Raising bilingual kids

I don’t actually remember when I started to nurture the idea of raising my children bilingual. Before I even thought I was ready to be a mum I guess as I always loved learning languages.

When I first started to talk about it, I received lots of strange looks from people who probably thought I had a new passing fad. Bilingual friends told me about their experience with their own children and how challenging it was. Besides, English is not my mother tongue so the accent and mistakes I could make also raised questions to my relatives (I argued back that lots of people spoke poorer French than my English was whilst still talking to their children, the goal was to bring the other language to my children’s life, input from native speakers was the second step). I actually received few positive feedbacks on the new adventure we were foreseeing. I obviously write « we » as it was a project I was advocating but Fred was also really motivated and trusted me fully on this.

I didn’t want to make the decision lightly so I started to read every book I could find on bilingual children, testimonies and advice. I contacted Dr. Naomi Steiner, a developmental-behavioural pediatrician who co-wrote the book ‘7 steps to raising a bilingual child’, to discuss whether the method we planned to implement could be efficient. Most of the books I read stressed the necessity for consistency, often idealised by the OPOL (one parent one language) method. I knew my English was better than my partner’s but I had so much to transmit in French, from nursery rhymes to colourful anecdotes about my childhood and I didn’t want to miss that either. We therefore made it worked for us by speaking English 3 to 4 days a week (in a row) to our children and the other days in French. That’s how the first words I spoke to my daughter where actually in English as she was born a day where we intended to speak English. I can’t say that the journey is easy, especially when you have two kids, are tired when you are back from work and live in a monolingual environnement.

To me, it was as obvious as for someone who would be proficient at playing guitar and would play and teach the instrument to his/her children from a very early age. I could speak English and loved the beauty of the language, why wouldn’t I share that with my baby? The choice is however not so easy to make. It could seem presumptuous to many, that was not the goal but who cares actually. I have always liked to find a way to live slightly differently than the life habits I found around me. It also meant that my parents-in-laws would not necessarily understand when I spoke to their grand children in front of them.

We knew that we could not do it on our own, that it would quickly look fake in a French speaking environment. We were however very lucky to live in a city who had several free immersive schools (starting from age 5) and our daughter started this year with 80% of her school time in English.

I’m writing this article today, because tonight was actually a big step in my daughter’s bilingual journey. We are moving to Halifax in Canada at the end of the month and she is starting to feel like she has to make an effort to speak more in English. So far she understands everything we say (which is great when we have friends coming over from abroad) but speaks few words in English. Today however she addressed me in English during supper and managed to do it during the whole meal. I knew how big an effort it was for her and it confirms that our project was worth trying. I can’t wait to see the progress they will both make when we move to Canada!

(Cet article a été rédigé en février 2019 sur mon ancien blog “The World is our Oyster”, alors que nous allions partir à Halifax, Canada, pour un séjour sabbatique de 6 mois. Je faisais part ici de mes challenges de parent d’enfant bilingue et de tout le positif que ça apportait aussi.)

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