Learning French With My Daughter

Despite research to the contrary, code-switching seems to be working for us.

While my daughter’s English is soaring, her French has been lagging. I mentioned in a previous post that I was making a commitment to speaking more French at home. My husband only has a few hours each day with our kids, and while he speaks to them in French, my daughter responds in English. He and I speak to each other mostly in English. So, I’ve started reading more French books, playing more French songs, and speaking more French to the kids and when we are all together. I’ve been practicing my pronunciation in the car with some CDs, and my daughter pipes in with me, her high-pitched toddler voice perfectly enunciating each vowel and rolling those “r”s. She is now speaking in full French sentences. She still veers toward English, but will repeat after me when I translate her words to French. My French has improved, too. Success!

Right now, French is fun for her. She likes to point out what language people are speaking, and she’s asked more than one of our friends if they speak French or English. She’s in a French preschool two days a week, so she’s hearing lots of French there, too. I worry what will happen if we no longer have the ability to send her to French immersion school. Will she hate French? Think of it as work, or something that makes her different and therefore something she rejects? I dream up all sorts of solutions: we’ll spend summers in France! I’ll create a curriculum and teach French in whatever preschool/elementary school she ends up in! We’ll find playgroups full of French speakers! I’m nothing if not determined. My favorite solution is undoubtedly summers in France. I’m thinking Provence….

Here’s an interesting new phenomenon: my daughter is well beyond babbling in English, but she’s been babbling nonsense words with French sounds. I wonder if this gibberish is because she’s trying out the French sounds she’s heard (my MD says they see this a lot in kids that are exposed to multiple languages) or if she’s trying to babble like her little brother, who’s getting a lot of attention for all the cool new sounds he’s making.

Her English is progressing well. She chatters away, using verb tenses mostly correctly and picking up vocabulary at an amazing rate. Those little preschooler minds are amazing things. She also makes mistakes but I can see the logic. My brother asked her the other day, as she ate a banana, if she was a monkey. She said, indignantly, “I amn’t!” instead of “I’m not.” The logic makes sense. After all, so many of our contractions are with the verb, not the subject.

Fascinating stuff, this language development. It makes me want to go back to school and study linguistics, as well as child development. Plus French history, French, English. Is there a job out there where I can just go to school all the time? That’s the job I want.

23 thoughts on “Learning French With My Daughter

  1. There is a lot of interesting thoughts in your post…
    A friend of mine is about to graduate as an educator. She read me a chapter refering to the cognitive ability to learn the mothertongue. Your daughter’s “I amn’t!” was a great example, how children under 3 / 4 appropriate, test, form their own grammar and then know what’s right or not 🙂
    Could you please tell me what “MD” stands for? 😦 thank you very much.
    I like your blog a lot 🙂

  2. It sounds like you are going through a lot of what I am! It makes studying language a lot more fun to do it with your child I find. I used to try to make myself read French books aloud before little Nelson came, or to do spoken exercises, and you just feel so silly– being a Mom you basically always feel silly, so instead it just becomes a fun activity.

    I’ll be following to see how it goes for you! Please post if there is anything you find to be particularly helpful, I’m trying a little of everything.

    • I’ll definitely keep posting – it’s a fun adventure, this bilingual stuff. I’m so grateful for the community and the resources out there that I’ve discovered through blogging. So much more information than there was even 5 years ago!

  3. It would be wonderful if you had the opportunity to write down the little quirks in speech of your French/English bilingual child. There’s much interest in the academic world about these quirks, because which 2 languages are learned will most likely yield different quirks. Perhaps the French rules for contractions wound up in English maybe?? My Chinese/English kids don’t separate the gender of 3rd person pronouns in English (everyone is he), because in Chinese the spoken form sounds the same for both genders (ta). However, the written form is different. Of course, they wouldn’t have know that, since they can’t read in Chinese…..yet.

    • I’m trying to write down as much as I can remember – both in my journal and for my blog. I’ve definitely seen her applying English grammar rules (albeit unconsciously) to French – like in plurals. It’s an interesting journey! It seems the academic world is really opening up to multilingual upbringing!

  4. I’m not an expert, but I have a feeling she will completely fluent in French sooner or later, provided that her father keeps talking to her in French. Children are so good in learning languages (and unfortunately, dialects).

  5. My daughter, who is 6, is much better in French than English. She goes to school in French and her mother and indeed everyone around her, speaks French. (I am a little island of English in a sea of French!) She used to reply to me in French when I spoke to her in English, so I had to insist that she spoke English to me. It worked and now her English is much better, though it still lags well behind her French.
    From what I’ve read about bilingualism (unless the child’s exposure to the two languages is exactly the same) there will normally be a dominant language, and this may change as the environment changes. The most important thing is to keep up the exposure to the lesser language, so I think it’s great that you are learning French with her.
    Being in a bi-lingual house and raising bi-lingual kids, I really appreciate reading about other peoples experiences in similar circumstances. Thank you for your blog – it’s really interesting.

    • Thank you for your kind words and your insight! Yes – English is absolutely the dominant language, so we figured increasing her exposure to French could only help. So far I’ve seen no confusion of languages for her at all, in fact she often switches when I do. We’ll see how my son, who is one, progresses, now that I’ve changed the way I do things.

  6. It’s great to hear that your daughter is learning both English and French! Being bilingual will be a huge advantage in the future, especially because French is spoken in so many places. So keep up the good work, I’m sure she will become fluent in French one day! I’m Finnish-English myself 🙂

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