Early French Immersion – what now?

By Robin Gallagher

As your child starts school, learning French can feel daunting if it’s not spoken regularly at home. Your child may be more resistant to learning French because school itself is so overwhelming, especially in 2020. But learning is much easier if it feels like fun! The library has plenty of fun resources available to help support and encourage your child’s language learning.

I am a huge proponent of language learning through music. Songs, fingerplays and rhymes are how we teach babies and young children the sounds of their first language – it is enormously helpful for a second language as well. It’s fun, accessible and easy to work into your day.

Here are some easiest ways to support your child’s French language learning, whether your child is at school or learning at home.

Join the OPL on 1, 2,3 on chante!, our Youtube channel for French songs and finger plays that your child can listen to and learn. Doing this will help your French as well because singing slows down and separates the parts of speech. This helps your ear adjust to the sounds of the language. It also allows you to practise pronouncing difficult words and sounds in a fun, relaxed way.

Attend bilingual or French-language story or toddler times. Ask your programmer for lyrics to specific songs. Sing along at story time. Practise the songs at home with your child. If the songs have actions, even better. Physical actions help language learners retain information faster.

Look for picture books that have simple, repeated refrains. The Pat le Chat series is a great example of this.

If your child is open to it, you can choose books that they have already read in English. Anything by Marie Louise Gay is a good start, but the OPL catalogue has a ton of titles that are available in both languages.

Don’t forget nonfiction! If your child has a particular interest in bugs, dinosaurs, machines, horses, dogs, read them books about their favourite subject in French.

My children often ask me to read books “in French and in English,” which requires me to read and then translate on the fly. It’s a brain workout for me, as well!

If you are less confident reading aloud yourself, there are options.

Tumblebooks / Tumble Biblioenfants is a fantastic resource for both pre-literate children and independent readers. There are many picture books as well as novels for older children. The page is displayed and read aloud by a reader and, crucially, the text lights up as it’s read. Just make sure you change the page settings to French!

Curio.ca has educational videos in both French and English. If you switch the language to French, you’ll see the French offerings. There are little animated math videos in French, for example. If you are watching videos with your child, use closed captioning in French.

The key to encouraging French language learning is to make speaking it part of your day-to-day life. Keep it fun and light – singing songs, learning new words, being silly. The idea is to help your child become comfortable with and enthusiastic about the idea and the sound of French. Your enthusiasm will be contagious so go on your own language-learning journey. Try a French conversation group at the library (on pause now, due to COVID) or attend online French programs. Try out L’amour des temps for French grammar courses or Mango languages, which is a big step up from free applications available elsewhere. Borrow French language learning books and software from the library. Use WordReference to look up words you don’t know. Be willing to make mistakes and let go of perfection!

Amusez-vous bien! For more blog posts about introducing and supporting French as a second language, please visit the parenting section of the OPL website.

Robin Gallagher is a librarian at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, working primarily with children and teens. When not working, you can find her reading (to herself or to her kids), walking her dog (while maintaining social distance), sewing (face masks) or making music (alone, but with the windows open).

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