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Language learning with bilingual children

I was thinking the other day about how our children are completely bilingual. I am not including Angel in this post because she isn’t near to being bilingual. She knows some French words but hasn’t had enough time in a French speaking environment to become fluent.

The girls are able to effortlessly switch between French and English. They speak together mostly in French but I have heard them speaking together in English more lately. I don’t know why since they are playing every day with other French speaking children. Maybe, they are using it as a ‘secret language’? It is funny because they will say one sentence in French and immediately after say another sentence in English. For them it is normal.

My children speak in English and French as if both are their first language. They don’t prefer one over the other and they don’t have an accent when speaking in French or English.

I don’t do anything special with my children in regard to speaking one language or the other. I think it is more of the attitude that my husband and I took when Sweet Bear was born. She is American and French…Equally. It is impossible to be more of one than the other.

Language makes up a great deal of the culture. It is only natural that our children must be able to communicate in both languages with no accent.

It is not an option. It is who they are.

When the girls were babies I would say a word in English and immediately repeat it in French. Even now when the girls learn a new word or phrase I do this. I am doing it with Boy Blue every day.

I guess Vilay and I are teaching our children both languages in a kind of parallel way. It is getting harder to do this as the girls get older because I don’t always know the French word for an English word. But, they seem to be able to connect the French word to the English word once they hear it. They are able to keep French separate from English while at the same time learning French words faster when they know the English words.

Of course, you can read everything I wrote and replace English with French and French with English. I am writing it from my English speaking perspective. However, my children are truly bilingual. For example, they will learn a word in French and later pick up the English word.

The one thing that the girls do that drives me nuts is they will say (for example) “I happy” or “I hungry”. No matter how many times I tell them that they must say, “I am happy” or “I am hungry” they don’t. I’m not worried. I know one day they will get it.

Sweet Bear recently stated saying things like, “Me. I don’t like that.” or “Me. I want to go to school.” She starts with ‘me’ each time she is refering to herself. I tell her it isn’t necessary to do this but she keeps doing it. Petite Clown has picked it up from her sister and is doing it, as well. I won’t give up.

I am constantly correcting their English just as I did to Angel when she was smaller. Actually, I still correct Angel when she is with me here in Europe or on the phone. It’s the mother in me. It’s good for them!

Like I said…

They (I am excluding Angel here) don’t have the option of not being bilingual.  It’s who they are. Each of my children are Franco-American. It’s natural for them to speak in both languages. I am teaching them English like I taught Angel. There is a reason it is called a ‘mother’ tongue.

Being bilingual isn’t anything special. It is their life.

O.k. Now, I will need to make a separate post about how this didn’t work so well while we were living in the States for six months. In my next post I will write about why I think it is better for us to live in a French speaking ‘world’ with me speaking English with the kids rather than living in an English speaking ‘world’ and Vilay speaking French with them.

I’ll talk about my experience raising bilingual children in the States compared to living in France or Switzerland (French speaking). Yes, it has something to do with my being the mother.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • buzzgirl August 30, 2007, 5:37 pm

    I find this topic endlessly fascinating. As I’ve mentioned, my 7th grader daughter has attended a French school since she was in kindergarten. She is definitely bilingual, but since we live in the States with just me as her parent, she is not bicultural. It is so interesting to see her in France (we go every other year, and she was an exchange student with a French family for two weeks last year.) Knowing the language so thoroughly makes her time there a so much richer experience. She’s even taught me some idioms and slang she picked up!

  • Pumpkin August 30, 2007, 6:25 pm

    Buzzgirl,
    I think what you have done for your daughter is unexplainably wonderful! She is so lucky to have such a beautiful mother. I really mean that. You have given her a great gift.

  • expatraveler August 31, 2007, 12:55 am

    I really love the slang but I’ve missed speaking in French and using my French in Canada here. I’m very interested to hear your experiences in the US.
    It’s exciting to know there are many bilingual schools here in Canada but from my tutoring experience, I just don’t see them the same as in Switzerland.
    By the way, today I had to hold myself from laughing because of the silent “H” in French. The discussion was revolving around the questions of Is this an “old” order? or a “Hold” order? U decide.. :)

    I like most the septant, huitant, ninant in French. It takes so much less thinking on my part!

  • buzzgirl August 31, 2007, 3:40 am

    Pumpkin,
    You are so sweet. Thanks for your kind words.

  • Pumpkin August 31, 2007, 5:38 am

    Expatraveler,
    That is too funny about the ‘old’ order or ‘hold’ order. My husband doesn’t have a problem with the h’s and th’s like most French. So, I often forget about this one. I think it is because he spoke Czech and perhaps Laosian as a young child.

    I can’t remember the French Swiss way of saying septant (70), huitant (80) and nonant (90) when I am speaking to others in Switzerland even if I understand it when I hear it.

    I have to say it like the French first so they can help me…soixante-dix, quatre-vingts and quatre-vingts-dix. I know it is easy in Swiss French and I know how to say it. But I get nervous when talking to others and it still isn’t natural for me. The French way comes to me first and then I have to figure out how the Swiss say it. It’s good for my brain!

    Buzzgirl, You are welcome! :)

  • Buzzito November 17, 2007, 9:12 am

    My wife and I are raising our sons bilnugally (Spanish and Enlgish). Our 3 1/2 y.o. is doing quite well and has even learned a little Chinese. its exciting to see him at such a young age, switch languages. We found a website with some great products for Spanish/English speaking children: http://www.growingbilingual.com It is nice to have read the other comments here. Thanks for sharing! Buzzito

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