Suddenly switching languages with a child - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 12-17-2010, 07:48 AM - Thread Starter
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I live in a very French area of Montreal. I also live with my parents, who are primarily francophone. They speak and understand English, but only when necessary (as in, when we don't want DD to understand us).


My DD is 29 months old. She understands and is starting to speak French, and she understands basic Vietnamese.


When she was born, I was still married to my XH, who only spoke English. We agreed on the OLOP technique whereby he would speak English to DD and I would speak French to her. I was essentially relying on him to model English for her.


Now that we are divorced and that he no longer sees DD, she has very little exposure to English, save for a random tv show or hearing me talk to my bf. For a while, I just stopped worrying about teaching her English because her language skills seemed slow to develop. She's just gone through a big language explosion so I'm not as worried about her French acquisition now. Because of the laws in place here, unless I can scrape together enough money for private English school, DD will be forced to attend French school where English instruction is started very late IMO (3rd grade). The point of that is to ensure that French remains the primary language.


I have no problem with DD going to French school and solidifying her knowledge of French. It's a tough language to write, and though it is my primary language, I still struggle with it today. However, I do want DD to become fully bilingual so that she can easily travel and work elsewhere than in Quebec.


I'm wondering if it's a good idea for me to suddenly switch languages on her and only speak to her in English. She'd still have my mother to speak in French to, and my father to speak to her in Vietnamese. Her daycare is exclusively French...I don't want to confuse or alienate her though...


I've also considered putting her in an English kindergarden, if I can find one in our super French neighborhood, or perhaps finding activities for her to do in English.


Suggestions anyone?

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#2 of 6 Old 12-17-2010, 12:10 PM
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I've switched languages with my kid everytime we've moved--we do home language, outside language, so when in the US, Spanish at home, when in Peru, English at home. We've done the switch at 9 months, 2.5 years, 3.5 years, and almost 5 years, and we'll do another one in a month when we move again. It works because the outside language pretty much is guaranteed to be covered due to playmates, relatives, daycare, and just plain exposure to the world. My kid has always struggled moving towards full Spanish at home, but that's only been difficult for the first month or so. And by difficult I mean, searching for words, me doing a lot of repeating back whatever ze said in Spanish, or mixing up the languages. It never became a battle between us and hir language skills are GREAT in both languages.

It sounds like you have French pretty well covered between other family, friends, and daycare, so I would definitely switch to English as your primary language with her. In the event that you moved outside of Quebec or switched her to an English school, you could always switch back to French at home.

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#3 of 6 Old 12-17-2010, 02:07 PM
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I would speak whatever is your mother tongue. That will be the most natural for you, and for your DC. I offer myself as an example: when DS was born I spoke only danish to him (not my mother tongue). It was OK, but it was flat, unnatural.... I think that was a problem, and MAY have affected his language acquisition (he also had ear infections). After 5 months I switched to American english (my mother tongue). This was much more natural; both for everyday talking, but also when I was reading him a book or just expressing my feelings. He got danish from DH, daycare, his world at large.... When DD was born, she only got english from me. And danish from everyone else, like DS. Her language acquisition (both english and danish) was profoundly better, faster and more complex. Could be coincidence, could be because of his hearing drains, could be because of me sticking to my mother tongue and DH sticking to his, could be a combination.... who knows, but thought I would share. 

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#4 of 6 Old 12-17-2010, 02:18 PM
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I live in Canada and I'm a French teacher in adult education. I can't tell you how many adult students I had who came from francophone families (many coming from Montreal!) and had lost their French... Your dd is lucky to have a francophone family; I wouldn't worry about her English, she'll learn it sooner or later. My own ds is in French school, although we live in an English province, I'm sure he'll have plenty of opportunities to perfect his English (he speaks it with friends and neighbours), but very few to learn French.


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#5 of 6 Old 12-17-2010, 10:27 PM
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Hi Halfasianmama,


The thing to keep in mind is that English has a cachet here, so the battles are uphill to maintain all the other minority languages. In your case, French and Vietnamese. Trust me, your child will pick up English, even if they do start late in a francophone school.


As a testament to this, most anglophone parents here that I know will send their kid to a francophone school, even if their child is eligible for English public school. The fact that formal teaching of english only begins in Gr 3 doesn't bother them one bit.


We decided to send our kids to the local English public school because it runs a 50/50 bilingual program. DH is francophone, and we insist the kids speak in French at home, when they can. I've noticed a lot more english has crept in with the kids ever since the oldest started school 4 yrs ago.



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#6 of 6 Old 01-03-2011, 10:14 AM
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Since she goes to a French daycare, I would just go ahead and introduce more English at home. My daughter went through phases of speaking more English or more French but became very, very French when she started school. Apparently, French schools have some harsh no English rules and kids can get in trouble for speaking English there. For that reason, you have to actively teach her English if you want her to speak it. I disagree with the PP who said that kids will just pick up English. I work in a mainly French place and most people not only have horrible English, they have no cultural references outside of Quebecois culture. It's really sad when no one gets my jokes.

Single mom to E (2004) and D (2010)
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