Sunday, 30 September 2012

9 Great Ideas for Exploring and Expanding Vocabulary

Poppette’s current favourite question is “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” [what’s this?], which, in itself, open’s up a whole world of opportunity to help her expand her vocabulary and knowledge of the world.

The truth is that, before I decided to speak my second language with my children, I had never given any thought at all as to the never ending ways that are available to us to practice and build language. I suppose it’s quite obvious when you think about it…absolutely every activity you ever undertake has scope for language building.

There are many, many ways that I try and help Poppette (and, of course, I will do the same with Little Man in time) to grow…feeding her curious mind and crafting a fun and educational environment for her to live and learn within.

So..without further ado, here’s a list of ideas we use in our home to promote language learning of both the native and non-native variety. I hope that this list will, in turn, give you some ideas or a framework to work around too.

I probably should point out that I am not suggesting that you badger your children by constantly talking and asking questions and disturbing their play :D Obviously, it's super important to leave children to indulge in independent, uninterrupted play. We don't use all of these ideas all of the time - we just pick and choose and pepper these things into our play now and again with great results. 

1 Block Play

I am in the process of trying to build a collection of blocks in all shapes and sizes. They are such a valuable learning material. Through block play, children learn about size, shape, weight and balance.

They can be used to recreate the child’s view of the world around them e.g. building castles, towers and bridges. They can also be used for counting practice and problem solving, helping children to hone their early maths skills.

Blocks provide huge scope for language practice.

Whilst your child plays with blocks, think about asking them questions to help them become more aware of what they are doing and to encourage them to try out new ideas.

2 Creative Arts & Crafts

Drawing, painting, sticking, moulding and gluing are not only great fun, they also provide fabulous language learning opportunities for children.

There are a multitude of great children’s craft blogs and Pinterest boards out there in both English and French. You can sign up to updates for many of these via email or through your blog reader.

I try and read as many French language versions as possible in order to build my own vocabulary. It’s a whole new world of vocab!!!

Arts and crafts open the door to your child to begin to express ideas and feelings, to discuss colour and texture and to learn to follow instructions in addition to learning to talk about the materials they are using.

3 Music and Movement

We do lots of singing and dancing. It’s great for burning off energy and also for learning to talk about physical activity. Spinning, turning, rolling, jumping, clapping….

We also love to play Jaques a dit [Simon says] e.g. Jaques a dit....lay on the floor, touch your nose, lift your arms about your head etc

We also spend a lot of time playing cache-cache [hide and seek]. It tickles me no end when we play because Poppette (who is not yet two) always hides in the same place and always peeps out to make sure you're coming to find her :D As I try to find her, I walk around the room saying things like “is she behind the sofa?….no”, “is she under the table?….no”, “is she in the wash basket?…no”…. a great way to practice prepositions and general vocabulary.

4 Books

We love books in our house. I can’t stress enough the value that I have found in reading. There are no two ways about it, my own vocabulary has increased hugely since I began reading all these wonderful children’s books in French.

Papa and I do like to read the same books in our respective languages so that it is easier for the children to absorb the vocabulary in both languages at the same time. It still blows my mind that young children do not get confused that things have more than one name. It’s just normal to them if you introduce both languages early enough.

5 Drama

Children love to make believe and role play.

Dressing up, playing at shops, hospitals, post offices etc using props to help deepen their understanding of how the world works.

In our OPOL household, when Poppette serves tea and cakes to maman and papa, she hears and uses the same vocabulary in each language. Tandem learning.

6 Toys & Games

When children are playing with their toys and games, it’s a great time to make observational comments or ask them questions to help them expand their thought process and understanding and unleash their inner creativity.

7 Cooking

We haven’t done much cooking yet but I am looking forward to doing more once Poppette and Little Man are ready for it. It’s a great way for children to learn to follow instructions and, also, for them to become mini scientists i.e. what happens when you add water to flour? What does it look like, how does it feel?

8 Outdoor Play 

Poppette loves to run, jump, swing, climb and slide. She used the French terms for each of these activities well before their English equivalents too.

Out in the fresh air, there is so much scope for discussion. We talk about the weather, the things we can see, the things we can touch. Encourage you child to see the world with wonder by asking questions as you walk along.

9 Water Play

Poppette loves water play. Another area ripe with descriptive vocabulary.


  1. Great ideas! As you know Little Imp and I do lots of singing, crafts and stories involving French. And I know what you mean with blocks, there are so many possibilities with just one set of toys :0) we haven't explored water play yet in terms of French though - I like the idea of it though and Little Imp already knows canard so maybe at bathtime tomorrow we can use that as a starting point for watery conversation!!
    Emma :0)
    Ps - I have emailed you in response to your comment on my blog - just in case it's gone into your junk folder!!

    1. Hi Emma - Great idea to use bathtime... I bet Little Imp will be so busy having fun splashing about that she won't even notice that the language has switched over into I awlays find bathtime is great for singing nursery rhymes or having comptines playing away in the background.

  2. This is a great list, thanks for putting it together!
    I think our best way of expanding vocabulary was (and still is) through reading (both for me and my daughter, like you noted above, too). I've read only in English to her so I tried to get lots and lots of books (from the library, bookstores, borrowed from friends etc). Now I'm reading in French too and it's a struggle to find books (our only source is our local French Cultural Center's children's library - which luckily is brimming over with books and DVDs, etc).

  3. Hi Adina - Glad that you have found the list helpful. I would love to know which French books your daughter loves.. i'm always on the hunt for more good titles.

    Poppette loves books and has several favourites! When I get chance I plan to blog about some of the ones that have been a hit.