The parable of the first raspberry

I wonder if you’ll forgive a digression from my usual blog posts so that I can tell you all about our first raspberry this year?  It will link to child development too – I promise you.

Firstfruits of 2016!
Firstfruits of 2016!

What prompted this blog post was a conversation with my customers on Monday this week as we sat around drinking tea and eating croissants with the children while it poured with rain outside.  I was telling them how sorry I was that we couldn’t play outside this week but that the garden was lovely this time of year, and that the raspberries had started to come through, although I added that they were late this year – I hadn’t seen any ripe ones yet.
Later that day, when the sun finally did come out, I was enjoying the garden with my children and my daughter suddenly shouted with delight.

“Mom, mom, I’ve found a raspberry”.

I was about to reply that there were lots of raspberries but that none of them were ripe yet, when she added.

“It’s ripe.  Can we pick it?”

I went and had a look, and sure enough, tucked away behind the netting, where it was sheltered and warm, was our first ripe raspberry.  We gently picked it, took it to the kitchen table, and I made the children wait while I took the photo you can see above.  Then we split it three ways.  The taste of summer!
So why, you ask, am I telling you about it?
Well, it’s because it reminded me of a truth I have come to recognise and enjoy while bringing up my little ones.

They surprise me.

As soon as I start to think they can’t do something or to accept anything negative that other people have said about them – that they will struggle with this or that or the other, or they are behind with this, or not as good as others at that – they suddenly seem to be able to do something that they couldn’t do the day before.  Whether it’s as good as they ‘should’ be, or not, the fact is they make some sort of step in the right direction of growing or maturing in some way and, more often than not, it’s in direct contrast to whatever someone else has said about them or what I have come to believe about them.
I had an example of this with regard to my son yesterday.  I was talking with my friend about the development of writing skills in children and saying that I had read children were supposed to be able to write some letters by his age, and I was a bit worried that my little boy wasn’t interested in this.  We were having a discussion about how to develop these skills and discussing ideas for encouraging gross motor skills, which would transfer to fine motor skills – the sort of discussion you get when you put together two people with an interest in child development.  Literally half an hour later, he was playing on kids’ mode on my phone and using an app where he could draw with his finger as if he was drawing in sand.  He drew a shape that looked like this:
Pauls p
And turned to me and said

“That’s a P”

Ok, I know it’s not quite a P, but it’s nearly there.  And it’s the first letter of his name.  My little son, proving me wrong once again.
Anyway, this got me to thinking about my raspberries, and what I had said about them – that they were ‘late’ this year.  On reflection, who I am to say when my raspberries should be ripe?  Different years are different – I might have an expectation of what might happen based on experience from previous years, and I know that some years we were eating raspberries from June onwards, but actually, the raspberries will be ready when they are ready, and I can be patient.
So from raspberries to child development, as I promised.  Patience is an amazing quality when it comes to taking care of children.  We can provide them with all sorts of lovely activities and experiences, and they will enjoy them.  However, we can’t make them be able to do something they are not ready to do.  They will do things when they are ready to do them, and often they will surprise us by suddenly being ready.  It may be absolutely nothing to do with what we have done for them – they have simply matured  to the point where they can now do something they could not do before.  And it can happen so suddenly that we almost miss it.
We can get so discouraged about our children at times, especially if they are not doing something that they ‘should’ be able to do by now according to our cultural or social, or even ‘scientific’ expectations and norms.  With this post, I want to encourage you to look out for and celebrate each new thing that your child can do, no matter where they are ‘supposed’ to be in terms of their development and especially if it’s something you or someone else thought they couldn’t do.  Celebrate each ripe raspberry of your child’s development, no matter how ‘early’ or ‘late’ it is, and on those days when you feel disheartened, remember that a new surprise is just around the corner.

Pronunciation: Ou (u) and u (y) in French

One of the main problems that English speakers have with French pronunciation is producing the difference between the ‘ou’ (u) and ‘u’ (y) sounds in French. This is mainly because neither of these sounds exist in English.  We do, however, have a sound ‘oo’, for example, as in ‘loo’, ‘too’.  Because of this, many English people pronounce the ‘ou’, and the ‘u’ in French in exactly the same way as this ‘oo’ sound in English.  This makes it rather difficult for French people to understand us.
I didn’t even realise there were two different sounds until I visited France on an exchange trip as a teenager and the Maman of the family explained to me that I wasn’t making the ‘ou’ sound very well.  She told me I needed to be making a noise like a dog barking, and proceeded to imitate a French dog for me (which, unsurprisingly, barks with a French accent!).

Bark like a dog!

Sadly, I can’t bark like a French dog for you on this blog.  But to help you out with your pronunciation of these sounds, here is an article by someone who has described the difference between these two sounds in a very helpful way.   Have a little look at it and see what you think.  I think it’s a really helpful summary.

Lucky children
Lucky children

You can also check out my YouTube tutorial for Old MacDonald had a Farm, where I explain how to produce the u (y) sound (jump to the 52nd second to find it!).  I chose this particular sound for this song to give the children and adults in my classes opportunity to practise it.  The great thing for small children is that we don’t have to tell them how to make these sounds.  If they are exposed frequently enough, they will reproduce them very naturally.  They are very lucky, aren’t they?
Have a practice at producing these sounds and tell me how you get on.  I bet with some practice you’ll be sounding very authentic in no time.

Five Disney Songs that are Fun in French

I have found Disney songs (and Disney films) to be a great help in introducing French to my own and others’ children – and in sustaining their interest too.
What makes them great is that they are from Disney films and therefore they try to capture the English original as closely as possible. This is because the song is often describing what you can see happening in the film.  This makes them good because your children are hearing French lyrics and seeing related visual content, helping them become familiar with vocabulary.
Here are my favourite French versions of Disney Songs, with links to where you can find them on YouTube.

  1. Sous l’océan (Under the Sea) – From the Little Mermaid.  A lovely song to dance to, with lots of names of musical instruments thrown in.  Very tricky to sing along to, but very good for a dance.
  2. Je voudrais un bonhomme de neige (Do you want to build a snowman?) – From Frozen.  Very close to the original, and great to watch on YouTube to pick up a little vocabulary.
  3. Hakunah Matata  – from the Lion King.  Great fun to sing along to.
  4. Je ne savais pas (Something there) – from Beauty and the Beast.  this is where Belle and the Beast are beginning to fall in love.  I challenge you not to cry while watching this one.
  5. Libérée,délivrée (Let it Go) – from Frozen.  This one is extremely famous and I definitely could not leave it out.  The lyrics are much more profound in French than in English – a very beautiful song.

If you click on the area under each of these songs, you will also generally find the lyrics to them too, which you may want to print out and use so that you can sing along.  Some are a lot easier to sing along to than others.  Even with my fairly good French knowledge, I admit to having quite a bit of trouble singing Sous l’océan!  I hope you have fun with this little selection of songs.  If you have a browse on the YouTube Disney FR channel, you will find many more.

Five simple ways to introduce your child to a second language that you don't speak yourself!

The question I get asked most of all goes something like this . . .

How do I introduce my child to another language when I don’t speak the language myself?

. . . which is, of course, a very good question.
The answer is that you can learn together – honestly, you can.  Your level is going to be a step ahead of your child, especially if they are very young, and a step ahead is really all you need.  You don’t need perfect pronunciation and grammar to be able to help your child move in the right direction in a new language.  In fact, one research project found children could filter out the errors made by their parents when they also had access to listening to native speakers in the language they were trying to learn.
And here comes the crux . . . do you need to pay a private tutor, native in the language you are trying to learn so that your child can listen to the new language pronounced perfectly and with immaculate grammar?  Well, you can certainly choose that route if you want to.  There are lots of very good tutors around who do exactly this, and who work with children of all ages as well as adults.
But you don’t have to, and I certainly didn’t with my children.  What I did (and still do, actually) was

1. make use of all the free stuff online and on TV.

This way you can give them access to something where the language is spoken by natives.  You can sit young children down in front of something in another language without it phasing them.  The key is choose something they really like. (Hint: Peppa Pig is available in French!).  YouTube has been invaluable to me in finding French songs my children enjoy and most DVDs these days are available in multiple languages.  My son was really into Tinkerbell when he was 2, so I tried him with this.  His first reaction was to say the TV was broken (it had been a while since we had watched anything in French!) but once he got used to it, he was as glued to it as he would have been if it was in English, and when my 6-year-old daughter watched with him, she was able to work out what the French expressions meant, and to repeat them, because she already knew the expressions from having seen the film in English.

Having fun together!
Having fun together!

2. expose them to very familiar basic expressions

that we often used in English in a specific context, and also used the same phrases in French in that very same context..  For example, I would use ‘on y va’ instead of ‘let’s go’, and encourage ‘merci’ as well as ‘thank you’.  You can find these sorts of phrases online , often with a recording of how they are supposed to sound, or in a simple French phrase book.

3. choose a specific setting that they were used to me talking in English, and instead speak in French.

Un chou (cabbage)
Un chou (cabbage)

I  chose shopping.  I learned how to say ‘Can you put that in the trolley?’ in French and just repeated it for every item we put in.  You can make this as basic as you like.  If you learn how to say ‘donne-moi’ (give me), you could try things like: ‘Donne-moi les oranges’.  Even if the only bit you can remember is ‘donne-moi’, they are still learning a sound and associating it with a meaning.

4. try not to get disheartened and give up when I didn’t hear them saying things back to me in French.

Learning at home
Learning at home

My son is 3 1/2 and I have been speaking to him, (and reading and singing to him) in French and English for a long time.  His English is beginning to come on quite a bit now, and he is managing fairly complex sentences at times, but his French is just an odd word here and there at the moment.  HOWEVER, his understanding seems to be amazingly good.  I was having a shopping trip with him a few months ago, and bought some chocolate, and said to him ‘le chocolat est pour Maman’ (the chocolate is for Mummy), and he burst into tears and said ‘My want it!’, so he had clearly understood.

5. do what I would do in English, but in French!

. . .  So what do I mean?  Well, to get children learning English, we sing with them, we do action rhymes and – all the rage now – we use sign-language of some kind to help them with their attention and communication.  In fact, I found sign-language a really powerful tool when teaching French to nursery age children.  Those children who were less confident in expressive language often used signs to begin with before they started speaking in French.  It gave them that little boost of confidence they needed that they could communicate.  I believe that it forms an anchor between their spoken English and spoken French.  In fact, my main teaching method when I work with children, is signed singing in French, accompanied by signs based on British Sign Language.  Take a look here to see me in action: Amber’s LMP.

I hope these tips have been useful to you.  Please let me know if you try them out at home.