Why My Children are Taking French Lessons
So, we’ve started French lessons for our two oldest children this year! And I’m so glad we did. That sentence sounds ridiculously pretentious to me, so allow me to back up and give you the background, before I tell you why we started French lessons for our kids. . . Did your grandparents ever use code of some sort so you wouldn’t know what they were talking about? My great-grandparents immigrated to the States from Canada, and consequently French was widely spoken in my father’s family, to the point that French was both my father’s and aunt’s first language. (When my father was in middle school it wasn’t considered cool to speak French, so he refused to speak it. Consequently he lost a lot of his French, something he still regrets.)
When I was growing up, my grandparents would switch to their Canuck French whenever they didn’t want us to know what they were discussing. I’m pretty sure it was usually whether or not we would be getting ice cream for dessert (of course we were, because grandparents), but the mystery would drive me crazy, and I wanted nothing more than to figure out what they were saying! We were raised with little bit of other French around us. We called my grandparents Mémere/Mémae and Pépere/Pépae (essentially “Mimi/Grammy” and “Pop/Poppa” in French; a French lady told my brother those names are used in the French countryside also). My grandmother taught me a Christmas carol in French (Il est né), and called me her belle catin. (“pretty doll”, which I just learned means a VERY different thing in France than it does in North America! Please don’t look it up. Quelle horreur!) But that was the extent of our French language exposure.
When I was in college I took French for my foreign language requirement. Despite my family background, it actually took my piano professor to get me to take French! I was going to be all academic and learn Greek, but he convinced me French would be more useful for music study (he was right). Between that and a memory of my vows as a young child to figure out what my grandparents were saying, it didn’t actually take a lot of convincing.
And guess what? I fell in love with it. It helped that my first French professor was fabulous, but also it was a latent love for the language come to life. I loved the challenge, the beauty of the language, and the window it opened up into another culture and mindset. It was a new world. It felt like traveling. I wound up minoring in French, but it never worked out for me to study abroad. Needless to say, what French skills I did acquire have suffered since graduation, even though they have definitely helped me get around when we’ve visited France since then. (But heck if it doesn’t feel just like this!!)
All that to say that I have had dreams of my children being fluent in French for many years! I mean, I have dreams of me becoming fluent, but that’s another story… (If my kids want to branch out into another language someday they’re certainly welcome to, but French is the language I can give them the most help with now.) Plus we are fortunate to live in south Louisiana, which takes its French heritage quite seriously, and has numerous French language resources. (In what other U.S. city can you randomly see a “no parking” sign in French??)
For a long while I was determined to just teach my kids French myself; I mean, why couldn’t I?? I knew enough to get started, surely! But as the months passed and we didn’t get very far, I was afraid that I was seeing that dream begin to fade… I was trying! I got this French calendar, found some French storybooks, flashcards, songs, found some really helpful blog posts, and we reviewed some stuff… It just… wasn’t really getting very far. And I felt like a bit of a failure as a homeschooling mother that I couldn’t/didn’t teach my children a subject that I knew.
Then one day I had an epiphany of sorts that went something like this: This is something I value for my children. This is a subject that can be outsourced. This is like learning an instrument which will take years of slow progress. I gladly pay for music lessons. I can’t do it all. Why don’t I pay for French lessons?? Allons-y! Let’s go! To cut short an already too-long explanation, I researched my options in my area, and decided that since there were no classes available that fit what I was looking for, private lessons were my best bet. My two oldest children have been taking joint private lessons through our Alliance Française, which is part of a world-wide network. It’s already been awesome!! I feel very privileged to have both the availability of lessons and the resources to take advantage of that availability. We’ve been doing them every other week (not enough, but all my sanity could stand the last few months), but plan on taking weekly lessons through the summer. In a couple of years I’ll start my younger two kiddies in a lesson together. Every week their teacher hands me a sheet of paper with a breakdown of what they learned that day. Some weeks we have specific songs to practice (the ABCs in French), sometimes a book they read so we can read it at home also, this week we had flashcards. We take the list and materials home and practice.
Here’s my list (so far) of why I’m glad we’re doing private French lessons for my kids: (if you’re here I assume that you’re already convinced of “why” a foreign language is a good idea, and are muddling through the “how” of it with me.)
The accountability: We have an outside (good!) pressure to practice and someone else pushing us to progress. I’ve found this supremely helpful in numerous areas!
The help: To me, not having to research/plan/think about it is huge. My brain space these days feels limited, and being able to let someone else take point in an area that’s important to me has been massively helpful. Plus I have two kids getting taught at the same time –win!
The sustainability: This is similar to the previous point, but I was surprised at how comparable the price was to music lessons. Expensive, yes, but not so much so that I can’t budget and make it work. I can see us doing this for a long time and hopefully really achieving some mastery in the language.
The expertise: As someone who has a Masters in teaching piano and is, how shall we say?, strongly convinced of the benefit of having a trained music teacher to properly lay the foundation of learning an instrument, it took me an embarrassingly long time to make the same jump for language learning. An experienced teacher knows how to sequence material to maximize success, knows where students stumble and how to help, and knows clearly what needs to be accomplished to meet the learning goal. Hire a good teacher. 😉
The resources: We now have access to a lending library in French of books suitable for babies all the way up to adults. It benefits all the family, and is a huge boon to have lots of material to read to my children. Our French teacher has already alerted me to French immersion summer camps available when my children are older. If I have a question or want my kids to learn something (grammar is in their future ;), I can ask their teacher. People who do this for a living know where to get what, or at least know who to ask! We’re not just getting lessons, we’re gaining access to a whole network and bank of knowledge.
The immersion: This may not apply to everyone, but I’m not fluent in French. I can’t immerse my children in the language the way someone who’s fluent can. Granted, once a week isn’t very much, but it’s a start. Even if I was fluent, I wonder if it would be harder to expect my children to switch to interacting with me in a different language at the drop of a hat. I think an outside teacher is a help here.
We’re still early into this second language learning journey here; anybody else out there learned a second language/helped your kids learn? What’s been helpful? I’m excited to see where this goes, and I have dreams of France trips dancing in my head. (For the children’s sake, of course! They need to practice… 😉