Q&A: Helping bilingual children with homework – in which language?

by | Apr 2, 2015 | Coaches, Q&A When a bilingual / multilingual child goes to school, Ute Limacher-Riebold | 1 comment



firstly I wanted to thank-you for your blog, it brings me so much reassurance about bringing up my daughter and teaching her French. She soon turns 3 and is doing better and better in French. She’s a little chatter box so because she likes talking so much it mostly comes out in English still even though she knows the words of pretty much everything in French as well. She just doesn’t seem to be able to make sentences yet. Anyway, I hear this should come in the next year or so, so fingers crossed!

Apologies for the long intro, I actually was hoping for your advice/guidance about teaching her how to write and later doing her homework with her. I know I should be sticking to French but I worry it will be harder for her and also with the phonic exercises they do in preschool it’s all in English of course so what should I do? Translate it or use their examples? I must admit it would be so much easier if it was all in English!! I just find myself really stressing about it and the last thing I want to do is make her conscious of this.

Thank you in advance!


Dear Delphine,

I’m very glad that this blog helps you and reassures you about bringing up your daughter bilingually.

You say that your daughter speaks mostly English when you talk French to her. I assume you live in an English speaking country and that her dominant language is English at the moment? If she understands everything you say but doesn’t reply in French, it is probably because she speaks more English during the day and week, right? May I ask you if you are the only person who talks French with her? It would surely help if she would have peers who talk French with her too on a regular basis (a few times per week).

In preschool (and school) she will learn the English sounds first and it would help her if she learns this first as she would need to follow the curriculum. You would therefore help her with her English homework (learning the sounds, reading to her, reading with her etc.) probably talking English to her during this time. It would be a situational switch to English that many families with bilingual children do during homework tasks in another language.

When she brings home a book you’re supposed to read to her in English, you can talk about this book in French. Usually they start with picture books with short texts and children can easily tell the story with their own words, then you would read the story to them and afterwards you could talk about the plot in your own language. By doing so, you would offer her the opportunity to consolidate her passive vocabulary in French and you support her English too by reading the story in English. If she wants to talk about the plot in English, I would let her do so and support her by finding the right words, the right word order etc. – Like you say, her dominant language is probably English at the moment and she feels more confident talking in English.

I agree that it wouldn’t be good for her to sense that you’re worried about this situation. Therefore I would advise to gently introduce more opportunities and stimuli in French by finding peers who talk French with her, by singing French songs with her, reading her French stories she likes by choosing the topics she is passionate about, maybe also by introducing a “French day” – for example a Saturday or Sunday, when she doesn’t go to preschool, or won’t have homework. There are many resources you can use to support her learning French (I can recommend the facebook group “L’atelier de Français. École Flam” and the site for more details).

I’m sure that if she sees how passionate you are about French and that it is a great and fun language to learn, she will also start talking. But please be patient (I know it’s hard!) and don’t give up because she will benefit from everything you tell her and if she wants and needs to talk French, this will help her.

I wish you all the best and, please, keep me informed about how it goes. Je vous souhaite tout le bon et surtout bon courage. Votre fille a vraiment de la chance à avoir une maman si attentive et sensible.

With very kind regards,

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1 Comment

  1. Una Fakhry

    Hi Delphine and Ute,
    My 4yo daughter has just been going through some of these issues too (we live in Australia) so I know where you are coming from Delphine! But I agree with what Ute says about keeping it positive and being patient-it will sort itself out! I am also taking your advice on board Ute about how to manage homework although we are not quite at that stage yet!

    I feel a little cheeky mentioning this here but I really think it might help…I created ‘The Little Linguist’s Alphabet’ which is a visual alphabet that works in a number of languages. It has really helped my 4yo a lot as she has something she can rely on and refer to when needed…you can see it at http://www.loveyourlingo.com/alphabet.html

    Bon courage! Sounds like you are already doing a great job!



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