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Thursday, December 20, 2012

French Storytime at the Cleveland Park Library

A few weeks ago I took Zach to a French story time at the Cleveland Park library in D.C. I had been meaning to try this one in particular because, at 4pm on Thursdays, it fits very well with our schedule. Most of the story times I am aware of in D.C. and MD (Alliance Française, Takoma Park Library) are on either weekday mornings when Zach has preschool or Saturday mornings, and in our house we're lucky if we can get out by noon on weekends.

The storyteller, a woman from Madagascar named Ms. Jackie, was very energetic and friendly. She began by reading a Mercer Mayer book, Il y a un alligator sous mon lit, and then sang a French version of “If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands: Si vous avez de la joie au coeur, tape les mains (tire ton oreille, touche ta tete, sauté gres haut, et cetera) which was also great for keeping the kids energized.

This was followed by another two or three stories (I forget the titles, but there was one about exploring the jungle, another about a little mouse who was looking for friends), interspersed with active songs like Savez-vous planter les choux. She would tell a story, then sing a song, go back to a story, etc. ending with La Ferme de mon Voisin for which she used big animal puppets to make it even more fun for the kids. 

After story time was over they played the French version of Disney's Brothers Bear. I didn’t time it but we must have been there for at least 1 hour, and if we’d stayed for the movie it would have been at leas2 hours. I’m not sure if they do the movie every time, but regardless, the whole experience highly exceeded my expectations for story time!

I would have preferred a bit more chance for Zach to engage and interact during the readings– there was very little speaking solicited from the kids. However, to be fair, the audience consisted mostly of toddlers and even some babies so if this is the typical crowd I think the one-sidedness was probably appropriate.  It was not as engaging as a class like Language Stars. Then again, it was FREE!

Instead of watching the film, I looked at the French book collection at the library. It was quite substantial – it looked to be about the size of the Bethesda library – maybe six shelves? And I definitely saw titles I hadn't seen at Bethesda library, so it was a refreshing change. 

Last but not least, the library does not charge for overdue books!  Let me say that again for all the other delinquent people like me (please tell me I'm not the only one) who can't manage to return library books on time and rack up fees: THERE ARE NO LATE CHARGES FOR BOOKS AT THE CLEVELAND PARK LIBRARY!  Despite confirmation of this from two library staff members, please double check for yourself as I haven't actually tested this yet as we are still within the due date. And I really don't plan to let them expire, but it is a relief to know that if something comes up I won't be racking up high fees because I have 20 books out at a time!

For storytime, and for the books, we will definitely be back.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Not stressing over little language "holidays"

We recently came back after spending a week at my Mom’s house.  Zach and I usually take a “holiday” from French when we visit because in order to get him to speak to me, I first need his attention, which is next to impossible at “Granny’s” house. There, I become virtually invisible: he sees only his doting grandmother who indulges his every whim from morning till night. They are inseparable, and even though she speaks a tiny bit of French (and helps me on occasion by asking him to teach her words), he is all about English on visits to Granny.

Until very recently, I would stress out over this, thinking that if I let more than a day or two go by without speaking French he would lose it all. Then at some point in the past year, I gave up trying to be their third wheel -- let alone in French -- and for the first time, just let it go altogether while we were there. When we returned to our daily French routines at home, I noticed the gaps in speaking didn’t seem to have been detrimental to Zach’s French, or at least not irrevocably.  He was a little rusty on a few words here and there, but overall retained what he knew despite not having spoken for several days.  In fact, I think we both felt more positive about French time for having had the rest.  

I suppose I’m learning that my work of bilingual parenting is ongoing, day after day, week after week, year after year.   I still try to maintain “discipline” while spending time with family members who do not speak the language, but I am also trying to remember to let us both relax and enjoy our time with them.   Because taking a break -- especially to spend low-stress time with people we love – doesn’t seem to hurt our language learning process. In fact, it helps us start fresh when we get back to our “regular” bilingual life. 

This visit drove that point home to me precisely because of how much more French we spoke than usual. My mom dislocated her shoulder in a horrible fall after the power (and heat) went out because of Hurricane Sandy. Already suffering from various health issues, my normally vibrant, funny, mother was so debilitated with pain that she really couldn’t engage with Zach. I spent much more time alone with him than usual, and we spoke more French. But I would have easily traded the language practice for an all-English visit with a healthy Granny!  Even if it meant it would set him back, which as I already learned, isn’t the case. 

Thankfully, my Mom is on the mend. But I am grateful for this humbling reminder not to sweat these gaps in language practice, especially when I’m tempted to interrupt quality time with family because we haven’t filled our quota of French for the day.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happy l’Halloween!

As I was searching for ideas and inspiration ("teaching kids french at home") I stumbled upon a site that had compiled all things Halloween in French (songs, books, et cetera).  It was a coincidence that it’s almost Halloween, and it made me think I want to do a better job piggybacking on fun seasonal activities here, giving them our own French twist. I also created a “Seasonal/Holiday” page where I hope to round up fun links for the upcoming mega-holiday season and beyond (I am curious to know where there is anything for Thanksgiving in French…)

Unfortunately, I lost the link, but within a few seconds of googling “jeux d’halloween” and “chansons Halloween” I found tons of other things to explore. I spent some time trying out some games and songs and other resources and pulled together some of our favorites (so far) below. 

I think my top pick so far is the chanson des squelettes. It is SO catchy. I find myself singing it randomly throughout the day. But then, that is not saying much since I am the type of person who bursts into song for no reason. But Zach, who rarely sings or asks to listen to music, loves this song!  We have had considerable fun inventing silly lyrics (i.e. quand la pendule sonne 3 heures, 3 grand squelettes…… se font peur…mangent du beurre…..crachent du feu….) when we can’t remember the actual ones (see below).

Boowa and Kwala has so many fun games, and Zach particularly likes the kitchen/baking ones. For Halloween, they have a terrific game where Boowa asks for ingredients to make a magic potion (you choose your potion: great hair, big nose…). You have to listen several times to understand each ingredient so it is a great vocabulary builder, especially as the “yuck" factor is so high (think: bat’s breath, mouse's toenails).

Va-t'en, Grand Monstre Vert! is another favorite, as well as  L'alphabet des monstres which we have out from the Bethesda library. This one even was popular with the French kids at our local playground. Each monster begins with a letter of the alphabet (D = Dragonsaure, I=Iceberg) The written descriptions of each are a bit sophisticated for our stage (4-5 year olds) but the illustrations are fantastic and each page shows some new development (the monster named "Iceberg" appears by breaking up through the floor, lifting the boy's bed in the air; at some point Dragonsaure breathes fire on Iceberg); so there are endless possibilities for language development describing what has just happened ("Regarde! Dragonsaure a craché du feu sur Iceberg et il commence à fondre!") 

I would LOVE to get more tried and tested tools on here, so if you have something that you have used at home with the kiddies that has produced more spoken (or sung) French, please share!

Joyeux Halloween!

French Halloween YouTube music videos

French Halloween YouTube shows/videos

Animated French Halloween “books” 
French Halloween Games online
(note: use their search engine link at the top and search for “Halloween”)

French Halloween Vocabulary

Lyrics for "La Chanson des Squelettes"  

Quand la pendule sonne une heure
Un grand squelette ouvre les yeux.

Quand la pendule sonne deux heures
Deux grands squelettes s’habillent en bleu.


Quand la pendule sonne trois heures
Trois grands squelettes maquillent leurs yeux.

Quand la pendule sonne quatre heures
Quatre grands squelettes se brossent les cheveux.


Quand la pendule sonne cinq heures
Cinq grands squelettes mangent des œufs.

Quand la pendule sonne six heures
Six grands squelettes jouent à un jeu.


Quand la pendule sonne sept heures
Sept grands squelettes dansent un peu.

Quand la pendule sonne huit heures
Huit grands squelettes marchent deux par deux.


Quand la pendule sonne neuf heures
Neuf grands squelettes vont faire la queue.

Quand la pendule sonne dix heures
Dix grands squelettes reviennent chez eux.


Quand la pendule sonne onze heures,
Onze grands squelettes se mettent au lit.

Quand la pendule sonne minuit,
Douze grands squelettes disent bonne nuit.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Five Reasons I Speak French to My Child

Francophone Countries
1.  I know I am giving him a tool to connect him with millions of people that may otherwise seem “foreign” to him. Because of my  French and Spanish language skills, I feel at ease talking to people in Europe, Latin America, and all over the Middle East and Africa, and like I can travel to multiple continents without being overcome by someone else’s or my own foreignness. I want this for Zach. I want him to feel at home in the world, or at least in a big chunk of it. 

2. I have always loved the French language. I love the way my tongue feels when I say merci, d’accord, and things that just don’t have as catchy a equivalent in English, like “tu dis n’importe quoi!” (“you’re talking nonsense” doesn’t really do the trick). I even feel less strict and boring when I say “range tes jouets cet instant!”. It just feels and sounds gorgeous, and I want Zach to have the pure pleasure of expressing himself in French. 

3. It is part of my psychological, if not biological, heritage (although I recently learned that we have French Huguenot ancestors--mais oui!) My father for his entire adult life was a Francophile and fluent speaker, as is my maternal aunt, and they each passed on this love to me. I have felt a close connection to French language and culture from the time I was three and my Dad taught me inappropriate drinking songs around the kitchen table (chevaliers, de la table ronde, goutons voir si le vin a bon!). It has always been a part of my life, and when Zach was born I didn’t really have to think about it.  I was going to speak to him, at least part of the time, in French.

4. We get to have a secret code. Now, as we live in a place that is swarming with multilingual families, I’m not sure how secret our conversations are to our neighbors. But it definitely comes in handy, like the other day as we plotted a prank against my brother who doesn’t speak French (how I would love to sneer at this, except for the fact that he speaks fluent Japanese). It was actually the first time I’d used French with Zach so that someone else would not understand, which, I honestly think is mean...unless you’re planning a practical joke on an unsuspecting uncle;-)

5. For all the reasons the child development experts tell you: it helps their brain develop better, think more creatively, et cetera et cetera. But these aren’t my top reasons (fifth on the list feels about right).  Maybe I’m selfish, but I don’t think this alone would be enough for me to have kept going as long as I have, although I truly admire those parents who do!  For me, reason number one is enough.  

What are yours?