Surrounded by a group of lively young children, language teacher Christelle Hart reads out from a book words and actions in French. The children are so engaged they walk up and touch the book. They laugh, show oodles of enthusiasm one minute and the next they are in quiet contemplation. It’s a beautiful thing to behold because they are not only learning a new language and parts of a country’s culture, they’re totally in the moment.
Christelle, who has been conducting French workshops for children in Sydney for about 10 years says learning a new language from an early age broadens their experience and stimulates their brains.
“It encourages them to explore different things and develops their creativity,” she says.
Keeping it real
In Christelle’s classes nothing stays the same for more than a few minutes. There are songs to sing, legumes (vegetables) to identify, short movies to watch, picnic items to draw, colour in and stick on a plate, countries to locate and dancing, lots of dancing.
“Fun and repetition are the key to their learning and it is important to reinforce what they have learnt in class at home with songs, stories and games,” Christelle says.
A mum of two brings her children aged three and four to the French Tales held at Alliance Francaise each week for one hour. Her children, who join a class of up to 10 children, have been learning new languages since they were about one and two years old.
“In today’s world they are like global citizens so to be able to travel and work overseas and know the language is essential,” she says.
Her children are learning several languages including their home language Hindi. She suggests play related activities – toys, books, and going to language play groups – as the best way to extend the opportunities for her children to become familiar with different languages. Introducing them to different words and sounds as young as possible has also helped.
“They’re used to learning new languages because they started so early so for them it comes naturally to them,” she says.
Christelle says children are more likely to hear and reproduce sounds correctly before the age of 10 which helps them to develop an authentic accent so there is an argument for introducing children early to new languages.
Tricks of the trade
Christelle says while parents sometimes worry about children confusing words and languages especially when they still haven’t commanded their first language there is no need to. She says children often identify one person with one language and suggests when they talk to that person it should always be in that language.
“It’s quite easy at a young age to learn two or three languages as long as each person interacting with the child sticks to one language,” she says.
Children have a different approach to learning a new language than adults. “They don’t need to refer to their first language and are generally quite happy associating new words with pictures, songs or rhymes,” Christelle says.
The golden rule is not forcing children to take up or speak a language.
“Language has to be a positive thing – it can’t be something you force upon children – if you feel the language doesn’t work give it a rest and start again another time – they have to discover it for themselves,” she says.
Choose the language you think is the most suitable and bring chldren to classes
Watch dvds in the language
Read books with them if possible
Use resources on the internet – YouTube videos, language sites, etc.
Provide opportunities for children to hear the language – the more natural it is, the easier it is
Find a school that teaches the language because it will provide the written as well as oral language skills.
French language songs and nursery rhymes
Linking in with Jess @ IBOT