Most of us, at some time or another, have considered learning a foreign language from scratch or brushing up on one that we have become rusty in, but it is a slog. You need to set aside a chunk of time each day, and yet you still never seem to be making much progress. But, if you had started as a child...
Linguists agree that early starters have a definite advantage. The four skills of language learning are: understanding what is being said, speaking, reading and writing. As easy as that.
Unlike adult courses - which are available in dozens of languages - children's courses tend to be limited to French, Spanish, Italian and German. Here is a pick of some of the different methods to get your children "speaking foreign".
Language Activity Books, pounds 2.99 each
Language-learning activity books in French, German, Spanish and Italian. These are full of puzzles and games, cutting and sticking, and offer children the chance to practise essential first words and phrases. For example, saying what they are called and how old they are, counting, and learning the names of drinks and snacks in the foreign language. These are good value and we recently succeeded in keeping our children amused with these books on a Eurostar journey to Paris.
For stockists, call B Small Publishing (tel: 0181-974 6851). Rating: 8/10
Orchard Toys - Ready For French, pounds 2.95 each
There are four in this series and we tested two of them - "jigcards"with phrases and with words. Basically, it is like a game of snap: when the cards are correctly linked together, they give the French and English equivalents (Bonne chance: Good luck; Bon appetit: Have a good meal, etc).
These are good fun, though best for younger children (around five to eight years old) who have no knowledge of French. I used them with my children and, on a recent trip to Paris, my eldest son Lewis managed to ask for an ice-cream using a grammatically correct sentence ("Je voudrais une glace, s'il vous plait.").
For stockists, call Orchard Toys (tel: 0115 937 3547). Rating: 9/10
Berlitz - Language Pack, pounds 15.95
Comes with its own carry-box containing a book for parents, Help Your Child with a Foreign Language, a story book with accompanying audio cassette, a flash-card pack, your first 100 French Words and a Berlitz Kids Certificate. This course is best for children aged around four and over. I found the parents' book extremely useful, particularly the bit about how to make learning a language fun. My offspring particularly liked the "Missing Cat Story", but I would have preferred another tape to work through the flash cards with, and a little bit more interaction with the children.
For stockists, call Berlitz Publishing (tel: 0171-518 8300).
CYP fun with French, Treasure Chest, pounds 5.99
Twenty-four activity cards and one 40-minute audio tape. Basically, a cheap and cheerfully effective introduction to French. Children really enjoy both the flash cards and the tape. We played the tape in the car and before long, the children were singing along to old favourites like Frere Jacques and Sur le Pont d'Avignon.
For a catalogue, call Treasure Chest (tel: 01829 770787).
Usborne - French For Beginners, pounds 19.99
This is a complete learning kit and comes with two tapes, an introduction book, a French dictionary and puzzle workbook. It works best for children aged nine and over. There are very busy workbooks, with some of the units in a magazine-style format to which children relate very well. The dictionary is useful as there are illustrations for all the words. A good all-round course with lots to learn.
Call for stockists (tel: 0116 254 7671). Rating: 9/10Reuse content