Mommy, I Don’t Want to Speak French

“Mommy, I don’t want to speak French anymore. I don’t like it.”

This, from my daughter the other day. In response to me asking her what she thought of the idea I had for French class at her preschool that week. (Making a snowman! Com’on!)

“I don’t want you to do a French lesson at school. I just want you to come get me and we can go home.”

My heart, crushed.

Because I desperately want her to speak French. Because I love teaching my weekly lesson at her school, and I think the kids are really getting into it. They say, “Bonjour !” when they see me. They ask questions, they listen, and while they may not understand what I’m saying, they are interested, attentive, and their brains are forming the synapses, the connections that lay the groundwork for second (third etc.) language acquisition.

So I tried to understand. “Why don’t you like French?” I asked in as perky a voice as I could muster.

“I just don’t.”

“You know, Mimi and Papy will be visiting us soon, and they speak French, so we need to speak French with them.”

A glimmer of hope. “Are they flying here on an airplane?”

“Yes, France is far away, so they’ll come on an airplane. And we’ll all speak French. You know who else speaks French? Jean (name changed). Your best friend in San Diego. When we visit him next summer, you’ll have to speak French to him, because he doesn’t speak English.” Okay, not quite the truth, but close enough.

Perhaps I could persuade her with homemade Nutella-Banane crepes?

Perhaps I could persuade her with homemade Nutella-Banane crepes?

Silence, but I could tell she was mulling it over. Then she giggled. “You know who doesn’t speak French? Pops. He speaks silly French!”

Which is true. My dad tries to read her the French books she brings to him, using a bastardized mix of Spanish and Italian pronunciation and lots of hand gestures. He loves to tell, and retell, his “Yo-no-say-pah” joke over and over. It’s endearing, really, makes no sense, and my daughter thinks it’s hilarious.

She’s only three. And the resistance is already beginning. I knew it was coming, yet I’m still not sure how best to deal with it. I’m aware that my method a few weeks ago of chasing her around the house with a square puzzle piece demanding, in French, “one more shape! Tell me what this shape is!” when she was clearly over it was perhaps not my finest moment.

Either she’s mad at me now, because I’m ignoring her requests to stop the French, or she’s mad at me later, because I gave up trying to teach her. The catch-22 of bilingual parenting. I know the best approach is to keep at it, and make it fun. Blend the “lessons” seamlessly into our “play.” Yet fear struck my heart when she uttered those words.

“I don’t like French.”

Will I be strong enough to continue, despite her protests? Will I continue to find creative ways to engage my kids in French? Will I do what I fear the most – give up?

Yes, yes, and no. If I’m anything, I’m stubborn, even obstinate. Bullheaded?

I don’t give up easily.

I’ll find a way. Somehow.

Others out there? How do you combat the expressed disinterest of your kids?

Next time we sled, we'll faire de la luge instead.

Next time we sled, we’ll faire de la luge instead.

22 thoughts on “Mommy, I Don’t Want to Speak French

  1. Great post! I love the part about your dad:
    “My dad tries to read her the French books she brings to him, using a bastardized mix of Spanish and Italian pronunciation and lots of hand gestures. ”

    I think you should most definitely keep trying to find creative ways for her to come into contact with the language. It’s like forcing a child to play an instrument when they’re kinda like “eh, I don’t think I want this.” Later they appreciate it more than you know; they understand the importance of the craft because it liberates them to express themselves in a different way. Similar with language-learning. Maybe in a few years she’ll show more interest, and in a few more, she will thank you.

    I read an article yesterday (link below). It enraged me to the point that I’ll be posting my response to it shortly. Maybe it will have an effect on you as well to the point that you’ll no longer consider the option of speaking only English.

  2. Thanks for posting another thoughtful article on the joy of raising bilingual kids ! Finding the right balance to teach them both languages can be so hard ! Here is one of the things we do…
    Once or twice a week, my 5-y old daughter does a FaceTime with her GrandMa. Who lives in France, and doesn’t speak English. Just the two of them. They usually do a little bit of “du travail” (nothing too serious, counting a little bit, singing or reading a book in French), but then, they PLAY. My Mom becomes the i-GrandMa, who is carried around, tucked in in bed, pushed around in a stroller, etc. My daughter absolutely loves it. And it gives her a chance to speak French without even thinking about it.
    Good luck !

  3. My husband and I both speak French (we moved to the US from Montreal). And we only speak French at home. Both girls go to school in English, one is in preschool and the other in first grade. Even then, I find English tends to take over. They learn different vocabulary at school and end up speaking some sort of franglais at home. We’ve had to push back. Tell them we don’t understand when they use English. Explain a word they don’t understand rather than give the translation in case they already know it in English. The oldest has given us some push back. She has complained that it’s too much work. I think she may have complained about speaking French. Luckily, we see family quite a bit so they’re in contact with French speakers then. We also go to Montreal every so often and try to see my friends each time. More French. The oldest has stopped complaining (the youngest hasn’t started complaining yet!). I think she’s starting to see how useful it is. My biggest fear is that the girls will grow up and forget about their cultural heritage. Or worse, purposefully set it aside. As my husband says, all we can do is give them the opportunity to embrace it and the rest is up to them.

  4. I don’t really know what to say here, except it’s hopefully just a phase. As far as I know I wasn’t like this myself at that age, never really questioned the whole learning two languages at once (certainly not French since we were living in Paris at the time). At this point I’d say just keep at it; at the very least she’ll pick up a fair amount in spite of herself.

      • Hopefully. I didn’t really realize just how lucky I was to grow up bilingual until a few years later, but before that it was just normal for me. Even now I have a bit of a hard time understanding what it’s like for people who grew up speaking only one, though I am far more patient since having had to work my butt off to learn German in high school (and struggling through a year of Latin in 7th grade).

  5. Hmm hard one, I would say and hope it is just a phase…When I arrived in Australia .. all things french were cool, from ads using the word ‘Le’ snack etc… and then only the private schools taught French.. there was a push for Spanish, Italian and Asian languages… French however has seen a resurgence in schools… I do hear most kids at my son’s primary school say how much they hate learning French… breaks my heart…but I also know they learn heaps and maybe it is just a cool thing to say..
    Love the I-grandma idea very clever…we try to set up mine craft game sessions with the french cousins as well to keep them motivated however with time differences it is not an easy one to do frequently.
    Keep at it as I think what you are trying to achieve is really great… and not so easy..

    • Thanks for the encouragement! It is not easy at all, and I think most kids resist their parents efforts at some point! Games with french speakers, i-Grandma, keeping it fun – all this seems to be the way to keep at it, right?

  6. As my son gets older (just over 2 now) and I’ve met more parents teaching their children two languages, I’ve seen my expectations of what my bilingual work will result in change. When I started I had visions of my son freely yammering away in French to me (at least until he was a teenager, I’m not delusional!). Now I tell myself, well at least he’ll be able to understand French and if that’s all that we get, then that’s still something. I’ll keep on doing it (and if nothing else my French has gotten way better over the last 2 years), but without anyone else significant in his life speaking French it’s hard to believe that he’s going to embrace French when English is so dominant. Hope I’m not being too negative, thanks for the great post Carol!

    • Hi Mike!

      It’s not negative at all, probably just realistic. I still have high expectations and hopes for bilingualism with our kids, especially because they are 1/2 French and French is spoken by 1/2 of their family. But it’s true that anything is better than nothing, and eventually all our kids will make their own choices about whether or not to pursue fluency in a second, third, etc. language.

  7. That is an important problematic. Either she will thank you later or she will be disgusted. I agree with advices of ludic / creative ways to keep her motivated / interested. I teach French in Tokyo, and I have several kids for students. It is sure not easy, but games work nicely. I also encountered many bilinguals kids who learned by “contact”. Are there French kids her age around you ? Playdate might be interesting.

    • We do have some French speaking playdates, and we try to make French fun by incorporating it into games, daily activities, etc. Such a challenge when it is the minority household and environmental language!

  8. My daughter is 4.5 and I’m a non native speaker. Not really fluent but I do pretty well. We usually speak French together and English when other people are around. A year ago she was also resisting and she would tell me in french not to speak French! Then we went on vacation in January and met a couple of Romanian American kids who spoke Romanian with their parents. They also knew a little bit of French (mostly counting) and ever since then it seems like she quit resisting. In fact she defaults to French when it is just the two of us . We read a ton (only in French) and she gets to watch only french shows on my iPad. In the car we have shifted from listening to music to French stories (although currently we are playing la reine des neiges repeatedly). Our biggest problem is that here in Southern CO there is pretty much nothing for French. I joined the meetup group in Denver (for kids) and have met a couple of families through there. We were doing French preschool with them once a week for two hours. There is my other problem. My daughter did not really enjoy it even though it was with friends her age. Now we have a French college student who usually comes once a week just to play with her for a couple of hours after school. She is really nice and initially my daughter liked it but now she usually cries when I leave her to play with the student. I honestly don’t think it has anything to do with French at all but just the fact that she doesn’t want me to leave. It is frustrating because it should be fun (and it seems like it is but she is just very stubborn when she wants to be). My French is limited so I want her to have other exposure. My hope is to put her in some sort of French camp but the closest is Denver and I have no idea how good it is plus it would be hard to pull it off as I work 3 mornings a week. She did have fun when we visited my aunt in Paris this fall and she spent a couple of hours with my cousin’s daughters. She did just fine. I just want to be able to keep up with it to some degree as we have worked so hard to get where we are. And at some point there will probably be resistance again especially since I’m not fluent. I guess for the time being I will take what we have and be happy about that!

    • I admire any non-native speaker who takes on the brunt of the work in teaching their kids a second language, so, kudos to you! I love the idea of French stories in the car – I’ll have to try that for our next road trip. It sounds like you are doing a ton of things to help your daughter learn French. In my experience and from what I hear, kids tend to go through phases where they resist the language, then phases where they are okay with it. Don’t give up! Showing them other kids that speak the same second language they are learning, or as you experienced – another second language, definitely makes it go down easier! I hear you on your Colorado experience – we’ve had a much tougher time finding French here. A friend and I started a French program in Boulder, and I teach classes at my kids’ preschool – so we’re creating our own French experiences! I looked into summer camps at an immersion school Denver, but they told me the classes are taught in French and English – not worth it in my opinion, but perhaps observing a class would give a better picture on whether or not it would be beneficial. Otherwise- keep up the amazing work you are doing! Bravo!

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