French Acquisition: The Mother Tongue Hypothesis

Shin’ichi Suzuki, founder of the Suzuki Method for learning to play classical music, devised a method of teaching that borrowed it’s practices from the ways in which we acquire our mother-tongue.
He called it The Mother Tongue Method.
The blurb of his book Nurtured By Love reads: “…the Mother tongue Method (is) based on the simple observation that all children learn to speak their native language with ease through listening and repetition. He believed that since very young children could master the complexity of their native language, they could also master a musical instrument.”
In this book, Suzuki presents many interesting ideas about the way in which we acquire language as a child- to a level of fluency, yet through no formal tuition. He then applies this same method of language acquisition to the way in which he taught his young students to play classical string music.

Interestingly, the part of the brain that deals with language, is also the same part of the brain that deals with what I call the “mechanics” of music.
In an article from the Austin Community College, the author states that “The left hemisphere is apparently very important for musical abilities which share properties with speech, such as temporal order, duration, simultaneity, and rhythm“. This further propels my hypothesis that the same techniques that are used to learn music can also be applied to learning language, and vice versa.

I plan to use the practices outlined in this book to learn to speak French fluently in 4 months, along with various other techniques.
This is not an experiment to solely investigate the efficiency of the Mother Tongue method in second language acquisition, but a personal challenge to discover what combination of techniques works well for me.

Keep posted for updates on how I incorporate this theory into my challenge!

French Aquisition: Week 6

Tools:

  • duolingo is excellent.
  • just discovered this website, it looks interesting https://www.memrise.com/
  • i have discovered a memory technique that is working very well, depending on the clarity of the imagery used. for example, coupe means cut. So I imagine a little blue coupe being sliced in half by a guillotine. Now whenever I see the word “coup” this imagery resurfaces and I remember the meaning.

Observations:

  • this new memory technique only works if the imagery is very clear and non-ambiguous.
  • even if i do not find the opportunity to use french regularly in my week, i still feel like i have progressed by using duolingo nearly every day
  • i understand the majority of our children’s picture books
  • i still learn new vocabulary nearly every day from these same songs off Monde Des Petits, and it provides a good conversational point between the children and I about vocabulary.
  • the picture books are beginning to make sense to my 5 year old, she now finds them very engaging.
  • the girls are choosing to use French formalities/manners throughout their day

Goals:

  • finish duolingo course by the end of August, my original deadline. It is possible that I will not be fluently conversational by the end of August, but I will be able to read well. I would like to be able to read french newspapers or easy novels by August.

French Acquisition: Week 5

Tools of Acquisition:

  • Songs. Songs songs songs songs.

Observations:

  • 1 week without using Duolingo and the majority of my vocab and knowledge of sentence structure had vanished. It did not take me long to regain it, my memory kicked back into gear after only a couple of hours of work, but I was shocked!
  • It is hard to find space in my mind for using french in my day when I have a very busy week, and my mind is occupied with other projects.
  • My vocab is increasing weekly still, just by listening to these kid’s songs on Monde Des Petits
  • When teaching children songs to play with their instruments, it is better to teach them a song they have already memorised, instead of teaching them a new song with new vocab in a new language AND teaching them how to play it, all at the same time. Of course- this is the mother tongue method. But this week i forgot. So my attempt at teaching the kids Au Claire Du La Lune on the xylophone was not successful.

Goals for this week:

  • Use more french in everyday life
  • Verbally repeat every french phrase that i use in Duolingo, to help with my speaking skills.
  • Acquire vocabulary for camping
  • Learn a new French song with the kids.
  • Acquire a blank book to write in all my french vocab.

French Acquisition: Week 4

Tools of Acquisition:

  • We wrote a short 3 page laminated A4 picture book about Frenchy’s birthday. The kids drew the pictures, I wrote the story en francais, and drew little pictures for memory prompts next to key words. My theory is that if we have a written resource that is connected to a fond memory, it will enhance memory retention, and possibly be a more frequently used resource by the children’s own initiative.

Observations:

  • My brains are working betterer! I remember being at school and being able to learn new things easily and memorise lessons instantaneously. Since leaving school and motherhood, I have been noticeably less capable of acquiring new knowledge and information. THings just haven’t been able to stick in my brain as easily. When studying Chinese medicine I would have to read the same chapter about 5 times to get an inkling of comprehension out of it. However, since learning French I have noticed that I am starting to regain that mental coherency. In my yoga, meditation and ZenThai studies, the importance of a regular practice was drilled into us, in regards to creating good habits and maintaining a strong lifestyle. I am certain that the same can be said for mental exercise- a regular practice will foster a stronger foundation and understanding of the topic in question, but this diligence will also create ease in many other related activities. The feeling of mental connections is similar to when I was learning lots of music throughout my school years- yes, I can feel my brain working and where it is working form, in the same way that i feel my heart pumping. Strange but true. i would like to find someone else who feels this.
  • The most frequent reason for the girls to use french of their own accord is to sing songs. I should make use of this love for music and vocal expression and utilise it for extending their vocabulary. I have noticed that although they ask many questions about french vocabulary, they rarely choose to use it in their day. If I relate this to the Mother Tongue Hypothesis, it could be because I do not use it frequently enough for them to think that it is a regular part of our social interaction. I think that when my French is at the stage where I can speak fluently, the children may choose to speak it more often. Regardless of whether they do or not, that regular listening practice will keep the memory of the french language alive in them.
  • I recently remembered that I actually do learn very well from books. It is the process of writing it down that helps me to remember. Typing does not seem to have the same effect. I wonder if this is because writing and typign activate slightly different parts of the brain, or if it because of years of traditional schooling.
  • I have not once looked through the “French in Three Months” textbook that I got from the library.

Goals for this week:

  • Strengthen vocabulary for the kitchen, to use when cooking with the children and preparing their meals.
  • Encourage the children to request foods and drinks in french.
  • Learn a new French song with the kids.
  • Acquire a blank book to write in all my french vocab.

French Aquisition: Week 3

Current tools of acquisition:

(plus previously mentioned tools and processes)

  • Monde Des Petits has an excellent section on their youtube page for stories! This is my 5 year old’s”quiet time” activity, to watch this same half hour of stories every day after lunch.
  • Peppa Pig comes in French too! Keeping with the theme of repetition, we focused on episodes about birthdays this week. Frenchy’s birthday is next week, so we will have the opportunity to use our newly learnt vocab in a real situation then.

Observations:

  • “Q’est-ce que c’est?” (“What is this?”) is an excellent phrase that can be used throughout the day to encourage conversation, and acquisition of new vocabulary in relevant situations. It also rides on the back of the children’s inherent curiosity for language, so they use it whenever they would like to extend their own vocabulary, and empowers them with the ability to govern this portion of their own learning.
  • My 5 year old comes to me every day with a new French word she has learnt from listening to the stories on the Monde Des Petits youtube page. I am certain that the repetition is improving her ear for the language, and there are many early childhood education theories that point out the importance of repetition for the learning process.
  • Due to being exposed to so many different accents within the English language, and therefore accepting that there are many different “correct” ways of saying many English words, I notice that I do not have a lot of diligence for speaking French with a “correct” accent. It is hard for me to understand the need to speak a word with a specific vowel sound, when I have to accept in my own daily life that all of my Australian, Scottish, British, South African, and American friends do not say their vowels the same way that I do.
    However, this understanding of accentual differences provides me with a curiosity to know more about different French accents, including Belgian, Canadian, Tahitian, and Francophone African.
  • Singing in French is helping me to discover new ways to use my voice. I notice that when I sing in French I do not start to lose my voice after singing for a while, like I do when I sing in English. I wonder if this is because the sounds are different, or if I subconsciously use my voice differently when using French, or if I position my mouth in a different way. More observation is necessary.
    Note that I have very minimal formal vocal training, my musical training is with classical Piano and Violin.
  • Frenchy mentioned when we were watching Peppa Pig en francais that she thinks I have progressed quickly.
  • The vocabulary used in Peppa Pig is extremely basic and repetitive, so whilst I do not consider this an appropriate educational tool (or passive entertainment option) when watched in the viewer’s first language, it is proving to be a very effective learning tool for second language acquisition. My children also enjoy this part of our language studies because it is an opportunity to engage in popular culture, which is not often available to them.

Goals for this week:

  • Review Peppa Pig birthday episodes, and encourage the children to use this vocabulary in relevant situations by using it myself and asking them to repeat what I say.
  • Review vocabulary to use at the zoo, beach and at the park on our family trip this weekend.
  • Sing!
  • Keep using Duolingo every day.

French Acquisition: Week 2

Current Tools Of Acquisition:

  • We LOVE the videos, lessons and songs on the Monde Des Petits website. They are very interactive, speak slowly, and have french subtitles on many of their clips. They also have an English website, and a German website, but these contain English and German language videos and songs.
    We have the song sleectin on youtube playing non-stop in the background whilst we are eating breakfast and lunch, and the girls like to dance to the songs throughout the day.
    ***TIP*** If you search Monde Des Petits through Google, there should be an option in blue font right next to the web address that reads “Translate this page”. Clicking this option will open the website in a Google window, and Google will translate the majority of the text into your chosen language. This kind of defeats the point in immersion learning, but can be very useful when you are just starting out.
  • We have a hand-drawn poster on our lounge wall of an outline of our 2 year old daughter, and labeled basic body parts and correlating pronoun in French, e.g. La mains, Le pieds, La bouche, Les doigts, Les cheveux, Le bras.
  • We compliment this poster with the song Savez-Vous Planter Les Choux, and games reminiscent of Simon Says.
  • French colour “Snap” cards, which are also used to play memory.
  • Speaking about things around us in French, e.g. “Oh, les fleurs violet!” “Le bicyclette bleue!”
  • Writing french songs and learning to play french songs on guitar, singing french lullabies to my children at bedtime.
  • French labels all over our kitchen. “Le Placard
  • Google for grammar through the method suggested by Benny The Irish Polyglot
  • We have put up a chalkboard in our kitchen with lists of pronouns and commonly used verbs, e.g. “to have” “to be”.

Observations:

  • I notice that the easiest time for me to engage in French conversation with my daughters is when we are going for walks. I am sure that this is because we have no distractions about other things that need to be done, or that we would like to do. So whilst we are walking we usually speak about our current experience: crossing the road, the texture of the ground, surrounding flora and fauna. I took the opportunity this week to speak about these things in french instead!
    Well, I tried…
    I think that I succeeded about 50% of the time, talking about the sun and the shade, how it made me feel, the colours of the flowers and animals, what I did and didn’t like. I tried to speak only french as much as possible
    Although, I did not have a french-speaking person there to correct my grammar..
    I think that this is an excellent immersion opportunity for us.
  • I am beginning to pick out more and more words in the french music I am listening to. I often do not understand the words, but I recognise that I have used or read them before.
  • The repetitiveness of the children’s songs in the Monde Des Petits website is not becoming annoying or tiresome! I wonder if this is attributed to the fact that I do not understand the majority of what they are saying, so it is more interesting to me. Points for keeping motivation alive!
  • The repetitiveness of the songs are helping to strengthen my ear for french. I am beginning to memorise the songs and the vocabulary within these songs, just by having them playing in the background.
    Much like how you end up knowing all of the words to the most horrible pop songs without intentionally ever learning them, just because they are always played, in the shops, at your friends, at work, everywhere…
    You can’t escape them..
    This one is my 5 year old’s favourite, and is therefor stuck in my head for most of the day.
  • The girls understand a lot more than they speak. I do not think that they see the purpose in them speaking French very often, because they do not hear many people use it. There is no social or communicative need for them to speak French at all.

Goals For This Week:

  • Create Bingo Cards!
  • Finish the song I am writing in french- I will post it on this blog when I am confident enough!
  • Extend my relevant vocabulary to practice whilst I am on walks with my daughters.
  • Encourage my children to repeat the French phrases that I use.
  • Focus on one french picture book and read it with my daughters regularly, asking them to repeat the phrases in French, and asking questions for comprehension in English.

French Acquisition: Week 1

My journey officially starts on April 24.

PRIOR KNOWLEDGE:
*I had a small amount of prior knowledge of this language before this date. Very small.
*I had learnt to sing and play Frere Jacques on the guitar with my young children, and we do this regularly.
*We also play a french game in our home about a postman and the days of the week, reminiscent of Duck Duck Goose.
*I count to 10 with my children in French regularly.
*I studied Spanish for 1.5 school years at highschool in New Zealand, so I have a small amount of knowledge about how European Romantic languages differ from English.

CURRENT TOOLS OF ACQUISITION:
*I am studying French with a few different online resources. This is one of them http://www.fluentu.com/ i find it very useful, although the audio is not very good.
*My current au pair is french, so I ask her a lot about things that I am struggling to grasp.
*I am teaching my children french through stories and song with the help of our au pair. I believe it was Aristotle that said teaching is the highest form of learning!
*I especially love this youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/ssebastienn lots of their clips have french subtitles so I can read and sing with my girls at the same time.
*We have a few french picture books that our French girl bought for us when she arrived.
*I try to learn a new french song as often as I can.
*I have changed my facebook language settings to French.
*I will label everything in my house with the french word (and masculine/feminine article) as soon as I get the chance to with Frenchy.
*I am writing in French to two friends that I have in France, conversing with 2 local friends that speak French, and am hoping to find a new French penpal.
*The next time I go to the library I will find a French phrase book.
*I listen to modern french music as much as possible.
*I have been doing research on well-known internet polyglots, and their methods of language acquisition.
*As my French continues to improve, I will extend my reading and listening resources to extend just beyond my current level.
*I am taking this MOOC with FutureLearn that I highly recommend, to extend my knowledge on language acquisition.
*I have devised a Day Chart to do with the girls every morning, that allows us to chose options and stick them onto the chart regarding the day of the week, the temperature, the time we woke up, the weather, and how we feel.

OBSERVATIONS:
*The rhythm and timbre of the French language no longer sounds foreign to me.
* I can successfully follow the written lyrics or subtitles of French video clips. I do not understand everything that is written, but about half of the time I get the gist of what is being communicated.
*I can fake my way through about a quarter of French conversation that I am engaging in on Facebook, by simply copying sentence structure and repeating parts of what the other person is saying, drawing on my knowledge of Spanish and recognising similar vocabulary from Spanish and English. I need to use Google Translate often, but I am finding that simply engaging in conversation at any possible level is a very effective learning tool.
*I can sing the first half of the first verse of Une Chanson Douce. It is proving to be much harder to learn songs that have been designed for adults to sing, rather than songs that have been designed for children to sing.
*My 5 year old daughter is learning songs much faster than I am, without the additional research that I am doing into online French activities, conversation with Frenchy about grammar, and language acquisition theory.
*Doing the Day chart every morning is helping with all of our vocabulary and understanding of sentence structure, and is proving to be very beneficial for my children’s understanding of how to measure time in English.
*I regularly catch both of my children singing French games to themselves, and they play a game where they ask each other questions and answer with either “No” or “Oui” (in French).

GOALS FOR THIS WEEK:
*Stockpile my current French vocabulary and use this to write a song for guitar in French.
*Understand the picture books Frenchy brought that I have not yet studied (which is all of them!).
*Keep up to date with the FutureLearn MOOC. We have 2 weeks left.