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French is a language millions of Canadian parents push their kids to learn every year. It is, after all, the country’s second official language and bilingualism is one of Canada’s most unique characteristics. Proficiency in French creates career opportunities, from finance to public service, and is a desirable skill for any employer. And of course, what could be more charming than hearing your child speak French?
French immersion programs are among the most sought after in Canadian schools, with families even choosing to bus their kids out of their neighbourhood to get their kids in a French program. Boutique language schools and camps are extremely popular for parents who want their kids to get ahead in their learning.
Though so many parents want their kids to be successful in French, the reality is that many young kids struggle to learn it. Many have a hard time understanding what conjugations are especially as they start learning past, future, and subjunctive tenses, and even more struggle to converse in French with their peers and teachers. Why? First of all, a true immersive experience is hard to emulate in English speaking Canada, where most daily interactions happen in English. Secondly, our deeply American influenced media is largely English, making it even harder for kids to see the relevance of French in their everyday lives. Finally, when parents don’t speak French, it can be hard for families to support their kids with school and homework.
So what can parents do to help their kids in French? Let’s explore some ways parents can support their kids’ French learning - even if they don’t speak it natively.
Bring French Books and Media into Your Home
Language learning is easy when your child is in a literacy rich environment, so surround your child with French language media in the home. Start with books at their proficiency level: check your local library or French bookstore for recommendations. Include graphic novels as they will add important context as your child reads; younger kids will love picture books, especially if you can read to them aloud.
Of course, don’t stop at books - there are plenty of fantastic French language TV shows for kids on French CBC, Netflix, YouTube, or any station from Quebec. Turn on the French subtitles when watching English media - add French whenever you can! Podcasts and music are another great source for French content - play them in the car when you are driving, or have a French music dance party after dinner one evening. When your kids see you singing along and getting excited, they surely will too!
French websites, games, and language apps are another important media source that will keep your kids motivated to learn. Apps like Duolingo kids, Gus on the Go, and Babbel will measure how much your kids are practicing, and you’ll be able to monitor their progress through the app. Memrise is another great website, with plenty of flashcards and audio to help your kids learn. There are plenty of apps and games out there - do a trial, and find out what your child enjoys most.
Use French in Your Home as Much as Possible
If you speak French fluently or with some proficiency, speak French as much as possible with your child at home. Engage in simple conversation, commands, and questions - everyday interaction is incredibly important for language acquisition.
Not a French speaker? It may be time to learn alongside your child or at least start dropping French words as much as possible. Don’t hesitate to mix French and English - translanguaging can be an effective way to use different languages in order to communicate. Start naming common objects like fruit, kitchen materials like plates and cutlery, rooms in your house, and foods in French. Your kids will learn more vocabulary and you definitely will too!
Find Opportunities for Travel
Any language learner will tell you that one of the best ways to learn a new language is to be immersed in practical situations. Find opportunities to travel to French speaking areas of Canada like Quebec - flights to Montreal are frequent from nearly anywhere in Canada, or simply drive over if it’s convenient. Your child will see and hear French everywhere, and hopefully have an opportunity to interact with locals in parks, museums, restaurants or events. If you can make it across the pond, why not plan a European vacation to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, or Switzerland? You’ll expose your child to different accents, eat French food, and get a real sense of the French language in action.
Because French is Canada’s second official language, there are numerous commercial schools and French cultural centres that offer children’s classes. Start by checking out the closest Alliance Francaise, a non-profit French cultural centre with locations all over Canada and the world. If your kids are young, look up independently run children’s camps and classes that specialize in teaching little ones French through songs and play. Thanks to the proliferation of virtual learning, you’ll easily find kids’ classes online. Camp Tournesol is one example of a Canadian French language school that caters to kids, and you can be anywhere in Canada to take one of their virtual classes.
Private French tutoring is an amazing, convenient option for families that want their child to improve in French. Tutoring is a great solution for families that may not have enough time in their schedule to send their kids to additional French classes, or want to directly support the French their kids are learning in school. French tutors are typically native speakers or long-time students of French that have reached a high degree of proficiency. They can help your child work through tough verb tenses, learn new vocabulary, or provide valuable one-to-one conversational practice that is hard to get in a school environment. They can teach one child or you can organize small group lessons if you have other kids or know of other kids that might be interested.
Private tutors can focus on supporting the greatest areas of need for your child and tailor a program or support plan that will help them to improve where it matters most. They can work with your child at a time that is convenient for your family, and meet either virtually or in person at a convenient location.
Sites like Superprof have loads of listings for French tutors near you. Check out Superprof today!