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Frustrated by DH not speaking French to DCs

(19 Posts)
MaitreKarlsson Wed 17-Oct-12 22:01:21

Do you have any advice on persuading your spouse or partner to speak their mother tongue to the children?
It's something we had agreed we would do and he started off quite well with our PFB. But around the age of 2 he seemed to stop (DH). He feels that it's too unnatural & awkward.
My DH is French born but moved to UK when young. His parents are French and he speaks to them in French, me in English.
I'm just a bit disappointed especially as our dd (1.5) is just learning to talk, and French is now barely spoken at all.
With our DS I started taking him to French myself and it was great. DS's language really came on. But returning to work p/t means it's not possible any more.
My DH seems genuinely to think that our DCs are going to absorb the language by magic, or will pick it up when they are older. Is he right?
Any tips gratefully received!

Ruthchan Thu 18-Oct-12 18:50:16

This is a tough one, isn't it.
I had the same problem until recently with my DH. Having spoken quite a bit of Japanese to DD when she was little, since DS was born he had barely spoken any to them at all.
I too was concerned and kept urging him to speak it to them. He complained that 'they weren't ready' and that he didn't feel comfortable with speaking a different language to them than the one we usually use at home.
I kept on with it and kept encouraging him. I also tried to use more Japanese myself at home to make it more of a regular language in our family.

The good news is that recently, the situation has improved greatly. Now DH uses Japanese a lot more with them, though still not as much as I'd like. Due to his increased use, the children are understanding more and using it much more. DH really loves that he can have a conversation with DD without any English at all, although she still jumps back to English when she doesn't know the words.

Keep encouraging your DH. The children will not learn French unless they hear it everyday. It is hard, especially when the foreign language is that of the Dad, but they can be bilingual and the effort is well worth it.

MaitreKarlsson Fri 19-Oct-12 13:41:29

Thanks Ruthchan. That's really good to hear and I've come to same conclusion - if I use it myself it will make it more usual. Also DH will jump in & correct me so he ends up carrying on the conversation in French.
Appreciate your comments, thank you - will persevere!

PhyllisDoris Fri 19-Oct-12 13:46:59

Encourage him - get him to take the kids to a French club or something too - checkout L'Alliance Francaise, for example. I have a friend who's mother is French, but who failed her French O Level because although she could speak the language, she couldn't write any of it down. It should have been one O Level in the bag with no effort.
I have a fried these days who is Chinese, married to a Brit. She refuses to talk Chinese to her DS (now 7), result - he cannot speak to his grandparents when they go to China. Neither can her DH, so if ever the friend was ill, or something, they would have to find someone who could phone or email teh grandparents to let them know.

LillianGish Fri 19-Oct-12 14:04:05

Persist. My DSIL is in similar situation. Her dad is French and she grew up speaking French, but has not spoken it to her own dcs. My DB does not speak French so English is spoken at home. A real missed opportunity - neither of her dcs (now teenagers) speaks French with the result that they are not particularly keen on spending time with the French side of the family as they can't easily communicate with each other. Your DH is correct in thinking that your dcs could easily absorb the language - but that will only happen if they are exposed to it. Remember, young children are essentially lazy - they do what is easiest. So if they know they can speak English to dad then they will. The only way he will get them to speak French to him is by refusing to speak any other language. The irony in our family is that my dcs are bilingual - by dint of being born in France and educated in the French system. They've always had English at home and French at school. I actually think your situation is much more difficult - the onus is on your DH to speak French and he feels that is unnatural (which is pretty much how my DSIL felt). If he thinks it is important he needs to make the effort - otherwise he will have left it too late.

MaitreKarlsson Sun 21-Oct-12 17:37:49

Thanks everyone for advice & warnings...Phyllis I've noticed the not being able to talk to French side with my DCs cousins, who are in a similar situation - real shame. Am talking to DH about him going to classes with DS again - that did work well and will persist till we find something! V grateful for the posts, thanks.

PhyllisDoris Sun 21-Oct-12 19:52:56

My cousins kids happily speak English to her and Welsh to their Dad.

DejaB00 Sun 28-Oct-12 11:26:10

Hi Maitrekarisson
Sorry to jump in, I'm French and feel the same as your DH, since I have been living in the UK for 10 years it's more natural for me to speak English to my DS who is 2.5.
You mention French classes, can you let me know what they are as I haven't found any suitable for young children who are not yet in school.

Indith Sun 28-Oct-12 11:37:16

I sympathise with both you and your dh. I was brought up bilingually french/english, my mother didn't speak good english when we were small, but once I left home I hardly spoke french. for me french is a language of my childhood and I lack the fluncy and the vocab to speak to my own children. i feel very guilty about it for denying them the gift, for denying them the contact with family (we can't afford to go over, we went in june but i'd say 3-4 years before we can go again). I still speak French well but struggle on my own. Put me back with the family in France for a couple of days and it is the first language out of my mouth and I speak French to dh and the dcs without thinking about it, thankfully dh did French at university so does speak it!

last time my mum went she brought some magazines back so this half term we need to sit and look at those and then I think we will subscribe to one that way there is a regular incentive to look at stuff in french together. You can get DVDs to go with some of them. We need to listen to out french music more, nursery rhymes etc and look up Henri Des as that is great fun and I expect your dh will remember some of his songs form childhood! We've also talked about having one night a week speaking french at the dinner table which we need ot kick ourselves up the bum about and actually do. I know my children won't be as fluent as I was but at least we will be doing something and laying the foundations.

Nottigermum Sun 28-Oct-12 11:43:05

I am native French speaking and have been living in the UK for 15 years and I find it very, very hard to speak French with my kids. They know some songs in French, can count up to 20, know their colors, shapes, etc and the name for some foods, and can follow simple instructions such as take your finger out of your nose and don't jump on the sofa in French. They also understand put your coat on, brush your teeth, go to bed, don't stand too close to the telly, etc.

It is much, much harder than you'd think. Really, it is. I think in English all the time, if I speak French I have to think of the words, I have a bad accent in French (I am from Quebec). It was easy when they were little, my DS1's first word was in French (dehors, which means outside as jouer dehors, play outside). As they start school it becomes even harder.

Nottigermum Sun 28-Oct-12 11:44:08

also check La Jolie Ronde for French classes.

MaitreKarlsson Sat 03-Nov-12 16:13:42

Hi everyone, thanks for the different perspectives and advice. Deja you asked about French classes, we used to do Club Petit Pierrot which was great..lots of songs & fun. There was enough of a routine to reinforce things, but also a different activity and words every week. DS's French improved loads, as did mine! Had to stop unfortunately as he started school & timings didn't work for us any more.
I have checked out Jolie Ronde and also some other classes nearby but either times don't work, or I'm not around (I work p/t).
Anyway, we will persevere, and the bilingual forum has already given me lots of ideas. DS has been watching Babar and T'Choupi and loving them. So, fingers crossed!

DejaB00 Sun 04-Nov-12 12:47:58

Thanks. Looks like Club Petit Pierrot is in London? I'm in Cambridgeshire, one of the schools in my town offer La Jolie Ronde as an after school activity but only to their pupils, and we're not in their catchment sad
Where do you get Babar and T'choupi?

BarbieDahl Sun 04-Nov-12 13:20:54

I can sympathize with your DH as I am english and have lived in France for 20 years with my French DH.
When my DC were born (they're now 18 and 15) I was confident that I would speak english to them and that they would be bi-lingual but it hasn't turned out as planned. I also thought that they would somehow absorb my englishness and have a natural facility for learning the language, not so, unfortunately.
I got off to a good start but gradually the french took over for several reasons :
- my DH and I always communicate in French, he does speak good english but not as good as my french so it felt awkward
-i felt I was being rude by talking to my DC in front of other people in a language that they couldn't understand.
-I felt isolated and outnumbered
-gradually my DC started to complain when I spoke english as they didn't understand (now of course, they complain and blame me for not being bilingual!)
-and basically I'm a lazy cow and french just came more easily for me

I really regret not insisting on speaking english as communication with their GPs and english family is difficult and I know my mum thinks (rightly) that it's my fault.
So I think you should encourage them to speak French as they won't absorb it by magic. It is hard work but they will thank you for it one day.
That said my elder DD is now studying in England and fast becoming bilingual so it's never too late.
Bon courage smile

MaitreKarlsson Sun 04-Nov-12 22:28:52

Thanks Barbie..I am beginning to realize I may have not quite understood how difficult it has been for my DH.
Deja -unhelpfully, both were bought in France! But other posters say amazon.Fr is good. Confession - I sometimes put on the subtitles as I understand way more that way so can explain to DS exactly what's going on, as it's usually me watching with him.
We also have a "Songs in French for Children" cd from amazon in the UK - kids love it and it's often on in the car. Little by little...!

Dream11 Mon 12-Nov-12 20:03:28

I am exactly the same as you. My husband is Brazilian and none of his family speak English at all. He finds it hard to speak to DD (18 months) in Portuguese. I want her to grow up speaking Portuguese so she never really has to sit down and learn it. Particularly as I find it very hard to learn language. So I have adopted a few techniques to help him. For example we make sure that grandparents are always available on Skype, we have Brazilian friends who leave about 45 minutes away - we visit them every other week if we can so he can socialise in Portuguese, we have the usual books, CDs and DVDs in Portuguese, I am learning with her so I speak what I can and learn things that will be useful to say to her and to her grandparents, we are trying to visit Brazil every other year so that she grows up playing with children through the medium of Portuguese. (However, the cost of this is tremendous!) He is finding it a lot easier to speak in Portuguese to her now but I have to remind him all of the time. Its just bit by bit. I just hope it all pays off. I really think the only real way of doing it is to live in Brazil for a bit but that is not possible any time soon. I just don't want to miss the language boat so to speak! smile It is hard work to raise a bilingual child but I think that it is hugely beneficial and a massive opportunity for the children.

MarasmeAbsolu Mon 12-Nov-12 20:15:37

I am just going to echo on what a few posters have said.

My mother tongue is French, but having been here for >12years, I do not find any spontaneity into speaking in French to my DD. And I doubt it will change when the second one is born.
I don't know if it's the fact that I worked very hard to reach complete fluency in English and in the process "erased" some of the intrinsic reliance on my French vocab etc.

I don't know how others in my position feel, but I am usually really sick of meeting new people and introducing my DD, because the assumption usually is "oh, she must be bilingual". Upon finding out that she is not, people openly decide to criticize my parenting, and how I am denying her "an incredible chance in life". I usually do not care about peoples opinion much, but there are occasions when it really annoys. Especially when it comes from people who are not bilingual. DH himself (who is English) does not care. He does not like speaking full stop grin

I must say that while I thought it would be easy before DD was born, I knew pretty much straight away after birth that it would not quite be the case. I cannot 'think' about her otherwise than in English.

Ellle Tue 13-Nov-12 10:23:18

I find this very interesting (your experience MarasmeAbsolu and the one of other posters as well) and how that led to the decision of not passing your mother tongue language to your child.

I can of sort of relate to it to a point. I had been living away from my country for almost 10 years by the time my DS was born. Four of those years in an English speaking country (England), the other five in Japan where English was very useful and the language I used the most to communicate when I struggled with Japanese.

By the time my son was born, I was used to thinking in English 90% of the time. I only used Spanish when I communicated with my parents back home. I didn't know how I was going to be able to pass on my language (Spanish) when English came so naturally to me and I had forgotten many of my words in Spanish or there was a whole new context of baby words that I had not used when I used to live back in my country.

I suppose I was lucky that my mum came to stay with me the first 9 weeks after the birth. I talked to her in Spanish all the time, and I heard my mum talking to my son in Spanish all the time as well, even the baby talk. By the time she left, I had already got used to seeing my son as a Spanish speaker, and could only talk to him in Spanish. English felt out of place with him.
By doing this, eventually it felt less of an effort. And by reading books to him, finding DVDs in Spanish, and as many opportunities to practice Spanish with him, my Spanish came back again and it felt natural.

I guess everyone's experience is difference, but raising a child bilingual is by no means a given thing. I have found that it takes a lot of effort and investment, and can only come from a very strong determination and will to do it. Having said that, even if you give it your best shot, it would also depend on your child and not all children have a love for languages.

Anyway, for the OP, you cannot force your husband to speak in French to your DCs if he doesn't feel like it. But you can help by creating as many opportunities as possible (all the advice previously given is spot on, TV shows, DVDs, Youtube, books, French clubs, etc) and this in turn might help to make it easier on your husband so that it becomes more natural for him to talk to them in French.

Good luck!

Bonsoir Wed 14-Nov-12 20:27:07

I had lived in France for 12 years when DD was born (and I spoke French fluently before moving here, having spent part of my childhood in a French-speaking environment) and we are a French-speaking family (I speak French to DP and my two DSSs) but I have never, ever found it difficult to speak English to DD, who is 8 and speaks perfect English. I am surprised at all the parents who find it difficult to speak their MT to their own children.

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