OUR BILINGUAL LIFE

March 21, 2018


Three years ago during my pregnancy with Oslo I wrote this post on raising bilingual kids. I shared my thoughts on it and what I hoped to do with my own future children. Now two babies later and in the midst of raising them in a bilingual home, I wanted to update you on what our daily life is like and how we communicate. Most of the articles I have read on this topic focus on older children and ones that are already in school.  My boys are still very young and Oslo doesn't start school until September, so I wanted to share about how we speak to and teach our young boys before they go off to school (which is 3 years old here in France). This has been highly requested from a few mamas who will be bringing up their kids in a bilingual home as well, so I do hope this is a helpful one!

FINDING YOUR OWN BALANCE

From the beginning of our relationship way back when, James and I have always spoken English to each other with sprinklings of French mixed in there, but the base of our communication has always been in English. It seemed obvious we would continue to speak English at home with our kids, and then switch to French when appropriate or in public. As my other post explains, before kids James and I talked a lot about how this dynamic would work for us, funnily enough now that we are doing it we never talk about it. Naturally we found our own balance, and now over two years in we have found the best way to expose the boys to both French and English is using both languages in the home. I always thought I would only speak English and James would only speak French, but together we speak a complete mashup, Franglish if you will. I'm sure to the outside world this would seem all too confusing, but honestly it has been such an amazing way for Oslo to learn both words and phrases for everything. 

I know a few expat families who are very strict on what language is spoken at home and ensure it is the only one used. I think that works really well when the children finally go to school, and I might make English the main language at home then. For now though it is important for the boys to learn both equally, so speaking both has helped ensure this. 

REPETITION, REPETITION & REPETITION

Since I am the one who stays home with Oslo and Louie I have to take on the task of teaching them the basics like numbers, colours, letters, animals, and so on in both languages. Just like anything that has to be learned it is best done through constant repetition. 

Find something that your child naturally gravitates to and use it. Oslo is a lover of music so I use this to help with both languages. There are so many simple songs that I have learned and he constantly wants to play them and have me sing to him. I have found watching animated movies is a great way for him to gain interest in songs. Once he has watched the movie I then play those classic Disney songs in both English and French. Any Disney song you can think of can be found in French and many other languages too. It is such a simple way for them to compare the words and learn in an entertaining way.

Oslo is currently obsessed with puzzles, so I went out and got some with the alphabet and animals on them. As he works away on them I sit beside him and explain what letter he has picked up and repeat it in both French and English. I then do this for the animals, the colours, and whatever else the puzzle has on it. Then when he is finished I ask him where different things are and I get him to point them out. I am always impressed by how quickly he can catch on when I switch the language for the other one. He could do puzzles all day long, which is great because when I do practice these little language lessons with him he doesn't even realise it and just has fun. 

Like all kids Oslo also loves watching shows. I am quite strict when it comes to screen and tv time, so when he does want to watch it I make sure he has a chance to learn as well. The brilliant thing about Netflix is you can change the language setting for almost every kid's program. I alternate his shows between English and French which is another easy way for him to learn new vocabulary.

Naturally kids love repetition and playing with the same thing over and over. No matter what your child is into at the moment whether it be books, drawing, puzzles, etc. you can always find little ways to use two languages to help them learn during play time.

PICK UP ON YOUR CHILD'S NATURAL CUES

What has amazed me is seeing how Oslo has naturally gravitated towards French over English. His environment outside the home is in French so I feel he has absorbed that even more than what he gets from me. When he counts, talks about animals, or explains where things are he says it all in French. This has been a big relief for us, because my fear is that when he starts school soon he won't know as much French as the other students. Seeing how he has picked up more French than English puts me at ease that he will transition nicely. Since he has gravitated towards more French I am just running with it, but also ensuring when he does say something in French I acknowledge it then repeat it back in English.  When he begins school in September I will put more of an emphasis on English at home, for now though I feel we are on a great path for him to feel confident in French to start school soon.

BUILDING A COMMUNITY

Being an expat and immigrant in France has been a massive help in teaching our boys two languages. We have friends who are French, but many of them are also expats who speak English at home. When we get together with different friends Oslo and Louie are exposed to both languages in very social settings, with different aged children. It's been a wonderful way for Oslo and soon for Louie to learn to communicate with a mix of people. The main group of our friends are English expats and that has been especially helpful, because English communication is so rare in France.  I found many of my expat friends through Facebook groups, so if you are looking for other immigrants who speak your language then this is a great way to do it. 


I never thought raising the boys bilingual was a gift to them, but seeing how much Oslo has thrived in both languages has been amazing. I can't tell you how many people stop us on the street and tell us how incredible it is that we are raising our boys in two languages. For me it was obvious I would speak English to them because it is my native language, so it is nice when strangers remark on how special it is. In France English is not a primary focus in school, which is a pity for young people especially ones who want to travel. Knowing Oslo and Louie will have English in their back pocket for traveling, school, job interviews, or whatever happens in their life makes me proud.

I would love to hear from you! I find it so interesting to hear about the family dynamic of immigrant, what language is spoken, and how you communicate so please share your story with us in the comments.

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2 Comments

  1. Another nice piece. I live in a bilingual home now: we speak English and Kraft Dinner.

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  2. I think this is an incredible gift you are giving your boys, jules! Actually, it makes me want to move to another country for a few year whilst my boys are young!! I’ve always wanted to be fluent in another language, too. We are trying to teach Oscar some polish words through repetition, as my mum is polish, and even though we’ll never want to move there I think it’s great for young brains. Xxx

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