Question

Hello,

I’m a native English speaker, and speak Portuguese, French, and Spanish at intermediate to advanced levels. My husband is a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker, speaks English fluently, and has some basic French. We speak English to each other and live in California.

We’re expecting our first child, and want to raise him to be at least trilingual – with English, Portuguese, and French. I plan to speak to him in English and my husband plans to speak to him in Portuguese. Once our child is old enough for family discussions, we will experiment with having the family language as Portuguese in order to support it as our child’s minority language and to make family time more cohesive. I’ve been taking weekly Portuguese classes for almost two years, so my level is ever improving.

My questions are about how and when to introduce and support French. I plan to stay home with our son for the first year of his life, then we plan to put him in a French-immersion daycare, followed by French-immersion schooling at least through age 13 (i.e. at least until secondary school). What, if anything, should I do to introduce French to him during his first year when he’s at home with me?

Though I worked as a French speaking nanny for two years for two preschool-aged children, based on that experience I know I don’t want to speak French to him – because I’m not fluent enough to feel as emotionally connected in French as I do in English. Once he’s communicating more fully, i.e. around age three, I’d love to read to him in French, and discuss those books in French, have conversations in French as a fun game if he wants to, etc… but I really don’t want French to be our primary language of communication for the reason I stated above.

I’m a preschool teacher for children aged 3-5 years, so I know very well how to manage that age group, and I’m not worried about supporting three languages once we get to stage of his life…but I have no idea how, and whether it is advisable, to find some source of French during his first year of life – OR just stick with English and Portuguese for his first year, and introduce French with daycare at age 1 – OR…?? Other suggestions?

All thoughts welcome!
Thank you so much!
Vanessa

Answer

Hi Vanessa,

The answer to your main question is a pretty simple one, let daycare and school take care of the French. As long as he is immersed before the age of six, he will pick it up very fluently, so there is no real advantage to speaking French with him at home before entering daycare. But, definitely feel free to play French games and read books whenever you’d like. I’d agree that your relationship should take priority over the language, so speak the language you are most comfortable with.

Your one parent, one language plan sounds good. With your aim to send him to French immersion school through at least the middle school years, you’ll find his exposure to English limited if you switch to Portuguese at home full-time. I would just recommend sticking with OPOL since occasional outside activities in English would not be enough to build fluency in the language if one of you wasn’t speaking it and he wasn’t speaking English at school.

Please feel free to ask any follow-up questions in the comments!

Regards
Nick

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