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As the Spring-time draws to a close and the mild temps draw us outside to enjoy the breeze and blue skies, our thoughts drift to what else? Our upcoming Summer vacations! If your itinerary (or even just your daydreams) include a stop in France with your children, a little advance introduction to French language and culture can help your family make the most of this exciting time. Talk to them about the specific city or region you plan to visit, but also about French culture in general. Introduce the language itself, if you are so inclined. This way, you can generate excitement, but also a sense of familiarity with France and ensure your family gets the most out of your upcoming trip. Plus, what better opportunity to start your child on a French language journey than when they will have the opportunity to practice with native speakers? Think you don’t have the time to do all this? Of course you do! It just takes a little creativity to sneak some quality (and fun!) French learning time into your family’s daily routine.
The best place to begin is with a book. A number of French travel guides written specifically for children (or for parents traveling with children) have hit the marketplace in recent years. But since when are travel guides a fun read for children? Instead, look for popular stories involving France more indirectly to inspire your child’s imagination. Madeline has been evoking a love of Paris for generations. More recently, Eloise and Ratatouille’s Remy have had French adventures to share with your children (Eloise in Paris, $12.24 Amazon.com; Remy’s Adventure in Paris, $12.99, Amazon.com).
Movies can also offer a brief introduction to French landmarks in a way that is relatable and fun for kids. Beauty and the Beast, Rugrats in Paris, Ratatouille, and even Cars 2 feature small glimpses of France. The point? When you arrive in Paris and marvel at the Tour Eiffel (“Just like in Cars2!”) or wish to sit and savor a morning Croissant in peace (“Like Belle eats!”), your child may just let you.
Speaking of food, it is an excellent (& delicious) means of communicating French language and culture to children. Cook some simpleo French treats with your children. Prepare the meal with them and while you do, talk to them about French foods, and introduce them to new French vocabulary. Cooking provides limitless opportunity to introduce basic words (ingredients, colors, tastes, textures, please & thank you) and for more advanced learners, verbs to describe what you are doing (slicing, pouring, serving, passing). Not a chef? ‘Pas de probleme! The same can be accomplished if there is a casual French restaurant nearby, or even a café serving French staples (croissant, salad nicoise, even just a sandwich on baguette). An added benefit? If your child is picky, it helps to introduce a few new French foods at home or at a local restaurant and identify a favorite before the trip. Kids crave familiarity. So this way, once you are on vacation, your child already has a French favorite to fall back on and ensure successful dining out in France. In other words, with a little preparation, you can leave the food tantrums at home.
A quick conversation over dinner may not be enough to cement language skills. For a little extra talk-time to accomplish French language learning goals, consider declaring a “French-only zone.” This “zone” should be a place you frequent with your kids and one that also happens to spark conversation. Some good choices are the playground, the mall, or the grocery store. Just like cooking, food shopping offers a wealth of vocabulary opportunities. You’ll be amazed how quickly your child learns new words when acquiring their favorite things depends on it (“Biscuits s’il vous plaît!??!”).
Another great time to sneak in some language lessons is during the daily commute. Use that time (and your captive audience) to work on French lessons. Language learning CDs are great, but some kids don’t respond well to direct “lessons.” Instead, consider popping a French music CD in the player or record popular French songs to your child’s MP3 player. My own children ask to hear “the French songs! The French songs!” every single time we drive in the car, and while some of my CDs are educational, most are just French music that happens to be kid-friendly but also easy on Adult ears. Along the way, they learn the songs and ask me about unfamiliar words one at a time until they begin to understand the lyrics on their own. Our family favorite is the Putumayo Kids French Playground CD (SmartMouthLearning.com, $14.95). Another idea while commuting is to play games. Try a French version of “I Spy” or create your own quiz-type game. For example, point something out in English and the first child to call out the correct word in French “wins.”
At bedtime, swap out your child’s favorite story for a French language version (Oeufs Vert au Jambon, anyone?). Your child will be intrigued by the swap since they are already so familiar with story itself and the images and not surprisingly, French language comprehension quickly follows. (Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss, French Edition, SmartMouthLearning.com, $12.95) If you are not fluent yourself, then start with simpler, bilingual board books and easy readers with pronunciation guides or CD guidance. Once you and your child are comfortable and enjoying the story in English, switch to reading the French text.
Once you arrive in France, remember that you will experience jet-lag more dramatically than your children. This is your chance to make their wildest dreams come true while you catch some extra zees – let them watch cartoons! All that language preparation will ensure that they are riveted by the local children’s programming (and can continue their language learning in a native setting) even while you rest or linger with a copy of the local paper before embarking on a busy day of sightseeing.
Injecting a little French into your child’s daily life will make the journey a fun part of your upcoming French adventure. More importantly perhaps, it can turn your family’s French vacation into the very beginning of a lifetime adventure in discovering and enjoying all things French. Bon Vacance!
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