Teach a Child to Fish
If you are a parent, you are well aware of that fact that children have the attention spans of goldfish, and that is probably being generous. So, when trying to undertake something as expansive as teaching them an entire friggin language (something that is daunting even to adults), it can feel like you are standing at the edge of the Sahara desert with no water and a limping camel.
Half the time, when I sit Bryston down for Memrise, it is accompanied with protests, ear splitting whines, and occasional bribes on my part. I think the only reason that he sticks with it is because he likes to watch the little monster change as he advances.
He is seven years old. He doesn’t get quite the same thrill that I do when I learn something new. Yes, sometimes he is proud when he can show that he knows a word, but it is more because it invokes a positive reaction in me rather than because he just thinks it is très cool. I personally find a lot of enjoyment in using French learning apps, doing writing assignments and practicing the language with anyone who will listen. This combination of things has been the stepping stones of my journey. Without them, I would probably still be pointing and going “chien, chien” at my dogs. He hates the apps, hates writing and hates talking to me 90% of the time.
Kids are going to hate anything that feels like learning or that requires a high level of focus. That is why first graders aren’t sitting in a desk in a classroom listening to a teacher give a lecture like high school students would be.
Alright. Fair enough. But, this ties back into the not having resources dilemma. I don’t have a million dollars, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know where to spend it productively! This is where I had to start spinning the gears of creativity. Of course, he would watch Peppa Couchon (Peppa Pig in French) or Toupie et Binou toute la journée (all day), but my husband has watched anime for years and I am pretty sure does not know a lick of Japanese. So, while we do watch a French cartoon in the morning with breakfast and listen to French kids songs or educational discs in the car, and he picks up a little bit of vocabulary every now and again, I can’t rely on the TV or videos as his only source. Language learning has to be interactive. He has to want to speak with me and/or others.
So, how do I get him to talk to me without trying to force a conversation that he is just absolutely not equipped not have?
Well, fantastic, but I don’t exactly have the skills necessary to translate an entire game of chess or Monopoly into French. And he wouldn’t have the skills yet to make any real responses even if I could. So, I tried to think of some simpler games that would use and reinforce simpler phrases and vocabulary. Here is the top three that I came up with all on my own (yes, I want a gold star.)
In French, the verb for fishing (a hobby that I feel it worth mentioning, I am vehemently against) is pécher. So, I thought that dubbing the classic card game Go Fish with the French verb was absolutely brilliant. He will stay engaged with it for quite some time, and I am happy to report that the same is holding true when I do it in French. It helps him practice number recognition and small phrases such as Ce n’est pas ça (It is not that, which is used when you get a pair, but not of the card that you asked for) and Est-ce que tu as…(Do you have…)
Pierre a dit
This translates into Pierre said. Because Simon just doesn’t sound overtly French, now does it? So instead of Simon Says, it turns into Pierre Said. This is awesome because I can throw in endless verbs, any body parts, nearby objects, and the kid stays engaged because it is silly. Plus, it practices his listening because he has to make sure that the sentence starts with “Pierre a dit.” Some of my go-to’s are: Touche ton nez (touch your nose), Saut (jump), Ouvre ta bouche (open your mouth), and Debout sur un pied (stand on one foot.) Is everything I say in authentic perfect French? I’m gonna go with a big fat no, but we are learning together.
Where is. Can do it anytime, anywhere and with anything. You can hide things and have them search, using vocab as they go. Ou est ta voiture? Sous le bureau? Non. Sur ton lit? Non. Dans le tiroir? Oui! Elle est la! (Where is your car? Under the desk? No. On the bed? No. In the drawer? Yes! It is there!) Or you can just ask where certain things are.
Now, I know this is aimed at children, but if you are a beginner, this helps you too! If you are learning with people, you guys can do this together. It doesn’t ALL have to be verb drills and vocab lists. That will probably bore you half to death in two days. Spice it up. Have some fun with it!
If you need help with vocabulary for activities, I highly suggest Forvo. It is available in most languages and is NATIVES pronouncing words, not Google Translate (which has frequent errors.) You can use it on a desktop or download the free app. So let’s say I need the word for soap , which is savon. I go to Google Translate, get the word, then paste it over into Forvo to have it properly pronounced.
Can you think of any cool games that you could translate into your target language?