Chez Nous, On Parle Franglais


64Before kids, conversations between my husband and I were mostly English, sprinkled with some French here and there, or, after a trip to France, a healthy dose of French with a sprinkle of English. Sometimes we spoke more French deliberately – so I could practice, or so we could have “secret” conversations when out on a date (so scandalous of us, that randy young couple! In truth, we were more likely talking about something mundane like work, or gossiping about our waiter). Sometimes we’d do it so we could make fun of each country’s accents: I’d don a thick, affected French accent, complete with a nose in the air and a French shrug, and my husband would try to emulate a New Yorker or a Texan. Sometimes we bounced back and forth between languages without it consciously registering, until we noticed someone staring.

Now, as our kids (age 3 ½ and 19 months) progress in this bilingual environment, we see that in our house, we all speak Franglais.

My daughter, the oldest, had the opportunity to attend a French Immersion school last year, so her French comprehension is great, but she prefers to answer in English. We’re bribing her with her favorite foods to get her to respond to us in French: “You want another chip? Il faut parler en français !” (Another mommy fail – I once declared I’d never bribe my kids with food.)

If she doesn’t know a word in French, she’ll say the word in English with a thick French accent: for example, “soccer ball” becomes “sew-care bowl.” This, despite neither of us ever pronouncing English words in this way. I love it. Sometimes, she’ll babble nonsensical words, but the sounds are distinctly French, and she’ll tell me that she’s speaking in French when I ask her what language she’s using. The other day, she said the character in the book we were reading was “Rose-ing the lawn.” (The French word for “to water” is “arroser.”) She’s gotten used to hearing from her Papa, “Fait pas de bêtises,” (don’t goof around), so the other day she told me, with a mischievous grin, “Mommy, I’m bêtise-ing.”

In the summer, when mosquitoes abound, I tend to say, “I’m getting MANGED!” (Manger – “to eat” in French) instead of the more common, “I’m getting eaten alive,” or, “I’m getting attacked by mosquitoes.” I suppose this isn’t helping anyone in the house learn French.

Then there’s the word “doudou,” (sounds like “doo-doo”) which is the French word for “lovey,” or stuffed animal. It’s one of my son’s first French words, and one that my daughter uses commonly. As in, “Where is my doudou?” Or, “I love my doudou,” and, in response to Mall Santa’s question, “What do you want for Christmas?” “A Mickey doudou and a Minnie doudou.” That earned me a stern look from Santa, and required a lot of explaining to my confused, but ready-to-milk-it-for-all-it-was-worth, brother.

IMG_7206My son’s language is starting to take off, so I therefore poo-pah all the nay-sayers who claim bilingual kiddos will be behind in their language development during their first few years of life. Both of my kids understand French and English without difficulty, and are well beyond the “normal” expectations of spoken language ability for their ages. His first French words have been: “coucou” (hello, familiar), “doudou,” “l’eau” (water), and, my favorite, “Pi-pah-po” for “papillon” (butterfly).

My favorite misused word in English: “Happies.” When my daughter was first learning to speak, she had a set of pajamas that said, “Happy” across the chest. So, we would point and say, “Happy,” every time she wore them. Thus, pajamas became “Happies,” and we all put on our happies each night before bed. I can’t think of a better word to describe the most comfortable of clothes and the relaxation one feels when finally getting to slip into them at the end of a long day.

I don’t believe that my kids are confused. My daughter knows very well which words are French and which ones are English, despite sometimes using them in sentences together. I know, because I ask her – is that a French word or an English one you just said? As for my son, chances are he’s mélange-ing the two (see, there I go again) without realizing it. I have no fear that both kids will eventually sort the two languages out in their own brains; research shows that bilingual children eventually do. In the meantime, their prefrontal cortexes are getting an excellent workout.

I’m okay with a little Franglais. It’s one of my favorite languages, and one we’re all fluent in, chez nous.

22 thoughts on “Chez Nous, On Parle Franglais

  1. This is so cool to read about! Je suis tombee amoureux de la langue francaise quand j’ai commonce l’etudier il y a 9 ans et j’aimerais pour mes enfants a l’avenir apprendre l’anglais ansi que le francais aussi!
    p.s. I apologize for my lack of accent marks if it makes it hard to read, but I’m not technology proficient enough to figure out how to use them anywhere but in Word!

    • No worries – they are hard to figure out, and I understood you fine :). I know several non-native speakers who are speaking to their kids in French, so it can be done! It is a beautiful language – I love it, too 🙂

  2. It’s always interesting to read about a multilingual family experience so thank you for sharing!
    I was very impressed by the fact that your daughter can say things like “I am betise-ing” wich proves that she’s able to mix French words with English grammar. She clearly knows what she’s doing: she identified an English grammar structure and has the ability to “put” some French into it, that’s great!
    In my opinion, the use of Franglais/the tendency to use both languages in the same sentence is perfectly fine. Like you said, your kids will learn to separate French and English, it just takes a little bit of time, nothing to worry about. Speaking a bit of English, French and Franglais is encouraging their bilingualism because it’s fun for them. And by the way, their Franglais is adorable!

  3. I grew up speaking 3 languages concurrently and yes sometimes when I say a word in English I get a weird look as it gets a french twang to it. My kids are bilingual at home and they tend to reply in English but understand well when spoken to in French – kids are smart the hard part is maintaining the two languages once they are at school which is what I’m finding more challenging. Franglais is simply the best 🙂 I am impressed at how much effort you put into them learning the language it is not an easy task but you seem to do it well –

    • Thank you- I’m trying. I’m doing a lot of research these days on bilingual education and the bilingual/multilingual brain, and I understand that it isn’t unusual even for adults to occasionally mix their languages. I catch myself, particularly after a long stay in France, using French sentence structure in my English sentences!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Truly enjoy it, as in the past 30 min, I have heard a “il faut shar-er” (one must share) from my 5 y old daughter, and a “I-veux-yus-de-bommes” (I want apple juice) from my 2 y old son 🙂
    My daughter, too, answers often to me in English. It used to bother me a little bit, until my Mom came from France one day. My daughter realized quite quickly that if she wanted to be understood, she had to speak French 🙂 And she did. And quite fluently, actually.
    So just keep talking ! Anglais, Francais, Franglais, they will figure it all out !

  5. On parle franglais chez nous aussi. We usually stick to one or the other if the conversation includes someone who only speaks one language, but among ourselves we’ll switch back and forth constantly.
    As for your kids eventually sorting out the languages, I can confirm that they will indeed (as it seems they already are). My parents like to tell the story of how I didn’t talk very much until I was about three, at which point I started speaking in complete sentences – in both languages.

    • I love to hear the success stories! We try to help them sort out the languages, too, and make sure we speak in whatever language is most common to all present. But when it’s just the four of us, we have fun with the Franglais.

  6. My husband, the French speaker, has always spoken to my kids in his language, so they grew up understanding French but preferring to answer back in English. Now that we’ve moved to Belgium and my son is in a Belgian school, he will speak to my husband only in French. His teacher was blown away by his ability to pick up the language in such a short amount of time but it didn’t surprise us at all. It was already tucked in his little brain! The exposure they get when they’re young really helps. As for conjugating French words the English way, both of my kids did it. Adding “ing” or “ed” to French words was the norm when they were young!

  7. I loved reading this. My wife and I are bringing up our son bilingually (English and Welsh) and may try to teach him some French as well as I’m fluent in French and lived there for three years. It’s great hearing about how adaptable multilingual kids become.

    • Thanks for reading! Bringing up a child bilingually is such a gift – for the child and the parent, I think. It amazes me every day to see how adaptable kids are to languages, and how their minds work, process the whole thing. Best of luck to you in your bilingual (and possibly trilingual) journey!

  8. Chez nous, à Québec, on parle franglais aussi. I don’t think that you can give your children a better cadeau than a bi-lingual upbringing. Does it really matter if they use an English verb dans une phrase français? No, they will sort it out. My 7 year old daughter already corrects my French pronunciation, which is a little bizarre, but fun at the same time. I really do struggle with some French pronunciation, so it,s good to have some feedback! Generally adults are too polite to correct me!
    I’ve been reading a very interesting book called “The Bilingual Family – A handbook for parents” by Edith Harding-Esch and Philip Riley, published by Cambridge University Press. A very interesting read.

  9. We moved from Paris to San Diego about 11 years ago (wow, already 11 years) when our son was 2 and a half years old. He was speaking French at that time. When he turned 3 we got him into a day care place where nobody was speaking any French. In the beginning it was really difficult for him but after few months he was understanding and speaking English. We continued to speak French at home but as the time passed and he got older he refused to speak French although he understood it very well. We would talk to him in French and he would reply in English. We kept telling him to speak in French but after few words he would switch back to English. When he was about 5 years old he spent the 2 months summer vacation in France with his grandparents (which don’t speak any other language than French) and without us. This helped a lot with his French. After he came back he was speaking Franglais fluently and now he is the one that tells us when we slip and use English instead of French. Now he is 13 and we are trying to get him to read French.

    • Small world – we were in San Diego up until two years ago! How do you like it there? It’s so hard when kids want to speak only the majority language that they share with their peers. It sounds like you are finding a way to reinforce the French, though. Has he become less resistant as he’s gotten older? My husband is from Paris and speaks French to our kids, and I try to speak French from time to time, but they are quite resistant (currently they are ages 5 and 3). We’re trying to stay persistent, but it’s no easy task!

      Bon courage !

      • We love it here.
        Yes, he became less resistant speaking French as he got older, but the main trigger was to spend time with his non-English speaking grandparents and cousin without having any translation assistance.
        Later on, when he was in first or second grade, he realized that French could be our “secret language” that nobody else understood. Now he is learning at school about the human brain and that kids that are bilingual use more of than their brain when compared with monolingual kids – this made him so proud 🙂
        At home (when we don’t have non-French speaking guests) the “official” language is French but we all slip every so often to English (obviously we all speak only English at school/work) and one of us reminds the others “de parler en Francais”. Definitely it is not an easy to be persistent. I wouldn’t worry too much about it – your kids will be less resistant and even embrace it when they will be ready for it, but you have to keep trying.

        Bonne journee!

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