A French perspective
It’s a common ambition that a lot of us have for our kids – but we often don’t have the opportunity to develop these abilities as much or as early as we would like.
And, even for parents with the best of intentions and what could be considered the ideal setting, the task is not as easy as one might imagine.
Take our case, for example. I am French, my husband Australian (bilingual), and we live near Paris. Our daughter Amy, turned 2 recently. She’s very chatty and we’re proud as punch of her conversation skills… in French.
My husband and I met in France and immediately began our relationship ‘en Français’. So our little one is surrounded by French daily, which is also the language spoken at home (despite our best efforts to mix it up a little and alternate). It is also the language spoken at her Day Care – bilingual options being non-existent where we live.
However, Amy’s culture is also firmly rooted in English. My wonderful in-laws live in Sydney and we have family in Dublin. What do you do? We both want to provide her with every chance to speak English and I often feel guilty for not speaking English with my husband, but the sudden change in language would be … jarring.
I don’t speak English well enough to make it my everyday language with him. However I try to sing and read stories in English to my daughter as much as possible (there I am comfortable and not self-conscious about making mistakes).
But the mother tongue is persistent and returns at a gallop whenever I talk to her! I also noticed that just as it’s difficult to speak English for me (the Frenchie parent living in France), it’s equally difficult my husband! I often catch him speaking to our little bundle in French because she "understands it best" … posing quite a dilemma for him as his attempts to use English quickly begin to feel like a school lesson!
We fortunately receive visits from a lot of English-speaking friends at home and Amy is not shy with them, on the contrary, but questions in English usually receive a French reply.
I often imagine that the perfect solution to the problem would be to move to Australia, and family life would be in French and the rest in English! This is the case for our British friends in France: their daughters are perfectly bilingual. In my opinion this is the ideal framework for fluency in two languages.
I think in any case, achieving that perfect language balance is not simple. Our daughter speaks a bit of English (mostly the names of animals, body parts, colors and clothing). But will that be enough to make a bilingual speaker of her in a few years? The mystery remains.
Children, however, never cease to amaze us with their remarkable intelligence and adaptability. Talking about daddy’s birthday to Amy, I asked her: "And what song will you sing?"
She replied by singing in perfect English: "Happy Birthday to you"*
There’s hope for her yet!
*Learned from the CD ‘Dora the Explorer Party Favorites’.