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Wendy - Raising 2 Bilingual Children in France

"I would say that if you have 2 languages in the family then use them from birth without any hesitation. I know a family who only spoke French at home when the father was English, subsequently their two children could not speak anything but a few words of English - not a problem when they were living in France but now they have moved to the UK and the children are really struggling"

  • Two Bilingual Children in France

    Centro Yoga Om, Vilanova i la Geltru Image

    What languages is your child exposed to?
    French and English

    Was your child exposed to more than one language from birth? If not, how was the adaptation process?
    Yes they were both exposed from birth to a small extent, although we both speak English at home, we have many French friends so it was a language they would hear us speaking and then from about 8mths old we sent them to a local creche for a few hours each week with the specific reason being to expose them more to the local language. We also started them at the maternelle school as early as possible (they were both 3yrs) as although we are flexible with our work (we are self employed) we had no 'need' to send them to school so early, but we felt it was very important to get them integrated both on a social skills and language basis.

    What is your children’s “attitude” towards their languages? Which language do they prefer and why do you think that is?
    They both prefer to read in English, possibly because we have only really ever read bedtime stories in English to them. They say English makes for a more exciting and interesting read but I suspect that it may be because reading in French is associated with school and work but English reading is associated with reading for pleasure. They do not mind whether they watch a film or watch tv in French or English and are happy to flit between languages when there is mixed company, it is really just the reading where they appear to have a preference.

    What is your “strategy” in terms of bilingual education? (OPOL, Minority language at home… ?)
    We have always spoken English at home (except in French company) and have relied of the school and social life to provide the French. 

    We also use Blackhen education who teach bilingual children English. We both believed strongly that to be truly bilingual you must be literate in the language too. We know an awful lot of families who think their children will just 'pick' up written English along the way but we want to ensure all educational opportunities are open to our children which includes an English university not just French ones; in order to do that they have to have an igcse in English at the very least - something they would not be able to pass without extra English tuition. Thanks to Blackhen both our boys are completing work that their counterparts in the Uk would be doing at the same age.

    When our children first started school, several teachers said we should be speaking French at home too - I refused as our French is far from perfect and we did not want the children picking up bad habits and we wanted our children to be bilingual which would not happen if they only ever heard one language.

    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?
    Ours didn't, they both learnt to speak at the normal age but then we both spoke in English at home from birth whereas French was definitely the second language  outside the home - perhaps it may be an issue where there are two languages at home ?

    Do you think your child/ren suffer from a vocabulary shortfall? Does he/she mix languages?
    Yes our youngest does particularly, if he doesn't know the word in English or it doesn't come to him easily he will use the French - he doesn't do it the other way around as he knows the school will not accept it although they say he sometimes has difficulty expressing himself when he is excited in either language, something our eldest has never had an issue with so I do not think it is to do with learning two languages, rather that is how he is and probably would be if we lived in the Uk, all children learn at different rates . When he does it, we just pick him up on it and will make him 'think' of the correct word in English and if he doesn't know - tell him.

    Could you tell us a funny anecdote related to your children’s bilingualism?
    Only how they sometimes visibly cringe (or worse tell us off) when we pronounce a word incorrectly or use the wrong tense when talking to someone French !

    What was or still is difficult?
    We think they should read more French as reading will always help with spelling, vocabulary  and grammar and now our eldest is at secondary school they are of course concentrating less on the basics and more on other things yet still marking them down on the errors in spelling and grammar quite rightly; reading would help keep the level up. Getting them to read in French though is difficult. Our eldest loves the Alex Rider spy/adventure books but refuses to read them in French as he says it would be ridiculous as the main character is English, he also loves the horrible history /georgaphy /science series but these are not available in French.

    Do your children get the differences between the languages and cultures?  What do you do to keep them interested in both cultures?
    Both our boys are old enough now to understand the difference. The first time we went to the UK when they were at an age to remember and understand was a big deal - the whole journey - driving to the port , on the ferry overnight, driving the other end - made them realise 'where England was' I don't think they really understood how far away it was (although obviously not that far for us, on a world scale) when we had spoken about 'England' before. They also thought it was fantastic that 'everybody' spoke English and were amazed that they even spoke English in the schools - it was quite an eye opener for them !

    I think both our boys have inherited our love of travel and culture and with Cousins in Australia and Singapore as well as the UK they understand how big the world is (we've been as far as New Zealand with them) and understand other cultures and are happy to integrate wherever they are. We take holidays in France, ski in the Alps and Pyrenees, have visited all the sites in Paris and have also visited different parts of the UK, seen the sites of London etc, it's definitely important to us that they understand the UK as well as France and the English course with Blackhen reinforces this by teaching them about British history, British Authors/books, British Geography etc

    Can you think of any resources that helped you or recommend any support groups, websites or social media groups that you have found useful??
    I think we are both quite strong minded in our views and havn't really explored any bilingual support groups or web sites.

    How do you perceive the key benefits of bringing up a child bilingually/multilingually?
    We think it certainly opens your mind to learning other languages more easily. Our eldest is 11 and is now studying German and Spanish at school and finding them both relatively easy. It is an incredible advantage for life/work to be fluent in another language whether you choose to use them later on or not - always a good thing to put on your cv ! It also makes you more open to new cultures and seeing things from a different perspective and very early on - understanding that there are all sorts of people in the world.

    Are there any disadvantages? Are thightly but eir challenging aspects with schoolwork for example?
    We havn't found any so far. We are both of a good standard in the French language so helping with homework hasn't been a problem just yet, apart from being picked up on our accent of course ! In fact my own French has improved by helping them learn all their grammar rules !

    What advice would you give parents about to embark on bringing up a child bilingually?
    I would say that if you have 2 languages in the family then use them from birth without any hesitation. I know a family who only spoke French at home when the father was English, subsequently their two children could not speak anything but a few words of English - not a problem when they were living in France but now they have moved to the UK and the children are really struggling- it will come but it will always be a 'second' language to them rather than a natural language and we think that is a real shame. If your children are very young then definitely expose them to the local language as soon as possible so it's not odd / strange or unusual for them when they start school, if it's seen as normal to hear other languages they will pick it up easily. I know a number of families who have brought their children to France at a much older age - it may be hard at first but as soon as they make friends you will be amazed at how quickly they will pick it up - friends are the key, play dates, sleep overs, fun activities; extra lessons may help but it's not the same as playing / hanging out with friends - I would say its the parents responsibility to invite as many 'new friends' over as much as possible !

    February 2015