Raising Bilingual Babies

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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. 

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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. 

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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! 

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Abby is a wife to Logan and Mom to Stella (January 2013) and Chloé (March 2015). She was raised in Lake Highlands and moved back after college to pursue her Corporate Marketing career with two major retailers here in Dallas. All her goals and plans changed after a whirlwind weekend in California where she experienced love at first sight with a Frenchman. A year later they were married and moved overseas to embark on a 2 year fairytale living and working in France at a B&B in the French Countryside. After her daughter was born, they made the bittersweet decision to come back to Texas to plant roots. Now she spends her days juggling 2 little girls and running a couple of businesses part-time from home. She enjoys drinking French wine, spends way too much time picking the perfect Emojis for her text messages, refinishing furniture, and is a complete Netflix snob. You can follow her blog Bonjour, Y'all or find her on IG overgramming pics of her darling girls at @mrsfrenchy.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve taken 16 weeks of French lessons at alliance francaise and love it! I’ve learned so much. My daughter is starting French in middle school this year so I dream of us learning and speaking it together. Any second language opens up a new world. I wish she and I had learned it earlier, because it is harder to learn the older you are. But I’m excited to do this with her now.

  2. Hi there! Loved your post. I speak Spanish & English (and a bit of French) but my husband only speaks English. Like you, even before we had kids, we would discuss what it would be like to have a bilingual family. We now have an 8 month old daughter. I speak in Spanish as much as possible to her but it is so hard in an English dominant household. So I try to stay strictly in Spanish around certain daily events, like feedings, bath time, and changings. I also play lots of songs and media in Spanish. My husband tries to speak in Spanish or translate some things for her, which is awesome. And all of our babysitters have been bilingual, which is great because they stay strictly in Spanish. Like you, I read to her in Spanish. I also like the Little Pim series for her. Bon chance!! Buena suerte!!!

  3. We are so in the same boat! I only speak to Arthur in Portuguese, and Dwight speaks to him in English. I’ve also asked my family to speak to him in Portuguese as much as possible. Goodness knows learning English won’t be a problem.

    Arthur is only 1, but Dwight is already getting frustrated with his limited understanding of Portuguese. I got him Rosetta Stone years ago, but he only did it for 2 weeks. He tries Duolingo occasionally, but never consistently enough to remember much. I’m starting to wonder if he would do better in a classroom setting! I haven’t looked into it at all, but I need to find out if there are any Portuguese resources in San Antonio. I know there are in Austin.

    I think that, once D is a bit more proficient, we may have to institute Portuguese Night. Once Arthur is older, it’ll be more important. As someone who grew up with 2 languages at home, I know how hard it’ll be later to get him to speak Portuguese when all his little friends speak English. (I took every opportunity NOT to speak Portuguese, even in Brasil, and of course I regret it now.) Hopefully we’ll be able to go to Brasil at least every 2 years, to have the occasional immersion. We’ll see!

  4. First of all I am jealous of your writing ability (not really I just wish I was as good as you ), Second I am so impressed by you and Logan, Will and Erin. My great nieces and nephews are so blessed to have parents that are bilingual and speak to them in both languages. My French professor was impressed and said that was the ONLY way to do it. You are right about Rossetta stone, it takes disapline (that I don’t always have — my tutor is a way too expensive to continue. )

    Again, God Bless you in your training of those adorable little girls
    Love you,
    Aunt Charlotte

  5. My son is trilingual: Romanian is the language he thinks in (from me), Italian (from his father) and English from the environment. I speak all three languages also but my husband is left out when we speak Romanian, he does not mind . My son never mixes them up because we, the parents, are very consistent with not mixing them up either . I was a little worried since I am homeschooling that he will not develop his English that much but at 4 years old he can have a conversation in any of these languages. We also started German a few months ago and that starts to stick already: like some of you have said- it is fun for me to learn alongside with him. When he will start speaking German we have French next on the list :).

  6. We are raising our children bilingual. My husband speaks to them only in Polish and I speak only in English. As the children got older we realized that while they were completely fluent in understanding, their Polish language skills were not to the same standard and were suffering. So we move to Poland. We go back and forth between America and Poland. We home school and my husband works from home so this is all made easier by our lifestyle. Their language skills have improved drastically but I’d say that it would only take one or two years in a traditional school to really solidify their language skills, and make sure their grammar (Polish has crazy difficult grammar) is decent. As our children got older (our oldest is 9) we noticed that they would speak less and less Polish and just revert to English because this was the language of the culture, and it was just easier. So we moved. It was that important to my husband. We may not always live in Poland but for now it is working fine. Plus, my children get to see how the rest of the world lives. 🙂

  7. Really push yourself on the French now while she is small; as soon as Stella is school age, aim for all French at home, as she will be inundated by English everywhere else. This is the best way to ensure simultaneous development of both languages continues readily. Chloe will get plenty of English from Stella and everyone else. That’s our approach with Spanish. Also if you can find French speaking babysitter and have her speak only French, even with you – that helps!!

  8. Dear Abby,

    I really enjoyed reading your article! I feel that you have the best approach to teaching bilingualism to your children by having each parent speak only in one language to them. I was raised in the same manner as my mom is French and my father American. It allowed for full fluency and prevented “franglais” from creeping into my vocabulary.

    Now, as an adult, I work using both languages and travel extensively between France and the US. I have raised my children with the same method, speaking only French to them while their father spoke in English. After raising my children in France during their preschool years, we moved back to Dallas and enrolled them at Dallas International School. This was very beneficial to them as they further developed their linguistic skills and acquired an awareness and understanding of many cultures around the world. They are now both adults and this knowledge continues to enhance their sensitivity and connectedness with other cultures. This is an important skill to have in our increasingly global world.

    Bravo to you and Logan for your dedication in providing your girls with the French language and culture! It’s truly a gift!

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