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Nov 132016
 

Q&A: The majority language parent also speaking a non-native minority language – recommendations?

Question

Thank you so much for your website and for the opportunity to ask a question.

My French husband and I have a 4-month-old daughter who we would like to raise bilingual in Australia. English is my first language, and my French is average. My husband and I mainly communicate in English although we sometimes speak in French and I want to improve my French so I’d like to speak more French at home.

Looking at your website, it seems you would recommend the OPOL approach for us since my French is not fluent. However, if we follow this approach my French will not improve and our daughter will be exposed to French only through her father which might not be enough. I would like to speak some French with our daughter, but if I do will that confuse her? And will she pick up bad habits due to my accent and errors that I will make?

Thank you for your advice!
Rebecca

Answer

Dear Rebecca

Thank you for your kind feedback and your question!

One parent, one language (OPOL) is what most couples with different mother tongues go for when raising a bilingual child. However, a strict OPOL is not the only option for you. The fact that you are not fluent in French does not mean that you should never speak the language with your daughter.

Your husband will be the French-speaking role model for your daughter and she will pick up the accent, pronunciation and correct language from him. Children do not get confused when spoken to in different languages, not even when a parent speaks two languages with them, so please do not worry about this. Even if she were to pick up something that is not nativelike, she will soon correct herself when she hears the right version from her dad.

Since French is a non-native language for you and you are still learning it, I would not recommend that you switch to speaking French with your daughter all the time. It is important that you have a language of communication with your daughter in which you feel fully comfortable and are able to express all your feelings – and which is your mother tongue: English.

A good way to use French with your daughter is to read to her a lot. Not only do you avoid making grammatical and vocabulary errors, but you also learn a lot of French yourself from the books. You can also for example play French music at home, and when she is old enough to watch children’s TV, you can watch cartoons and programs together. For further ideas read my post on activities  you can do with your daughter.

You are correct, the more you use the language the better you get at it! I admire your firm intention to learn more French and am confident that you will be successful in this. Your husband will no doubt be very supportive as well and help you with any questions you might have.

If you were to improve your French to a standard where you could make French your common family language, this would help your daughter in learning and maintaining it. If she gets into a routine of always speaking French when you are all together, this would be a great advantage at the point when she starts nursery or school and is surrounded by English all day. This is the time when children are more likely to start to prefer speaking the majority language also at home, so the more used she is to speaking French when the family is together, the better.

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!

Kind regards
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. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

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