My husband's franglais
Thread poster: NickolaSaiz

NickolaSaiz
Local time: 13:04
Aug 21, 2012

Hello,

I am English and my husband French. We live in the UK and have a 20-month old daughter, who we want to raise bilingually. We have agreed that I will speak to our daughter in English and he in French, but he seems to be unable to stick to French. For example, if my daughter points and says, "spider", he will say "oui, c'est un spider", or is she asks for a drink he will say, "tu veux un drink". He does this because she looks confused when she points to something and says what it is, only to have him tell her it is something different.

Does anyone have an ideas for addressing it? Or should we just continue like this until she is old enough to understand the differences. I am just worried that we may be jeopardising her chances of being truely bilingual.

Thanks for any advice.


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Sabine Akabayov, PhD
Israel
Local time: 15:04
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
do whatever works best for all of you Aug 21, 2012

Our son is now five and we are raising him with 3 languages (English, Hebrew and German).
I'm having trouble sticking to one language as I often don't notice which language I'm using at that moment and sometimes it feels strange to speak German with my son while my husband doesn't understand a word we are saying.
My son is fine with that and has no trouble keeping the languages separate if he needs to.


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simonsong
Local time: 21:04
Chinese to English
+ ...
kids learn fast Aug 22, 2012

still remember how my daughter was coping with differences between english and chinese when she was a little girl. i taught her taxi long before its chinese equivalent chu-zu-qi-che. she was puzzled when i brought up the chinese word for the 1st time and had great trouble articulating the sound. but that's just part of the learning curve. now she's good in both languages and has been learning other more difficult ones like latin, korean, and yes, francais!

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Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:04
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Mixed sentences Aug 22, 2012

In my opinion mixed sentences are the worst, the most confusing for a child.
If you agreed with your husband to use the OPOL (one-person one-language) method, then you really should stick to it. It is hard when the parent is bilingual, and naturally understands the child's speech when the child uses the "other" language. So, I am sure it is not easy for your husband to stick to French, especially that the "outside" language is English (you live in the UK).
I was (and am) in the same situation, I am Hungarian, we live in the US, my husband is American. He does not speak Hungarian, but I speak English. When my son was little, I talked to him almost exclusively in Hungarian. (When my husband was around, I repeated everything in English.) When my son replied in English, or said something in English, I would pretend I did not understand, and asked him in Hungarian what he wanted to say.

For example, when your daughter points and says "spider", your husband could say in French "Oh, look a spider! Can you say spider?" (I am sorry, I don't know any French.) Same for the drink, when your daughter asks for a drink in English, your husband could say in French "Would you like something? What would you like? Would you like a drink (holding up a cup)? Yes?" and then, handing over the drink: "Here is your drink." When she drank it: "Did you like your drink? or Would you like to drink some more?" something like that. All in French. Yes, she may look confused sometimes, but I think it is more confusing to hear English words mixed in with French words in the same sentence. She needs clear separation at least at the sentence level - well, a grownup would need that too. So, your husband needs to be careful with this, but given that French is his native language, it should not be a big issue.

All that said, if this whole thing does not come naturally for any member of the family, or introduces tension into the relationships in any way, then it may be necessary to rethink whether it worth it. Every family is different, and OPOL does not work everywhere.

In my post above I assumed you started the OPOL when the baby was born. If you just started recently, (and your daughter is 20 months old), then the story is different, as naturally there is a hurdle for all of you to get over, (going from a monolingual environment to a bilingual one) and it may really be strange for your daughter to hear the french words for all those things she so far only knew in English.

Katalin


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Melissa Dedina  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:04
Czech to English
+ ...
thoughts Aug 22, 2012

Katalin's advice is spot on, but I would add that I think it might be easier for mothers (or some personality types?) to follow. At least, when we were in the OP's situation (in UK, with father as minority language speaker), we had the same issue and my husband found it very difficult not to use the same, mostly English, words our daughter was using. He also didn't do the same sort of mirroring and repetition that I would do (described by Katalin).

Part of the issue was that since he spent most of each day at work, they simply didn't have enough time together for "his" language to be as strong as English. Age and continued exposure helped with this. Remember, 20 months is very young! At that age, she might only have particular words in one of her languages anyway. I also found it disheartening to "correct" a child doing its best to communicate (it happened in both languages so I had to deal with it too), so instead of correcting I tried to confirm the word first and then add my version to supplement. Instead of "No, no, it's a spider" I say, "Pavouk? That's right, it's a spider!"

(edit to add: by "confirm" I mean that if I corrected her and told her to say a different word, she would think I was saying what she said was wrong, which would be confusing because she knew it was right. By repeating what she said, I was trying to confirm that yes, what you said is a word and I understood it, you pronounced it right, but I happen to call that something else, which is --. If that makes sense. Also given small children and poor pronunciation I often had to confirm that I had even understood the word correctly. Harder when more than one language is involved.)

It is hard to balance the languages especially at first, but if you are both relatively consistent and if your little one hears enough French around her (talking to daddy may not be enough - but France is not too far for regular visits), she should be fine even without absolute consistency. I think a bit of language mixing is just fine, as long as the person is capable of putting together whole sentences in just one language if necessary (not at 20 months of course, but in the long term). After all, adults mix or switch languages all the time, accidentally, on purpose, out of necessity, just for fun. Children do it for those same reasons.

[Edited at 2012-08-22 06:27 GMT]


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Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:04
Member (2008)
English to French
I wouldn't worry about it :-) Aug 22, 2012

Here are a few interested articles : http://www.livescience.com/13016-bilingual-babies-brain-language-learning.html http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/health/views/11klass.html

I would keep up both languages as much as possible and reinforce it out of the home later on. Case in point I grew up in a bilingual household with two sisters, my elementary school followed an immersion program, where equal time was devoted to both languages and I went to a French high school before attending an English college and university. My two sisters however attended an elementary school that was almost purely English and subsequently refused to communicate with my parents in French to the extent that they both speak French as a strong second language but have never lost their English accent and their English sentence structure. (This is discussed in the 1st article quoted above - when children decide to abandon a language).

The opposite effect is also possible - I learned some Arabic as a young child and heard it spoken around me but it was never taught/reinforced and I forgot all but the most basic sentences during my grade school years. However, from what native speakers tell me, when I speak the few sentences I do know, or when I repeat after them, my pronunciation is native since I perfected my ear for the language as an infant and a toddler.

Of course this is just my experience, I'm sure there are variations from people to people and family to family but it shouldn't worry you - I've never heard of someone growing up in a bilingual or even trilingual household who never managed to sort out the different languages even though it might mean suffering through some pretty bad franglais along the way. *Recalling sentences from when I was kid going something like "Mémére! J'peux tu prendre mon snack pis aller watcher d'la teevee su'l couch?"*


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 14:04
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
The essence of a language is the grammar Aug 22, 2012

NickolaSaiz wrote:
For example, if my daughter points and says, "spider", he will say "oui, c'est un spider", or is she asks for a drink he will say, "tu veux un drink".


Many languages borrow words (and sometimes expressions) from other languages, and that is natural. Although purists would like to keep the language pure, the fact is that when lazy speakers are confronted with new situations in which another language is already present, they often borrow words instead of finding out what the "correct" word in their language is. Of course this has repercussions for when they remove themselves from that situation and land in a situation where all speakers use the correct terminology, but fortunately humans are prone to submit to peer pressure and they learn "new" words (i.e. the correct words) easily (if everyone else use it).

Although the presence of foreign words are more immediately obvious than the presence of foreign grammar (and therefore easier to combat by kitchen table purists), the big danger in mixing languages is contamination of grammar. In fact, for the most part, contaminated vocabulary is not something to worry about -- it is easy to unlearn under the right circumstances. Contaminated grammar is much harder to fix. Although speakers of a language may think that vocabulary is what makes their languages unique, it is in fact the grammar.

As long as your husband does not adopt Englishisms in his French like non-French word order and other non-French grammar issues, using English words will not affect your child's learning of French. However, you should really watch out for English grammar in your child's French, and correct it when you hear it. I'm not saying that you should tolerate English words in your child's French either -- but you don't have to be intolerant of it in your husband's French.

If you take a French paragraph and change all the nouns to English words (adjusted for French grammar, if necessary), would that be an English sentence or a French sentence? In theory, it would be a French sentence (a very, very bad French sentence, but still a French sentence and not an English sentence).


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XXXphxxx  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:04
Portuguese to English
+ ...
How good is your French? Aug 22, 2012

We are assuming your French isn’t good enough or doesn’t come naturally enough to you to speak it to your daughter. If that isn’t the case then I would switch to French too, your daughter will learn English from the TV/outside the home. In my experience, the most successful bilingual households are where both parents speak the same language and the child learns their second language outside the home. I was brought up in Brazil bilingually (English at home and school and Portuguese everywhere else); my children were brought up in France (English at home and French at school and everywhere else). I would also try and hook up with any French community there may be in your area.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 14:04
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
One conversation, one language may be easier for everyone Aug 23, 2012

I had just finished language school when our son was born, and was just getting into Danish myself... so we spoke Danish generally and read to him in English. He did not hear much English at all the first year, except when we had English visitors or visited my family. Then we all spoke English.

Our son was three before he understood that it was no use saying more than very basic things to my mother in Danish - she really did not understand. While his paternal grandmother struggled with English. But once he got the idea that not everyone is bilingual, he soon switched if the first language did not work, and it all went fine.

That also meant we spoke both languages correctly... which helped me, and helped to keep my husband's English up to scratch - he had acquired a very nice accent while working in Kent.

Sometimes the OPOL system is confusing, especially if the parents are not consistent for one reason or another - guests who only understand one language easily upset the system. You can't fool a child for long if you understand the 'other' language perfectly well as soon as your in-laws or friends come to visit!

If the child calls a thing a spider, it IS a spider for the time being. You can introduce une araignée later, and talk about it in French. Switching constantly back and forth is difficult for everyone except really good interpreters, and I never found it an ideal way of learning any language myself.

I knew one couple who said everything twice to their son - and he was almost totally silent at Playgroup. In fact when I met him again years later, he still seemed to have to think hard before he said anything at all.

We have a Swedish branch of the family who turn up and speak Swedish (and it sounds VERY different from Danish...) but their children are bilingual as well.

Different systems work for different families, but if OPOL is not working, don't worry. There are lots of other ways of bringing children up to be bilingual.

You need to relax and enjoy it, and the child(ren) will enjoy it too. Best of luck!


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Easy Aug 23, 2012

NickolaSaiz wrote:

Hello,

I am English and my husband French. We live in the UK and have a 20-month old daughter, who we want to raise bilingually. We have agreed that I will speak to our daughter in English and he in French, but he seems to be unable to stick to French. For example, if my daughter points and says, "spider", he will say "oui, c'est un spider", or is she asks for a drink he will say, "tu veux un drink". He does this because she looks confused when she points to something and says what it is, only to have him tell her it is something different.

Does anyone have an ideas for addressing it? Or should we just continue like this until she is old enough to understand the differences. I am just worried that we may be jeopardising her chances of being truely bilingual.

Thanks for any advice.


Just all speak French at home when you're "en famille". Your child will be speaking English everywhere else, or when you have friends visiting. It's important that both the male and female parents should be speaking in French. So I agree with Lisa Simpson.

Problem solved. Or should be.

Start now.

[Edited at 2012-08-23 21:09 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:04
Russian to English
+ ...
Don't worry about it -- I was brought up in a mixed linguistic environment Aug 23, 2012

and I speak a few languages very well. I never mixed them up, although my father did that and my grandparents with whom I spent a lot of time did it as well. My mother spoke mostly Polish when I was a child -- my father and grandfather mostly Lithuanian, especially when it was just the two of them and myself. My father did not speak native level Polish -- he would mix it often with Lithuanian and Russian, especially, yet I speak all of those languages well, although I don't have much education in Lithuanian, so I could not translate into it. My Polish and Russian are at least native level. My mother's parents mixed Polish with German; and I also stayed with them for extended periods of time. I lived have in different countries, for most of my life in the US, but I don't mix any languages, and I have quite good accent in all of them. It may just depend on the child as well. Some people have a tendency to mix languages.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:04
Chinese to English
Ease up on the kids! Aug 24, 2012

NickolaSaiz wrote:

Hello,

I am English and my husband French. We live in the UK and have a 20-month old daughter, who we want to raise bilingually. We have agreed that I will speak to our daughter in English and he in French, but he seems to be unable to stick to French. For example, if my daughter points and says, "spider", he will say "oui, c'est un spider", or is she asks for a drink he will say, "tu veux un drink". He does this because she looks confused when she points to something and says what it is, only to have him tell her it is something different.

Does anyone have an ideas for addressing it? Or should we just continue like this until she is old enough to understand the differences. I am just worried that we may be jeopardising her chances of being truely bilingual.

Thanks for any advice.


I agree with everyone above, that making French your home language would be fine. Unless you're complete shut-ins there's very little danger that your daughter's English won't develop normally.

But more importantly, relax about whether the kid understands or not. They're supposed to not understand at this age! It might seem a bit weird to your husband that she knows spider in one language but not the other, but it doesn't matter. He should just teach it again. Put his hands together into a spider shape and tickle her with the arraignee!

(My wife does what your husband does all the time. If a child hasn't understood an instruction in Minnan, she instantly switches to Mandarin. I've tried to persuade her not to, but she's not really a native Minnan speaker any more, so it's tough for her.)

Also, relax about mixing languages. It doesn't matter at all. Vocab is not the most important part of the language. However, if he's speaking weird French (in French wouldn't it be "tu veux boire quelque chose?" (I'm very rusty!)) then that's worth talking about. French forms with the odd English word are OK. English sentence forms with French words stuck on are odd.


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