Question

We have an 18 months son whom we are trying to bring up as bilingual in French and English. I am American but grew up in a French country where I was exposed to both languages since I was a baby, so am a native speaker. My husband is English and we live in London. I have been speaking to my son exclusively in French since he was 3 months old but speak to my husband in English as he doesn’t speak French. My son goes to an English-speaking nursery two full days a week. He is saying several words and a few sentences in English (although his first few words were in French) and clearly understands what he is being told in both languages, but only seems to speak to us in English. I am concerned he is not using much French; should I be concerned and if yes, what can I do differently to ensure he learns both languages?

Thanks,
Julia


Answer

Dear Julia,

Thank you for your question. Knowing what should be done for your children to speak both languages is a concern for many parents. May I ask you in which French-speaking country you grew up? You are saying that you were exposed to the two languages since you were born. Does it mean your parents do not have the same mother tongue, or that you were speaking English at home and French outside the home? Your parents may be able to tell you when and how you started to speak French.

With the information you give us, I imagine that you are speaking in French to you son five days a week as he goes to a nursery two-days a week. So I feel that you give him enough exposure for him to learn French and acquire the language. At his age, it is very important to talk to him a lot. You have to spend time playing, reading, talking to him and asking him kindly to answer. In a nursery, they do spend time talking and playing with the children. There are a lot of interactions between the people in charge and the children. They spend their day playing and talking with the children; they are reading stories; they are trying to make them talk and interact with them. No, you should not be concerned as your son hears French and understands it. However, if you are wishing him to master it, you may need to find more time to play and talk with your son. Having him hear French could be enough – he will have what is called a passive learning of the language – but for him to speak it, you need to focus on activities with him where he will have to talk and answer to you. I would have a lot of ideas to share with you, feel free to come back to me and we can talk about it in detail.

I hope Julia that I answered your question. But do not worry, your son is still young and reflecting on what you do with him will help him develop his French.

Isabelle

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