Easy French songs for kids to start learning
Singing songs in a foreign language is immensely satisfying for language learners and great for your child’s cognitive development. Here’s how to exploit the learning potential of French songs, boost your confidence, and maximise the fun with your kids!
If you are a parent who feels your language skills are a little too ropey to be teaching your child, or if you already speak great French but have no idea how to introduce it at home, then the first, most effective step is to begin with songs. Your confidence will grow as a teacher and/or learner, and so will your child’s brain!Any of us who have spent any time at all with young children have seen just how much children love music and singing. As parents we can exploit this and make music a way to introduce some language learning skills without the children even realising it!An article in Early Childhood News shows that when children listen to music and songs they use their whole brain to process language and are able to remember much more of the vocabulary than if the words were simply spoken to them.Another very important reason to engage children in singing and music is that interaction between child and adult is key to fully engaging the child’s brain in the learning process. A 2003 study conducted at the University of Washington looked at the effects of social interaction on infants’ language learning and found that children developed a deeper understanding of a foreign language if it was being presented to them by a live adult, much more than if they had been listening passively on their own to the same material from a television:
“The results of Experiment 2 demonstrate that 9-month old infants watching and listening, or simply listening, to studio quality DVDs of foreign-language material do not show phonetic learning, even though infants of the same age learned from a live person (Experiment 1)…The current results are consistent with a variety of studies on older children (preschool age) exposed to language material, both native and foreign, from children’s TV shows. The results indicate that, although there is evidence that specific vocabulary items can be learned through exposure to television programs, the more complex aspects of language, such as phonetics and grammar, are not acquired from TV exposure.”
So sure, singing is clearly beneficial, but what if you have never really had much experience (or success) with learning a language yourself?
Don’t be put off by the thought of a huge daunting task in front of you. Small steps repeated often provide effective and rewarding results surprisingly quickly. Many parents who come to my preschool classes are amazed at how such a small amount of time playing with the language (roughly 45 minutes) once a each week can make a huge impact on their child’s ability to understand and respond to new phrases. Whenever I start a new course I always begin with the French version of the song ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ (Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds). Often parents say to me that after coming to just a couple of the classes their toddlers are able to point to their body parts prompted in French with barely any hesitation; and this is with hardly any practicing of the language at home throughout the week. So imagine what can be achieved if songs are practised daily at home, or if a variety of songs are used!
Don’t worry about trying to understand the whole song.
When deciding what songs to sing, choose simple ones that have an easily discernible theme, and don’t worry about not understanding every word or the grammar. Let the singer on the CD do all the hard work for you of singing and pronouncing correctly; just listening to the foreign language voice is essential for your child to get used to hearing and picking out the new language sounds; just make sure you read the lyrics of the songs so you know what they are about and focus on specific points of the song that you can highlight or act out. Very often when singing along to a CD in class I stop singing when we come to a part of the song that I feel is too complex or irrelevant to the vocab topic and we all just dance until a chorus or verse is repeated that we can join in with. The more you and your child listen together, the more satisfaction you will experience when you can see your little one understanding and singing along to foreign songs!
Movement and silliness are essential!
It has been well researched that movement in children is directly linked to their cognitive development. The more movement involved in their learning activity the more they are going to retain and develop. Plus, if you include laughter into all of that movement you have a powerful stimulus for your child to keep wanting to learn more, and they won’t even know that is what they are doing!
Change the lyrics?
Another good way to get your child understanding the sentence structures in the song is to replace key lyrics with some of your own. They can be in your own language or just nonsense words; as long as they keep within the context of the song. These replacement words serve to highlight how the sentences are formed, cements the meaning in their brains and encourages them to experiment with the language outside the song.
My son is three and a half and one of our favourite songs to sing together is ‘Dans le ciel’ by Alain le Lait. It is all about the things we see in the sky: sun, stars etc. I knew he had grasped the French meaning of the song when one day he started replacing the words for things we see in the sky with “poo poo!”. Needless to say the concept of poo poo flying in the sky is hilarious to him, and I did feel pretty happy that it proved he had learnt a vital sentence structure in French!
Here is a short list of fun songs that are easy to understand, full of repetition and good for simple actions:
Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds – the French version of head, shoulders, knees and toes.
Alouette – A traditional song about a lark having his various body parts plucked! Savez-vous plantez les choux? – Another well known song about planting cabbages with various body parts!
Jean Petit qui danse – A traditional song about Jean Petit dancing with body parts.
Perhaps you can see a theme developing!
My favourite versions of the first three songs come from a French singer/songwriter called Alain le Lait and my favourite version of ‘Jean Petit qui danse’ comes from a CD called Chansons pour bouger it is a real toe tapper!
So start singing now and you can start your child’s French language education right away regardless of your own level of French!