Bringing up a Bilingual Baby

I am Parisian French. When I was 8, I had to choose a second language (it was mandatory). I wanted to learn English but my dad highly recommended I take German. Let’s say I had to. I never liked it. In fact, I hated it. So when, aged 13, I was asked to take a third language between English and Spanish, I took English.

It was instant love.

For those of you who know German, you may know how much easier it is to learn English after battling against “der, die, den, das” and others singularities of the German language…

English, on the other hand, was melody to my ears. And I was very good at it. I pretty much averaged 18 out of 20 at every exam (French marking – equivalent of an A minus maybe?) on my first year.

My husband is Canadian English. He learned French in high school but doesn’t remember much. He is trying really hard however to learn with the baby. But it is obviously harder to learn as an adult !

We were excited at the thought of raising a bilingual individual long before I got pregnant. It would be such a rich heritage to pass on to our child !

I did some research when I was pregnant as I wanted to find out what would be the best way to introduce both languages and finally agreed with my husband that we would do : one parent, one language.

This is pretty much what we have been doing although I do speak English at times. Usually, it goes like this: Did you tell Papa what we did today? So that, Papa in fact, knows what we’re talking about.

I have here on the island very few opportunities to speak French and if it wasn’t for my family and friends from France, I would probably not talk French at all anymore.

But there came our little one ! How I love speaking and singing in French to her ! I am so looking forward to hearing her first French word !

And to give her more opportunity to hear and speak the language, we would like to send her to a French daycare ( if we get a spot – she is on the waiting list ! ) and French school until junior high. Then we will give her the choice: stay in French school or go to an English one.

I would also like to add the basics of a third language (Spanish or Italian). And make sure she has good world awareness: I want her to know about different cultures, languages, and customs.

Please share your experience raising a bilingual child because you and your partner speak different languages or because it is a choice of yours. How does it work for you? Thank you !

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Comments

  1. Both my husband and I speak only English, and I am trying to think of a way to teach our kids (someday!) another language. Your child is so lucky to be learning two languages! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you Darlena ! How old are your children? In which part of the world are you? Which language would you be interested in?
      In my opinion, the best way to teach children is through play. I am thinking songs, games, DVDs in the language of your choice for a start !
      I would love to help you find some teaching resource if you tell me more !

  2. Salut!!

    My mum is from Nigeria (anglophone) and my dad from the Congo (francophone), both were bilingual before my birth and my first active language was French since we lived in the Congo for the first five years of my life. I was surrounded by French and Lingala. When we moved to Nigeria, my mama’s family spoke English and Yoruba and I remember very clearly the frustration I felt when I could not communicate with my other family.

    I continued my schooling in French while surrounded by English, Yoruba, Pidgin English. My parents then made the conscious decision to practise the one language one parent thing three years before I moved to the UK. It worked for me but it did not work for my sibling who was 5 years my junior. What happened? Well my parents separated when I was 12 and she was seven and she started talking later than most kids. I was able to benefit from this change and she was not. But that was when she was 7, today my sister has had several opportunities to learn French and live in France but the problem is that she has learnt French as a foreign language and I learnt it as my native language.

    That’s how it worked out for us.

    🙂 Layinka

    • Hi Layinka ! Thank you for your very complete comment ! I think the “moral” of your story is that learning a language in a natural context is more efficient and beneficial than any other learning method !

  3. I grew up all over the world and was able to get by with French and German! (I use the term “get by” very strongly) But I wish I would have kept up with them so that I could pass them on to my little man!!

    It is something that my wife and I really want for him, the ability to speak another language, especially in todays world!!

    • I know what you mean. I took (on top of English and German), Italian and Portuguese (beginner) and at some point felt like I was going somewhere with Italian but then moved to London, missed a semester of language courses and eventually, forgot all about it. 😦

      I would like to find some teaching resources for my daughter to learn another Latin language. I think the younger she is exposed to new languages, the better she will do !

      I will try to write an article about available resources for children some time.

      • I agree, the earlier the better!

        There are a few international pre-schools (Where they learn a 2nd language) in the city that we live and my wife and I have been looking into them pretty heavily even though it is still a few years away!!!

      • That would be such a great opportunity for your child !
        My first choice would be a French school only (since we are surrounded by English) but French immersion should do if we can’t have a spot there.

  4. I will talk to her in French and Spanish if you like! ❤

  5. So far we’re both speaking to our baby in English, but living in a country where she’ll go to school and be surrounded by Hebrew (as well as hearing lots of other languages on the street). We have some baby books in at least three or four languages, and enjoy reading those to her.

    • Where are you and your family living? I have always been fascinated by this language (Hebrew that is). Have you heard of Yael Naim? She is a French-Israeli singer from Tunisia, very popular in France and I love her music. She sings in French, Hebrew and English. Hebrew is such a melodious language.
      So far, we only have French and English books for her but I would like to expose her to a couple more languages.
      Any books you would recommend? Thank you for passing by and following my blog Kaet !

      • No problem. We’re in Israel. I think I might have heard of Yael Naim, but I don’t know her work well. Books tend to be expensive here, especially the non-Hebrew ones, so I pick them up as I can in sales and in second-hand bookshops. One friend who brought her kids here older says that she’s made a point of buying the same book in more than one language, so the kids (and she!) know the story from their main language.

      • I would love to visit this place some day. I hear it is beautiful…

        This is a great idea – I will keep it in mind !
        Most of her French baby literature is from France and was given to us as presents for her arrival — which is great since
        I love book so much ! I have only bought a couple French books here as the selection is pretty small around here.

  6. Bonjour !
    I am a Canadian living in the Paris region, married to a Frenchman. Our son is 2 and a 1/2 years old and we are raising him in a bilingual environment. I communicate with him solely in English and his dad, as well as the rest of his family and caregivers here, speak with him in French. I am very proud of, and impressed by our son, who understands and communicates in both languages perfectly for his age, and navigates from English to French quite effortlessly! He tends to speak more spontaneously in French given that he hears it more often on a daily basis, but working part-time allows me to spend more time with him and have one-on-one anglophone time with him. So here is my unsollicited advice to parents raising their kids in a bilingual household: songs, books, music, DVDs (Sesame Street is our son’s favourite these days) and playtime in English (or your mother-tongue) are essential! As well as being disciplined in always communicating with your child in your native language, even in public, at family / friend gatherings and outings. And fret-not, children get it, their little minds are amazing sponges and will be able to figure it all out! I believe the ket is starting early, (from pregnancy if possible!) so that speaking to your little one in your chosen language feels as natural as possible to both the parent and the little human whose life experience will be so much richer as a bilingual person 🙂
    Thanks for reading and for the opportunity to share,
    Patricia.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience and tips with us Patricia ! How long have you been in France? Did you speak French at all when you got there?
      I solely speak French to our daughter unless I am talking for her to her dad. I will get her some DVDs and some more books when we go to France in June. Anything French you’d recommend? Hope to “see” you again here soon and Bonne Saint-Valentin !

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