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bilingualism causing arguments between dh and i

(48 Posts)
ididnt Tue 29-Jan-13 12:06:41

Dh is French, I'm English. We meet and lived in France for 4 years before coming back to the UK where our two sons were born. Dh and i soak French between ourselves and it respective native languages to the boys. Ds 1 is 8, has a good grasp of French mostly aural and doesn't speak it apart from when speaking to French relatives. It is pretty basic French and he often misunderstands his dad.I soak fluent French and dh thinks I should be speaking to the boys on French so that their French is stronger. I don't mind practising some French with them but it doesn't feel natural speaking with them in French all the time. Dh and I argue about it every now and then because he hates that his son doesn't understand him and sees it as partially my fault because I won't soak in French with him. Now he's concerned that the same thing will happen with Ds 2 so the arguments have started again. Anyone have any advice?

ididnt Tue 29-Jan-13 12:07:22

Sorry about all the mistakes, I'm new to my phonegrin blush

PhyllisDoris Tue 29-Jan-13 12:10:20

Have you tried to get them into a French after school club, or tried to meet up with other French speaking families?

Google L'Alliance Francaise.

Otherwise, I'd pack them off to France for long periods in the holdays to stay with French relatives (without you, so there is no option to speak English).

Also, get some French kids' DVDs, and subscribe to French channels on TV - go for maximum exposure. CDs of French songs to sing along to in the car - that sort of thing.

LadyMargolotta Tue 29-Jan-13 12:12:28

It can be difficult for a parent to presevere and teach their child the minority language.

I don't think you should be speaking french to your children as it is not your mother tongue, and they need a good grasp of english at home for their education. You need to feel natural while conversing with your own children.

What I would do is try and get then speaking french in other ways - more trips to France, French lessons, French social groups.

How much time does your dh spend with your ds? Can he have them a whole day at the weekends, so it is just him and the children, and exclusively French?

BertieBotts Tue 29-Jan-13 12:12:45

You're both right in a way, but you should probably piick one method and stick with it smile

One is OPOL - one parent one language - which means that you should each speak your native language to the child and never in the other language. This way they get a good grasp of both languages.

The other is that both parents should speak the minority language - so in your case as you live in the UK you should both speak French.

Either way I've heard it's common for DC to refuse to speak one particular language or act as though they don't understand it even though you have seen them speak it e.g. with their peers or relatives etc, so it might be this is what your DS is doing?

Snusmumriken Tue 29-Jan-13 12:14:28

Could the two of you try and introduce more French into your lives in other ways? For example, French children's tv shows, music and play dates with other French speaking families?
Does your DH spend a lot of time with your children? Could you encourage him to read to them more?

Snusmumriken Tue 29-Jan-13 12:14:54

X post

battyralphie Tue 29-Jan-13 12:15:50

What Phyllis said about DVDs etc. You could (try to) make a rule that all or most media should be in French, you can order things so easily via amazon etc. Could you not try to establish a few days a week where you speak French too? Maybe make weekends just French? To find a compromise between speaking French all the time and just practicing a bit?

ididnt Tue 29-Jan-13 13:09:33

Thanks for all the quick replies, was expecting to have to wait a while! Will try and address them all.

We did used to have all our DVDs in French as well as a xmall collection of kids books in French. But I think it was around school age that he refused to watch them anymore. Likewise, he didn't want dh to read to him in French anymore. So dh started reading in English, we swapped French for English DVDs and that was that. We've tried a few times since to reintroduce, but he'd rather not watch/read anything than do it in French confused

I am not comfortable speaking full time in French,as I said, and I was always under the impression that having chosen a method one should stick to it - we chose OPOL and so, imo, we stick to it. But it's not working as dh would like hence him wanting to change method. I'm not sure a few days a week of me speaking French is a particularly good idea - as well as which, when I've tried in the past to have a whole day in French, I always end up reverting back to English, because it feels wrong for me to speak French with my kids.

We've looked into after-school French clubs, and ds1's French is better than what we've come across. I think he'd be bored. We know two other francophone families: one the couple is French and desperately want their son to speak more English and the other who has a much older girl confused. Neither seem to offer the right situation for a play together! There is a local French Saturday group, but dh dpesn't drive, so it would mean me taking the boys and again, English is bound to creep back in.

The long holidays with grandparents we had considered before, but dh is concerned - they are not particularly good with children, in spite of having 12 grandchildren, dh's dad is getting old and I think would find it hard. No point in even asking dh's siblings, they are mostly estranged apart from one brother who.... well, it just wouldn't work for the time being (that's a whole other thread though!)

Dh does spend time with the boys, but not an awful lot so as they'd actually have to talk! I could try and encourage him in that sense as well as encourage him to start reading in French again. We don't have a whole lot of money to be buying all new books in French - is it possible to get such things through the local library?

Bertie I think it is almost certianly a bit of this. I heard him a few weeks ago maintain a very respectable conversation in French with his mamie on skype, yet he never ever speaks like that with his dad. Any idea why they do this? Or ways around it?

Will def google l'Allian Francaise, thank you.

PhyllisDoris Tue 29-Jan-13 13:20:08

I've got a feeling you blew it when you caved in and allowed DCs the choice to not watch French DVDs and reading to him in French. Like anything else that's worthwhile, you have to be firm with kids, and stick to your guns.
Kids hate being labled as "different", and speaking French probably makes DS1 feel different.

I think you have to decide on a rule (eg French Fridays) and stick to it. If they speak to you in English, answer in French. If you're not comfortable speaking French to the kids, then DH needs to take matters into his own hands and organise a regular time when he's with the kids on his own, and English is forbidden. Again, if they do speak English, then he must respond in French. That way, they will at least understand and assimilte the language, even if they chose not to speak it themselves.

Once they realise you and he mean business, they'll learn to put up with it, even if they don't enjoy it. Just don't give them the option!

When they start formally learning French - even if this isn't for years - they'll probably find they know more than they think, and learning it will come easier to them.

LadyMargolotta Tue 29-Jan-13 13:24:11

Well it's extrememly unfair of your dh to blame you for the lack of french spoken to your children, when you say 'So dh started reading in English'!

Your dh needs to persevere with speaking French to your sons.

Good idea to go to your local library and ask them to order French books.

Also, it's worth thinking about the saturday French club, even if you drive them there although maybe your dh can take them there on public transport, and try and have that whole day of just French (giving you a day offwink)

ididnt Tue 29-Jan-13 19:08:30

Phyllis funny, as I was typing my last post I though exactly what you just said - the moment we started anglophone media was the moment we failed! I know ds1 definitely feels different - I know in the past he's been asked several times at school to talk in French and he's hated it. They've just started lessons at school (year 3) and I think he might be enjoying being better than everyone else at something, though grin

When you say 'they'll learn to put up with it, even if they don't enjoy it', is there not then a danger of putting them off? That has always been my worry, that if we forced too hard with the French, it would go the other way and make them even less likely to want to speak it? I may be completely wrong and am open to trying your advice - French Fridays sounds good to me, and is something I will mention. I need to stock to it as much as they do though!

Dh is very strict with himself now that it's probably too late, in that even if ds1 replies in English he'll still carry on talking in French. He doesn't make it easy for ds though, I don't think, in that he uses vocab that I wouldn't use to speak to any kid, let alone my struggling bilingual one!

Will see about the French club, see if dh would be willing to stay with them if I dropped them off.

Thanks again for the advice, you've given me some things to work with smile

fraktion Tue 29-Jan-13 19:27:10

'He doesn't make it easy for ds though, I don't think, in that he uses vocab that I wouldn't use to speak to any kid, let alone my struggling bilingual one!'

That I suspect is partly cultural. Anglophones and francophones sometimes have different ideas on how to speak to children.

I think your DH needs to go hardcore OPOL. Everything is in French around Daddy as of tomorrow. Books, DVDs, conversation, games. Everything. That may mean that you need to join in family play in French and be strict with yourself about only speaking French even to the children then even if your primary method is OPOL.

It's certainly not easy to keep up a minority language but good luck! If the need is there it will come.

fraktion Tue 29-Jan-13 19:28:20

Also school needs to stop exhibiting your DS as their pet bilingual student. That's not fair and will put him off the language.

Greythorne Tue 29-Jan-13 19:30:50


Interesting logic that your son does not speak better French because you don't speak to him - with your imperfect French - in French.

dreamingbohemian Tue 29-Jan-13 19:33:46

I'm probably biased, as we are not doing OPOL, but I do think you should consider some compromises, like French Fridays. Just because you chose one method when DS was a baby doesn't necessarily mean you should stick to it now that he's older and has his own personality and preferences.

My DH is French-German and grew up in various countries, when he was around 6 he suddenly refused to speak French at home, he just wanted to speak German or English. I think his parents just sort of humoured him and he outgrew it. He's now trilingual.

He has three siblings and they all had very different outcomes in terms of languages, even though they were raised the same. So I don't think you can say that any particular method will have a definite outcome really.

Are you in London? They're opening quite a few new bilingual schools in Wandsworth apparently...

LillianGish Tue 29-Jan-13 19:59:34

Dh does spend time with the boys, but not an awful lot so as they'd actually have to talk! Sorry, but I think it's down to him. They aren't going to speak French just because he wants them to especially now you are living in England - what's the point? That's not my opinion, but I think how that's how kids see it. My dcs are bilingual English/French - they used to speak fluent German when we lived there, but they don't speak it now - what's the point? Again, not my opinion, but theirs. They soon learned German when they realised they'd have to to join in all the playground banter, understand what their swimming teacher was saying, watch cartoons - in fact they couldn't understand why I was so slow on the uptake - but as soon as we moved to the UK they lost it because there was no reason for them to keep it up. If your dcs are in an English school then it's down to your dh. My sil is French, but her dcs speak no French because she didn't used to speak it with them and when she finally realised it might have been a good idea to do so it was too late - they knew they could speak to her in English, no point speaking French. I think it requires quite an effort to insist on bilingualism - it doesn't just happen - I think that unless you are going to put them in a French school then that effort will have to come from your dh.

nailak Tue 29-Jan-13 20:04:07

you should talk to your kids in the language you are most comfortable in, unless your french is perfect, perfect grammar etc then stick to english as it will actually be bad for them.

Rosa Tue 29-Jan-13 20:09:29

To be honest I have found that my dds are not confused when I speak one or both languages. Dh is Italian I am English and we live in Italy. In the house we speak Italian between dh and I - DD1 now 6 is fluent in English and will reply to me when I speak in English. Often we talk in English and also in Italian. The Tv is generally in English and they watch dvds in both languages - they don't express a preference. I tend to read in English and dh in Italian and we read lots. When dd meets relatives or English speaking people she is shy but will reply. Her vocab often needs topping up and since she started elementary school we have halted on the written English simply to avoid confusion.
However when they were little I spoke exclusive English and dh Italian until pre school . Here I stopped as they were finding it hard to tell me what they did as they only knew the Italian words. From my experience speaking my 'foreign' language hasn't hindered my dd . I just try to ensure I balance it out with English.

Rosa Tue 29-Jan-13 20:10:40

When I make a mistake in Italian dd has corrected me smile

littleducks Tue 29-Jan-13 20:13:41

I'm less convinced with the strict OPOL approach. DH can speak English and 3 other asian languages (2 well 1 badly) as his was exposed to them all, as everyone in his family was 'back home.' I can only speak English properly blush

I wonder if something like French family dinner time a couple of times a week or french boardgames would work. If you speak french to dh anyway its just an extension of that.

EvenIfYouSeeAPoppy Tue 29-Jan-13 20:25:42

We live in Germany, always have done, dh is German, I'm a Brit, we speak German together and do OPOL with the dc. They've always been to German-only schools and nurseries.

I doubt very much that the English would work if I weren't very strict indeed about OPOL. Which means I speak English to the children all the time - even when walking across the marketplace in the small town we've been living in for a year and a bit and attracting stares confused. It means I read to them in English every evening - and have taught the elder one to read in English using phonics - and the vast majority of their books, DVDs etc are in English. Because I am so consistent about it, they have never really had the idea of speaking to me in German (except, say, when German friends are there). I think we've also been lucky in that they've never felt self-conscious about it (that's reserved to me - I get so so sick of people stopping dead and staring ion the most obvious way when they hear me talking to the dc out and about - but I have developed a v thick skin). I do think you have to be quite committed to keeping the minority language up.

Can your dh set some time aside with the children to not just speak French, but also focus on French things, aspects of culture, things he enjoyed as a child? Any old schoolbooks, photos etc. he has? That might draw them in again and get them engaged with that part of their heritage.

MmeLindor Tue 29-Jan-13 20:36:05

We haven't been strict with the OPOL and it has worked fine for us.

DH is German, I am British, we lived in Germany till DD was 6yo, then French speaking Switzerland for 3 years. Moved to UK last year.

The DC both speak mainly English (we spoke a lot of English in Geneva), pretty good German and good French. DH speaks German with them when he is here - he is based in Munich atm so only here for weekends, and I speak a mix of German and English. I use German when they are being naughty smile

I think in your case, if your DH want the DC to be more fluent in French, he has to commit to spending more time chatting with him. Taking them places where they have to talk a bit, such a museum would be good.

At the same time, he may have to accept that, like many 'bilingual' people, his sons will have a stronger language and a weaker language. If they ever need to use their French language skills, they will find it extremely easy to add vocabulary - the basis is there already, they just need to add to it.

I find it really important to give DC the feeling of being special because they speak an extra language - give them a reason to feel proud of their French skills. Can you find a really cool TV series or film that doesn't exist in English? We got DS back to German by letting him watch Die Wilde Kerle - a film about football.

dreamingbohemian Tue 29-Jan-13 20:46:17

I don't think your French needs to be perfect to speak to your DC in French -- you say are fluent? Surely the odd mistake here and there is not the end of the world?

It sounds like this is really frowned upon in OPOL but in practice I know lots of people who would do this.

I really think you need to do what's best for your family and not worry about whether it's 100% correct according to theory.

Branleuse Wed 30-Jan-13 06:52:21

i think you should speak more french to them. If you speak to your dh in french, surely that feels natural. Try and make french the home language if you want them to improve fluency. Or maybe there is a french saturday school somewhere near you

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