By Robin Morris-Wilson
Say oh là là to learning French! Your children can have fun and your family can be enriched by the experience.
According to the Federation of Alliances Française USA, there are more than 200 million French speakers worldwide and French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English.
French is beautifully rhythmic when spoken and it can open doors to travel to Francophone countries and provinces in Africa, Europe, Canada, and the Caribbean. It can also create pathways for your children to pursue higher education and careers at universities and companies at home and abroad.
If you were not raised in a bilingual household or community, it is still possible to learn French and teach your children. In fact, I grew up in a monolingual African American household. Still, through community-based programs and university experiences, my passion for French was ignited.
In the United States, access to foreign language immersion classrooms are often limited in urban communities. In 1997, 24% of U.S. public elementary schools offered foreign languages, compared to 15% of public elementary schools in 2008, according to a 2011 report Foreign Language Instruction in U.S. Schools: Results of a National Survey of Elementary and Secondary Schools. Of the number of English Foreign Language (EFL) immersion schools in the U.S., EFL schools in urban communities are less in number because of district funding, curriculum priorities, foreign language teacher shortages, and other factors.
Still, foreign language learning can be within reach for African American children and other minority families. Here are some ways that parents can jumpstart their child’s French language learning and cultural experience for free to low cost.
1. Play Games: French word bingo and matching games can be a fun way to introduce your children to foreign language learning. Start small with alphabet and number counting games in French and work your way up to vocabulary games. A useful website is www.bonjourfle.com.
2. Household Labels: Label household surfaces in French and English at eye level for small children. This will aid your child in making word meaning associations with household items and contribute to their word recognition in English and French. Order the inexpensive ready-made French vocabulary labels at vocabularystickers.com. The labels have an adhesive that protects household surfaces and a pack costs less than $14 dollars.
3. Listen to Bilingual Music: For the little ones and adults, Putumayo World Music offers quality music selections sung in world languages, including French and English that can be enjoyed by the whole family. “French Playground” and “French Dreamland” are good CD selections for kids. For a cultural twist, consider listening to Les Nubians, a sister French duo from Cameroon, whose songs are soulfully sung in French and English. To learn more about their music, visit www.lesnubians.com.
4. Movies and Films: The National Film Board in Canada is an essential resource for films in French and English. From animation to documentaries, there is something for the whole family. Furthermore, the NFB offers diversity in storytelling with many films that center on Black life and history. NFB films can be watched online or purchased at www.nfb.ca.
5. Online Learning Tools: Invest in a picture English to French dictionary. Also, there are great audio books that you and your children can read by following along. The French Experiment is a user-friendly website with free interactive language lessons and French readings of children’s stories such as “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” To access the stories and lessons, visit www.thefrenchexperiment.com.
If you are looking for children’s books in French that reflect aspects of Black culture, “Like a Million Black Butterflies” by Laura Nsafou and “Coiffures Coupé Décalé” by Muriel Diallo are good books that focus on topics of hair, beauty, and bullying. For more information, visit http://editions-bilibok.com/like-a-million-black-butterflies/ and https://livre.fnac.com/a9626149/Muriel-Diallo-Coiffures-coupe-decale.
When language learning becomes relevant to your child’s life, they can be all in! So, dive in with them by seeking opportunities to experience the foods, arts, literature, and people who speak French. As with your first language, you heard it daily before you could speak, read, and write. Therefore, remember to embrace the challenges, be consistent, and remain positive throughout the French language learning journey. Bonne chance!
Robin Morris-Wilson is an educator, children's author, poet, and freelance writer. An enthusiastic French language learner, Robin has studied French at Ecole Québec Monde in Québec City, Canada. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Reading and minor in language from the Unversity of Michigan-Dearborn. As an undergraduate student at UM-Dearborn, she conducted academic research on early French language learning in an urban context.