Learn French as a Family! Basic French Grammar Tips for Parents
If you’re an anglophone, it can be tough to know how to help your kids when they’re working on their French. Everything from vocabulary to basic French grammar can seem wildly different from what we’re used to in English. While there are more similarities than you may realise, there are enough differences to make learning even the basics of the language seem daunting. While you may not have time to engage in full French lessons, just a bit of basic French grammar and vocabulary can certainly go a long way to helping you understand your child’s learning a bit better.
Invest in a Good French-English Dictionary
When learning another language, it’s good practice to keep a translation dictionary handy. This will also be particularly helpful for your kids, especially as they begin to read books and watch films and TV shows in French. And the internet has made these dictionaries much more accessible: French-English dictionaries have moved online for convenience. The Collins French dictionary, for instance, can be found here.
Another great online resource is wordreference.com. This online dictionary will not only provide the English-French translations, but also conjugation charts. These are critical for learning how to properly conjugate verbs in order to reach fluency.
But, alas, you and your kids may be sick of looking at screens. That’s when a good ol’ fashioned book comes to the aid. Indigo has a selection of affordable French dictionaries, including the Collins’ and Oxford’s. For your younger children, there are a number of other first dictionaries to provide the basics.
Personal Pronouns - Informal vs. Formal
Personal pronouns are one of the most important aspects of basic French grammar. Personal pronouns are: I, you, she, he, they, and we. These appear in a variety of forms in French, which don’t always directly translate and the use of these can also get quite complicated to understand as you dive deeper into the language.
Often used in modern French; more informal than ‘nous’, but also optional - nous works fine on its own!On a une fille qui s’appelle Leyla.
“We have a daughter named Leyla.”vousyou, plural or formal - to be used as an indicator of respect, or to a stranger/acquaintanceBonjour, comment allez-vous?
“Hello, how are you?”
Basic French Grammar: Gendered Nouns
While Old English nouns may have had genders, these days English speakers would find it rather odd to speak of a table or chair as masculine or feminine. However, French has retained its gendering. Adjectives, definite articles, and so on are then slightly altered to match the feminine or masculine gender of the noun.
For instance, ‘orange’ is feminine. The article, then, needs to match. As ‘un’ (a/an) and ‘le’ (the) are masculine, to say ‘a/the orange’ one would need to say ‘une/la’, which match the feminine gender. But, because ‘orange’ begins with a vowel, l’ apostrophe is used - just as ‘an’ would be used instead of ‘a’: une orange; l’orange.
Similarly, adjectives need to match. For example, the French word for ‘book’ is masculine - ‘livre’ - so to say ‘a/the big book’, you would say, ‘un/le grand livre.’ A car (‘voiture’), on the other hand, is feminine, so one would say ‘une/la grande voiture.’
Sometimes extra letters are added to make the adjective fit. For instance, ‘bon’, meaning ‘good’, becomes ‘bonne’ for the feminine form.
Sentence Structure in French
For the most part, French sentence structure is similar to that of English. As you see above, the adjective goes before the noun. However, this isn’t always the case. While ‘un grand livre’ allows the adjective before the noun, to say, ‘the white cat’, the adjective comes after the noun: ‘le chat blanc.’ But how do you know when to put the adjective before the noun or after?
The rule to follow is BAGS. Basically, adjectives always go after the noun except for those which describe beauty, age, goodness, or size - BAGS! Examples of these words include:
Beauty: beau (beautiful), joli (pretty)
Age: jeune (young), vieux (old), nouveau (new)
Goodness: bon (good), meilleur (better), mauvais (bad), gentil (kind)
Size: petit (small), haut (high), gros (large)
Often the sentence structure in French is subject+verb+object: ‘le chien mange du fromage’ - the dog is eating cheese. Of course, there are differences that can make the language seem to be ‘in reverse’ of English. These become more complex as you become more fluent - just as in English. But basically, for simple sentences with basic French grammar, the structure is rather the same.
Finally, Context is Key!
Our final tip is simply to hear basic French grammar in context. If your child is watching a show or film in French, or listening to French music, sit down to listen for a little while to hear how these words and grammatical tips are used. Even better, ask them to read out their homework or from the books they’re reading. This will provide a win-win - they get to practice their pronunciation, and you get to learn a bit along with them!
Another method for seeing grammar in context - and this can be very helpful for both you and your children - is to put French subtitles on while you watch shows or films in English. This will show you the structure of grammar, as well as help you and your children expand vocabulary.
Some Example Sentences to Try Out
Here are some example sentences for you to try out, with a bit of basic French grammar roped in.
Encourage your child to respond in French and translate for you. Sharing your child’s love of French with them can be a really positive way to encourage their learning. It doesn’t take much, but can make a world of difference! Let us know if you would like any more advice or example sentences to use with your children.