Before I married my French husband we of course had your normal pre-marriage conversations about children someday, but one that was very important to him was that our babies be raised bilingual. At the time, I was a bit skeptical. His siblings all did different things with their children, but the approach he wanted to take was that he would ONLY speak French with our kids and I would only speak English. The main reason I was somewhat against this was because I did not speak French. Being born and raised in Texas, most of my peers (including myself) took Spanish because it was the most practical. Initially I did not want my husband having a “secret language” with our kids that I couldn’t share. I mean… who KNOWS would Dad could be saying behind my back when we got to junior high, right?
Well pretty soon after we got married, we decided to move to France for a couple of years. We had no mortgage, no kids, and no obligations holding us back so we decided to put everything we owned into storage and move abroad for a couple of years for an adventure! I also wanted to learn more about where Logan grew up and understand his culture and (hopefully) learn the language.
Our first year there we actually got pregnant with our daughter Stella and we started talking more seriously about how we wanted to raise our children. I knew that by speaking both languages in our home we were giving them a gift. It is much harder to learn a language as an adult (believe me) than it is a child. As they are growing and developing, they are tiny sponges. Logan was born and raised in France by American parents so he learned French at school and with his peers, but English was the only language spoken at home. Watching him now flip back and forth between languages without ever having to mentally translate in his head is fascinating and I have to admit, I am a bit jealous! I WANT to give that gift to our girls.
In January of 2013, we had our daughter Stella in France and she was actually French before we were able to get her American citizenship! (Which instantly gave her a certain “cool” factor!) The great thing about Logan speaking only French with her since birth was that I was almost able to learn alongside her. You don’t have sophisticated conversations with your newborn or even your 1 year old, so I noticed very quickly that I was understanding most of what he was saying to her. If he ever said something I didn’t understand, I just would ask him and he would translate and then repeat it back in French.
Many people ask if our daughter Stella (now 2.5) understands and speaks French. YES, Both! We started noticing around 18 months that she was beginning to understand what Logan was saying because we could both tell her the same task in different languages and she would complete them both. Her knee jerk reaction is STILL to talk and answer questions in English because she hears it more, but when Logan asks her to say “Please” or “Thank You” “En Francias” she answers sweetly “S’il tous plait” or “Merci.” We also read both English and French books before bed and try to incorporate the French Culture into our lives here in Texas by eating at French restaurants when we can and attending events such as Bastille on Bishop so that we can celebrate their French heritage as well. We are also considering a bilingual school once Stella gets to school age.
The main challenge I have faced lately is that Stella is 2.5 years old now and is becoming her own little person. So when Logan pulls her aside to explain why he’s discipling her or explaining something we are experiencing for the first time (such as fireworks this year), I have trouble understanding him. I know this is going to become more and more of an issue as our girls get older and their conversations get more complex so this is motivation for me to continue to learn the language and get better at it! A daunting task but so worth it. I have heard RAVE reviews of Alliance Francaise de Dallas and want to look into both their adult and children’s classes. Sadly, I don’t have enough self discipline to work through Rosetta Stone on my own, so I feel like the classroom setting would suit me better! I would also love to pick certain nights of the month deemed “French nights” where we ALL speak only French for the entire evening. My brother-in-law does this with his family and the kids really look forward to it!
Are any of you other Moms out there raising your babies bilingual? What are you doing to cultivate and practice both languages in your home? What are some tips you can give me as Stella (and Chloé) get older and their conversations get more complex?
I would love to hear what is working for you!