Learning French as a family is a great way to encourage everyone to make progress with their language skills, which in turn will make settling in to life in France that much easier
If you’re planning on spending any time in France then it goes without saying that learning some French is a good idea. If your French lessons in school were anything like mine then the thought of studying a language might well fill you with dread! As a family we decided that learning French together would be a great way to make learning a new language a little more enjoyable. It also really benefited me to incorporate some more child-friendly activities rather than focus on workbooks and formal lessons as I had in the past. Learning together means that you have live-in conversation partners so it’s much easier to stay motivated.
1. START WITH WHAT YOU KNOW
French is a romance language that includes a lot of words originally from Latin, many of which are used in English to mean the same thing or often something close or related to the French meaning. Think of words that end in ‘tion’ or ‘ture’ as they are often very similar or the same in French, for example communication and agriculture. In fact it is estimated that around 30% of English words derive from French, so you may understand more than you realise. Those familiar with the Welsh language may also recognise some additional words that were borrowed from Latin during the Roman conquest of Britain. Examples of these include église/eglwys (church), mer/môr (sea) and pont/pont (bridge).
2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH FRENCH
Switching some of your everyday activities to French is an easy way to introduce a little more of the language into your daily life. Change the menus on the games console or your mobile phone to French language, choose a French film, read a French bedtime story to your little ones or listen to the radio in French. Children’s cartoons are especially good for learning new vocabulary as they often repeat words and have storylines that are easy to follow. You can find lots of French-language options for free on YouTube or if you have Netflix you can easily select French as the language. We also found it helpful to listen to some language-learning CDs on long car journeys.
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3. READ TOGETHER
During our recent months in France we have fallen in love with the libraries and book shops. There are so many French and bilingual books to discover together and we have thoroughly enjoyed exploring beautifully illustrated magical worlds and learning about the dinosaurs with our boys. French books are very easy to find online if you’re in the UK and are keen to start familiarising yourself with French ahead of your move to France.
4. UTILISE TECHNOLOGY
There are some very handy game-style apps that are free to download and use. Fun French, for example, is a free app for children learning French (although you will have to pay to get full access, while Duolingo is perfect for older children and adults. It’s easy to set up a free account and gives you access to over 30 different languages. Memrise is another fun option to download and try too.
Remember that you can often set existing apps to other languages – just check the settings to see which languages are available.
5. JOIN A CLASS
Language classes aren’t just for adults. Look out for classes that are suitable for children such as those run by Lingotots. Often, they will run pre-school and after-school clubs where children and parents can take part in crafts, singing and other entertaining activities with a focus on speaking and learning French.
6. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES
Young children are generally great at this! How often do you hear people say that they know the French words but need to develop their confidence in order to be able to use them? Being afraid of getting something wrong can really hold people back when they’re learning something new. Just go for it and you’ll realise that it actually turns out ok! This will give your confidence a boost. Ignore any negative experiences and focus on the positives. Use actions, mime and point – anything that will help to get your point across. Language exchanges offer the perfect ‘safe space’ to develop confidence. You could try asking on social media if any other families in your area would like to meet to exchange language skills. We actually managed to establish a group in rural Wales before we set off on our year in France.
7. ALLOCATE A TIME TO SPEAK FRENCH
Family mealtimes, Sunday mornings and games night are all great times to decide to speak only French to each other. Make sure it’s a time when you all feel relaxed and not under pressure to fit it in. Choosing a dedicated time to practise your language skills will help to make sure that it remains a focus for your family. Talk about the weather, describe a book you’re reading or make plans for the weekend, en Français bien sûr!
There are also lots of great board games that you can play to practise your French, and we have picked up plenty second-hand on our travels in France. Scrabble, Monopoly and Guess Who are all ideal to play in French, and there are some more specific learning games like Kloo that focus on sentence construction, which we enjoy too.
8. HAVE FUN WITH IT
If you have previously had a negative experience of learning languages then you will know that for learning to be sustainable it needs to be enjoyable rather than a chore. It can be really helpful to think of some fun ways of incorporating learning into your life. You could use French sentence builder magnets to leave messages for each other on the fridge or play I spy to practice your vocabulary.
9. LEARN SONGS
Listening to songs can really help with pronunciation and vocabulary. Pop songs and children’s rhymes are often repetitive which can be helpful for following meaning and joining in. As a family with young children we love to listen to Titounis and other simple French nursery rhymes. It’s amazing how a catchy tune encourages them to speak or sing in French!
10. TRAVEL MORE!
This has to be my favourite method to improve my language skills. What better way to learn more of a language than to go somewhere where you have no choice but to speak in that language? When we travel we prefer to stay in an Airbnb because it provides so many opportunities to talk to interesting people.
However you choose to learn French, make sure you have some fun with it!
She also blogs about her family’s travels and homeschooling journey at familyedventures.com