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Black Kids Learn French 101

5 Ways Black Parents Can Encourage French Language Learning with Their Children

Say oh là là to learning French! March 20th is French Language Day. Your children can have fun and your family can be enriched by the experience of learning French. According to the Federation of Alliances Françaises USA, there are more than 200 million French speakers worldwide and French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English.

Learning French can open doors to travel to Francophone countries and provinces in Africa, Europe, Canada, and the Caribbean. It could also create pathways for your children to pursue higher education and careers at universities and companies at home and abroad. And French is beautifully rhythmic when spoken.

“It could also create pathways for your children to pursue higher education and careers at universities and companies at home and abroad.”

If you were not raised in a bilingual household or community, it is still possible to learn French and teach your children. In fact, I grew up in a monolingual African-American household. Still, through community-based programs and university experiences, my passion for French was ignited.

In 2016, motivated by my interest in foreign language instruction in urban communities, I undertook a semester-long research project in a partial French language immersion classroom in an urban community.

My research revealed that the African-American students in the classroom were motivated to learn French when the content and language instruction employed materials and language that related to their lives. The use of music, oral storytelling, culturally responsive texts, first-language, and visual aids and gestures were effective in increasing their understanding of French word meanings.

“My research revealed that the African-American students in the classroom were motivated to learn French when the content and language instruction employed materials and language that related to their lives.”

In the United States, access to foreign language immersion classrooms is often limited in urban communities. In 1997, 24% of U.S. public elementary schools offered foreign languages, compared to 15% of public elementary schools in 2008, according to a 2011 report Foreign Language Instruction in U.S. Schools: Results of a National Survey of Elementary and Secondary Schools. Of the number of English Foreign Language (EFL) immersion schools in the U.S., EFL schools in urban communities are less in number because of district funding, curriculum priorities, foreign language teacher shortages, and other factors.

Still, foreign language learning can be within reach for African-American children and other minority families. Here are some ways that parents can jumpstart their child’s French language learning and cultural experience for free to low cost.

Play Games: French word bingo and matching games can be a fun way to introduce your children to foreign language learning. Start small with alphabet and number counting games in French and work your way up to vocabulary games. A useful website is www.bonjourfle.com.

Household Labels: Label household surfaces in French and English at eye level for small children. This will aid your child in making word-meaning associations with household items and contribute to their word recognition in English and French. Order the inexpensive ready-made French vocabulary labels at vocabularystickers.com. The labels have an adhesive that protects household surfaces. A pack cost less than $14.

Listen to Bilingual Music: For the little ones and adults, Putumayo World Music offers quality music selections sung in world languages, including French and English that can be enjoyed by the whole family. “French Playground” and “French Dreamland” are good CD selections for kids. For a cultural twist, consider listening to Les Nubians, a sister French duo from Cameroon, whose songs are soulfully sung in French and English. To learn more about their music, visit www.lesnubians.com.

Movies and Films: The National Film Board (NFB) in Canada is an essential resource for films in French and English. From animation to documentaries, there is something for the whole family. Furthermore, the NFB offers diversity in storytelling with many films that center on Black life and history. NFB films can be watched online or purchased at www.nfb.ca.

Online Learning Tools: Invest in a picture English to French dictionary. Also, there are great audio books that you and your children can read by following along. The French Experiment is a user-friendly website with free interactive language lessons and French readings of children’s stories such as The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. To access the stories and lessons, visit www.thefrenchexperiment.com.

If you are looking for children’s books in French that reflect aspects of Black culture, Like a Million Black Butterflies by Laura Nsafou and Coiffures Coupé Décalé by Muriel Diallo are good books that focus on topics of hair, beauty, and bullying. For more information, visit http://editions-bilibok.com/like-a-million-black-butterflies/ and https://livre.fnac.com/a9626149/Muriel-Diallo-Coiffures-coupe-decale.

When language learning becomes relevant to your child’s life, they can be all in! So, dive in with them by seeking opportunities to experience the foods, arts, literature, and people who speak French. As with your first language, before you were able to speak, read, and write you heard and experienced the language daily. Therefore, remember to embrace the challenges, be consistent, and remain positive throughout the French language learning journey. Bonne chance!

Click here to read Black Kids Learn French 102.

March 2019


Robin Morris-Wilson

Educator

Robin Morris-Wilson teaches art and science for students in kindergarten through third grade at the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School in Detroit. She is a published children’s author, poet, and writer for the New Citizens Press in Lansing, Michigan. An enthusiastic French language learner, Robin has studied French at Ecole Québec Monde in Québec City, Canada. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Reading with a minor in language arts from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. As an undergraduate student at UM-Dearborn, she conducted academic research on early French language learning in an urban context.

March 2019

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