You can start by “reading” to your baby while looking at picture books (start with black and white pictures from birth, then move to primary colours picture book around 2-3 months, and then full colours picture books from 3-4 months onwards):
say the name of the shapes or objects, describe the objects, explain how and when these objects can be used at home, outside, in the car etc. The more familiar the objects are, the easier it will be to incorporate the words later in daily life.
Between 6 and 12 months, you can start reading very short story books which incorporate actions (for example, a book where the characters are playing peekaboo, a book to play hide and seek, etc).
When reading those books, try to bring them to life by playing with your child while reading in French. From 12months old, you can start reading story books which explain day-to-day activities to which kids can relate to.
For example, the French collection “Timoté”, “Le Loup”, “Tchoupi” or “Petit Ours Brun” are French kids’ classic which all tell familiar situations children can relate to. Try to then incorporate the words from the story into your daily life so that your child can relate back and connect the story to real situations.
For example, if you read a book about going to the zoo, incorporate some of the words and phrases when going to the zoo with your child.
From 2 years old, you can start with short imaginative stories which will encourage the development of their imagination.
We personally read to our son every day in the morning because it is when his brain is the most receptive to new words, and before bedtime to allow his brain to process during the night what he has learnt during the day and just before going to sleep.
There is no right or wrong here. This is just what we do. The more you read in French, the better!
You might also want to make up your own stories (using story rocks, photos, or items you have at home for example).
Dual-language books are a great resource for bilingual families. Another option is to listen to an audiobook in French and then discuss with your child in French to encourage the use of new French words, talk about the pictures, and repeat familiar words and phrases.
Repetition is great for language development so enjoy reading the same French books over and over!
Reading storybooks every day can benefit your child in lots of ways:
- Helping with the development of early literacy skills by listening to French sounds, French words and French language – When you read to your child, he or she can learn that words are made up of different sounds, syllables and letters and that words usually link to the pictures on the page of bookmaking them easier to grasp. This creates the foundation for good reading skills. And if you read to your child in French, it will set a good foundation linked to their reading and understanding skills in French. This also helps your child broaden its vocabulary in French.
- Reconnecting your child to its French roots by discovering the other parts of the world – When you read to your child, he or she will learn about the outside world – different cultures, people, places or traditions. This alone opens their little mind to other realities than their own.
- Sparking your child’s imagination – When you read to your child, he or she will visualise the story by imagining some of the details which are not pictured. He or she will use his/her own feelings to bring the story to life. They often expand the story in their own creative play.
- Bonding with your child and promoting empathy – When you read to your child, you are often snuggled together in a quiet corner, on the couch or on a reading chair. This is when time stands still for a short moment which allows you and your child to bond together and fills up his/her “love bucket”. Reading storybooks is also a great way for your child to learn more of his/her own feelings and identify with them. Your child will often connect with the characters and the overall story; which in turn allows him or her to develop empathy and empathize with them.
- Helping your child easily switch from one language to another – Studies show that bilingual children tend to perform better in school when they are exposed to reading in multiple languages before kindergarten (or preschool). They are more likely to do well all the way through school. If the main language spoken outside of your household is not French, reading books in French helps kids switch from one language to other without any difficulties.
Involve your child, take turns to tell the story, asking questions and listening to the answers from one another are important pre-reading skills that will help your child further down the track when starting to read.
A direct quotation, often attributed to Einstein, runs: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Try incorporating reading storybooks every day to create a nice little routine where your child will know he or she is expected to speak in French.
A reading chair or nook where you are both comfortable can help setting up this daily routine. Also, to increase your child’s concentration, ensure that TV and radio are turned off while you read, tell a story or sing.
Do you have any other reasons why you are reading French storybooks to your kids? Or any other benefits you see? I’d love to hear from you below.