Thursday, 3 September 2015

The highs and lows of raising bilingual children

Recipe for a Bilingual Child (INFOGRAPHIC)
We'll get there... Eventually!

Since the kids came back from France, they tend to speak a mixture of French and English and it can be very funny. "I'm going to reveiller Papa" (I'm going to wake daddy up) said Ethan this morning, and when I asked Ciaran to say something in French, he just took a French accent but kept talking in English. 

Sometimes I feel a bit discouraged and realise I did many things wrong when trying to raise them with two languages. Everywhere online you can find tips on helping your kids to become bilingual, and frankly, it looks like we broke a lot of golden rules!

One parent - One language

Yes. In an ideal world where the two parents speak different languages and your child doesn't have any delays.
We had a plan. A good one. Because we are two French speakers but really wanted our son to speak English we decided that I would speak French and my husband would speak English (the reason being he has a better accent than me). This worked for a while, but it was hard to keep going. Ciaran started to speak very late and had difficulties understanding basic instructions. He wasn't speaking French or English, he was just speaking nothing. For a while, we thought his delay was due to having two languages. Which brings me to the next point...

Don't give up one language, even if you think there's a speech delay

I remember telling my mum I would NEVER stop speaking French to Ciaran, even if a speech therapist would tell me to. As it happens, he told me to keep on speaking French, despite the delay. But after a long and heated argument with my other half, we decided it might be better for him to be confronted to one language only. So I started speaking English to him. At that point, I felt like a failure. And I cried. A lot.

Be consistent

Always speak the same language. Have some rules. Consistency is the key. When I was pregnant with Ethan, I wondered if I should speak French or English to him. I decided I would give him a chance and try speaking French again. As it happened, he doesn't have any speech delay, he understands French very well and can speak it (when he wants...). The only thing is I speak French to Ethan and English to Ciaran now. Fabrice speaks English to both of them but we speak French to each other. So much for consistency.

Even if the road to bilingualism is bumpy and sometimes it seems there is no light at the end of tunnel, I know I am doing a few things to help them on their journey:

I read stories in French as much as I can

Actually, I read stories in both languages, but I brought back a lot of books from France over the years and I'm trying to get them interested as much as possible.

They watch movies in French (sometimes!)

Most of the time, they just want to watch the English version, even if it's a French DVD. But lately we managed to watch "Brother bear" and "The Lion King" in French. And they're even starting to sing the movie songs in French. The only downside is that "Hakuna Matata" has been stuck in my head for days now...

They spend time in France

They stayed with my parents for 5 weeks during the summer, and since they came back the improvement has been spectacular. They even speak French to the childminder, who doesn't understand a word.

At the end of the day, I think we have tried to do the best we could with what we had. It's not easy to teach a different language to a child with special needs, but to my surprise, Ciaran is making a lot of progress. The weird thing is that his best subject at school is Irish, which is amazing considering he still needs speech therapy! Ethan is a bit on the lazy side, and lately he's been mixing up French and English (I've read that's normal and I shouldn't worry), but at least he's making an effort.

I was always conscious of the fact my kids would be better in English than me, and somehow I felt jealous. Now, I want them to be as good as me in French. I know it will take time, and I don't want to give up. I know sometimes I take the easy way out and start speaking English because I think they understand it better, but I'm really trying my best.

Every bilingual family is different and what works for one might not work for the other. I've also stopped comparing my kids to other bilingual children because we all have a different story. Ours is a bit less straightforward than others, but for the moment it works, and it's all that matters.