Did you know French picture books go back 17 millennia?
In the Paleolithic age, early man painted his story on the stone of some now-famous caves in Lascaux.
A mere millennium before our time, seamstresses in Bayeux embroidered a story commemorating the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings.
And today, kid-friendly French dictionaries continue this fine tradition of visual expression.
They include lots of pictures for easy memorizing and enjoyable reading, among several other benefits for French beginner kids and kids-at-heart.
We’ve got six fabulous French dictionaries for kids who see the world in bright, cheery colors.
Why French Dictionaries for Kids Are Great for the Whole Family
Go back to basics:
A standard dictionary provides precise definitions, identifies parts of speech, distinguishes fine shades of meaning and presents all the possible senses in which a word may be used.
That’s great—but it can also be confusing, especially for beginner French learners. It especially doesn’t work well for children, who are still learning the basics. While their capacity for language learning is perhaps at its peak, their ever-growing vocabularies are still limited.
Kids’ dictionaries paint broader pictures to help readers learn basic words in everyday usage. Both kids and adults can get a quick and clear understanding of new French words without getting lost.
The illustrations in many French kids’ dictionaries depict words in a more concrete way than a traditional, text-based dictionary.
Even bilingual text-based dictionaries can be tough for young kids, since they’re still learning their native language as well. The illustrations in a French kids’ dictionary overcome this hurdle, acting as a universal key to unlock a child’s understanding.
And don’t fret that your child is too young to grasp the meaning of the drawings or photos. By nine months old, babies can associate pictures with real-life objects.
For adult readers, learning words with pictures is actually a strategic study technique. It means that you won’t be translating words back-and-forth in your head, so you can achieve real French fluency faster.
Climb the learning tree:
French textbooks tend to focus on dialogues, verb conjugations and grammar. While this can work well for adolescents, teens and adults, it’s not an appealing approach for toddlers and elementary school students.
French kids’ dictionaries offer children a simple, systematic means to learn foundational French words. Words are often introduced by category, which is a more intuitive way to encounter them than the alphabetization found in standard dictionaries.
This also makes French kids’ dictionaries ideal for learning connected concepts. Each word category in a French kids’ dictionary is like a bough on a learning tree.
Kids’ dictionaries might go room-by-room in a typical household, first identifying the room itself and then objects commonly found there. Or they might group together weather words or different sports.
Introducing words in context reinforces word relationships. When children see how words branch off from one another, they learn to associate related words.
Don’t Let the Dictionary Collect Dust!
How can kids practice new words from their French dictionaries? There are several dynamic options.
French kids’ dictionaries aren’t just for use in isolation. Give your child the chance to see their new words in action when you introduce them to these French children’s books and short stories for kids.
Ask them to point out words that they recognize from their dictionary. Is the word used in a different way in the story than it was in the dictionary? Is there a picture in the story that reminds them of other words they know from their dictionary?
And are there words they don’t recognize yet? Encourage them to use their dictionaries to help them understand the stories better!
Kids can even see their dictionary words starring in age-appropriate French-language music videos, cartoons and other audiovisual media. (If you want to pass along your own childhood memories, overdubbed with French flair, check out the francophone versions of these classic American cartoons.)
Fluency in a flash:
If you have the time and inclination, help your child create flashcards with their dictionary words. Pictures in old newspapers or magazines can be repurposed to illustrate the cards.
Once you have a dozen or so cards ready, make a game out of quizzing each other with them. And don’t forget to keep adding cards to your child’s collection as they learn new words.
If you need tips on how to create your own flashcards or where to buy a set, check out this post. It’s got a whole slew of French learning suggestions pour les petits (for the little ones).
Build Their French Vocab Early! 6 Fantastic French Dictionaries for Kids
Now that we’ve seen what a useful resource a French kids’ dictionary can be for your blossoming bilingual child, let’s check out a few of the best books available. We’ll cover both print dictionaries and digital options.
Even in our digital day and age, print books are still popular choices for French kids’ dictionaries. While low-tech, they offer a solid tactile and visual experience for young children. Plus, the hard copies of children’s books don’t require parental controls, ad-blockers or recharging.
But despite all of the advantages of print books, online French kids’ dictionaries do offer a few extras. For example, you can access cloud-based dictionaries anywhere, as long as you have an internet-connected device.
Some online kids’ dictionaries offer not only French words and corresponding pictures, but also links to associated activities, exercises, games and additional information. This can make the dictionary experience even more interactive for your child.
“The Preschooler’s Handbook”
This bilingual French-English version of “The Preschooler’s Handbook” is handy for learning more than just basic words. Fundamental concepts likes colors, shapes and matching are featured in its pages, and the book fosters counting skills in both languages.
The book first teaches the alphabet in both upper-case and lower-case letters. A picture of an English-language word (with its French counterpart, including its indefinite article) represents each respective letter of the alphabet.
Next, the book introduces English and French words thematically. The words are arranged in basic categories such as emplois (jobs), école (school), formes (shapes) and comportements (manners).
Using color photos and bright illustrations, this dictionary can add over 300 words to your child’s French vocabulary.
“French-English Picture Dictionary”
The charming color illustrations in this 48-page volume are reminiscent of children’s storybooks.
This kids’ dictionary starts out with a table of the French alphabet, pairing the upper- and lower-case letters with simplified French phonetic pronunciations. The book also covers number words ranging from one to 20 (in English and French, with corresponding numerals).
Each section in the main part of the book is devoted to a specific topic, like le corps (the body) or la cuisine (the kitchen).
All told, over 35 topics and 350 words are covered.
Here’s a really unique twist on your typical dictionary.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
“Children’s Visual Dictionary: French-English”
The drawings in this “Visual Dictionary” aren’t fanciful but photorealistic, which makes sense for a reference book that includes modern technology such as le portable (mobile phone).
Over 1,000 words and phrases are given in French and in English. The words are categorized into 10 topics.
A multi-page index can help you find specific terms more quickly.
“First Words Sticker Book: English-French”
How can you make new words stick in your child’s mind? How can you entice them to stick with learning French?
Well, don’t come unglued with worry—we’ve found a dictionary that’ll catch their attention and keep those new words cemented in memory!
The bilingual “First Words Sticker Book” binds together more than 200 words with over 100 reusable stickers in a way that’s sure to hold your little one’s “fasten-ation.”
The words are arranged thematically, so related words can be learned together in logical groupings.
The whimsical stickers are each cut into the respective shape of the object they represent, which might facilitate visual recognition.
Little Explorers Bilingual Online Picture Dictionary
Little Explorers is a magical online passport to new French words.
An alphabetical list of word categories appears about midway down the page, including everything from “devices” to “astronomy.” Kids can also browse individual words by clicking on the letters in the rainbow-colored alphabet strip near the top of the page.
A few links within the word entries themselves transport your child to further information and related activities, although some extras require a site membership to fully unlock.
Whether your child chooses to look up words in the English-to-French dictionary or its French-to-English counterpart, there are over 1,400 words to explore.
With these French kids’ dictionaries, your petit écolier (little schoolchild) can become an even smarter cookie.
And if you learn a little extra French yourself by peeking at the pictures, we won’t mind. Just call it art appreciation.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.