Switching the 'at-home' language - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 10-29-2008, 10:40 AM - Thread Starter
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We are planning to move back to the US in the next 4-6 months (!) and I'm trying to figure out the best way to continue raising our children bilingually there. Dh is French, I am American, ds is almost 2, and we have one on the way, due in June!

Currently, Dh and I speak English at home with a very occasional French activity thrown in (for example, we will read and talk about a French book in French, sometimes we go out on a 'French' walk, etc.) Ds speaks 95% in English but understands French very well - he'll even translate things he hears in French into English. We were never really worried about the French since it is the community language.

However, when we move to the US, I am very worried about keeping the French up - not only for ds, who at least has the beginnings of the language, but also for dc2 and any other future children. We will try to find a Francophone community when we arrive but somehow that just doesn't seem enough.

I guess the obvious answer would be to switch to French at home. Which is possible but seems difficult to me for a few reasons...

--- Dh only speaks to me in English - he has a lot of trouble switching languages and since we've always spoken English together and it's so automatic, that's what we do.

--- I don't mind speaking in French but English is so much more comfortable and natural for me - especially when I'm trying to figure out how to deal with a 2 year old and I don't have enough brain power to translate in my head.

--- I'm also wondering about the effects on ds of switching languages at home - an international move and a new baby seems like a lot of stress already...

So is switching languages a necessary evil? What do you do? Any other ideas, thought or advice?

(Oh, and we've thought about a French school but that's way out of our budget at the moment...)

Thank you!!
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#2 of 6 Old 10-29-2008, 11:56 AM
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Salut petitchou,

Before we moved back to the US, I spoke English with my children but upon the day we left Sweden, I switched over to Swedish. My son was 2.5 years old and frankly he didn't say a word about it. My husband continued speaking Polish and still does and my son's English is fine. Ironically we prefers Swedish and that's the language he and his little sister speak to each other (despite her being 4 months when we moved).

One thing I noticed was that my Swedish (which I was already fluent in at that point) REALLY improved even more and since we've returned people have commented on that still.

Make sure to find French speaking people in the area you move to and see about playdates/families to help support what you do at home. There is a Swedish school in our area (once a week) and meetup.com helped us connect with others, message boards and the random chance encounter with other Swedes has helped.

Our situation is similar as well in that my husband could never speak anything but English with me. So we kept that and even though we do speak English in front of the kids, our children have still stuck with Swedish with me and Polish for him. It's all about consistency and creating an oasis of French only (in your case) when at home. Once your child is in school and has more English speaking friends, the real "assault" on the second language comes. The best you can do is ready yourself for that.

While I think it would be nice to speak English with my kids, I've amazed everyone I know and myself that I've given my kids a gift of a third language and that's surpassed any feelings I had about wanting to speak my native language. My kids can now talk to our friends and family in Sweden and enjoy the language, culture, and hopefully gained opportunities down the road.

Best of luck whatever you do, but I wanted to let you know that it can work out really well!
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#3 of 6 Old 11-01-2008, 06:51 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks so much for the encouragement! I think it's wonderful that you have been able to keep up the Swedish.

I'm finding it really scary to think that I will be raising my children in another language. I don't really know why except that things are happening so quickly here and I'm a bit overwhelmed by everything. (And a bit hormonal too ) So it's good to hear from someone on the other side of things.
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#4 of 6 Old 11-01-2008, 08:37 AM
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My child is still a bun in the oven, but I can give you my own experience as a child and switch the language spoken at home. It's definitely possible and I remember no trauma about it at all.

When I was 3, my father took a work opportunity to live in France for a year. Since my mother's first language was French she started speaking in French at home. During that year in France we continued to speak French at home and I attended la maternelle. When we came back to the U.S., we continued to speak French at home but picked up English quickly while attending pre-school.

Then when I was 6, my father took a work opportunity to live in Germany for what ended up being 1.5 years. We switched to speaking English at home and German at school. My mother didn't feel that her German was good enough so she tried to reintroduce the French when we got back to the States but my brother was stubborn.

In highschool, I spent a year in France as an exchange student so between that and classes I've regained my French and will be speaking French with my own little ones.

Maman to Mlle. C born 2/22/09, Due with #2 at the end of May 2013

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#5 of 6 Old 11-07-2008, 04:48 PM
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i think that its going to be more stressful for you then your DS... i speak broken french, thanks to not paying enough attention in school, but its still a very big part of me and i am still trying with my DS. i was raised in Canada, and in Ontario where i'm from its taught in school from pre-school on. i remember things like come here, body parts, fruits and veggies ect... the reason its become important to me now, is DS is also filipino. his dad speaks tagalog, and i have been multi-teaching both languages to DS. how i've managed to do it (and its more confusing for me then DS) is when i pick up objects i tell him in french and tagalog. he understands a good portion of both languages more so tagalog (more then most american borns). but also his older brothers have picked up on the french i speak and he follows their lead.
maybe integrating it slowly is the way to go with your DS since he hears it more he should do just fine play french music in the car, and do games with him... thats whats working for me!!!

hopes this helps a bit.
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#6 of 6 Old 11-08-2008, 07:28 PM
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good luck with the move

we spent 3 years in the States and I forgot to buy a good children's dictionnary before leaving (my eldest was starting first grade in the states) which i needed when I took out of the boxes the "livres parascolaires" I had baught before leaving ...

my suggestion would be, although your eldest is still quite young, to have a good look in a bookshop before leaving and buy a few of these exercise books that exist from first year of Maternelle and up ... because not all of them are so pleasant to work through and it's nice to know in advance which ones you prefer the layout of .... that way you can order them on line or get some sent to you as presents from relatives

I ordered a few things on line from the States without quite knowing how the book was but was desappointed so ended up keping up with the same collection that I had started with 3 years before ...

before we left the States I did the same and bought a few years' worth of these exercises books that claim to cover "tout le programme " for such and such school year ... am now waiting a few months for the two eldest to acclimate back to the french school system but by February next year, they'll have to do some sort of school work in English so as not to loose to much of what they learned these last 3 years ...

another point is that it also depends on the child .... my eldest was always able to speak both languages but my second, once he finally accepted to speak english, then refused to speak french for about 2 years - but I kept him doing the french school program in the springtime every year ...

now, it took him about 2-3 months to speak french again but now that he can also read in english, he 's more willing to also speak english at times, so I'm hoping that he won't "loose it" as he seemed to have "lost" french whilst we were in the States ..

my youngest doesn't speak yet but we are all curious to know WHAT she's going to say first since she's been exposed to both languages from birth ....
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