Introducing children to a foreign language

Posted on June 29th, 2013

Ideas for introducing children to a foreign language


As a language teacher, I’ve got a confession to make. People have always said to me “Children learn like sponges – they can learn a new language so easily!” but although I knew that this was the accepted wisdom I never really fully appreciated what they meant.



This has all changed recently as I’ve been introducing my two year old to French. I’d like to stress that I’m not labouring under any delusions that he’ll be bilingual. I only speak to him in French now and again, whereas I’ve heard that children need to spend at least one third of their time immersed in their second language if they’re to become bilingual.



I’m just really keen for Hugh to be exposed to French because it’s a language I love and I’d like to pass that love on to him. I’d like him to hear French pronunciation while he’s little enough to take on board all those nasal sounds and rolled “r”s which can cause difficulties to older learners. And I’d like him to hear people speaking French so that it’s natural to him to tune in to another language. At the moment, age 2, he doesn’t understand everything that he hears in his mother tongue, so I’d like to capitalize on this and let him hear plenty of French being spoken, too. I’ve been teaching a long time and I’m familiar with the panicky, “rabbit in the headlights” look that older learners sometimes get when they don’t immediately understand something, and I’d like Hugh to feel more relaxed around foreign languages.



So here’s what I’ve been doing – if you’re interested in doing something similar, maybe these ideas will come in useful. It’s a work in progress and I’d love to hear from you if you have any more ideas or suggestions.

I’ve been introducing Hugh to French so most of these links are to French-only sites, but hopefully they’ll give you some ideas even if you’re interested in a different language.



  • French-speaking parents’ group

    I’ve set up a Facebook page (snappily titled “Groupe pour les tout-petits francophones a Sheffield, if you’d like to join) and invited lots of friends. Some of these are French people with bilingual kids, some are French speakers and/or teachers, some are friends I know are really keen on French and who speak French to a greater or lesser degree. We’ve been having informal get-togethers on weekends where we speak French together and sing songs and play games in French with our kids.

    I can’t believe how readily Hugh takes to being spoken to in French rather than in English. The other day I asked him “Tu veux aller jouer dans le jardin?” (do you want to go and play in the garden?) and he just nodded and trotted off outside. I was chuffed to bits!



  • Youtube

    Speaking of shared ideas, I’ve been pointed in the direction of some fantastic online resources by my friends. One of these is the French singer Alain Le Lait, who lives in America and writes songs for teaching French. They’re really catchy and Hugh LOVES them. He’s always asking to watch them – his favourite is “Arc-en-Ciel” which features a character with eyes which change colour – Hugh’s always asking for “Blue Eye”. Through watching “Des os, il en faut” he has learned loads of parts of the body and I can ask him “Ils sont où, tes pieds?” “Elle est où, ta tête?” (Where are your feet? Where’s your head?) and he points to them. It’s really exciting.


Through watching these songs on youtube I’ve found loads of other great websites which teach all the topics you can possibly think of. I don’t like Hugh sitting goggle-eyed for hours in front of the screen, but half an hour here and there is all it takes to get a great introduction to the language.


A couple of other websites I’ve found:


“Le Monde des Petits” has games/quizzes about dozens of topics:


“L’Âne Tro-Tro – a cute cartoon about a baby donkey. This is just one episode. If you click on this one you’ll be pointed to lots of other episodes:

And we have links to lots of useful French websites, including a couple for children, on our Useful Links page:



  • Story-telling

    I’m lucky that I had a lot of children’s books in French already when Hugh was born, because I’ve been teaching French to kids for years. But anyone can get their hands on them easily on the internet. Usborne do some of their “That’s not my …” books in French.


If you don’t speak the language, you can find books which come with a CD – the Max et Mathilde books are good and you’ll also find downloadable worksheets, songs and more on the website;


If you’re over in France anyway, you’ll find loads of great, cheap books in the hypermarkets


I noticed last time I was in Sheffield Central Children’s Library that they have a few books in French and other languages:


and I bet your local library does, too.



  • Toys


The Canadian company Leapfrog make educational toys in French and English, and some are bilingual. Hugh has had lots of use out of his “learning table”.


This company also sells toys in 16 languages here in the UK;


Orchard Toys make some lovely French games – here’s a link to their page, and to some other Orchard Toys items which don’t seem to be on sale on their own site at the moment, so I’ve included links to Amazon sites:



  • À suivre (To follow) – apps


I don’t tend to use any French apps yet but I will ask all my friends at our next toddler get-together and compile a list for a future blog, as I know some of them have found some great apps. Patientez, svp!



Please do comment if you can think of anything I’ve missed – I’m sure you know of loads more activities that I haven’t come across so please leave a comment so that other Francophiles (or lovers of any other language) can use your ideas.


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