Another Benefit of Raising Kids in Non-native Language

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In the beginning I often felt quite self-conscious speaking French in public, with my English accent and errors. But people have always been lovely–English people often try and say a few minority language (ml) words to the children, such as ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Au revoir,’ while French people are often curious about my decision to speak non-native French, particularly if they haven’t spoken French with their own children! And an unforeseen benefit is that I feel less exposed when it comes to disciplining Schmoo in public!

Schmoo sometimes teaches me new words now–a few days ago she kept referring to her pot of bubble mixture as a ‘flacon,’ a word I don’t know and hadn’t taught her. In fact, I wondered why she kept referring to it as a ‘flocon,’ or ‘flake’ (of snow). Then I came across the word in a book and realised what she meant. She also uses phrases she picks up at school, especially from immersion French club, such as ‘mon coeur’ and ‘ma belle.’ In September 2007, Schmoo started in the English section at the nursery class of this school, with a bilingual teacher who spoke to the children in English, alongside her assistant who spoke to them in French (unfortunately there was no space for her in the French section). But last September, after 2 years in the English section, she entered the French section for her final year at the school and, this year, she started at one of the Lycee’s primary schools.

At the moment, I am still undecided as to how long to continue speaking French with the children. I don’t want Schmoo to be behind with her French compared with the other children (most of whom are from francophone families), but on the other hand, I wonder if my French is up to communicating intensively with a 6 year old and beyond! At the moment, I’m playing it by ear, trying to keep up with her expanding vocabulary and the continual questions (‘But, why, mum?’)! If it feels too difficult, I may have to switch to English, at least for complex concepts, but I’ll continue reading and singing to the children in French, and will keep all DVDs, CDs, storytapes, etc in the ml as well.

Schmoo is 6 now and it feels very natural to speak to her in French (and a little strange to speak to her in English)! Pan-Pan is showing all the signs of going the same way–one of his favourite words is ‘coin coin’ (‘quack quack’) for duck! It sometimes feels like very hard work, on top of all the usual hard work of childcare, but I try and remind myself that, even if the children choose not to continue with their French into adulthood, they will have gained so much from having learned three languages through their childhood.

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