Bi-Lingual Children Adding French As A Third Language

What happens when you bring Spanish, Polish, French and Chinese bilingual children together for a French lesson?! This is what happens every Saturday morning at the Les Puces French classes in Bromley. Children generally attend the classes from the age of two and this particular incredible diversity of very young bilingual children range between 3 and 5 years.

Maitresse Katie Spicer launched the Les Puces class in February 2017 and we spoke to her about how she teaches such a diverse class, the special challenges that it raises and Katie’s insights into children learning languages from a young age.

Tell us about the class you teach.

I teach in a Church Hall in Bromley town centre. The youngest pupil in my class is almost 2 and the oldest is 10 and we have a good mix of boys and girls - you don’t have to be bilingual to join in! The classes are an hour long and broken down into four sections - vocabulary/learning by rote (memorisation); singing (learning through rhyme and rhythm); Make It Project and worksheets (practical application of the language) and story time (using our ‘Translation in head method’®). I’m also looking for opportunities to start ‘after school clubs’ in local primary schools.

Can you give us your insights into why it is important for children to learn a second language at an early age?

The earlier you start learning the better - children learn to pick up the sounds involved and if they don’t start understanding and making them at a young age, they will find it more difficult to make them later in life. I don’t believe there is an optimum age, as any exposure to a new language is always beneficial. It’s never too early or too late to start learning! If the language can be targeted towards children’s needs through play, art and song they will begin to pick up new vocabulary with ease and for me seeing their confidence grow is fantastic!

Can you tell us more about the bilingual children in your class?

I have two children with French speaking parents, aged 3 and 5, a child who speaks Spanish (sometimes to me too!) who is almost 5, a Polish speaking child who is also about to turn five and a Chinese speaking child who is 4.

What are your thoughts on a child learning a third language?

As someone who speaks three languages, I cannot recommend it enough! My love of language started very early on when I read absolutely everything in sight and it was when I started an after school Spanish club in year 6 that I really fell in love with languages. I tried learning Welsh while I was at university in Wales and am trying my best to keep it up in my spare time. I cannot say strongly enough how much I believe children should learn languages and the more the better!

"How do you manage to teach these multilingual children?"

The same techniques don't necessarily work for all multilingual children - for example, I have some children whose English is at the same high standard as their first language, and some children whose first language is much stronger. However, I always try to make sure that there is enough support during the classes so that all children, regardless of which languages they speak, can continue to make progress. If I think a child has struggled a little with picking up some new words, I can always have a chat to them while they do their ‘Make It Project’ and I do find that this one-to-one time, even if only for a few minutes, really helps them improve.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m 23 and from Dartford in Kent. I studied French and Spanish at Aberystwyth University and took a placement year teaching English in a primary school in Tours, France during my degree, which I absolutely loved. When I’m not working, or teaching the children at Les Puces, I enjoy dancing, cooking and going on long weekend walks. Travel is a real passion of mine and I love to go away during the school holidays. This summer I went to Biarritz and the west coast of the USA. I enjoy crossing off places from my destinations list, although 5 more seem to get added on every time I goes away.

What does your work involve?

I am a teaching assistant in a school in Bromley, where I also teach French. I am lucky enough to work in a school with a big emphasis on learning languages and so I get to speak French on a daily basis to the staff and to some of our bilingual pupils. I’m thinking about undertaking my Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) soon so that I can become a qualified language teacher in primary schools.

How did you hear about Les Puces?

I saw the classes advertised on Facebook and enquired about vacancies. Director, Mandie Davis, was keen to start classes in Bromley and the materials and training that Les Puces supply meant it was easy for me to simply find a venue and get going! When I started teaching with Les Puces in February 2017, there were just two children in my class but now as the word is spreading, we have nine children across the nursery and primary age range.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a very busy teaching assistant but love to cook and bake (and eat!), tap dance and go for walks. I also try and keep up my French and Spanish by listening to music in those languages.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

C’est tout!

Merci beaucoup Katie!

To join the class (£60 for a seven week half term includes bilingual book and Make It Project) or to find out about having an after school class in your school, please contact Mandie on mandie@lespuces.co.uk

Interview by Annie from Writing and Blogging annie@writingandblogging.co.uk

Photos by Les Puces www.lespuces.co.uk

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