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Multilingualism

Kirstin - French, English and German

"My elder daughter (nearly 15) has started to talk to me in French when she wants something or when she is telling me about a problem! The girls have adopted a French persona for themselves when they talk together at home in French, which is highly amusing."

  • French, English and German in France

    Centro Yoga Om, Vilanova i la Geltru Image
    What languages is your child exposed to?
    My daughters are exposed to French at school and English at home, plus they hear a lot of local dialect, German and Swiss German at school and in the wider community.
     
    Was your child exposed to more than one language from birth? If not, how was the adaptation process?
    We came to France when the girls were 4 and 5, and they went straight into the local French school. We had tried to preempt this language shock by playing Muzzy on the TV and learning a few basics before we came. But I suspect that made no difference on day 1 when everyone spoke so quickly. It took around 8 months (ironically after the 2 month summer break) before the girls were making sense in terms of their spoken sentences, although they seemed to understand what was going on early on.
     
    What is your children’s “attitude” towards their languages? Which language do they prefer and why do you think that is?
    The girls are now 13 and 14. They seem to pick and choose the language for the occasion in a very flexible way. Clearly with their French school friends, they have to speak in French. With other friends who speak both languages, they switch easily between the two, often mid sentence, depending what suits their needs. At home, they always used to speak English, but now they sometimes talk to us in French now - and increasingly between the two of them they speak more French now than they ever did. We watch English and American TV, very rarely French.
     
    What is your “strategy” in terms of bilingual education? (OPOL, Minority language at home… ?)
    We have tended to keep home as an English space (except when we have French people in the house, in which case we all switch) (although as above, the girls are starting to change that a little). The girls have always done some extra curricular activities in English and some in French. One daughter did a year of English lessons once a week which made a massive difference to her English spelling and understanding of grammar. We try to correct their English, but, overall it is pretty good. We encourage the girls to spend time outside of school with French friends and families. We have holidayed on numerous occasions with other French families.
     
    Did your child start speaking later as a result of being spoken to in more than one language? This is much discussed - do you think this is a myth?
    Both girls were speaking well when we came to France. But it did interrupt reading for both girls, my eldest loved reading before she came and was very confident, she lost interest in reading in English. My youngest hadn't got the habit and never did. She loved being read to though, in English.
     
    Do you think your child/ren suffer from a vocabulary shortfall? Does he/she mix languages?
    Yes there are gaps in both languages - partly too because neither are keen readers of books. They do mix languages, but only when there is company who will understand both - otherwise they would stick to the one that is understood. However, it is not significantly affecting their ability to do their school work. However, in spoken English they can easily express themselves, and in French they don't seem to have problems in class.
     
    Could you tell us a funny anecdote related to your children’s bilingualism?
    My elder daughter (nearly 15) has started to talk to me in French when she wants something or when she is telling me about a problem! The girls have adopted a French persona for themselves when they talk together at home in French, which is highly amusing.
     
    What was or still is difficult? 
    My younger daughter is still not confident in speaking in class, she still remembers being laughed at early on when she was just learning French and making mistakes. Learning verbs is difficult for both the girls as they are not continually practising at home and being corrected (although we are doing this in English). We had a period where my younger daughter didn't want to go to school due to having to read out loud. She goes to school really confidently now though.
     
    Do your children get the differences between the languages and cultures?  What do you do to keep them interested in both cultures?
     
    The girls really do notice the difference between French and English cultures, and they are interested in these differences.
     
    Can you think of any resources that helped you or recommend any support groups, websites or social media groups that you have found useful?
    We didn't really use any resources outside the village and the school.
     
    How do you perceive the key benefits of bringing up a child bilingually/multilingually?
    I think it has been a huge benefit for our family in integrating into village life and getting to know people locally. The girls have friends in the village and in our neighbouring villages, and feel part of the community. I think it creates new possibilities for the future in terms of where to live and work, and also a richer understanding of cultures, countries and people. My elder daughter has recently finished a work placement in an organisation where they didn't speak either English or French, and some people didn't speak German either. She loved it, and was able to communicate with confidence in this environment. She often comes back with snippets of other languages she's learnt from people at school.
     
    Are there any disadvantages? Are there challenging aspects with schoolwork for example?
    Despite myself and my husband both having very good French, it is hard for us to pick up on some of the subtleties of the homework given, especially in the collège years. Fortunately the girls get on with most of it themselves now. Not being schooled in English may mean at some point that they will need to do extra work to prove their abilities there, especially in the written language.
     
    What advice would you give parents about to embark on bringing up a child bilingually?
    In any case, be interested in languages as the parents, even if you have no fluency (yet. Here is your opportunity!!!). Show that you value the ability to communicate in different languages and role model enjoying this. If your children are being schooled in another language than your own, get yourself to a level where you can confidently communicate with teachers so you can help and advocate for your children if required. Yes, it is easier said than done - but otherwise you may get to the point where your children's preferred language leaves you unable to communicate effectively with them. Be ready to intervene and support where required - but also step back and be patient in the early days. Don't panic in those first few months. Follow your gut instinct!

    February 2015