The following article first appeared in the CPF Alberta News.
Want to slip a “literacy” gift under the tree or into the birthday presents this year? Great idea! Following are a few tips to help you make the best selection.
Seek out familiar themes
The breadth of your child’s French “recognition vocabulary” – words and phrases that he understands even if he’s not yet using them in his own speech and writing – will not match his knowledge of English. If the subject matter is familiar, it’s easier for him to determine the meaning of new vocabulary.
The visual component of French television programs and videos can assist with meaning, but the speed of the dialogue is sometimes a problem. Again, familiar stories or themes tend to be more accessible to second-language students.
Is your child a confident reader? To encourage him to venture into original French materials (as opposed to translations), ask at your favourite book store about authors who write in a style similar to that of his favourite English authors.
Find favourite topics
Of course, you want to expose your child to new vocabulary and structures in order to further her knowledge of French. Finding materials about her favourite topics is a good way to tempt her to read, listen, or view in French.
Many favourite English books can be found in French translations. For example, Curious George, Clifford, Franklin, and even Harry Potter all “speak French.”
Many nonfiction books not only feature illustrations which help with meaning but also offer the choice of reading the more involved text or, for less confident readers, just the brief explanations and captions.
If your child has a special hobby or a keen interest in a particular topic, seek out French materials that involve that theme.
Look beyond story books
Music is a wonderful vehicle for learning both vocabulary and pronunciation, and in Canada there is a wealth of French material produced for both young children and teenagers. Likewise, videos can support literacy development, as can games like Scrabble (look for the French version as it’s essential to have the right number of tiles for each letter as well as the accents).
Don’t neglect nonfiction: recipes, pet care, sports, crafts, etc. Reading for a variety of purposes is also important to language development.
Magazines work well: they feature short items, usually include a range of presentation styles, and meet a variety of interests. And there’s always the anticipation of that new edition in the mail box!
Collections of short stories might also be more appealing, especially if you can find an anthology of mysteries, suspense, or adventures.
For the youngest readers, a picture dictionary can be a great resource.
Reading doesn’t just involve print materials. For example, there’s a wealth of French on the internet.
Use age or grade ratings
As a very general rule of thumb, subtract 1-2 years or grades from the rating on any materials designed for Francophone youngsters.
A word of caution
Books designed to be read out loud to preschoolers are often not appropriate for beginning readers. Although there might only be a small amount of text on each page, those words can sometimes be difficult to “decode” (recognize or sound out).
On the other hand, these books can be excellent for the grade 3-6 crowd. The illustrations make them appealing, and the stories are often rich with interest and meaning.
Finding those gifts
Many public libraries offer children’s library cards: the perfect stocking stuffer!
Click here for French reading lists.
Click here for access to books, software, music, and much more.
Some French games are available through the Sears Wish Book.