Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dictionary, anyone?

We've been using the Better Chinese program, mostly online for learning Mandarin. Today, my parents visited for the first time after their return from a trip to Florida. I'd had a bunch of things shipped to them while they were there, so the Better Chinese print materials, CDs and games arrived at our house today. I'm so impressed.
I also received a DVD I'd ordered called "Play and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei" which was a huge hit, especially with my daughter.
While I was preparing supper tonight, I heard something really amusing. Both the older kids were watching the video, but my daughter was talking--I'm not sure to whom; sometimes she carries on little conversations with imaginary partners--and she said, "Le monstre à manger le gâteau." Throughout dinner, she carried on in French, and was quite intent on educating grandma and grandpa about the meanings of words in French, but also came up with a variety of things to define in Chinese.
I have just one frustration. I am often called upon by my children to serve as a walking French dictionary, which is fine, because I often know the things they're asking, and if I don't, we've always got our trusty French dictionary.
Now, they're starting to do the same with Mandarin, and I almost never know the answers, which is also fine, but how does one look them up? I'm really not good enough with Pinyin (the romanization of Chinese) to guess at the pronunciation of words. I suppose that will come, in time. We have already started our classes in Mandarin, but I'm finding I'm learning just as much or more from the things I'm doing with the kids.
Actually, it's interesting, because at our first lesson, I was much less overwhelmed than my husband, who hadn't had the same opportunity to interact with the kids' materials.
Back to the dictionary, I guess we'll have to make ourselves some Mandarin-speaking friends really soon after we move so we can find our own walking dictionaries!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chinese and French

Well, I never would have thought it possible, but yes, we are learning French and Mandarin. My husband and I begin Mandarin classes tomorrow, I've signed up to a couple of internet sights for Mandarin learning. I also found a reasonable used copy of Rosetta Stone. (I'd still love to find a copy of Pimsleur cheap, but I've settled for borrowing a copy from the library.)
I've found a wonderful, very comprehensive curriculum for my children. I may still use some of the resources I mentioned in the previous post, but after a LOT of Googling, I found Better Chinese. It's an incredible interactive curriculum including songs, stories, rhymes, games, animations, character and oral learning. It's simply wonderful, and the kids LOVE it.

So far, we only have access to the online segments. Since shipping from the U.S. to Toronto can be expensive, I've had some of the things shipped to my very accommodating parents while they are in Florida on vacation. It'll be like Christmas when they get home!
The Better Chinese program is brilliant because it has programs specifically designed for four distinct age groups, and uses so many different kinds of input, no child could ever be bored with it. It's so good, it's being used in some immersion programs.
I'm thoroughly impressed. My kids can already say, "I love my daddy/mommy/big brother/big sister/little brother/little sister/family." We're working on "grandma" and "grandpa" and they can recognize the words and characters for all of these as well as "cat" and "dog."
I'm really excited about what I'm seeing in my kids. First, they're doing all of this, and still speaking French around the house. And what's especially exciting is there seems to be much less resistance about learning Chinese than there seemed to be in the initial stages of learning French. That could be a lot of things--maybe because we've borrowed a ton of books from the library about China. Maybe because the anticipation of being there is starting to kick in (our flights are booked now--we leave May 19!). Whatever it is, I'm delighted.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Great change is afoot

I do apologize for my long absence. I have been trying to figure out how to get my head around something, what it means to our French learning, our lives in general, and this blog in specific.

I mentioned that my husband was away for three weeks. He was travelling in China. After much discussion since his return, we have decided to move there--possibly very soon.

I have been very preoccupied with researching Mandarin instruction, and generally trying not to be overwhelmed by the thousands of things we have to take care of before we can go. I go from being very excited one minute, to wanting to cry from premature homesickness the next. My husband is laughing at me because I keep thinking of all the very mundane things like how will I find phosphate-free, all natural laundry soap when I'm there? Or, what will I do about finding spelt flour, since that's mostly what I bake with? Oh, yeah, and then there's baking--I understand that few people have ovens in China.

We'll be far from family, so I will definitely be blogging, at the very least, as a way of letting family in on what we're doing from day to day. And I've recently received encouragement from Marie at Le Francais Facile that since Mandarin is radically different from French and English, and because children's ears are so open to languages, there shouldn't be a problem with studying both French and Mandarin at the same time. My initial thoughts are that I will find very different resources for learning Mandarin than I'm using for French. I'm thinking of Rosetta Stone (mostly for myself, although my son, who turned 6 this week, enjoyed the demo) and possibly some private tutoring. In addition, found a really interesting program called Active Chinese and a very intriguing homeschooling option at Little Linguists Academy.

Trying to look that resource up a second time, I stumbled on some interesting resources at Little Linguist.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of others. I promise I will continue the series of posts on resources, in particular, my experiences with Pimsleur and Michel Thomas.

Friday, March 7, 2008

French for mommies: Pimsleur versus Michel Thomas II

In a continuation from what I mentioned yesterday (or the day before--Blogger doesn't let you fudge your posting times, and I forgot to publish before midnight), I would like to suggest Michel Thomas over Pimsleur for the following reasons:
  1. It is better for the absolute beginner. With Pimsleur, I think a large part of my success was having some previous background in French. Much of what I learned at the beginning I already knew, making me feel an immediate sense of confidence. However, if I'd little or no exposure, I think it would have felt much more intimidating. Michel Thomas, however, starts by showing similarities between French and English, and words one may already know in French from phrases that are familiar in English, such as C'est la vie, building the absolute beginner's sense of confidence in the language.

  2. Michel Thomas focuses on finding patterns in the language, making the language "make sense" early on. For example, in French (unlike English), all syllables have equal weight, but the last syllable always carries the accent.

  3. Michel Thomas doesn't start with the "Hello, how are you?" kinds of phrases in typical language programs. Instead, the focus is on the most commonly used words in French, and encourages guessing--a skill necessary for effective second-language learning. By the beginning of the second CD, you are able to say, "What impression do you have of the political and economic situation in France at the present time?" Impressive, non? Eventually, you get to the ability to greet, but after you've already mastered a lot of other, more sophisticated language.
More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

French for mommies: Pimsleur versus Michel Thomas

I have harboured a lifelong desire to learn French. I loved French at first contact, but had an unfortunate series of bad teachers in high school and felt forced to quit.

Since then, life, it seems, has gotten in the way of any meaningful pursuit of French. I've considered classes numerous times, but was kept away, probably in part due to my bad experience in a classroom, partly because I'm picky--I taught English as a second language and figured I knew the "right" methodologies--partly because of expense, and partly because of convenience. I'm a mother of three children. When would I get out?

But when it was apparent to me that the right method for teaching my children wasn't going to creep up and hit me over the head, I decided to take matters into my own hands whatever way I could find. I started digging around at the library and fell in love with Pimsleur. Having said that, I think Pimsleur was working for me because I had some French background already--half the stuff in the first eight or so lessons, I already knew or knew parts of, so I had a good framework to assume the new stuff into.

However, more recently, I've come across Michel Thomas, and for me--so far at least--I'm only partway through both methods--it far exceeds what Pimsleur does.

This is adding up to a fairly lengthy post, and I have a lot more to say about both methods, so I'll continue this tomorrow.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Less active

We haven't been doing as much French this week, which is related to the reason my posts this week are fewer. It's not because the desire is not there. But daddy's away for three weeks, and we're staying at grandma and grandpa's house. Since my mom isn't so thrilled about us speaking French here, it's made it a bit more difficult to speak it as much as we normally would. It could be, too, that we're preoccupied with other things, and off our normal routine, so we're less inclined to think about it. I've noticed, for example, that I've been saying "Good night" and "I love you" at bedtime instead of "Bonne nuit" and "Je t'aime/Je vous aimez."
Another reason, likely, since I'm not preparing food in my own kitchen, I've not been inclined to listen to my own French lessons. We've been doing other things--sprinkling French throughout our day, but not as much, and I think it shows.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Speaking more French: little reminders

At church on Sunday, I saw a woman who is originally from Switzerland, and French is her native language. We have an understanding that she will speak French to me when she sees me, provided I can keep up. She often gives up on me, though. My comprehension far exceeds my production.

But I can speak, if given a little time to work out what it is I want to say. Sometimes I can't say the exact thing I intend, but I can think of an alternate way to get the same message across. On Sunday, I initiated conversation by saying (en Francais) "The sun is beautiful today, isn't it?" and she said "Yes, the spring is coming soon." In response, I chickened out and said in English, "We can hope." A moment later I realized I know exactly how to make that same response in French. I kicked myself, a bit, went back to her, and said, "Non, nous pouvons esperer." She looked a little startled, then smiled.

But it pointed out to me something I already know to be true about myself. I know more French than I make myself speak. But how to get it out? Honestly, it's a whole lot easier to speak in English. And the pace of homeschooling and keeping up with three kids under six is enough for any given day without adding something extra!

But I have begun to discover a few tricks. First, if we start the day in French, it's more natural to keep it going in French. To my shame, it's often my daughter (4) who initiates the switch. She's taken to calling me "Maman" instead of Mommy or Mama. That's often enough reminder for me to respond in kind. And although I despise TV in general, watching TV in French doesn't seem to have the same mind-numbing effect on my children, and starting the day with a French video can be just the thing to spur us to more Francais in the day.

We've also purchased French CDs--both the nursery rhyme/fingerplay variety and contemporary music. That helps set the tone, too.

I've noticed, too, that we speak more French after they've done their lessons, or during and after I'm doing mine. Mine are on MP3, and I'll listen to them while I'm in the kitchen, cleaning or preparing meals--with numerous interruptions, of course.

The other thing that's helped tremendously is learning the French that corresponds with a time of day--breakfast for example. Learning to set the table in French or have a bath using French words, for example, can mean that that ritual is done in French each time.

Naturally, we still slip and speak English when we could be speaking French, and I sometimes wonder if we'll ever really be bilingual, but we're working on it. The key is definitely a little French--somehow, someway--every day.