Learning Foreign Languages (Nearly) Naturally

This article is part of the international bloggers event “Learning foreign languages (nearly) naturally”, organised by the blog ‘Le Français illustré’ (French language illustrated).

As a French creative practitioner based in Scotland for over 20 years and working with children ever since, I can safely say that:
– Constantly juggling between English and French languages, I am bilingual.
– I have a passion for education
– I have an equal passion for sharing my language and culture.
– And I love making things (especially puppets!)

So after qualifying in Childcare and Education, I created my own professional path and set up a bilingual puppet theatre company. The aim: introduce children to my language in the most natural way I could think of – through French talking puppets. This led me to also run craft workshops, the ‘Play in French’ classes for babies and their families, and even bake in French with pre-schoolers.

Needless to say that I fully embrace the (quasi) natural approach to learning languages. I believe it is the best way to introduce young children to new sounds and words. Playing is what they do and how they learn about the world, languages included. And they love it!

Patricia Khul, renowned language acquisition specialist, tells us that ‘By three, a little child’s brain is actually twice as active as an adult brain.’. They want to learn new things! It is fun for them and it is fun to observe how much they take in. Children are natural learners. They also happily create things with their hands through play (playdough, drawing, constructions etc.) and this is a huge part of their lives. To me, it is common sense to introduce my language through their play and creativity. They learn at their own pace and while enjoying themselves. I believe this is (quasi) natural learning.

It seems that as we grow up, we lose this eagerness and easiness to learn. This can make speaking another language a huge mountain to climb. Also, as adults, we can often get pulled in directions that make us lose touch with the creative playfulness children display in their everyday lives. But I believe (quasi) natural language learning is still possible for the more mature brain, if the adult really wants to learn.

Just like for children, I feel it calls on playfulness and creativity. Here are some examples:
* Join a class where people are being active or hands-on, making things and speaking the language you want to learn (dancing, cooking, knitting).
* Join an amateur theatre company and perform in a play.
* Join in conversation cafes sessions, over a coffee or a glass of wine.
* At home, cook a recipe written in the language, have fun decoding the ingredients vocabulary and hope it turns out delicious!
* Learn a song you love and challenge yourself to a karaoke slot or invite friends for a special dinner (with the dish you learned to cook?)

Education professionals and researchers strongly recommend children’s learning should be active as much as possible. I know from experience active learning, where children make, dance, sing and play is the most natural way for them to acquire another language. I think the same goes for adults. If we do something we are interested in and have fun, our brains are stimulated and likely to work hard at learning the language. Also, very importantly, it helps putting what we learn in a context we can relate to.

Finally, to get the authentic (quasi) natural experience, I believe we should learn from native speakers, whether they are teachers, facilitators or simply inspiring people, live ones or online. Learning a language should be a fun adventure for everyone! Let’s be creative and find more (quasi) natural ways to make it happen.

Vive les langues! 🙂

Chapelton, T. (2016) How can young children best learn languages?British Council. Available at: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-can-young-children-best-learn-languages

Khul, P. The Linguistic Genius of Babies 2010 Ted Talk

Tania Czajka is the Artistic Director of Le Petit Monde and the author of Lapin is Hungry, a bilingual picture book accessible to all non-French speakers. She is currently studying towards a Masters in Education at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Email: info@lepetitmonde.co.uk