This month’s guest post is by Katie Gregory, a mum of two and family travel blogger at There We Go. Katie recently had that tricky moment where your child wants to start learning a language which you do not speak yourself. In this post, Katie has shared her approach to her child’s language learning as well as how the Story Box Club has been helping.
My own language learning experiences
I wish I could tell you I spoke a second language. I have very shaky conversational Italian, thanks to a now-ancient GCSE, and that’s about the extent of it. But even that very limited knowledge has opened some surprising doors for me as a travel writer, which I’ve written about over on my blog.
It’s the reason I’m so keen for my own children to learn another language as early on as possible, and I’ve always sort of assumed it would be Italian. We have some basic English to Italian books at home, and we make an effort to try out our Italian words on holiday. This year we’re planning a road trip across Italy – our biggest Italian adventure yet – so I’ve been dusting off the phrase books in preparation.
‘Mum, how many languages actually are there?’
My four-year-old’s new-found love of French, therefore, came as a bit of a surprise. Walking home from preschool a few weeks back, he announced there was a girl in his class who spoke something called French, and proceeded to do an amazing impression of her accent.
‘You told me there was English, which we speak, and Italian, which everyone on holiday speaks,’ he said, accusingly. ‘How many languages actually are there then?’
The Prince’s Underpants – in French, not Italian
Suffice to say, last month’s Story Box – a reimagined version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, which morphs from English to French – came just at the right time. The bright yellow box arrived through the letterbox and was instantly The Most Exciting Thing In The World (he doesn’t get much post that’s actually addressed to him, after all). And as soon as he spotted the story, he wanted to get stuck in.
Within about three pages, however, I realised quite how awful my French pronunciation is. So I was glad to find the Parent Guide, which explained that it’s best to listen to the audiobook first, before you start reading. It took less than a minute to download it to iTunes, and we started again from the beginning – this time with the narrator doing a much better job than I had.
Learning through osmosis (sort of)
Now, my son has the attention span of a gnat, so by the time we were a few pages in, something else in the room had caught his attention. I assumed he’d switched off, only to hear him giggling at a part of the story where everyone throws their clothes into the air and ends up standing in their underwear, like the prince. When the story finished and he asked to listen to it again, I put it on in the background and let him carry on.
We didn’t get to the other items in the box until the next day, when we read through the book again – this time with the audiobook playing at the same time (being able to hear and visualise the words simultaneously was hugely helpful for me, as I imagine it would be for older kids who can read, too). I was surprised how much both of us had remembered from the day before, without having to do any intentional ‘studying’.
From English to French to… Spanish?
The novelty of the book may well have worn off after that point, if it wasn’t for all the extra bits that came with it. We’ve started the activity book – which builds on the key elements of the story and will keep us busy for a while – and found the flash cards the most helpful of all.
Plus, my younger daughter was delighted to be presented with the dress-up dolls to cut out and colour in. They tie in with the story, too – there’s a game at the back of the activity book that further reinforces the French words for various items of clothing and body parts.
Having only ever really put one language forward as an option, this month’s story box was a big eye-opener for me. At four, my son is fascinated with languages – plural – and at his age, that’s exactly where I want him to be. Not only that, but he’s so proud to be able to say ‘the head’ in both English and French, that he’s asking how to say it in other languages, too.
It looks like we might have to tackle Spanish next month…