If you're struggling to teach your toddler or preschooler basic English, the idea of introducing another language may seem laughable. But it's actually a great idea to do so at a very young age, because their brains are wired for language learning at this age. Toddlers and preschoolers pick up other languages quickly, especially if you make learning them fun. If a year in France to learn French by immersion isn't in your future, you can still teach your little one to "Parler Francais." Use songs, games, stories and pictures at this age to help your child learn French words, just as you do with English words. For a birthday, you can tell your toddler that a cake is called a "gateau."
Teach your child simple songs in French. The easiest songs are "Frere Jacques" and "Alouette." You probably know the "Frere Jacques" song as "Brother John" or "Are You Sleeping?" ("Are you sleeping/are you sleeping, Brother John?") would be, ("Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, dormez-vous?") You may also remember a few from a long-ago elementary school music class, but, if not, borrow a French language CD from the public library. Preschoolers pick up quickly on familiar kids' songs and French versions of nursery rhymes. Use made-up songs, too -- they're a simple and effective way to teach concepts such as days of the week or numbers. You could say, "Monday, Lundi; Tuesday, Mardi; Wednesday, Mercredi;" or "one is un"; "two is deux"; "three is trois." Just the repetition of simple lessons like these will stimulate your preschooler or toddler to want to learn more French when she's older.
Buy or borrow simple board books or picture books in French. Find simple computer games or videos in French from the library for your preschooler. Read and watch these with your child and learn a few words each session. Learning by categories is a logical approach that tracks with what kids do in their native language, so learn animal names one day or colors the next. Another reading option is to use French versions of familiar English picture books. If your child loves "Curious George" or "Clifford the Big Red Dog" books, pick up the same books in French. And, of course, the "Madeleine" books are available in French and English, which would surely delight your little girl. Preschoolers are old enough to be fascinated by the Madeleine pictures and story, reading it to her in English and then in French.
Use French words when you're doing routine activities together. Count pennies in English, then count them in French. Name some favorite foods in French when you're shopping. Take a walk around the neighborhood with your little one. Point out a tree, a flower and a dog, asking her to name each in French. You can say, "a tree, un arbre; a flower, une fleur; a dog, un chien." Have "French food lunch" and let her help you set out the croissants, "les croissants", French cheese, "les fromages", crusty French bread, "les baguettes" or similar items. During lunch, practice the names of the foods, place settings and the "magic words" -- "S'il vous plait" and "Merci."