Dear Multilingual Parenting,
I have been following your Facebook page for a while and I have really enjoyed the articles that you post. I may not have read all of them, but I have saved most for later when I find time.
I am contacting you to seek some advice or possible resources to implement in our multilingual and multicultural family. I am American and my husband is Turkish (he speaks two other languages as well). We live in Paris, France with our two children (two and a half and one) and we are a Muslim family so we are learning Arabic all together at the same time. My husband and I speak French together as we are unable to communicate in each other’s languages.
We follow the one parent, one language approach but sometimes I speak French in with my kids. We are going to be homeschooling our oldest in preschool next year and I am concerned that she will not be exposed to the French language as much as she would if she was at school. We will try to visit the library and go out and do activities as much as possible but I am still afraid that she will not be speaking it as much as English or Turkish. Both my husband and I are not fluent in French, I do however speak French a little better than he, so my questions are:
1. How do we teach French to our children as a non-native speaker? My daughter has already started speaking a little French, thanks to La Maison de Mickey that she watches daily.
2. Will she pick up my English accent when speaking French? Will this cause problems later down the road if she goes to school?
3. How do we expose our children to all our languages throughout our homeschool day? Should I do one day in French, one day in English or alternate throughout the day? We’ve been reviewing the alphabet and numbers in French. I have decided that at least one day a week will be dedicated to French, exclusively speaking French. Please let me know if this is or isn’t a great idea.
4. How do I start reading and writing with all the languages?
I look forward to reading your response.
Thanks in advance,
Thank you for your question about homeschooling your children while juggling the task of passing on two minority languages, English and Turkish, making sure your children learn the community language, French and learning Arabic as a family.
It is a very interesting, and, no doubt, challenging task you have ahead of you, but based on your questions and reflections, I am sure you will find the best way you and your husband can handle the situation. You should however be realistic in your expectations and never compare your children’s early language development with for example monolingual French children who only have to master one language. Since they are being exposed to several languages, it is a fact that they will not hear and interact as much in French as those children attend French school, but this does not prevent them from becoming, with time, fluent French-speakers.
When it comes to the specifics of homeschooling, I have asked a friend of mine, Maria of Living Ideas, who is also a homeschooler in a similar situation to yours, to describe how she does it. Maria uses Indonesian, Javanese, or English while the community language is Malay. I will also give you a link to further reading on bilingual homeschooling.
Answers to your specific questions:
1. How to teach French as a non-native speaker?
You do not have to be a native speaker of a language to support your child learning a language. We have answered several questions on this very topic, so I would recommend that you do a search for the word ‘non-native’ on the site and you will find several Q&As and some blog posts on different aspects of this. You can start with this Q&A and follow-up comments and this post.
Your fellow homeschooler Maria is learning Malay along her son and this is what she says: “The same with my son, I can’t speak Malay. So, in our case, we learn together. Every time we get a new word, we discuss the meaning and the pronunciation. We also watch Malay kids’ movies, such as “Upin Ipin”. Why kids’ movies? Because their conversation is easy to listen to. When in conversation within the family I keep on using Indonesian, Javanese, or English. But when there is a friend between us, we are trying to use Malay combined with Indonesian.”
As you already have French as one of the family languages (between you and your husband) in addition to the eposure from the community and TV, your children will pick up some of it. There are also a lot of free online resources for French.
2. Will your daughter pick up an accent from you?
Depending on how much French exposure she gets from native speakers of the language, she may initially pick up some of the accent from you. However, as the external exposure increases, through interaction in the community and through media, she will learn the right pronunciation (and sooner than you realise her French will sound way more native than yours)
3. How to expose your children to all the languages?
There are different approaches to choose between when it comes to integrating all languages into your homeschooling day. Your idea of alternating based on weekdays is a good one – maybe introduce a Turkish Thursday and a French Friday (sorry, could not resist the alliteration) and Arabic as a family on Sunday. Or you could switch on a weekly basis if you find changing language after one day too challenging. Alternatively, you can choose to teach different subjects in different languages.
Once your daughter’s language skills build up, you could also try an approach called translanguaging, which means that you learn about a topic in one language, through watching videos, reading (when the child knows how to read) or listening to spoken information about a subject, then discuss (and if the child has learnt it, write) about the topic in a different language.
4. How do I start reading and writing?
I am a strong believer in starting with reading and writing when the child shows interest in it. Your daughter is still very young and has a lot to take in with all the languages so I would take the lead from her and proceed with literacy when she starts asking about it.
There is however a lot you can do to spark her interest in literacy – most importantly read a lot of books with her and follow along the text by pointing with your finger, so she can make the connection between the sounds and the written form. Also read this and this article for further ideas.
I wish you the very best on your truly multilingual homeschooling journey together and I love to have an update on how you are progressing. Please do ask any further questions in the comments!