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Jun 092016
 

How to maintain a minority language when the parent speaking has passed away?

Question

Dear Rita,

My French husband recently passed away and our 2,5-year-old boy is now not exposed to the French language anymore unfortunately. I am Dutch and we live in the Netherlands. The family of my husband lives in France and therefore I find it very important for him to continue with the French.

However, since French is not my mother tongue and I am not fluent at all, I find it very hard to find the best way to teach him and be exposed to French now that my husband cannot pass this on to him anymore.
Do you have any tips/advice on what is best to do?

Many thanks,
Carien

Answer

Dear Carien,

My sincere condolences for the big loss you and your son have suffered due to the passing of your husband. I am impressed and humbled by your determination to maintain your son’s paternal minority language even though you are not fluent in it and you do not live in a country where it is spoken in the community.

Would you be open to going on a French-learning journey together with your son? I understand that this would be a big commitment and you may not have enough spare time to dedicate to it fully, but even some learning would be great, as this would show your son how important it is for both of you that he learns French. When your son is a bit older, you can look online for French language programs aimed at children.

Since you do know French, although – as per your own assessment – not fluently, I would recommend that you introduce some kind of routine when you practice French with your son. Don’t worry about not being fluent, you can still do a lot to help your son speak French. For example, read bed time stories in French, dedicate a day of the week for French, listen to French music at home and introduce French songs and rhymes. Take a look at the time and place strategy for further ideas on how to make French a part of your daily lives.

If possible, set up regular online calls with your in-laws family in France – this will not only help with the language, but also play an important role in maintaining your son’s relationship with the French side of his family.

Another option to boost the language is to look for French playgroups in your area – if you can’t find any, look for French-speaking families and see if you could find some other parents who would be willing to participate. I would also contact the French Embassy for information on other groups or activities you could be part of.

If you could find daycare in French for your son, that would be the ideal way for him to learn the language – of course, having a French nanny or au pair would be perfect, but I know that these are often not financially viable options.

I wish you the very best on this multilingual family journey – always remember that any amount of French that you can help your son learn is a plus. Don’t hesitate to ask others for help in arranging French exposure for your son, I am sure family and friends will be happy to oblige.

Please add any further question you may have in the comments below.

All the very best to you and your son,
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages.

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