I am a French mum who has been living in England for 20 years. During all these years, I hardly spoke French unless I was returning to France to see family on average once a year.
I now have a 7-year-old daughter who has always refused to learn French. She has had 4 years interrupted due to divorce and therefore her dad and I were busy looking after her emotions (in English) rather than teaching her French which she disliked (and still does to this day).
She is now well settled and I would love to get back to teaching her French. But even I struggle to speak it nowadays so we cannot have long chats together. She understands the basics but definitely cannot hold a conversation. I don’t know how to approach it. I am meeting with a French teacher but my daughter isn’t hot on that. I think she finds teachers and French clubs really boring.
I would really appreciate some guidance please as I’m desperate to get on with it. It would be such a shame if the opportunity to learn French was lost…
Thank you for your question about rekindling your 7-year-old daughter’s interest in French, which is your family language.
With a child of your daughter’s age it is first and foremost important to find a way that makes French appealing. You can hire a highly skilled French tutor or make your daughter attend recommended French clubs, but if she does not feel the motivation to learn the language, I am afraid you will face an uphill battle. Your daughter should want to learn it and also feel the need to speak it.
First I would like to draw your attention to the words you use to describe your thoughts about the use of French in your family. You say that your daughter has “always refused to learn French” – how did she show this? Did she have a real chance to learn it, i.e. was there enough exposure to the language for her to learn it? Was there perhaps an expectation that she should speak it, but her French skills did not allow her express herself? (Check this article on reasons why a child might not want to speak a language).
You mention that you “struggle to speak” French – I would say well done! for still being able to use the language after so many years of hardly speaking it. This is something you can get up to speed with – read this article on ideas on how to improve your own language skills.
You write that your daughter “definitely cannot hold conversation” – I would reframe that as “my daughter has learnt a considerable amount of French, and with some additional French exposure I am sure she could hold a conversation.” It is important that you believe that your daughter can learn – it is a matter of finding the right way. Your daughter may “not be hot on” French tuition and may find language clubs “boring” – however this does not mean that she rejects the language, but that some other learning style would suit her better. Reframe this as “I will find the best way to make my daughter interested in learning French.”
As I often say in my answers, you know your daughter best – what would make her more motivated to give French another go? She is seven years old – why not sit down and discuss this with her? Explain to her (without blaming) why French is important for you. Ask her why she finds it difficult to use the French she already knows? What would make it more appealing to her? Ask her what she would recommend if she were in your situation, trying to bring back French into your home.
Perhaps you could agree to use French at certain occasions or times? Setting specific French-only dedicated times or activities makes it easier to start as your daughter knows what the expectation is. It does not mean that you are going to switch to always speaking with her in French or even for a lengthy time – only for as long as you agree. The important thing is to get going and then increase the use of French.
Could you suggest something fun that you could do together in French? Would it be possible to visit France with her this summer and plan something special where being able to use the language would make it even more enjoyable? What is she generally interested in – is there any way you could combine the French with her hobbies or favourite things to do?
Please also read these two articles on motivating a child to speak a language:
Embark on this journey together with your daughter, taking your cue from her and I am sure your family language will make its way back into your relationship. Good luck!
Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!