Tips

Baby Words French _Infographic

Baby Words in French

 

Baby Words French _Infographic
Baby Words French _Infographic

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.

Enjoy x

Activities with babies Edinburgh

‘Banish Baby Brain’: 7 brain-stimulating activities for parents

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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!
  7. 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?

French children books in the UK

How to get French children’s books in the UK?

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’Ă©cole des loisirs is a renowned French language publishing house specialising in children’s books. They created the Max Book Club (L’Ă©cole 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’Ă©cole 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. ÂŁ35 – ÂŁ42 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.

Full pricing here

Otherwise, you can sign up as an individual. Prices start at ÂŁ48 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?

Bonne lecture! Have fun reading!

 

 

 

starting a language with your baby

Start a language with your baby: Jack’s Story

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?

Teach my child French

Three things you can do TODAY to teach your child French

We are all busy parents. So I will keep this short! There are many things you can do to expose your child to a second language regardless of your own level. How do I know this? My three children are bilingual and I am not a French native speaker. Yes, my husband is French but I am often the one initiating French at home. We live in the UK so our majority language is English. Our minority language is French and the one that needs nurturing.

Also! I am using the same blueprint to start Spanish with the children and they are learning the foundations of their third language well! Even though I would classify my Spanish as conversational at best.

So what can you do to teach your child French today? And, how do you keep it up?

Here are some quick tried and tested language learning hacks for you (in addition to watching cartoons etc which I have already blogged about)

Identify the moments you have time together

I am going to assume that you are together for some or all of the below daily events?

  1. Bathtime?
  2. Mealtimes?
  3. Getting dressed in the morning?

It is unlikely to be sustainable if you try to carry out whole French lessons at home unless you are homeschooling or VERY dedicated. If you are then WELL DONE! {virtual hat off} You will help them progress really well if you make your home lessons fun and the vocabulary meaningful.

BUT! If you do not have time to create a whole curriculum do not worry! Start with small but effective steps. Identify the moments of the day when you have one on one time (or one to two or three for busy families like mine!) – what could you do at these points?

HERE’S THE HACK: Find a song to go with each one on one time. If it matches up with the activity then even better! Let me help you out. Bathtime: Bateau sur l’eau – here is my free MP3 (I recently changed my file system so if you have issues please email me!). Mealtimes: J’aime la galette (change the word ‘galette’ to what you are eating – ask Alexa or look it up on Google translate), Getting dressed: Sing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in French (link is to a rather retro video but I like it!

If you do this regularly you will both learn all the words in those songs! Effortlessly.

Take it further!

  1. Talk about the weather in the morning!
  2. Do the Mini French challenge – you’ll learn so much and easily!
  3. Play restaurants together – role play can be incredibly effective – and fun! Here is the vocabulary you need.

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.

As ever, email me with questions or your own ideas!

Felicity

Spotlight on Lyon with kids! 10 Tips from a Local

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 RhĂ´nexpress (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.

Learn French with kids in Lyon
A view of Lyon
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 PresquĂ®le (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 Ă  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!

Lyon with kids Learn French
The Malting Pot
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 TĂŞte 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 RhĂ´ne 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 RhĂ´ne, which is situated on the RhĂ´ne 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 FĂŞte 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.

 

bring child up bilingually

4 Steps to bringing your child up bilingually

So you are pregnant or are already a parent and are hoping to bring your child up bilingually or with a solid knowledge of another language! Amazing! I have three bilingual children and spend lots of time with families just like yours. It is a joyful journey!

The good news is that you can do it. It is possible regardless of your situation. However, what you need to know is that the fact of having one parent who speaks one language well and another parent who speaks a different language well, is not sufficient. A child will not magically become bilingual without some effort from their carers. As you suspected, it is a skill to be nurtured. Don’t worry though! I have been there and can share my experience to give you some shortcuts.

The photo is of my first born and I eight years ago. He was three weeks old and I was a new parent with a lot on my plate but pretty damn happy and determined he would become bilingual so he could grab every opportunity presented to him in his future.

Here are the steps I wish I had known back then to successfully bring your child up bilingually:

  1. Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)

It all starts with the right attitude. Do not skip this step! It may even be the most important one.

There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, the correct frame of mind will hold you in good stead for the journey as bilingualism is a long process. It is not like other life skills like… swimming, let’s say, where you may stop once they are safe in the water and can swim a length. Learning two languages is intertwined with life itself. It brings lots of joy but it helps to be confident in your goals and your plan. We will discuss this further in step two.

There will be bumps or occasional setbacks. Times when you can’t see progress, moments when you wonder if it is ‘working’ or when you let doubt cloud your mind when a well intentioned friend or relative questions your plan. During these times and you need to be sure in your own mind why you are choosing this route.

Secondly, children are highly sensitive to the feelings of those around them. They can sniff out anxiety or stress a mile off! You do not want to pass this on to your child. PMA all the way! Complaining to them that they have replied in the ‘wrong’ language. Or, spot testing them in front of a group of other family members will create a negative association with the language which they may carry into adulthood. Remember that in the first few years of your child’s life, the goal is to ensure they see languages as a happy part of life. A positive, normal part of their surroundings and NOT a test, challenge or worry which could lead to a ‘language rebellion’ or refusal to engage in that language. (NB: you can work round this if it happens to you but, if avoided, then it is better!)

  1. Make a Family Language Plan (FLP)

Looking back I had a pretty good attitude. I did my research and was firm in my beliefs as to the benefits of learning a second language from birth. I understood that it would be a marathon and not a sprint.

What I didn’t really have was a plan.

A Family Language Plan is the way in which you will ensure that you are nurturing both the minority and majority languages in your family. It helps to keep you on track. Your minority language is the one that your child will naturally have less exposure to and tends to need the most TLC.

Your FLP could take the form of an in-depth discussion with your partner or it could be a genuine document where you note your ideas and resources you plan on using and add to it when you see cool ideas. Pinterest can be good for this. What is important is that you are both on the same page and are clear on how you anticipate ensuring that your child is exposed to meaningful input in both languages. It can be something you refer to when you run out of ideas or the minority language needs a boost.

Areas to consider in your FLP:

  1. What is your goal for your child? Key words/ conversational/ bilingual/ bi-literate/ bi-cultured?
  2. Which languages do both parents know? Do you know the words a child will tend to use in that language?
  3. Which languages will parents speak when they have 1:1 time with their child? For bilingual families, One Parent One Language or not(this article may help)?
  4. Is it time for one or both parents to scrub up on their partners’ language?
  5. What will the family language be i.e. meal times? If your level is not very advanced in your chosen language, perhaps choose one evening when you identify the items on the table in that language instead of full conversations – French Fridays?!
  6. What other family and friends can help and have you spoken to them about your plans? Can you have a regular Skype/ Face Time session?
  7. Should there be a day or time when the minority language is encouraged? i.e. Sunday games night?
  8. How will you ensure stories in both languages are read with your child? Where can you get books? READING IS SO IMPORTANT!
  9. Do you know lots of songs and nursery rhymes in the minority language? How can you find some –Cd or download? AGAIN, SINGING IS GREAT!
  10. Are there local playgroups or language groups aimed at young children you can attend?
  11. What about babysitters and bilingual childcare?
  12. What radio stations and TV programmes could help to maximise exposure? Which cartoons are popular in the country of the minority language? Some ideas here.
  13. What “boosts” do you have up your sleeve for days or weeks when you need to increase the minority language? i.e. For younger children, a quick game using your hands? Head, shoulders, knees and toes? A favourite book, toy or song?
  14. Have you considered when you will tackle writing in the minority language, if that is one of your goals?
  15. When it comes to culture, will you try eating food from both countries? Celebrating festivals from both countries?
  16. When can you travel to a country where your minority language is spoken?

This list is intended to start a conversation and not to scare you! As you will see later on, your plan can, and should be, flexed as your child develops. It also gives you a strong foundation to answer questions from friends and family giving you confidence in your approach.

A Family Language Plan as unique as your family is. I will share mine over the coming months and you may find inspiration.

  1. Put the plan into place

Now you have the best attitude and an awesome plan you are ready to rock!

Stand-by your plan. If you expose your child to a new language regularly, you and your child will see results but enjoy the journey! Remember to make sure that you add your own personality and, crucially, keep it as fun as possible.

Watch your growing child and get to know what is working and what is not. As they develop, note their learning style – do they prefer active games, particular games or toys? Is there a class they enjoy a lot where you can get further advice?

Keep it up but do not beat yourself up when the plan changes from time to time and if you are finding that there are certain parts that are just not feasible then you may want to make some changes. Which leads us to the final step.

  1. Review your plan periodically

The best plans are flexible and are reviewed from time to time to keep them fresh.

This is something I now do frequently with my partner. We think about each of our three children and discuss what each of them may need to advance their spoken or written French, which is our minority language.

For example, we were previously doing joint evening stories with our two older boys but we realised it is time for our younger boy to begin reading in French now that he is reading well in English and understands the concept of phonics. So he now has a story with Daddy separately and they choose a book with more basic French words to build his confidence.

Another example – we realised at the end of the school-term that the spoken French in the house had reduced. We made a conscious decision that on our two week holiday we would only speak French between us as adults… lo and behold the children followed.

Regardless of your level – monolingual parents or bilingual parents – the principles of having a plan, putting it into place and reviewing it still apply.

So what now to start bringing my child up bilingually? Take time to go through step one and two, grab a cuppa and look for local resources. Put your plan into action with support from friends and family. Then review it from time to time. Keep it fresh and fun.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. I love a chat and would welcome your experiences.

Good luck!

 

 

One parent one language

Why we don’t use OPOL: One Parent One Language.

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!

Alternative Methods

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.

Felicity x

Riding a Bike_language learning

3 Ways language learning is like riding a bike

Teaching Children Languages

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.

Attitude check

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.

PARENTING LANGUAGE teach french babies and kids

What you need to know about yourself to stop holding your child back from learning

“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!

Posted by Mini French on Thursday, July 19, 2018