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Non Native English is better than none at all
If you are a monolingual parent, you may think it will be impossible to raise a bilingual child. You may think that only multilingual families, or parents who speak different languages can do this. Well if you do, you would be wrong. Laure and her husband are French natives living in France. Their dream was to raise bilingual kids. They have tried various different ways and continue to do so, including Laure speaking in her non native language, and teaching English herself.
Raising Bilingual Kids in French & English
Everybody has a dream. Mine is very simple. I would like bilingual kids. The challenge we face? My husband and I are French natives, living in France.
My name is Laure, I am the happy mom of 3 wonderful kids, full of energy:
- Owen, 8yo. That’s Mr. Curious, always asking questions about volcanos, how the world began, or telling me fun facts about animals.
- Liam, 5yo. That’s our Cheeky Monkey, a Spiderman lover, best liar in the world, he will look right at you and blame his brother for something he has done.
- Sienna, 4 months, our little princess, I tend to say she is going to be amazing, very quiet but adorable.
I am French woman, married to a French husband and we live in France. Not very multicultural you might think. But we took the decision to raise our kids in French AND in English, even though English is not our native language.
English, an international language
There are two main reasons we chose English as a second language:
English language is the most spoken language in the world (450 millions of people speak English as their first language and 750 millions of people have learnt English as a foreign language.) When you can speak English, it means you can travel in almost every country in the world, you will always find someone to speak to. This can not be said with French.
I love the English language. For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in the English language, even before studying it. I remember when I was younger, looking up to my sister learning her English vocabulary lists, trying myself to say aloud these weird sounding words.
I spent a year in England, in Manchester more than 10 years ago. First, for a 3 months internship and then year later, I came back with my now husband, to work and improve our English level at the same time.
It was what I always wanted, to practice speaking in English all day long, improving a bit more every day I spent in that country. I realized I had so much to learn. After all these years studying English at school, I was very far away of being fluent.
English in the French Education System
I have always been one of the best in my English class. And you know what, after 11 years of learning English, I still wasn’t able to tell the difference between “bear” and “beer” when people talked to me in England. It was so hard to pronounce words with “th” sound.
Why ? Because in the French education system they place writing and grammar learning first, and don’t encourage students to speak in class. Some of my teachers hadn’t even lived in an English speaking country at all and their accent was not native English.
It’s not surprising that a French newspaper claimed in 2014 that France is 21 of 26 in Europe in English proficiency. We just don’t put enough emphasis on the English language.
So what happens when you tell your friends and family you want to teach your kids English?
When I say to people my kids learn English, I always feel myself judged. They are confused and don’t understand my decision, arguing that they will have time later to learn English and that I should focus on French first.
It makes me laugh because 100% people telling me that don’t even speak English, at all, so they themselves should know there is nothing to expect from English classes at school.
We do focus on French at home. I spend so much time with Owen, writing, reading and spelling words in French, every day. But why can’t we do both? Why can’t our kids be fluent in both from the start.
Who’s going to teach? A native teacher or Me, the French mommy?
When Owen was 2yo, I wanted to start the English acquisition. I didn’t feel confident to teach English myself so I hired a native teacher. At 2.5 yo, he studied English 2hours a week. His “teacher” spoke to him in English only. Unfortunately this didn’t last long for different reasons and we had to find someone else few months later.
It was difficult to find native English teachers. I found a Canadian mum more than 30 min away from home, then a British girl who helped out for a little while. Because because we couldn’t find anyone to teach him consistently, I dropped my bilingual dream.
When Owen was 5 yo and Liam 2 yo, we had an Aupair from Ottawa (Canada) to speak English with them for the summer. It was an amazing experience, but she was so fluent in French that the boys always spoke to her in French and asked her to translate.
Last summer, I realized Owen had forgotten almost everything he knew in English. We made a huge decision. I would teach my kids English myself. Of course my English is not perfect, I have a French accent, I make mistakes. But I looked at the alternatives. I asked myself, what was better, making some mistakes in English with a French accent and be able to have a conversation with someone, or have simply no English at all. It was a very easy decision.
How I started teaching English
Late in 2017, we started our English lessons. Every day, before bedtime, we spend 30 minutes talking and playing in English. We use second hand books found on internet, homemade flashcards, homemade activities such as Fruits and Vegetables Bingo or Dobble, Feelings or antonyms memory. We also use videos such as Little Brown Bear on Youtube, to learn new words and expressions. We listen to and recite English Nursery Rhymes. Sometimes, we take a very easy book and we pretend to be the characters.
I don’t have any specific method. I teach what I want to teach, in the order that I feel is best. I know my kids so I know what they like and don’t like. They don’t have any pressure and they see English as a fun way to spend time together and have fun.
Because I feel that just teaching that way is not enough, I also set up a daily routine in the morning. From the moment they get up to the moment they go to school, I speak English as much as I can. They started to understand very quickly and answer to my questions by Yes or No, or numbers. I plan to slowly continue to set up new routines with them.
With our daughter Sienna, I use a different method because she is still a baby. My husband talks to her in French and I talk to her in English (OPOL method). At the beginning, it didn’t feel natural to talk to her in English but after 4 months, I feel more confident. I have learnt so much baby vocabulary. I look forward to be in few months (years) to see if my efforts will be rewarded.
Our progress and our goals
Owen is now able to make short sentences , the Duolingo App is great for that.
With Liam, the first 2 weeks were hard, he didn’t remember the English words. Now I know have to be more patient with him.
But, after 5 months of learning, the boys are still motivated.
I know we have to be constistent and they’ll probably need few years to be able to hold a conversation but they are doing very well. I am so PROUD of them !
We booked vacation in Bulgaria and Greece for next summer and I told them we’ll have to speak English if we want to be understood. They seemed thrilled!
An aupair girl (native English speaker, not fluent in French) is also coming in the Summer to help me.
We are progressing and I am excited about our English learning journey. If you would like to follow us see our website, our Facebook page, or Instagram where I share my experience teaching my non native language, our bilingual French/English daily routines, English activities and some tips!
This post is part of the Bilingual Kidspot Multilingual Families Series. Are you raising a bilingual child? Subscribe for related articles. Follow Bilingual KidSpot on Facebook and join our online community and support group.