Sunday, 30 September 2012

9 Great Ideas for Exploring and Expanding Vocabulary

Poppette’s current favourite question is “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” [what’s this?], which, in itself, open’s up a whole world of opportunity to help her expand her vocabulary and knowledge of the world.

The truth is that, before I decided to speak my second language with my children, I had never given any thought at all as to the never ending ways that are available to us to practice and build language. I suppose it’s quite obvious when you think about it…absolutely every activity you ever undertake has scope for language building.

There are many, many ways that I try and help Poppette (and, of course, I will do the same with Little Man in time) to grow…feeding her curious mind and crafting a fun and educational environment for her to live and learn within.

So..without further ado, here’s a list of ideas we use in our home to promote language learning of both the native and non-native variety. I hope that this list will, in turn, give you some ideas or a framework to work around too.

I probably should point out that I am not suggesting that you badger your children by constantly talking and asking questions and disturbing their play :D Obviously, it's super important to leave children to indulge in independent, uninterrupted play. We don't use all of these ideas all of the time - we just pick and choose and pepper these things into our play now and again with great results. 

1 Block Play

I am in the process of trying to build a collection of blocks in all shapes and sizes. They are such a valuable learning material. Through block play, children learn about size, shape, weight and balance.

They can be used to recreate the child’s view of the world around them e.g. building castles, towers and bridges. They can also be used for counting practice and problem solving, helping children to hone their early maths skills.

Blocks provide huge scope for language practice.

Whilst your child plays with blocks, think about asking them questions to help them become more aware of what they are doing and to encourage them to try out new ideas.

2 Creative Arts & Crafts

Drawing, painting, sticking, moulding and gluing are not only great fun, they also provide fabulous language learning opportunities for children.

There are a multitude of great children’s craft blogs and Pinterest boards out there in both English and French. You can sign up to updates for many of these via email or through your blog reader.

I try and read as many French language versions as possible in order to build my own vocabulary. It’s a whole new world of vocab!!!

Arts and crafts open the door to your child to begin to express ideas and feelings, to discuss colour and texture and to learn to follow instructions in addition to learning to talk about the materials they are using.

3 Music and Movement

We do lots of singing and dancing. It’s great for burning off energy and also for learning to talk about physical activity. Spinning, turning, rolling, jumping, clapping….

We also love to play Jaques a dit [Simon says] e.g. Jaques a dit....lay on the floor, touch your nose, lift your arms about your head etc

We also spend a lot of time playing cache-cache [hide and seek]. It tickles me no end when we play because Poppette (who is not yet two) always hides in the same place and always peeps out to make sure you're coming to find her :D As I try to find her, I walk around the room saying things like “is she behind the sofa?….no”, “is she under the table?….no”, “is she in the wash basket?…no”…. a great way to practice prepositions and general vocabulary.

4 Books

We love books in our house. I can’t stress enough the value that I have found in reading. There are no two ways about it, my own vocabulary has increased hugely since I began reading all these wonderful children’s books in French.

Papa and I do like to read the same books in our respective languages so that it is easier for the children to absorb the vocabulary in both languages at the same time. It still blows my mind that young children do not get confused that things have more than one name. It’s just normal to them if you introduce both languages early enough.

5 Drama

Children love to make believe and role play.

Dressing up, playing at shops, hospitals, post offices etc using props to help deepen their understanding of how the world works.

In our OPOL household, when Poppette serves tea and cakes to maman and papa, she hears and uses the same vocabulary in each language. Tandem learning.

6 Toys & Games

When children are playing with their toys and games, it’s a great time to make observational comments or ask them questions to help them expand their thought process and understanding and unleash their inner creativity.

7 Cooking

We haven’t done much cooking yet but I am looking forward to doing more once Poppette and Little Man are ready for it. It’s a great way for children to learn to follow instructions and, also, for them to become mini scientists i.e. what happens when you add water to flour? What does it look like, how does it feel?

8 Outdoor Play 

Poppette loves to run, jump, swing, climb and slide. She used the French terms for each of these activities well before their English equivalents too.

Out in the fresh air, there is so much scope for discussion. We talk about the weather, the things we can see, the things we can touch. Encourage you child to see the world with wonder by asking questions as you walk along.

9 Water Play

Poppette loves water play. Another area ripe with descriptive vocabulary.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Non-Native Thought for the Day #2

As sure as eggs is eggs, if you are your child's sole input in the minority language, they will absorb and repeat any pronunciation errors you make.

What a depressing thought.

I have noticed recently that, sometimes, Poppette exaggerates her French 'R'. Particularly when saying words like 'Trou' [hole], 'Trotteur' [Baby Walker], 'Mer' [sea] and 'Par Terre' [on the floor].

Guess what.... I feel really bad about this.

It's bizarre really, because when I hear Poppette mispronounce a word in English, I don't bat an eyelid... I just accept that that's the way things start out when little ones are learning to speak. I  get much more caught up on the French side of things is because she has a much smaller sphere of input i.e. mainly me.

A simple answer to the problem came from another non-native Maman friend of mine when I asked for her advice on the issue. She simply said, 'Practice, practice and, then, practice some more'. So... practicing I am.

Two things spring to mind.

The first is a real conundrum - When I speak French to adults, I don't seem to have this pronunciation problem. It only seems to exist in my 'child friendly voice'....(you know, that slower, more deliberate and higher pitched voice that seems to come out when you address a baby or toddler no matter what language you are speaking). It crossed my mind to try to chat to Poppette and Little man as though I were chatting to an adult friend... but it just doesn't feel right. I'm not sure what the answer is....

The second thought is a lot more positive - Just over a week ago Poppette suddenly started to say 'peinture' [paint], 'ceinture' [belt] and 'voiture' [car]' correctly, whereas she had previously always  pronounced the 'ure' at the end of such words as  'choos' e.g. peintchoos.  I was beaming...and still am. This makes me feel that all will be well in the world. Provided Poppette is exposed to correctly pronounced words, she will self correct over time. So, if I can either iron out my own foibles or increase Poppette's exposure to other Francophones or, ideally both, then we are on to a winner.

Whilst on the topic of increased exposure to the minority language, I have to say that, although I have always been dubious as to whether DVDs could provide valuable language input, I am starting to believe that they can. Poppette only watches cartoons in French and her and Little Man listen to French nursery rhyme Cd's and francophone children's radio stations. Just recently, Poppette has started to show that she knows words to rhymes she has heard and from cartoons she has watched. So, I can stop flogging myself to death for letting my children watch cartoons and pat myself on the back for giving them a minority language fix! Fabulous!

UPDATE 4th October 2012

I'm feeling quite buoyed after a chat with Belgian Maman (who you can read a little more about here and here), earlier this week, about Poppette's current over emphasis of the French R.... It turns out that her son went through a phase of doing exactly the same thing (making the R sound gutteral and almost Germanic).

Bearing in mind that Belgian Maman's little boy is being raised by two native French speakers (albeit that Belgian Maman only speaks her non-native English with him) in the French speaking part of Belgium, it leads me to wonder whether this is an altogether more common occurrence during early French language acquisition and not necessarily linked to our non-native situation.....

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Non-Native Thought for the Day #1

I have been thinking a lot recently about bilingualism and the idiosyncrasies that go hand in hand with choosing the non-native approach.

There seem to be some strange traps and curve-balls that I don't think you can necessarily foresee at the outset. As such, I have decided to note them here on my blog as they occur. Hopefully, in addition to helping me remember the finer details of this journey, it will help others by flagging potential issues that may lay ahead of them.

I have come to a frustrating realisation: when a child is learning to speak, it often mispronounces its words. Somehow, when this is done in the listener's native tongue, their brain subconsciously sifts through the myriad possibilities to come up with a possible match for the sounds it has just heard. This means, more often than not, that the child's meaning deduced... Even if it takes a few guesses.

My experience (which is soooo frustrating and disappointing) is that, where a non-native language is concerned, the brain just doesn't seem to process these sound variations quite so well. It's as though its catalogue of possible options is incomplete.

It is frustrating for both parties :-(

This weekend, for example, Poppette kept saying 'Mazaza'. I just couldn't glean a meaning... She repeated it three or four times and then, simply said 'Shop'.


Of course. She had been saying 'Magasin'.

I came away from that exchange feeling as though she must be thinking 'Wait a minute! Aren't you the one that's supposed to be able to speak French???'.


Not really sure what can be done about this. I must try harder....