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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?

fraktion Wed 30-Jan-13 11:11:30

I don't think OPOL means never, ever speaking the other language to your DC. That, IMO, is hardcore OPOL (which is what your DH needs to do). It does mean that when you're alone you only speak your language or you're the one who initiates a conversely ok with the children but it doesn't include DH. As soon as DH enters into it you can switch to French.

I would say we do OPOL but it's flexi. If I open my mouth to speak to DS I speak English, DH speaks French, but it's difficult to carry on a conversation with, say, my PILs which involves DS if I'm constantly switching to English so I stick with French. Also if I need to join in a conversation DH started with DS I will speak French. My French isn't perfect but I think there I'm demonstrating the social courtesy that you adapt to other people.

If I noticed DS's English dropping dramatically I'd do hardcore OPOL and get DH to adapt the language to me.

BertieBotts Wed 30-Jan-13 11:22:39

I don't know what you would do about the refusal. Just keep speaking it around him and don't make it a big deal I guess? If it's a rebellion thing then he'll probably grow out of it, it's not like he'll forget the French that he's learned, and he'll presumably be grateful as an adult and if he wants to improve it then, then he will.

ididnt Wed 30-Jan-13 13:20:40

Lillian that's completely my opinion too - there is no point to him talking French here, he knows dh can understand/speak English, so there's no need to make the effort. When in France however, he can and does speak French, albeit imperfectly.
Fraktion he started last night - dug out some French story books and read to him in French last night!
dreaming we're not in London, but there is a French Saturday school locally which we are going to investigate further. Now just to get ds1 on side... I think, after talking a lot we are going to try for French Fridays.
Rosa I think, as fraktion mentioned up thread, that if dh is already talking with ds in French and I join the conversation, I will also continue in French. As fraktion says, it seems polite and more logical, but I was so fixed on the hardcore OPOL that I though I needed to always speak in English, when in fact, for us, I think it needs to be more nuanced. My French is good enough to teach them, I don't make grammatical errors, my vocab is not very wide, but is largely sufficient for this (and I hav just graduated from a French degree wink)
MmeLindor I really ike the idea of finding a French film/programme that hasn't been translated that will be a treat to watch. I think that would really help. Will need to get googling on that too!

PhyllisDoris Thu 31-Jan-13 00:03:26

Good luck! X

Louison Sun 03-Feb-13 18:25:20

Hello !
I'm french and my partner is Scottish. As far as I know you should speak to your kids in your native langage. My half brother is german (by dad) and french by mum. He has almost lied all the time in France and his german is not very good to be honest... Kids are probably more confident with the langage from the country where they live I guess. On top of that french is not easy to get as you may know.
But as i told you, fir having spoke about that with some french mum in uk, you should speak to your kids in your native langage.

cory Mon 04-Feb-13 21:02:50

"As far as I know you should speak to your kids in your native langage."

There are no rules; people will tell you what has worked for them; that doesn't mean something else can't work for somebody else.

I have spoken both my own and dh's language to dc since they were born and he has spoken his and (to a lesser extent) mine. They never had a problem distinguishing between the two languages and it didn't take them long to work out that daddy's Swedish accent was not something to be emulated. At 16 and 12 they are fluent in both languages.

The OPs approach sounds good to me.

Louison Wed 06-Feb-13 22:36:12

I absolutely didnt say that was a rule ! Its just from my experience and thats what the pediatrician has recommended to my mum. She wanted some opinions I just gave mine so relax man !

ididnt Thu 07-Feb-13 09:19:51

I had heard that OPOL was what was widely accepted to be the best way to encourage bilingualism. However, I am very encouraged to see that many people who have replied to my OP have had positive experiences of mixing it up, and as my French is good enough to do that, that is what we will try.

French Friday went brilliantly lasg week. Ds1 had a bit of a strop about it in the morning, but got into the swing of it pretty quickly. We've had a look at the local Sat. morning language school and it looks great, but persuading ds to spend his Sat. morning there will be something else. We may have to shelve this for the time being. Dh is now reading stories to him in French and we are visiting the local library this afternoon when I will ask about French language books.

May I just ask though, I am a bit concerned that the swapping between languages may impact ds2's lnaguage acquisition (he's 16mo). Any advice/ideas?

Suki52 Thu 07-Feb-13 13:45:21

Hello, where are you located?
I'm running a French network in Berkshire so if you're in the area, please let me know (I'm also working on a French library project). I've put together this resources blog last year I agree with the above: your DH needs to speak to your children in French only. Even if your little ones reply in English (as mine do to me, I'm French, my dh is English), he needs to keep on talking in French. There are loads of games on the net, videos, etc that could interest your DS. Anything in French will help: cooking recipes (my daughter (5) impressed herself by reading the ingredients in French by herself the other day), making things (why not a castle in cardboard with knights?), or simply playing in French. It will come. The key is not to give up, and be consistent. I also agree with the other posts about you speaking to your children in English only. Bilingualism is hard work for children sometimes but then again it's a constant learning curve for us adults too, isn't it? even in our own language! I think the secret is not to make it too heavy or too difficult to learn. There are days when they are more tired than others, when a little bit of French play is enough. And other days when they show more interest and that's when they learn with enthusiasm. It's all about exposure really but hte key work is definitely consistency... Good luck!

deleted203 Thu 07-Feb-13 13:50:13

I have a friend who is married to a German (they lived in Germany for 4 years pre-children) and they tried the OPOL bit when they had children in the UK. For them, it didn't work. The children spoke English at home with mother and at pre-school/school and when Dad came home and spoke German to them he got frustrated with getting one word answers, and would switch to English. My friend also found that her German was getting rusty as she was no longer speaking it. They switched to speaking only German at home, figuring that the children would speak English at school and outside the home and it has worked very successfully for them. DCs are now in their teens and equally comfortable in either language.

ididnt Thu 07-Feb-13 18:12:13

Suki have PM'd you.

Consistency is definitely the key. I'm still a bit worried that French Friday is gonna have a negative effect on ds2's language learning, so I'm a bit uneasy about it. I'm not totally on board with swapping to French full time though. There are just some things I need to be able to say in my own language confused.

Branleuse Sun 10-Feb-13 14:08:07

my dd goes to french saturday morning school. She has kicked up a fuss but is fine once shes there. I use bribery to get her there. Its worth it. Its her heritage, plus its been BRILLIANT for her french.

French friday is a brilliant idea and i would definitely do something like that if my french was better

GingerbreadGretel Sun 10-Feb-13 14:17:38

Have you found the Institut Francais in London? They have loads of French films, shows, etc, also a library.

Lots of French beach places have kids clubs run in French, that might work as an immersion technique? My DS enjoyed the one at St Malo run by their yacht club and was the only English speaking child so had to attempt French.

MerryMarigold Sun 10-Feb-13 14:25:35

I think if they are in this country and surrounded by English, that their French will not be very good, if you don't speak it to them. My dc don't speak their father's language because I can't speak it and he doesn't see them enough. I think you need to decide if you want their French to be good, and if you want them to be bilingual. If you do, you will have to speak to them in it. If you speak to your dh in French, you must be very fluent, I don't see that it would be so hard to have French as the language at home.

ididnt Sun 10-Feb-13 20:42:13

Merry no, you're right, it wouldn't be hard, but I've always spoken to dh in French so that is natural to us, whereas I've only ever really spoken in English to my dcs, so that feels more natural than French, iyswim.

Gingerbread when we're in France, with family, his French just takes off, it's at home that we have the most trouble! He spends most of the summer with a French cousin (we all stay at my in-laws) so speaks a lot of French over the holidays, it's just he switches it off once we're back in England.

French Friday seems to be a happy compromise for us at the moment, and it has certainly appeased dh and made him feel more positive about the amount of French input the boys are getting..

I have joined a local French network (merci Suki!) which will soon be opening a library, but will have a look at l'Institut Francais all the same.

ruthyroo Wed 20-Feb-13 06:31:59

It's interesting that he speaks much better and more French happily when he's with his cousin. I would guess that his resistance to speaking it at home and with his dad is situational ie he doesn't like to be different and he resists being told what to do - like most children his age! A friend if mine who is a linguist did a talk for our expats group on bilingualism in children and she touched on the subject of language rejection. Her advice was let it go, don't take it personally, respect your child's decision, but if you do want to actively tackle it do it in positive ways - pretty much exactly as you have been doing. I would suspect that even if he's resisting speaking French with daddy, it'll all be going in there somewhere - to be called on when he needs it ie with his Mamie and his cousin! My friend also told us that she - of French mother English father brought up in England - totally rejected her French for a while. Then she got over it and ended up living, working in France married to a Frenchman! And now she is the minority language parent and understands her mothers situation a lot better!

mikkii Sat 02-Mar-13 15:26:26

My DH is half Spanish, half Italian. He was born on K and learnt English from his older brothers. With DS the plan was OPOL but as the main carer when ds was small English won out. We tried Spanish club at school, but ability was below ds's level. We sent him to stay with friends 18 months ago for 3 weeks in the summer holidays, where the daddy works and speaks a some English. Mummy spoke no English and looked after the kids. They also sent to him to holiday club in the local town with their children and other friends so ds had to speak Spanish. DD1is now asking when it ill be her turn! For now, we let her visit he friends house without us when we are away. I get a lot of pressure from DH re Spanish club/lessons, but the money only goes so far. I am hoping to get some private lessons for them together if another friend will take on n additional class sometime soon.

lookout Tue 12-Mar-13 17:38:53

Well, we just had another massive fight about it. Apparently one day of French a week is now not enough, it needs to be the whole weekend. Whilst he makes no effort to do any more activities with his sons, thus speaking French to them more often.

Ranting and very cross about it all now. Am I wrong in finding it so hard to switch to French as home language? I don't know what else to do now.

lookout Tue 12-Mar-13 17:40:05

Sorry, I name changed since my last message, I was ididnt before

MIFLAW Fri 15-Mar-13 13:40:10

I think that, regardless of approach (I am non-native OPOL which confuses some people!) the things that decide this are:

1) consistency
2) a need to use the language
3) a perceived benefit in using the language

So, with my children, I never, EVER speak English to them (1); we went through a phase at about 2.5 when I would just say "je ne comprends pas" when my elder daughter spoke to me in English (will be doing the same with the little one at that point too!) and prior to that a question in English got a "remodelling" and response in French (2); and there have been trips to France, trips to the French children's library and the French cinema in South Kensington (lucky to live in London, though there is also a library in Edinburgh and Oxfrod I think), French story time with books not readily available in English, learning to twist to the sounds of Les Chaussettes Noires (!) - basically, loads of "us time" with their father (me) is closely identified with French (3).

The result? Well, my elder daughter speaks exclusively in French to me and attends a French Saturday school for bilinguals and French monolinguals where she is far from being the weakest student in her class - even though I am not a native French speaker, she is!

CoucouCache Fri 15-Mar-13 20:26:13

Yes, I'm afraid I do think you're wrong to resist switching to French as the home language ... sorry if that's not what you want to hear.

My French probably isn't as fluent as yours (DH and I have always spoken in English) and I switched to French for two weeks - those two weeks nearly killed me and I begged to stop after a week, but my 5 yo DD wanted to continue as it really helped her. After two weeks, I was allowed to revert back to English and DD and DH continued speaking French to each other ... and they haven't stopped since.

I think if you are serious about your DC speaking French, speaking French yourself isn't too much to ask. YOu can always switch back once the French has been established.


lookout Sat 16-Mar-13 13:58:45

Thanks both for your replies. We have reached a compromise I think. French is now the family language - any time we are all together we will all speak French. English is only for when I'm alone with the kids. Hopefully this will work once we get used to it.

massistar Sat 13-Apr-13 15:55:46

Have been reading this with interest as I have a similar problem!

My DH is Italian, I am British and we live in the UK. We've done OPOL since they were born but now that they are 4 and 8 DH thinks I should speak to them in Italian as well. I'm fairly fluent with a good accent but it just doesn't come naturslly. Especially when it comes to telling them off grin

Their Italian improves loads when we go on holiday there so I'd like Italian to be the language in the home if we can. Must try harder!

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