French At VPC
Since its inception nearly thirty years ago, the Village Preschool Center has taught French to our little students. We have always believed that it is very important to familiarize your children with a second language at an early age, to help them understand that there are many ways to communicate, and to start them communicating in French themselves. By far the best way to learn a language is to be totally immersed.
Young children master a language concretely, through prolonged exposure, absorption, and trial and error. Adults can learn abstractly, by memorizing paradigms and applying them generally (rule: almost all “–er” verbs are conjugated like parler).
1. Children pick up pronunciation effortlessly. Teaching the French “u” to adults is remedial, almost like rehab. Many are incapable of mastering that sound. Almost all children, whose articulation is much more fluid, will mispronounce it once, and then pronounce it properly when their mistake is pointed out. So we can work successfully on pronunciation.
2. Children, even 2’s and 3’s, can soak up French vocabulary like sponges. The hard part of learning is mastering concepts. When they have learned their colors in English, saying either ”rouge” or red is pretty much the same to them. When they learn the five senses with their classroom teachers, we have the same lesson (with French vocabulary) waiting in the wings. Shapes, counting, the alphabet, parts of the body including skin, heart, calves, lungs, etc. are just a few examples of children’s capacity to say in French what they know in English. (Occasionally, we teach them the French word before they know the English equivalent, e.g., ”les mollets”: we’ve yet to meet a preschooler who knew what her/his calves were.)
3. It is easy for children to pick up common, complete sentences that have meaning for them. Everyone gets hungry or thirsty or hot or cold. So it is easy to learn ”J’ai faim, j’ai soif, j’ai chaud, j’ai froid”. Add the intensifier adverb tres, and soon they’re saying “J’ai tres, tres, tres faim.” They also pick up weather expressions readily, including some that are difficult to pronounce for English-speaking adults: “Il fait du brouillard.” (It’s foggy.)
French with 2’s and Young 3’s
We read simple stories in French, preferably using pop-up books which captivate children—then translate sentence-by-sentence into English. Within a few months of exposure, many will answer spontaneously to such questions as: “Il est grand ou petit, Spot?” … “Il est petit!” Twos and young threes also learn quickly through songs with movements, and through finger games.
French with Older 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s
The older children are happy to sit for a 15-20 minute French lesson that is supported by appropriate visual materials, games, and humor. Motivation levels vary from year-to-year, and class-to-class. One class may insist on counting in French to 100 every day, while another is perfectly content with a mere 20 when they’re in the mood to count in French at all. All these children work on the alphabet, counting, colors, shapes, simple sentences, weather expressions, and much more.
French with French-Speaking Children
With the parents’ consent, the French speaking staff speaks exclusively in that language to children who have French at home. Occasionally, parents worry that their child may be lagging in English because (s)he is hearing so much French in school. English is never the problem. Sustaining interest in French is a major challenge. A former science teacher asked one four-year-old boy (who had just returned from France) whether there were dinosaur museums in France. He replied, “Hello! Duh!” we were pleased to tell his parents they no longer needed to be concerned about his English.