Labels are your new best friends. No, they won’t accompany you into the bathroom or listen to you cry when your boyfriend doesn’t text you back right away, but they can support you in your goal of learning a language with your child.
I was a little leery about posting this step because it can either be incredibly useful or extremely detrimental, but after some reflection, I decided that it was important to mention, but equally as important to preface with a disclaimer.
This is a step that can only be taken once you have reasonably mastered pronunciation in your target language. In my opinion, the best resource for this is Forvo. You can search a word in your target language and hear it pronounced by a native. You can save the ones that you have more trouble with so that you can practice them a little more. It also gives you different words to practice along with the correct pronunciation from beginner to advanced levels and offers a web and a mobile version.
The reason it is so important to be comfortable with accurate pronunciation is because you will otherwise see a note and pronounce it in your mother tongue. This isn’t just problematic because it doesn’t “sound pretty”, but you will not be at all understood which will obviously greatly hinder your ability to communicate.
Here is an example taken from my very own kitchen. The red circles are to point out the labels on le micro-ondes (the microwave), la cuisinière (the stove), and le four (the oven.) Now if you have never been introduced to French, you are going to read these words with the pronunciation that you are used to. Which would then reinforce that incorrect way of saying it every single time you see that label, which will make you do twice the work when you have to break that later.
Fortunately, this is Bryston’s greatest strength. Even natives have told me that he has incredible French pronunciation skills. He has the rolling R down (which we accomplished with a pencil), knows that you typically don’t pronounce the last syllables of words and naturally picked up the majority of common liaisons. Victoire! At least I taught him one thing correctly so far!
In the beginning, my house was swimming in post-its. I am pretty sure this scene from Bruce Almighty was inspired by me:
Now, I tend to only put up labels for myself on new words that I need help with. A few weeks ago, it was a few of les épices (the spices.) This week it was l’ampoule (light bulb.) However, I leave a few behind for my mini-me, and he is asking that I do more. So, I guess our place is going to get all Jim Carrey’d up again.
Assuming that you have assessed that it is the right time to implore this tactic with your family, let me explain to you why this is effective. Obviously, it is more hands on, which makes it a much more enjoyable experience for a child, but it also subliminally reiterates the word into your mind. Each time you see it, your brain reads it, even if it is subconscious. Studies say that it takes exposing yourself to a word 17 times in timed intervals for it to be committed to memory. This is probably one of the most useful language learning hacks that I ever came across because my brain will turn to mush if I am expected to sit still and read the same vocabulary lists at specific times each day. Many of the popular language apps use a similar spaced repetition method.
Now, something that I think is important that most people glaze over. Make it FABULOUS! You can color code these labels in a variety of ways (ex: by room, by gender of the noun if applicable to your language, by function, the choices are bountiful), how you chose to do that is mostly just a personal preference. However, color is a surprisingly powerful tool. Sure, it makes it more aesthetically appealing, not only for your child, but for you as well. But it also boasts a surprisingly list of scientific benefits including aiding in pattern recognition and stimulating certain brain functions.
Start with words that you will use a lot such as: table, television, stairs, shoes, and perhaps the rooms of the house. Functional things. I promise that you will be just fine in the beginning not knowing the words for things such as a hanger or hairspray (unless I suppose those are relevant to the reason that you are learning the language.)
I’d love to see some pictures of your labels!