I am well known as an advocate of French-language education on my blog and social media. I have a Bachelor of Arts in French and a Bachelor of Education in high school second-language education. I also have a Diploma in Translation Studies but I have no idea where it is!
Perhaps my biggest qualification is that I am the mom of four bilingual kids and making sure their French is strong despite living in a very English-speaking city is one of my life’s greatest goals.
I am a Francophile through and through: I only started learning French in regular high school French classes in Grade 8. (Shout out to my high school French teachers, each one of them as wacky as the next.) I always knew I wanted to teach, and I chose to study French at UBC because I figured I might as well teach my favourite subject. Ultimately, this decision brought me to Quebec, where I met my Francophone husband. Fast forward many years later, and here I am, mom to four bilingual children attending school in the Francophone school district of Calgary.
I often tell my kids that their level of spoken French fluency already exceeds what I had coming out of high school. It was only after my university degree and my years of living in Quebec that I was truly fluent. The younger you start learning a language, the easier it is to gain fluency. The more you practice, the more fluent you become. (I once was fluent in Spanish, and let me promise you, I can now barely spit out a coherent sentence in that language due to years without practice ….)
So, if your hope is for your children to be fluent French speakers, and you are not a fluent French speaker, French Immersion is definitely a great point de départ. To gain oral fluency and confidence, consider enrolling them in exchanges to Francophone countries or provinces as they get older.
Because of my obvious love of French and my teaching background, I often get questions from parents who have chosen French Immersion for their children but who are not fluent in French themselves. They want to know how to support their kids in French Immersion without knowing more than bonjour.
I never attended French Immersion, and my children’s school experience is a bit different because it’s a Francophone school, plus I do speak French, so I don’t have as many ideas and recommendations to offer as I would like. This is why I have partnered with Franco-Ontarian teacher and author Céleste Kurcz, who has a master’s degree in International School Leadership, and is a specialist in Kindergarten, Dramatic Arts and French as a Second Language.
Céleste is in the trenches every day teaching early French Immersion, so she knows way better than me what resources are out there to support French Immersion caregivers.
View this post on Instagram
The biggest worry I hear expressed from caregivers considering immersion for their children is if it’s okay that they do not speak French. Céleste and I agree wholeheartedly: OUI! Whatever the home language or languages are, literacy in those languages will always support learning the school language.
Never doubt the value of what you know of your own language. Céleste says, “Reading rich texts and using a larger vocabulary and explaining what those words mean are all valuable.”
If your home language is English, “for little ones, talk about letters and sounds. Singing rhyming songs like Down by the Bay help your child with learning French.”
My best advice for the non-French-speaker with a child in French Immersion is to enthusiastically share the joy of learning a new language with your child. Let them be the expert; let them teach you and learn along with them. Be willing to sound goofy and let your kiddos correct you.
This list of resources features recommendations from both Céleste and me to help you share the joy of learning French with your children. We hope it proves useful for many French immersion families!
And for all the wonderful French teachers out there, maybe there’s a resource here you haven’t tried yet: Céleste has resources available on Teachers Pay Teachers.
If you’d like to follow along with Céleste’s class, check out her Instagram, which will give you a nice glimpse of what happens in French Immersion kindergarten.
Books for French Immersion
One of the biggest challenges of finding reading material for French learners is finding books that are at their reading level but also not too “babyish.”
Who better to write a book for early French immersion students than a French immersion teacher?!
Céleste’s inaugural title, and hopefully not her last, follows Coralie, a cute little ladybug, who travels to space in her imagination!
This book is geared towards children ages 3–7 and is particularly well suited to kindergarten immersion students as it uses basic French and incorporates math objectives like counting backwards from 10, ordering objects by size, and skip counting.
My twins are turning 5 in March, and one of their favourite things to do is COUNT, so they greatly enjoy this story. As is the case with most kids in this age group, the arrival of the sun every morning and the appearance of the moon at night is fascinating, and although they struggle with a speech apraxia, two words they use often are soleil and moon. (Whether they use the English or the French for a word depends, I think, on what they find easier to articulate.) Coralie pays a visit to both!
I look forward to Céleste adding more books to the Coralie series.
I will be reserving this book, by French author Christophe Loupy, at the bibliothèque as I hadn’t heard of it before.
Céleste tells me: “This is a cute book that uses circles to represent students in a classroom. The book focuses on numbers 1–10. It is also great since it works on subitizing (a skill to identify the number of items in a group or sample without needing to pause and count them). This book is perfect for your Kindergarten or Grade 1 child.”
We own this book, as well as the others in the series by Mac Barnett, Triangle and Cercle. These books are originally in English, and being the nerd I am, I would suggest having a copy in both languages to read side by side.
Carré is both a simple story about shapes and a deeper lesson about art being in the eye of the beholder.
Céleste tells me that “the moral of the story is really cute and can be enjoyed by children in primary grades.”
To read translations or not?
My kids read a lot of series in French that are translated from English. This is good and bad. The good is that they’re often familiar with the characters and the plots. The bad is that they’re often translated in a very “French-from-France” manner that’s quite clunky on this side of the Atlantic. Overall, it’s nice to have a mix of translated texts and texts originally written in French.
Using translations can be a nice entry point into French reading. All of the most popular titles, from Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Journal d’un dégonflé) to Harry Potter are easily found in French. One of the ways I worked on my French in my early twenties was by reading the Harry Potter series in French, since I was already so familiar with it in English.
When it comes to you—the non-French-speaker—reading aloud to your kids, consider finding audiobook versions you can listen to together while holding the physical book.
Also, let your kid help! My daughter loves nothing more than to correct my mom’s French as she tries to read with her. And if you both don’t know a word, you can find a pronunciation online to play and repeat.
These are some of the series that my kids have enjoyed that are not translations:
- The P’Tit Loup & Le Loup series – The series includes board books and picture books for the toddler through early-grade-school crew.
- Elise Gravel’s various delightful children’s books – Some books were originally written in English, but the translations are great. Gravel is a bilingual Quebec author and illustrator.
- Les Légendaires and Les Mythics by Patrick Sobral – Two epic graphic novel series that my son really enjoys. They are probably good for age 8+ depending on reading level.
- Les Dragouilles – A graphic novel series about dragons that are potatoes … or potatoes that are dragons? For about grade 2 and up.
- Agent Jean & Mini Jean – Written by an author from Quebec, these books are great if your kids are into Dav Pilkey. You can also watch the show on Radio-Canada jeunesse.
- Les héros de ma classe – Another series by a Quebec author, this one is about gradeschool kids and their hilarious adventures. My son especially enjoyed it in Grade 4.
If you’re not sure where to find the best selection of French-language books, I suggest Quebec’s Renaud Bray. Their book recommendations are also great if you’re trying to figure out what to borrow from the library. Scholastic also has a French section on their website!
For even more recommendations, check out all of my kids’ favourite French and English book series.
French by mail?
My kids also have French magazine subscriptions that provide ample reading material paired with the excitement of getting mail.
Les explorateurs is reminiscent of my childhood subscription to Ranger Rick; my son enjoyed it from about ages 6 to 9. Les débrouillards is a science and nature magazine for ages 10+. Both magazines have tons of non-subscription resources on their respective websites: videos, quizzes, full articles and experiments. You can even download educational resources that correspond to each month’s magazine.
You can find French-language magazines for all ages via Bayard Jeunesse. For the youngest crew, Popi and Pomme d’Api are great options that my kids have enjoyed.
YouTube Channels for French Immersion
Look. I have a love/hate relationship with YouTube just like you do.
I wish that the parental controls were better adapted for leaving accessible only the content we want our children to see. (I also wish Netflix’s parental controls were better so I could simply make Peppa Pig disappear.) One option if you do not want to use YouTube is to switch the audio language on your favourite streaming platform to French. (FYI, Peppa Pig is less irritating in French).
During lockdown, I wanted to increase how much French my children were hearing at home, and I found one YouTube channel that I really came to love, which was Mini TFO (Mini Télé Franco-Ontarien). I even had fangirl moments when two of the channel’s regular hosts slipped into my DMs on Instagram after I tagged the show in a story!
This channel is by Ontario’s Franco-Ontarien Media Group, so it isn’t necessarily geared to French language learners, which honestly is just fine because their content is fun and engaging even if your child is just starting with French. Non-English-speaking children would enjoy and learn from Sesame Street, and a lot of the Mini TFO segments remind me of Sesame Street!
Their videos include traditional songs as well as original ear worms that, frankly, I still catch myself singing. You can find videos to help with early concepts like the alphabet, colours, patterns and shapes, numbers, days of the week and animals.
Besides music, they also have yoga videos! There are also animated shows and many thematic episodes in a Sesame-Street style that cover a wide range of topics. Not to mention a series hosted by a cat!
I would like to give a special shout out to this song about farts, a true masterpiece.
Céleste tells me: “Mme Martine is a French speaker from eastern Canada. She is a mom and a teacher who does wonderful story times in French. She speaks with a lot of enthusiasm and usually dresses up with the theme of the book.”
Might I suggest using her channel to inspire your French picture book collection? Watching her videos can help your emergent reader and you gain fluency.
Everyone needs a brain break! These are brain breaks in French that a lot of teachers use in their classrooms. To play something like this when I first started teaching, I’d have first had to reserve the single projector for our department … but now that I have returned to class as a sub, I see that all classrooms have projectors and smart boards!
Says Céleste: “This channel offers all kinds of daily physical activities and mindfulness activities in French.”
I had never heard of Monsieur Steve, but he seems like a fun guy! “This French Immersion teacher from Toronto is well known across Canada for his videos. He always creates new materials and introduces French vocabulary in fun ways,” explains Céleste.
My brother and I will still randomly burst into a ridiculous French vocabulary song we learned in high school (and that constitutes about the extent of my brother’s French ability), so never underestimate the power of an educational song!
You can also follow Monsieur Steve on Instagram!
Websites for French Immersion
The internet is rich with resources in French, but it can be very hard to parse out what will be useful or not for your kiddo. Here are websites that Céleste suggests, plus a few I use.
Says Céleste: “This website is geared towards junior and intermediate grades. It is full of great material for children in French Immersion or in French Schools. You have French TV shows, articles, music, contests, and games. Zone Petits is ideal for kindergarten to Grade 2.”
“This website is through Radio Canada. You can listen to podcasts (balados), hear audio books, concerts and so much more en français!”
Ohdio is also available as an app, and for Canadians you can always tune into your local French-language radio station, the French equivalent of the CBC. Maybe I’ll be interviewed again one day soon!
I had never heard of this resource until Céleste shared it with me, but it looks excellent. FLORA is a program for French-language-learners developed by The New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. A positive consequence of the pandemic is that this resource is now available worldwide. There are 24 modules in 4 levels, with Level 1 using English instruction as well as French.
FLORA modules can be used online or downloaded to a tablet or other personal device. The site is easy to navigate for non-French-speakers.
Another new one for me and one I wish I’d had back when I was teaching French. Céleste tells me, “This website is geared towards junior and intermediate students in French or French Immersion. It has a daily news article using age-appropriate language. There are also podcasts, quizzes, and videos.”
Quebec-based AlloProf is a website my son’s teachers referred to a lot for enrichment activities during peak COVID at-home learning times. This site is geared towards francophone students, but its learning games could definitely be useful for more advanced French immersion students. AlloProf isn’t limited to French language: it’s also got lots of great math, science and social studies resources.
My son also told me about a French version of Wordle that his class plays sometimes, called Le Mot. Again, not for your beginner students but it could be fun for intermediate and secondary immersion learners. Le Mot is found on a free website called Dictaly, which has many other learning resources. As a total nerd for dictées, I love the beginner-level dictée activities that feature audio and of course automatic correction.
What about online translation?
If you are looking for an online dictionary for language learners, I am a big fan of Word Reference. I would actively discourage kids from using Google Translate when they’re working on writing in French, but it’s a great tool for non-French-speaking caregivers! Both of these resources also allow you to play a recording of the word.
You may want to add the Google Translate plug-in to your Chrome browser, either to help you understand a French website or to learn some new French words while surfing in English.
Music for French Immersion
Music is so, so key to language learning for children and adults. Songs get stuck in our heads, and it might drive us nuts until the lyrics are helping us conjugate verbs or string together an idiomatic sentence in a foreign language.
Here are Céleste’s Music for French Immersion suggestions:
“Suitable for the littlest listeners up to about age 6, this singer has songs that focus on numbers, colours, letters of the alphabet and body parts.”
“Available on Spotify and YouTube, DJ DELF is the creation of singer Étienne who is a Francophone from Ontario. His songs help students develop their French skills through music. Suitable for ages 7–10.”
“Coeur de Pirate is a Canadian singer-songwriter and pianist from Montreal. She just won a Juno award for Best Francophone Album of the Year. You can listen to her music on any major streaming app.”
“Stromae is a Belgian singer, rapper, songwriter, and producer. He is mostly known for his music blending hip-hop and electronic music. You can find his music on any streaming app. Suitable for ages 10+.”
Apps for French Immersion
There are some amazing apps for learning to read and write in English: all of my kids have learned so much from Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader and Endless Math. I have long wished for a French version; there is now a Spanish one … but I have not quite found an app series as good as these for French.
The best alternatives for learning French are:
The app Bloups! is a decent app for learning to read in French, starting from basic syllables and progressing from there. You can even select different French accents. I say “decent” mainly because its graphics are probably not what your kids have come to expect from their tablet games!
Blips! (number recognition)
By the same creator, there is also Blips!, which is for learning to identify numbers in French. French numbers past 69 are ridiculously complicated and being able to quickly recognize a number said aloud is a big challenge for French learners. I may or may not still panic when anyone tells me a number over 69. Do I still have to think “four twenties and ten equals 90” when I hear quatre-vingt-dix? Why yes, yes I do.
Céleste and I agree, this app is a must. For one thing, it is free!
Céleste says: “It is geared for children from 4 years old and up. It offers free access to hundreds of books, games, and quizzes. Check with your child’s teacher since this is a popular app in many schools. Your child might already have a class code. If not, you can sign up as a parent and track your child’s progress.”
Both for kids and adults, DuoLingo is also a really solid resource for language practice. Maybe you will impress your kids with what you learn from it!
Change the Language Settings!
A lot of popular apps can be played in French by selecting the language in the app settings. If your kid is motivated enough to win the game, they’ll overcome the challenge of game prompts in French!
Don’t forget that you can also change the language of your child’s gaming console. My son played Animal Crossing in French, which really forced him to practice his reading!
Make Learning French a Family Affair
Remember that you not speaking French is not a barrier to your child’s success in French Immersion. Joining them in the learning process can be meaningful for you and them; and letting them surpass you in their French abilities and having them teach you will be a nice change in the parent/child dynamic.
Put on French music, add French subtitles to an English-language show, or watch the French version with English subtitles; ask Alexa or Google or Siri how to say “seal” in French; stick labels all over your house with French vocabulary … the possibilities are infini!
Un gros merci to Céleste for her help with this post! Check out her book and her teacher resources at coralietheladybug.com and don’t forget you can use the code mamanloup to save 20% off her first Coralie book!