Bilingual Family: Great resources for learning French
Author, blogger and mother of a bilingual family, Annika Bourgogne shares her selection of the most useful resources her family uses for learning French.
A while back, InCultureparent magazine asked about French resources on their Facebook page. I contributed a few off the top of my head, but then realised I know dozens more given that we've been looking for them for close to 12 years now. So I decided to come up with a list of things that our family has found useful, hoping that it can be interesting to others as well.
In addition to the online resources, I took a pen and paper and went around the house writing down all the useful French things I came across. Most are originally French, but I've included a few translations that have worked really well too. Some of the resources are also connected with the culture and not just with the language. None of the following links pay me a dime – they're just for you to get more information from resources that I personally recommend based on our family's experience.
Songs and rhymes
We have loved the CD collection called Le coffret des crèches et maternelles (which has an amazing selection on four CDs), but if you can't find it, the website http://comptine.free.fr/accueil offers hundreds of songs and rhymes in French.
Les Ogres de Barback has two CDs called Pitt Ocha I and II. Funny with great vocabulary. You can find them at www.pittocha.com.
Mademoiselle Prout I and II. We especially love CD number II, but the first one has good songs too. The genre could be called funny "pop songs" for children ages four to five years and up. Look for them at www.musicme.com.
Radio for children
- www.ouistiti.ch. Our definite favourite, which continues to work for our preteen too.
- www.tunein.com. Choose children as genre and scroll down to find stations in French.
Books and stories online
- www.iletaitunehistoire.com. This is my personal favourite with beautiful illustrations.
- www.lirecreer.org. Stories for children between 4 and 14 years of age.
- www.bookbox.com. Change the language and listen and watch 13 stories with audio and subtitles in French.
- www.petit-prince.at. An online version of the little prince in French, along with many other languages. I also love the version that can be found on You Tube.
Books in French
Just like with magazines, you can subscribe to books at www.ecoledesmax.com. Our girls have done this through the French school, but families can do it directly too, choosing the right age-level for their children.
Here are some of our favourite books:
Le Trésor de l'enfance by Gallimard Jeunesse. Our version of the book is falling apart, especially since both girls have wanted to hear over and over the stories of Le monstre poilu and La belle lisse poire du prince de motordu. The book has short versions of many classics and is, as the name suggests, a real treasure.
Whenever the kids have liked a book, we've tried to see if there are more in the same series. These ones have worked very well, even if many have been translated into French from other languages:
- Le Petit Nicolas: the (very funny) adventures of a young boy in France in the 1950s. I read many of the books in Finnish as a child and they haven't lost their charm. I'm so happy my children can read them in the original language, French. There is an animated series with the same name, but what our children really liked was the film that came out a few years ago.
- Cabane magique: children time-travelling and solving mysteries in different points in time.
- C'est la vie Lulu: works well for girls ages six to eight and up.
- Club des cinq: the famous five, an oldie but goldie that still works – in multiple languages!
- Géronimo Stilton and Téa Stilton.
- Le monde génial de mes 7 ans. Different books for boys and girls between three and eight years of age, with stories and all things interesting for their age. A similar one, but with emphasis on motivating kids write, is the collection Mon cahier à moi.
- Le Girl's Book, a version for boys exists also.
- Le Dico des Filles. Important girly information for tweens and teens. A new version comes out every year (not that you need to buy a new one every year, as most of the information stays the same).
- Ducobu – a very inventive dunce who gets himself into all kinds of situations when trying to avoid studying. Two movies have been made recently and they've been great hits with our 6–11 year olds (even we parents like them...).
- TinTin – the adventures of this Belgian reporter and his dog Milou probably don't need any introduction, especially after the movie by Spielberg.
- Astérix – no introduction needed here, either. Alongside the comic books, you can find Astéric cartoons and also recent films with Gérard Dépardieu as Obélix.
- Titeuf – a nine-year-old boy discovering the world – and girls! www.zeporama.com
- Lucky Luke – the (originally) French-speaking cowboy! There are also Lucky Luke cartoons, and even a film that came out a few years ago with the academy-award winner Jean Dujardin as Lucky Luke himself.
- Marsupilami - many people know this strange creature, but might not know that it was originally written in French, accompanied by an animated series and, again, a recent movie.
www.uni-presse.com: Subscribe to magazines in French (for adults or children), delivery anywhere. Both girls received Popi for their first birthday, which they've read and reread (with us parents) until there's nothing left. Since then our absolute favourites have been:
- J'aime lire (and before that Mes premiers j'aime lire with the story also on CD)
- Dlire and Je bouquine are the current favourites of Emma (11).
- The 'girlie magazines' Manon (for six- to nine-year-olds) and Julie magazines (for preteens) have been big hits with our girls, and have helped them stay up-to date with the cultural references of their French peers.
Cahiers de vacances
These are exercice books that come out at the end of the school year so that children can revise what they've learned over the summer holidays. You can find them online, by grade level. Here are a few fun ones that we've liked:
- L'énigme des vacances by Nathan. A series of story books with questions and problems you need to solve before continuing the story.
- Petits énigmes trop malignes by Hachette.
- Petits exos trop rigolos by Hachette.
www.captvty.fr: French catch-up TV from anywhere in the world, two weeks after it has aired in France. Our kids especially love the channel Gulli.
For smaller children (click on the links for short YouTube videos your child can choose their favourite from):
For older children:
- Animations or films based on comic books: Petit Nicolas, Lucky Luke, Astérix, Tintin, Titeuf.
- C'est pas sorcier / Quelle aventure. Educational as well as entertaining, these DVDs are a great way to review in French the topics that Emma has studied at school in Finnish. Last summer, before visiting Versailles, we watched the episodes about how the castle was built and what the daily life was like under the reign of the sun king.
Board games and card games:
- Jeu de l'oie: You can find countless versions (with images or words) of this game online through Google.
- Je joue à construire mes premières phrases by Megableu: A great game for the little ones to learn to make sentences in French.
- Vocabulon des petits: A vocabulary game that you can play in many different ways depending on the children's age.
- Il était une fois by Atlas Games: A fantastic card game where children get to tell a fairy tale in a group with the help of different story elements represented by the cards.
- Monopoly in French: They even have an edition called "France" and others for different cities and regions.
- Scrabble: Emma has perfected her French spelling by playing with her grandma and great grandma (who at 92 continues to be unbeatable).
- For learning to read: Mon atelier lecture by Ravensburg. What I like about this game is that it is suitable for children in different stages of learning to read. You can start with letters, then syllables, then words – all in a light, fun way.
Online games and websites for children:
Order your favourite French food at www.mondizen.com; the selection is quite impressive.
Other fun stuff
- www.lesincollables.com: great educational products. We've used many many products over the years, and our most recent favourites are the riddle CD for the car and the word of the day calendar, 365 mots drôlement illustrés.
- Treasure Hunts (jeu de piste or chasse au trésor in French). Buy a ready-made one from Fleurus or design you own at one of the many sites online. We recently did one with a Halloween theme at www.chasse-au-tresor.info.
- Fun table mats with riddles and jokes: These are great for when children start to read and write. We use them at snack times (or when the children are hungry and dinner's not quite ready...). You can make them yourself too, drawing on an A3-size paper or even by photocopying pages of a book.
- Timetables for school and many other things to print out at can be found at www.hugolescargot.com.
- Cahiers de texte for school: These notebooks are perfect to write down (and keep track of) homework for each day of the week. You can also choose them with cartoon figures. Emma has Ducobu this year.
- A family calendar with riddles, recipes, activities.
- Riddles that I like to write on a piece of paper on the bathroom wall.
And to end on a sweet note, a great resource (in small doses) to learn to read are the Carambar candies! We have made a deal with Sara who isn't very interested in learning to read in French: read the riddle – eat the candy!
I'm sure that many of you have lots of things you could add to this list!
Annika Bourgogne is a language teacher who lives in Helsinki, Finland, with her French husband and two daughters. Passionate about family bilingualism, she is always looking for new ways to combine real-life parenting with the latest research on the subject. Her book Be Bilingual – Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families came out in December 2012. You can read more about Annika's book and new projects on her website and Facebook page.
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