Bilingual Children - Week #18
Guest post by Jackie Colchester
This week on our 'Bilingual children' series, I'm delighted to welcome Jackie Colchester, founder of the brilliant Les Petits Tigres!
A wonderful company offering French language classes for children. Jackie is passionate in her quest to help us all learn through music, song, her creative props and Monsieur Le Tigre!
Jackie tell us more!
I am so pleased to have discovered Kristie on Twitter and her Mammaprada site. Kristie has lots of amazing tips and advice here about raising a bilingual child and I’ve also seen some great ideas from other bloggers and parents that she’s interviewed too.
I believe that it is so important that you start teaching a second language as early as possible. Of course, it’s great to introduce a language to your child at any time, and late is better than never! But the younger a child is, the more receptive they are. As music and language are my passions, I have already written a bit about their importance and benefits (here and here!). So today I’d like to get a bit more personal and share with you a bit of my background and story.
The first thing that you must know is that I am a French speaking American living in London (I get a lot of puzzled looks about this!). When I was pregnant with my son, I decided that I wanted to pass on the gift of multilingualism to him. As a fluent but non-native French speaker, I recalled the struggle of the years spent in language classes, starting in high school through to university - the memorisation of lengthy vocabulary lists; the boring grammar exercises; the embarrassing role play activities; and finally moving to France then spending months struggling to understand the southern accent as all I had been exposed to in school was a standard Parisian accent! I decided that I would save my child from that fate, and chose to let him learn the language organically through speaking to and with him from a young age.
It was difficult to get started actually, though simply more of a mental block than anything else. I somehow thought that I would be called out as a fraud for not being a native Francophone yet speaking French with my baby. It took about three or four months before I decided to take the plunge and get on with it. London is a very large and very multicultural city where many languages are spoken, and certainly no one walking past us down the street or in the shops cared what language I was speaking to my baby! It did feel a bit unnatural at first to be speaking my non-native language all the time in an English speaking country, particularly to someone who couldn’t yet respond in words.
Obviously being a baby he never responded in English either, but for some reason it seemed odd to me, perhaps because I had only ever spoken French to older children and adults who always responded. But I got used to it quickly enough and it became completely normal. I can’t recall now what age he was exactly but one day when I told him in French to put something in the bin and he did it, I was ecstatic!
Once I got going, day to day was fine. But I found that I had no frame of reference for one of the most important childhood staples - nursery rhymes! Sure, I could write essays about existentialism and Satre; I could converse fluently and without a trace of my American accent; but could I sing any nursery rhymes or lullabies?
After searching unsuccessfully for a local French playgroup or music class, I had put “Learn French baby songs” at the bottom of my to-do list. And it stayed firmly there for many weeks. Singing nursery rhymes and songs with your baby is one of the most beneficial things that you can do for them. There are many studies that show how music and nursery rhymes aid a child’s development of language skills, as well as fostering an emotional connection between parent and child.
Yet in spite of knowing the benefits, I, like many people, am much more motivated when I have a project and a deadline. And at that time as a stay at home mama, I had neither. So in order to encourage me to get on with it and also be accountable, I decided that the only way I would learn French nursery rhymes and songs was to start my own music class. As a language teacher and a musician, it seemed to be a logical step! I also figured that people would come as I had found nothing already existing in the area, so I was filling a gap in the market as well.
Perhaps a bit of an extreme measure to go to, but after spending a few months scouring the internet, listening to endless chansons et comptines on YouTube, stressing about which of the various versions of a song was the best or most authentic and lots of practice, Les Petits Tigres was born. I started classes at the local library on a voluntary basis while I got more comfortable with “performing” to my audience.
A year later with my son going into l’ecole maternelle full time and me going through a divorce, I decided to turn the class into a business. Today I have several drop in classes at various venues and I also deliver private sessions at nurseries. I am so fortunate to have found something that I love to do and brings me so much joy, which is also so beneficial to babies and young children.
If you’re in the South London area, please join us for classes at one of our venues! You can find the details on our site and keep updated with what’s happening by following us on Facebook and Twitter.
If you can’t make it to one of our classes, you can still learn along with us online. Follow us on Instagram @lespetitstigres for our #Frenchwordoftheday and discover a new word every day. You can also find our growing YouTube channel with French stories and in the coming months songs to sing along with at home as well.
By Jackie Colchester