kinaesthetic learners so having highly physical and tactile lesson plans are great. But visual and auditory should also be considered for developing learning styles.
THINKING STYLES fall into two categories: reflective and reactive. A reflective thinker will take time to digest and analyse a subject or question. Ideas develop gradually and are well thought out. A reactive thinker will see an answer quickly. They can jump to decisions which may lead to the quality of their answers being more ‘rough and ready’. Neither style is bad or good – they just require different techniques in teaching.
My oldest son is a (mostly) auditory learner – he asks LOTS of questions and listens to answers, retaining lots of detail. He is reactive thinker – fires back questions and mistakes don’t phase him. So me running beside him shouting instructions worked when he was learning to ride a bike. He was keen to get cracking!
Using the same techniques threw my younger son into a panicky rage! Too much info! He covered his ears and began to despair at the details and perceived complexity of the task.
I stopped and thought about it.
He is the first to reach out and touch a new object. He is very physical when he plays. He is also definitely a reflective thinker. Prefers coming up with near perfect answers. Hmmmmmm…
“Honey, why don’t you get on the bike without me getting involved. Forget the pedals and try this yourself. Get a feel for it and just balance to the bottom of the hill. You won’t get this perfect first time but you will get there.” I adjusted my technique, trying to work with him just as I would do in a Mini French class.
Success. He relaxed, enjoying the calm. He had time to think this through himself and just get a feel for balancing without all the extra detail and glided on his own down the hill (wobbling).
It is like, well, riding a bike…
So having nailed a few successful rides down the hill my son started to gain confidence and it was clear he was finally progressing. Braking needs work… apologies to the man with the large shopping bag. Thanks for jumping out the way. You are pretty nimble.
We are not entering the Tour de France just yet. There is some more practice to do. I reminded myself that if we get back out on his bike again soon this ‘work’ has been registered in his brain and wont be lost. He has attained a certain level which we can now build on.
This is the same for languages. Studies have show that children who were exposed to meaningful, quality second language input as young children are able to recall it as adults. It may need some prodding and support but it resurfaces and adults can then make the decision to take it forward.
Starting a language as a young child, with the right parental attitude and correct support, also creates a positive relationship with that language. It demystifies the other languages and makes them feel more accessible and part of life as opposed to a school subject to be tested on. Starting young gives a child more options. I wouldn’t particularly liked to have learned to ride a bike as an adult… the brain definitely finds tasks like these harder.
In summary, with enthusiasm and the correct approach learning to ride a bike becomes child’s play. And Mummy get’s to go home and have a large glass of wine.
“I didn’t like languages at school. I was no good at remembering verbs and all that.”
I have met thousands of families at my classes. Parents whose French abilities have ranged from fully fluent to nonexistent.
What I have noticed with the second category is that they have often had to overcome some big mental hurdles and hang-ups that they have about their own language abilities which stem from being subjected to dry and uninspiring French lessons at school.
The parents who come to the sessions are the ones who have chosen NOT to let these bad experiences pass through the generations. They choose to confront their fears to let their children reach their potential.
I’d like to thank those parents who take the risk and join Mini French despite their reservations. I see you in the first class – shy and sometimes apologetic. I am inspired by you and I love taking you and your child on a wonderful journey. These parents are often the most enthusiastic by week 2 or 3 as they have seen the magic and the progress their children are already making through an up-to-date play-based, music and movement method where everyone is encouraged and supported! Well done to you. Thank you.
Don’t let your hang-ups hold your child back. We are all guilty of it until we become more conscious of it.
I reflected on this the other day via Facebook…
Are we holding our kids back? Sometimes a video is easier to explain!
As ‘enlightened’ parents seeking to bring up their child with more than one language in their life we can often focus on bilingualism as the only goal. But what about biculturalism?
I am fascinated by ways we can boost our kids brain function! If eating loads of amazing food, travel and enjoying cool events are your thing then read on!
We will look at the advantages as shown in recent research followed by steps you can take – regardless of your family background – monocultural or multicultural.
– Cognitive Function
Studies show that having been exposed to two cultures with differing perspectives on a wide variety of aspects of life, biculturals have an enhanced ability to weigh up the merits of alternative options. What are the benefits of this?
When confronted with a problem, biculturals will find a higher number of solutions. They show enhanced creativity and critical thinking.
This often translates to a higher resilience and ultimately improved academic results with biculturals being generally more entrepreneurial and employable. It is our job to set our little ones up to be ‘big ones’ one day and these are skills which will help them in all aspects of life.
Plus, fostering biculturalism is a fun journey so I see it as a win-win!
François Grosjean provides a nice summary with more in-depth details on research in an article in Psychology Today.
– Global citizens
Exploring the fact that people have different sets of ideas, customs and social behaviour, fosters an awareness and higher tolerance of different views. With the current polarisation in world politics perhaps we should be supporting our children to embrace diversity? Just a thought.
From a young age, biculturals will seek our friends from a wider social circle – countries, race, backgrounds… free holiday accommodation at your pals villa in the south of France? Invite round to another friends house for some delicious home-made tapas? Don’t mind if I do.
The benefits to broadening your child’s mind are limitless!
– Who am I?
If, like me, you may be a parent whose partner has a different culture to yourself (in my case we are a Scottish-French family) or you are expat parents who have integrated really well in your new home country. You may be starting to realise that your children are identifying with one culture over another.
Does this matter? They are bilingual – won’t that ‘do’? And won’t they feel bicultural naturally?
Well, it seems that it takes a little bit more work that just telling them “you are also French/ Italian/ Polish just like Daddy” or “you are Spanish as that is where you were born.”
It also seems that it is pretty important to support our children to have a firm grasp of their roots. Having strong connections to and clear knowledge of your heritage has been shown to enhance your sense of well being. It promotes confidence and an acceptance of your unique identity – pride in who we are!
We are setting our children up to be balanced, happy, confident adults.
5 Practical steps to foster biculturalism
So with all these advantages, what practical steps can we take to support our child and enable them to reap the benefits of biculturalism? Many of these ideas can be adapted for families with one cultural background who are striving to foster a multicultural environment for their child.
Let’s start with the tasty one
All cultures have dishes we can recreate at home. Look online or at a recipe book with your child if they are old enough and choose a meal to make together. Discuss the fact that we eat at different times in different countries. Have a French evening once a week.
My mother-in-law is also very helpful in making sure we eat French food when we visit. It broadens their preferences and opens their mind to new ingredients. I owe her a lot for that actually 🙂
Don’t underestimate the power of learning about a culture through food! I have more recipes on this blog if you are seeking French recipes and will be adding more.
Sport – Allez les bleus!
This is an easy one for me today as France is playing the football World Cup! Allez les bleus! Since Scotland did not qualify, this has given the kids a team to follow 🙂
You could easily choose a player in Wimbledon or find a special sport on YouTube which is particular to your/ your partners culture.
Get stuck in! Put bunting up! Paint their faces, explain who the players are. We have invited the neighbours round for a French celebration – French cheese and pâté board…. and champagne if we win. Bien sûr. If we lose, I guess we will have to drink it anyway. C’est la vie.
Sport fosters a sense of pride.
National Events – “Did Napoleon steal that as well Mummy?”
After my recent soul searching on this topic, and a discussion with my husband who is totally on board, we have been actively working on exposing the kids to events in France.
Yesterday was Bastille Day so we watched the military parade via French tv online. This opens up debate and discussion on lots of aspects of the culture and history of a country.
We saw the obelisk in Place De La Concorde at one point, for example, and this lead to a discussion on Napoleon and the artefacts he brought back to France.
For my two year old it was all about the ‘hélicoptères’.
News & Music
Put on the radio or news from the country of your choice. This helps with your child’s vocabulary but also their exposure to what is happening in that country. Discuss world events and talk about who the leaders of the country are. I was surprised when my 7 year old pointed out Emmanuel Macron on the tv one day – we must be doing something right.
If you do not have the linguistic level to fully understand what they are saying on the news, you can benefit from the music they play. Try Radio Pomme D’Api for kids music.
Positive Attitude – Don’t freak at the pig’s head
Lead by example, perhaps one of the most important ones. As I mentioned, my husband and I are taking a team approach on this. We are always careful, despite our engrained cultural differences, to avoid speaking negatively about the other culture. Of course, we make the odd joke and humour is a powerful communication and education method, but we always take care to boost the other culture.
When we travel to France I have always embraced all aspects even if they were at times alien to me. You’d be surprised about the major underlying differences in attitudes and practices in cultures which on the surface can seem to be very similar.
Adapt on holiday to meal times and daily routines. Go to local markets together and don’t freak at the live lobsters and bloody butcher counter.
So in summary, there are many huge advantages of being bicultural. You can take fun and easy steps to foster this at home regardless of your home circumstance. Language is of course a big part of culture and Mini French can help you with that.
Most of all enjoy the experience of being part of a multicultural world and you will reap the benefits.