Arabic/English bilingual toddler starting Maternelle in France

(6 Posts)

Hello,

I am British married to an Egyptian and living in Cairo since the birth of our daughter. My daughter and I will be travelling to the UK next week to spend some time with family. DD definitely has Egyptian Arabic as her first language as I'm the only one who speaks English around here, but she can understand and is increasingly speaking in English much to the confusion of my in laws.

The complication is that we will be moving to France at the end of the summer and DD will be starting at the local ecole maternelle. I don't speak French though my husband does. DD has spent a few months in French nursery here in Egypt and knows numbers and colours plus basic vocabulary but tends to combine languages in the same sentence as it is and has days where she only wants to speak one of the three languages..can anyone provide advice on juggling three languages, and ways we can help ease the transition?

Thanks!

ummunono Wed 13-Feb-13 23:26:37

Hi alteredimages,

I used to work in a Maternelle in Paris during the summer as a student, and we had quite a few children who were not speaking French at all or very little, so don't worry!! They do pick up very quickly, and the staff will be used to dealing with this.If she already understands French, that's great! I'm sure she will have no issues.

I am also raising my daughter in French/Arabic/ English and the only advice I could give you is to stick to the one parent/ one language rule, and maybe
get her some songs/ books in French for now? Once she starts school she might actually start speaking Arabic less, especially if you are the main carer, so I think it would be best for your husband to not speak to her in French and stick to Arabic.

Best of luck!

Thanks ummunono. I am a complete failure at the OPOL system unfortunately and speak to DD in Arabic way too much. blush it's hard speaking English when everyone around me is speaking Arabic but I'm getting better!

My husband is already in France and for the next few months we'll be with my monolingual British family so I was planning to switch to Arabic with DD and let my brothers and dad do the English. Good idea/bad idea?

ummunono Thu 14-Feb-13 18:13:37

I'm definitely not a specialist, but I think you should go for what feels most comfortable? If you usually speak to her in English, then stick to it, and maybe read stories in Arabic/ get her to speak to her dad on Skype?

I'm quite bad at OPOL too to be honest and I mix French/English a lot, with a bit of Arabic thrown it. I spoke to a speech therapist about this who said that actually it's fine, that's the language of the family and the child will grow to make the difference when he is older. I'm not sure people can understand everything my daughter says at the moment, but I understand her, and most importantly she seems to understand all three languages. So don't worry, just go with the flow and reinforce the least used language with songs and games. :-)

natation Sat 16-Feb-13 09:21:42

I wouldn't worry in the slightest about the French, if your daughter starts maternelle full time, as within a few years her French is likely to be her strongest language.

I'd be thinking how to extend her exposure to English and Egyptian Arabic. If you're going to be in an area with lots of British expats or Paris for example, you'll find communities of English speaking children to socialize with, maybe some activities to do in English, maybe even an English saturday school. As for Arabic, if there is not a strong community, then it's invites to/from family and friends! My friend spoken Indonesian to her 7 year old, not exactly a widespread language outside Indonesia/Malaysia, she was lucky as lived in a capital city and mum, although not diplomatic, had a close community of Indonesian wives which met up for Indonesian dancing/cooking organised around the embassy, so I think in fact she knew every single Indonesian national in the country, her daughter is much in touch with her Indonesian side despite going there once a year if lucky. France must have a reasonable sized Egyptian community, due to the French invasion on Egypt back in the late 18C, as Alexandria still has many French medium schools. So it's up to your husband to do some connecting in France, if he hasn't already done so.

Just keep up the English and Arabic at home. Reading in French or English or Arabic and it being the "wrong" parent doing it won't do any harm to OPOL. You'll have to eventually talk some French when dealing with schooling eg listen to your daughter read, guide her writing, these will be situations where it would be foolish not to mix the languages.

loopyluna Sun 24-Feb-13 20:43:25

Make sure you explain the language situation to the maternelle teacher and don't take any shit from them about changing your language use.
I live in France and my eldest two only started maternelle in grande or moyenne section where the teachers when both English and French were pretty solid.
However, when my youngest started in petite section at only 2.5, not speaking any French and not understanding much more, I was told to speak to her in French and my other DD was told off in the playground for speaking English with her sister. Poor DD2 was struggling to settle in and had only ever heard her sister speak English. Luckily, DD1 is very assertive and refused to back down and was supported by some other teachers.
DD had a tough year of it which would have been a lot better with a more understanding, less aggressive teacher. Nevertheless, her French was perfect by the end of the year and her English unchallenged as we refused to compromise. I do believe that if we had been pushed into speaking French with her, the English would have suffered greatly.

On the whole, our experience with French teachers has been positive though and I think it was bad luck to come across such a severe maternelle teacher. Hopefully your DD will get a nice, sensible one who understands bilingualism a bit better!

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