penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Parlez-français? Lisez en français!

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When I was a little girl, French did not exist – at least not as a part of my life.  I was born to two Anglophone parents, in a city where English was the first language, and Italian was (unofficially) the second.  French immersion did not exist and our only exposure to French came once a week during a half hour – when the teacher felt up to it. Usually he preferred to play guitar.

And so to meet work requirements, at 44 years of age, I have had to take the plunge into immersing myself into a second language.  There are a lot of benefits to this. I can now see that English and French media cover completely different issues – and Quebec media, France media and African media are also diverse in their coverage.  It has opened the door to different cultures.  And apparently, some studies have shown it’s good for your brain – at my age I need all the brain power help I can get.

But it has been hard.  And while I am very good at imitating an accent, grammar has been my bête noir. Having been a victim of “whole learning curriculum” in the English curriculum has not helped the matter. I need to keep explaining to the teachers that telling me that something is a preposition when I don’t know what the heck a preposition is in English let alone recognizing one in French is not going to improve my language skills.  I could have a relative pronoun come up and smack me in the face and I wouldn’t know where to put it in the sentence or what it is meant to represent.  They look at my blankly for a minute and then patiently explain again that “de” is a preposition.

I don’t want my children to go through the same thing. I want them to learn early so that it comes easier (while their brains are wee sponges), and perhaps so that they can learn multiple languages if it interests them.

So, my daughter has started in immersion – her brother should follow next year. But I am realizing it is already a little too late. Her exposure to French should have started years ago so that she could be more comfortable with it now. Instead she views it like an exotic animal – best seen from a distance warily and avoided at all costs.  So essentially, when I do the math, French homework = multiple meltdowns.

I’m hoping to fix that by bringing a little more French into the house.

My husband does not speak French and none of the kids are there yet.  As the sole French speaker in the house – and not a great one at that –  I might sound a little silly talking to myself. We did try to have one “Speak French” dinner but it didn’t last long.

I try to listen to the radio (as much for my practice as theirs).  But it’s above their level right now and so likely just sounds like babble in the background.

My next step though is to try to get them comfortable with French books.

My kids already love books.  They have shelves stuffed with books in their rooms.  We have shelves downstairs with more books.  We go to the library and we often come back with about twenty.  Reading time before bed is still sacred.  When my kids are tired or bored, their first instinct is to pick up a book.

What I don’t have enough experience in though is kids’ French books.  I really don’t know where to begin because I don’t have any childhood history or memory of what might have been a good French book when I was a kid.  There is always Geronimo Stilton – and while the kids love those in English they don’t tend to pick them up and read them in French.  I’m trying a new tack.  A librarian recently gave a presentation about a wonderful reading program developed by the Ontario Library association. It’s available to kids, parents, teachers and librarians and it’s called the Forest of Reading. The program is aimed at various grade levels (Blue Spruce for JK to Grade 2) and the authors are all Canadian.  Readers can read the books and vote on their favourites.  You know if a group of librarians are picking them, they are bound to be good.

What is really useful to me though is they have a French part of the program (Le prix peuplier and Le prix tamarac).  Today I went to the library, list in hand, to see what I could find.  We are also lucky because our local library has a significant French collection that we can choose from and try out.

This afternoon, I was able to find a couple of the titles.  I didn’t have a lot of time though, so where I could not find a specific title, I just went with a book that was by the same author – I figured most authors probably have more than one good book under their belts.  One in particular that I read tonight I know is going to appeal to the kids. It’s by Elise Gravel and it’s called “Bienvenue a la Monstrerie” (“Welcome to the Monster Pet Store” essentially). I know it’s a good start because first of all, I could read it.  Which means that the level of language is low enough that I can read it out loud in French and then translate it into English if they need help.  Also, they may catch on to some of the words as we go.  Secondly, the pictures are great – somewhat along the same lines as the sketch comic book illustrations as “Captain Underpants” or “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  Finally, it’s hilarious.  The author gives a little explanation on the advantages and disadvantages of each monster and tries to “sell” the reader on buying one.  There are also a few examples of products and services available to care for your monster.

I’m hoping the kids give it “deux pouces vers le haut.”


Written by pennyinacastle

February 8, 2015 at 3:46 am

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