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Keeping a language up once you've left the country

(9 Posts)
vvviola Tue 29-Mar-11 14:27:57

Hi - I was wondering if anyone might have any advice or experience with this.

DD (aged 3.8) is fluent in French and English. Both DH and I are native English speakers (although I do have a bit of French, plus a few other languages at different levels of fluency). DD has learnt all her French from being in creche and maternelle here in Brussels. The teacher has assured me that she is as fluent in French as her peers, and a number of the staff have assumed that there must be a French-speaking parent at home.

So we're pretty proud of her, and delighted we were able to give her the opportunity. The problem is, we're leaving in a year, to move to New Zealand (where DH is from) for a few years. After that we'll go back to Ireland (my home), so we'll at least have the option for visits to France/Belgium.

Are we mad to think we might find a way to keep up DD's French? I'd be so disappointed if she lost it. An au pair wouldn't be an option for us, but perhaps a French-speaking childminder (if we could find one in NZ?!)? I mentioned my own language abilities because, while she's already completely outstripped her, I could at least help a little at first in maintaining some of it, but I certainly couldn't help her improve at all (and my accent is absolutely atrocious).

Any suggestions?


exexpat Tue 29-Mar-11 14:46:02

It's hard at that age unless you can speak it to her.

DD has lost most of her Japanese - we left Japan four years ago when she had just turned 4. DS, who is now 12, can still speak and read some, and it comes back when we go back for a visit.

French-speaking childcare would be great if you can find it - it might take a lot of asking around - or see if there are any French/bilingual families who might be interested in playdates.

I took DD a few times to a group for bilingual English/Japanese children but as they were all living in the UK and spoke English as well as or better than Japanese, it was hard to get them talking to each other in Japanese apart from during the very structured bits of activity.

You could try DVDs and so on, but that might just help keep a passive understanding going, rather than active use.

But even if she loses a lot of it now, judging by friends of mine who spent time in various countries as children, even if you think she has forgotten it all, you may well find that if she starts learning French again when she is older, there will still be elements of pronunciation and grammatical structure lurking in the recesses of her brain, so she will pick it up again much faster than children learning for the first time.

natation Wed 30-Mar-11 17:57:49

You will not find keeping up French easy, without regular French conversation. Here's one link I have found quickly for French in NZ. There is no lycée francais unfortunately in NZ, that would have been the most obvious place to look for accessing French on a regular basis.

vvviola Thu 31-Mar-11 11:07:52

Thanks! I suppose keeping up a passive understanding would be ok, if we didn't manage to keep her active French up. I'd just hate for her to lose it completely.

Natation - thanks for that link - I knew about the Primary School (but enrollment seems to be very much based on your locality, and I suspect Ponsonby will be too rich for our budget!), but I didn't realise there was a play group. That might be a great way to keep up the French for the first while until she starts school, and hopefully make a few francophone friends.

AussieCelt Wed 06-Apr-11 10:24:05

If nothing else, I'd get as much age-appropriate (and a bit older) material in French before you leave as you can: DVDs, books, games, educational computer programmes, music etc. Once a language is lost, it's lost. Some kids pick it up again later, some don't (I know some older kids from mixed anglo-japanese marriages who spoke Japanese until school then lost it because the mums didn't want to push the issue - most who learnt it later again speak like any other foreigner). Plus there's a massive difference between speaking a language fluently and speaking it as a native language and native language acquisition stops after about 5 or 6.

Track down French speakers, try the Alliance Française or one of the embassies/high commissions: France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada etc. There is bound to be francophone parents around who have kids around your daughter's age.

kikoid Fri 06-May-11 11:30:30

There's french speaking groups/communities in NZ, especially in the bigger cities ie Auckland, Wellington. Alliance Francaise, LCF etc might be options too.
And if you can afford the travel, the Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tahiti all speak French, although it'll be a bit different to the French spoken in France

america Fri 27-May-11 21:11:00

This is interesting. DC spent their first four years or so in country A speaking language A. We have recently relocated to country B. DC now they go to A-language speaking nursery and speak language B outside the nursery and at home and language C with their dad. I am wondering too if going to a A-speaking nursery is enough to keep up their level of language or is it doing more harm than good. I am also afraid of them not learning any of the languages properly. Guilty mum syndrome.

AussieCelt Sun 29-May-11 08:27:05

america, whether they learn 1, 2, 3 or more languages properly depends not on the number of languages but the quality and quantity of exposure for each of the languages. If you have any concerns in relation to any of the languages, you can make available material or socalisation in the relevant languages. I would have thought that language A being the language of instruction and language B being the societal language should be developing without any issues. If both you and your husband speak nothing but language C at home, I doubt there are any acquisition issues there either. Living in country B, obviously that language will dominate after a while, regardless of how much exposure your DC gets to the other 2 languages.

america Tue 21-Jun-11 19:12:22

Thanks, we will persist and see what happens... Trying to read a lot of books in all languages and getting them to play roleplays seems to help.

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