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Planning a bilingual family in Paris
Thread poster: Alanna

Alanna
France
Local time: 10:53
French to German
+ ...
Mar 23, 2008

Greetings,

I know when you read this your first thought will be "Why is she bothering about that already when she's not even pregnant yet?"
The answer is that I'm a worrier. I always worry (too much) about things, and I want to be prepared as best I can.
Here's what I'm worrying about:

My soon-to-be PACSed partner (the PACS is a sort of civil union in France) and I are planning to have a baby. He is unilingual French, I am a bilingual German (and like to think I'm trilingual with English as the third language), and we live in the southern suburbs of Paris (with the métro on the doorstep).
We want our future children (we're planning for two) to grow up bilingual German-French. I wrote a paper on different German-French kindergarten teaching methods in the German-French border area during my studies which gave me quite a bit of insight, though otherwise I'm in no way a specialist in the field.

While waiting (more or less impatiently) for our PACS and some other important things to go through so we can start on the family, I've started gathering information on the usual stuff like maternity leave, day-care and so on. That's when it hit me that bilingual German-French kindergarten is hard to come by and the only one I found (helpfully listed on the website of the German embassy) is VERY expensive.
I know kindergarten is still a long time off for a baby not even conceived yet, but given you have to sign up for day-care right after you learn that you are pregnant here, I think I'm not all that early.

Now here is my question (yes, at long last it's coming):
Do you know any addresses, contacts, institutions/associations, websites, whatever, where I could go to with my search?
Do you know of any bilingual French-German pre-school institutions of any kind in Paris?

And, while I'm at it, if I don't find anything, what do you think abou the option of just sending the child to regular French école maternelle, which would mean s/he would be exposed to German only through me and occasional stays with my family (the grandparents especially) in Germany?

Many thanks for any helpful comment!

Alanna


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jelly_gill  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 14:23
Member (2006)
English to Panjabi
+ ...
Take it easy Mar 24, 2008

Hi.... In my opinion, the first thing you must ensure is not to confuse your little baby with 2-3 languages at a time. At first Let him/her learn the language which he/she will need to communicate with kids of his/her own group. In your case, that would be french.


Then after he/she picks up french well, you can expose him/her to German. If you can find a bilingual kindergarten, fine, otherwise regular exposure to your parents and conversations at home will make him/her pick up German over a period of 2-3 years.


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Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:53
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
You will not confuse your baby if you follow the OPOL method Mar 24, 2008

jelly_gill wrote:

Hi.... In my opinion, the first thing you must ensure is not to confuse your little baby with 2-3 languages at a time.


I disagree with this statement. There were many postings in this forum about this: babies do not "get confused" by being exposed to two or even three languages, as long as each person speaks the same language consistently to the child. This is called the OPOL (One Parent One Language) method, and it has been successful in many families (including mine). So, Alanna, you would speak German to the child, and Daddy would speak French. You, the parents would speak French to each other as your husband is monolingual.

From personal experience, I can say that in such a situation (husband monolingual, so the only exposure to the mother's language is through the mother, when only the two of them are together) if the child does not go to a bilingual school, the language of the school system will be dominant, as he/she will spend a large portion of his/her day there. So, you are right about thinking and planning ahead.
On the other hand, are you sure you would be living at the same place (town, school district, etc) for the next several years? Because if you are mobile, it is really a bit too early to decide on these things (unless you specifically want to move to an area that has a suitable school, and that's why you are searching).

I am not sure how soon you would want or need to put your child into daycare, but if you can, you may want to keep him/her at home, at your side as long as possible. From the languages point of view, the first years are very important in my opinion.

Anyway, I suggest to browse through some of the older threads, you will find many interesting experiences described there.

Good luck
Katalin


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Donatella Cesca  Identity Verified
Bangladesh
Local time: 14:53
English to Italian
+ ...
Welcome multilingual babies Mar 24, 2008

I also disagree with the first reply .
I am sorry I cannot help you as far as addresses are concerned but as soon as I read about your situation I ought I should tell you about my own experience which is:
Country of residence: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Father: Bengali native, English fluent
Mother: Italian native, English Bengali fluent.
Two children: 7 and 3; the elder one is going to an English medium school where also Bengali is taught the other one is still at home with me.
From the very beginning we have adopted the OPOL method and it is working allright.
My elder daughter is fluent in Bengali, Italian and now also English.. She can write in Bengali and English. Once this is established she will learn to write in Italian as well. This is not a priority now as she does not need it in school or at home.
The small one is still mixing the three languages but I know this behaviour will almost disappear naturally as she grows older.
My daughters are exposed to Italian only through me, the TV (we get the Italian TV Channel) and the occasional visits to my parents in Italy (once a year for 15-30 days). So you see that one parent, different audio-visual materials and of course books, and occasional visitis to Italy can do the trick. One suggestion I can give you is first of all be convinced of using the OPOL method and keep using it even when you see that your children are mixing the languages. This does not mean that they are confused it is just that they only have one word for meaning something instead of 2 or 3 according to how many languages they are exposed to. After 3 years you will see the change and the extraordinary talent children have for learning languages.
If you cannot find a French-German bilingual school you can send the child to the normal French school and provide afternoon courses in German ( I know that the Goethe Institute - there must be one in Paris!!) offer children courses).
I've never had any doubt about the OPOL method and now I am proud of my trilingual daugthers!.


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Donatella Cesca  Identity Verified
Bangladesh
Local time: 14:53
English to Italian
+ ...
Books suggestion Mar 24, 2008

Hello, me again
I forgot to suggest you a couple of books about bilingual families and children which I found very interesting and useful and they are:

The bilingual family- A handbook for parents
by Edith Harding and Philip Riley
Cambridge University Press

A parents' and teachers' guide to bilingualism
by Colin Baker
Multilingual Matters

Both of them excellent reading!

Bye and good luck.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 14:23
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Children instinctively pick up languages Mar 24, 2008

Up to five years children have enormous capacity to pick up languages, which gradually tapers off by the time they reach puberty (15 years).

So bilingualising your children should be no problem. In India children routinely grow up bilingual.

Talk to them in both the languages as often as you can and get them to talk in the two languages. That is the way to make them bilingual.

Also be careful not to mix up the two languages when you talk, or even when they talk. This could confuse them a bit, though children do have the ability to autocorrect wrong grammar and mixed languages, but it is better not to depend too much on their ability to sift languages.

Schooling in two languages will be a problem. Eventually they will have to have one main language and one weaker language in which they can only speak. Only very rarely can we have a person who is a true bilingual as an adult.


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French Foodie  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:53
French to English
+ ...
Wednesdays in German Mar 24, 2008

Hi Alanna,

Just a quick reply for now about schooling: if you cannot find a bilingual school, one option is a Wednesday programme in German, since children do not go to school on Wednesdays in France - this might be more financially viable for you if the bilingual school you found is too expensive.
I live in rural Provence and so pretty much have no other option aside the local French school. I do, however, send my daughter to a private English school on Wednesday mornings in Aix en Provence for 3 hours. It's quite a drive, too far for everyday, but once a week we can handle it. It's expensive, but not as much as if she went there full time! There are surely such Wednesday programmes to be found in Paris.
We practice the OPOL system as well (me English, husband French), and I admit the French is dominant. But I am comforted by the fact that all that English really is being soaked up like a sponge because when we went back to Canada for a month this summer, my daughter all of a sudden began speaking English and didn't stop until the plane landed back in France!


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Cristina Lo Bianco  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 10:53
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
A useful book on bilinguism Mar 24, 2008

Hi Alanna,

being the mother of a 20 months old who was born in Spain from italian parents and is now living in flemish belgium, I can assure you that I can understand your concern!

I have no specific advice to give you in your situation, but I would like to suggest you the reading of a book that put my mind at ease when I was worrying as you are on my son's reaction to having to learn more than one language.

Title: The bilingul family
Authors: Edith Hrding-Esch and Philiph Riley
Edited by:Cambridge University Press

Good luck!
Cristina


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peter jackson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:53
Spanish to English
visits home Mar 24, 2008

Yes, I agree completely about OPOL. We live in Albacete, a provincial Spanish town and my son has gone to a state school albeit with a programme where he also learns Science in English. However for me the most important thing has been being able to spend summers in England. He has attended state school there every July since he was 4 and it has made a huge impact both linguistically and culturally as well as being free! If you can make lengthy visits home, I do think it's a great advantage. My son truly feels he "belongs" in both countries and linguistic groups which for me is very satisfying.

[Edited at 2008-03-24 11:22]


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 04:53
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Oh god, no! Mar 24, 2008

jelly_gill wrote:

Hi.... In my opinion, the first thing you must ensure is not to confuse your little baby with 2-3 languages at a time. At first Let him/her learn the language which he/she will need to communicate with kids of his/her own group. In your case, that would be french.


Then after he/she picks up french well, you can expose him/her to German. If you can find a bilingual kindergarten, fine, otherwise regular exposure to your parents and conversations at home will make him/her pick up German over a period of 2-3 years.


As everyone has been saying, this is SO untrue. My two girls were spoken to in Spanish (father) and Hebrew (me) at from birth, as well as English from friends and on the street. At 5 and 3 they are perfectly trilingual, though the Spanish is now only at home, since the school does not provide it. THERE WAS NEVER CONFUSION. What's more, I think most kids, if the adults are clear about it, can handle a lot more than that if need be. Most of our grandparents spoke 3 or 4 languages at home and on the streets and no one thought they were traumatized.
The key, for us at least, was to re-inforce the home languages with a LOT of reading to them, DVDs in those languages, and constant Skype conversations with cousins and grandparents, at least a couple of times a week.
Give your future kids some credit, they'll be great.


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 04:53
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
One more hint... Mar 24, 2008

When they reach school age, if your school does not have German (in your case), try to find playmates of your kids' age, so that they can play in German with friends, as this is another way of learning vocab from a peer, rather than only from parents. I found this was great with my two, as this way they first saw that "their" languages" were not just in our house, and that other kids spoke them as well, and also helped them like an "exchange" as they learned words or expressions from friends that perhaps they didn;t know.

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Nikolaj Widenmann
United States
Local time: 02:53
Member (2007)
Danish to English
+ ...
Speak to them in your languages from birth. Mar 24, 2008

If you want bilingual children, speak to them in your respective languages from the day they are born. The infant brain comes "pre-programmed" to learn any and as many languages. This ability is reduced as the child ages, so by all means give them an early start. Who knows, maybe you'll raise the next generation of translators and interpreters.

I was raised in a bilingual, Danish-American family in Denmark. My mother spoke to me in Danish, and my father (whow as from Long Island, NY) in English. I'm probably the only Dane who can pass for a New Yorker, though after 10 years of living in California and now nearly 6 years in Utah, I have learned to pronounce the R's and modify some of my vowels.

Already bilingual, I found it easy to pick up Spanish as my third fluent language when I met my wife while vacationing in Mexico. As a result, I can now pass for someone from Southern Mexico as well.

My wife and I now have four children. While she has always spoken to them in Spanish, I decided to speak to the first three in English, afraid that they might get "confused" if I started speaking to them in Danish. As a result, all three are completely fluent in both English and Spanish. I should add that although they have received no formal education in Spanish, they read Spanish just as well as English. Since they were familiar with the concept of alternating between different vocabularies, the difference in pronunciation between Spanish and English proved no obstacle to them; they did not find it odd that the letter i would be pronounced one way in English and another way in Spanish. All we had to teach them was that in Spanish, the H is silent, etc. Our youngest child is about 21 months old and does not really speak yet, except for a few words when referring to "Daddy", "Mamá", "agua" (anything drinkable), Glu-glu (Blues Clues, a TV show for kids), and a few other words. However, this time I have decided to speak to him strictly in Danish, and so far he seems to understand me.

Back in my college days I took a course on child language acquisition. Most of the theories basically support this and most other posts in this thread: that children have no problem learning multiple languages from birth; in deed, the best time to start speaking the different languages to the child is at birth. Typically bilingual children start speaking slightly later than monolingual children, but it is just a matter of months, and simply because they have more information to process; but once they start speaking, they will be able to communicate in either language.

As for your particular case, I wouldn't worry too much about the language in the daycare facility. Just make sure both languages are spoken in the home, and in fact, the more time the children can spend with you at home the better, not only for linguitic reasons, but more importantly because no daycare facility can replace the loving upbringing that only a mother can provide.


Good luck.


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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:53
German to English
+ ...
Bonne chance! Mar 24, 2008

Hi Alanna:

I cannot speak from personal experience, but it's an interesting topic and one where kids can have a real kick-start.

More here:

http://www.proz.com/post/688934#688934
http://www.proz.com/topic/37616?start=15&float=
http://www.proz.com/post/688934#688934

...and elsewhere. Search for 'bi-lingual' in the forums.

Regards
Chris


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Vanda Nissen  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 18:53
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
Everything is not that simple Mar 25, 2008

Actually, everything is not that simple. New researches prove that raising a bilingual child is a complicated process, and an old method "2 parents - 2 languages" does not always work.
Two names for your reference: Anita Pavlenko and Ingrid Piller.


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:53
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Stop worrying! Mar 28, 2008

It is very nice to plan ahead, but life has its own surprises. For example, don't be disappointed, if baby decides to make you wait longer than you anticipate. Worrying about it may make it worse.

On the other hand, listen to the PRACTISING mums and dads on these posts, full of sound advice, and don't wait a moment to implement the OPOL method. Later you start, more difficult it will be to raise the child bilingual.

It may happen that your child will start speaking later than average, but that is quite common, after all, there would be two languages to digest. Actually monolingual children also differ a lot in this respect, so again, no need to worry.

You are able to give a good start and a great gift to your child by raising him/her bilingual, and don't be deterred by "what if" speculations.

Anyway, I wish you good luck and happiness, and keep us informed!


[Edited at 2008-03-28 11:39]


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