Four years on… how are we doing?

I am sure that some of you who read our blog come back time and time again to see how we are doing, how are the children coping with the multilingual environment. It could be that you are planning the same, you are unsure of what to expect, you want reassurance there are other people out there doing the same, or you are just curious and want to follow our adventure through time.

Is language learning really in decline?

Is language learning really in decline?

We started on this multilingual adventure over 4 years ago, much before our first daughter was born. I was passionate about languages and always thought that would bring up my children bilingual if I had any. David had missed his chance of speaking other languages in childhood, he never learnt Welsh (the language of one side of his family) and French at school wasn’t such a great experience. He only learnt Spanish later in life, and as always, he learnt much more teaching himself through books and talking to people, plus one week intensive course in Spain, than after 5 years of secondary school French! So, we both were in agreement, learning a language virtually effortless from birth was worth a lot, especially since you can save years of hard work with grammar books!

Bilingual kids relaxing...

Bilingual kids relaxing…

Spanish being my native language, it was not difficult to decide that any children of ours would speak that. French I speak fluently, although not natively, however I felt confident enough to speak it to them. David didn’t have any doubts, he remembered all those years of suffering through KS3 French and GCSE French in secondary school and agreed with me that speaking French with a “funny” accent was better than no French.

So, over 4 years ago now, when our first daughter was born, I started talking to her in both, not at the same time though. It took a few months until we settled into a comfortable pattern, one day French, one day English. Now four years later, she has been going to French maternelle, the equivalent of preschool, for three days a week for about a year. Both our daughters, 2 and 4 years old, understand English, Spanish and French. The 4 year old speaks fluently in English and Spanish, and recently she has started talking French to our French friends and in our French playgroup. My 2 year old is starting to speak in the three languages.

It is obvious however that English and Spanish are the strong languages, a logical conclusion from the beginning, since we live in England and I am Spanish with strong connexions to Spain and other Spanish speakers. French is the language of the school, our playgroup and some friends, but we lack the family connexions and the long stays in France, we tend to spend about 4 weeks in Spain every summer.

So, at this stage, these are my personal conclusions that I’d like to share with you:

1. Consistency pays.
2. You don’t have to stick to one-parent-one-language if it’s logistically not possible (I can’t split myself into two different mums as I am the only one who speaks both languages)
3. Mixing languages won’t scramble their brains or render your efforts useless (David does use some of his Spanish with them, sometimes on its own, sometimes mixed in with English. I tend to keep languages separate, but sometimes mix languages and we start a conversation in French for instance if we have been with French friends and continue in Spanish when my daughter answers in Spanish. Neither of this has affected them.)
4. You do need to have strong ties to the language to make it meaningful. My 4 year old speaks fluently English and Spanish, French she has started to speak later and then only with people that she recognises as “French speakers” from the playgroup.
5. The playgroup has helped us a lot as it has given us the French world that we lacked at the beginning. There was not a French playgroup in Bristol before I started it (lespetitesgrenouillesbristol.com), so basically, if there isn’t one, just organise it yourself!
6. I learnt that I was mistaken when I thought that learning a language when one is young is effortless, it may be effortless to the child given the right environment and the right amount of input, but it won’t be effortless for the parents who have to supply the “exposure”.
7. I’ve learnt that there are some opinionated people out there who will try to push their extreme, although often grossly misinformed, opinions, like how learning more than one language will scramble your brain, but that there are also millions of us, bilingual parents, who will do whatever is necessary to bring up their children bilingually and succeed in the process.
8. And finally, I’ve learnt that you are more likely to meet people who will complain about not having been taught a language when they were little, but you will not meet people complaining about the fact that they can speak two or more languages.

 

 

Comments

  1. I think you are doing really great. Keep it up!

  2. Parenting is not an easy job. Nice article. Very information. Thanks!

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