You can learn a new language at any age. You don’t need to be a toddler, or a kindergartener, or some other “magic age”, to become fluent in more than one language. But there are still plenty of reasons to start your children on the path to bilingualism from an early age, and French is an excellent language to start with.
Not only is French one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, but some studies predict that it will be the most widely spoken language by 2050!
Ok, 2050 is a long way away, but did you know that right now, France is the single most popular tourist destination in the world? If you’re considering a holiday in France to see what all the fuss is about, why not plan ahead to make it more fun for your children by helping them understand the language before you go?
No matter what age your children are, it’s not too late (or too early!) to get them started on French. Here are a few ideas to help them on their way.
These resources are also ideal for beginner French learners.
Before we get started, if you’re looking for an online French course, here’s the course I recommend: French Uncovered – Learn French Through the Power of Story, a course with a fascinating new method by my friend Olly.
French for Kids: Infant and Up
French Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes
It’s no secret that babies start to recognize language from a very early age. They’re also highly responsive to music. So if you have a very young child, it’s not too early to expose him or her to French through songs and lullabies. And older children will enjoy them as well, and will probably learn to sing them before you know it.
Spotify for Android and iOS. Spotify is one of the best free music apps in the world, and is really useful for learning languages. Among other things, it contains pre-made playlists for virtually every situation or mood you can imagine.
Want to lull your baby to sleep with the soft sound of French lullabies? There’s a playlist for that! It’s called Mes 100 Plus Jolies Berceuses (“My 100 Prettiest Lullabies”), which has – you guessed it – a hundred different French lullabies to play at night, or any time you want soothing music to calm your child and immerse them in French. Just enter the name of the playlist in the search field when you launch Spotify.
Comptines Pour Enfants is an absolutely brilliant set of nineteen French nursery rhyme songs in one YouTube video. It’s better than so many others, because instead of just the audio, you get some simple cartoons to help your child see what the songs are about. Plus for many of the songs the lyrics appear on screen as each line is sung. Be warned, they can be pretty catchy! If your children have reached speaking age, they could be dancing around singing “Un, deux, trois, j’irai dans les bois” all morning before you know it.
French for Kids: Toddler and Up
Most kids start watching cartoons (dessins animés in French) before they can fully understand their native language. They find the moving pictures, music, and laughter of the characters very engaging even if they don’t understand every word being said.
The higher-quality cartoons are usually so good at putting the dialogue in context with the characters’ actions that it’s quite easy to understand what’s going on, and even what the characters are talking about, without being fluent in the language. So your toddlers won’t get bored with watching French cartoons; they might not even know the difference!
Caillou is a Canadian cartoon following the adventures of an energetic four year old who loves to have fun! With over 400 episodes available on the Caillou YouTube channel, you’ll never run out of new stories to explore in French.
Tou.tv Jeunesse. Radio-Canada, Canada’s public broadcasting network, puts tonnes of its television shows online free of charge, including a separate section just for cartoons and other kids’ shows. Unfortunately there’s a catch: you need to be within Canada to view the content, or else use a VPN application to make your location appear to be in Canada.
French Flashcard Apps
French Baby Flash Cards for Android and iOS. This is one of the few good, free French early learning apps out there. It lets you pick a category and then scroll through the photos one at a time, listening to the French pronunciation of the object in each photo. Categories include food, numbers, letters, colours, and more.
French for Kids: Starting School (Age 5 and Up)
French Games and Activities
If your children are old enough to play games and puzzles on a tablet or computer, then they can do some self-directed learning on their own time without any help. The following apps are a good place to start.
Duolingo. An old favourite here at Fluent in 3 Months (Fi3M), Duolingo is an incredibly useful app for building basic vocabulary and grammar skills. And it’s so easy to use that even a child can play. Not only does it quiz you on a variety of vocabulary, but it identifies your weaker areas so you’ll know which words to practice more often.
Hello-World French Children’s Activities. Hello-World is a free project whose goal is to teach world languages to children through fun and educational immersion activities. They have succeeded phenomenally, with over 700 activities for French alone!
If your child is close to Kindergarten age, then I recommend starting with the Children’s Games section, which has some easy, basic games such as finding the object that doesn’t belong, or connecting the dots in alphabetical order. When you click on any object in a game, you hear its pronunciation by a native French speaker, along with the spelling in a caption on the bottom of the screen.
For older kids, other activities include vocabulary Bingo, number matching, logic puzzles, and about 695 others!
French Kids' Books
International Children’s Digital Library. If you’re looking for books to read to your child in French (or for your kids to read themselves if their level is high enough), then look no further. Here’s a collection of thousands of online children’s books in dozens of languages, including nearly 60 books in French.
Miscellaneous French Resources for Kids
Monde des Titounis. This website is an absolute gold mine, containing a little bit of all of the above suggestions. What I love most about this site is that it has a lot of the classic children’s songs and stories that your kids probably already know in English, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood. Hearing a story in one language that you already know well in another is a very useful way to make connections from your native language’s vocabulary to the new language.
What’s more, this resource isn’t just stories and songs. Click the “Apprentissage” icon for some very simple activities to help young children learn basic French vocabulary, such as the alphabet, colours, names of animals, and much more.
There isn’t much reading required to enjoy this site if your child is too young to read French. The fairy tales and other stories are actually narrated videos that let you turn the captioning on or off.
French for Kids: Any Age
Start a French Bilingual Playgroup
I bet you’re not the only parent in your area who is interested in giving their kids a head start in French. Depending where you live, there might also be some French-speaking families nearby who would love to give their children some exposure to French outside their home. So, why not start a French playgroup?
There are resources all over the web on how to go about starting a bilingual playgroup. The website Bilingual Parenting has put together some very useful guidelines to help you start your own local group, including some advice on how to grow your membership and keep them coming back for years.
Have you helped your children learn French? If so, please share the resources you’ve used in the comments.