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Can non native speaker raise bilingual child?

(29 Posts)
alusnitcher Wed 04-Jun-14 12:29:55

Just wanted some opinions/advice, please do say if you think I'm being ridiculous! I speak fluent French, although my accent isn't perfect, people usually think I'm Spanish when there. I teach French and Spanish and have friends in France. I'm de determined to bring my 10 week old dd up bilingual but do you think it's really possible as a non native speaker? I prattle on only in French to her all the time, sing her songs etc in French. The plan is for me to speak exclusively French and dp to do English. We'll go to France as much as poss as well.

Something I've been wondering as well is the following; when I meet up with for example the Nct group, we speak English, so she'll hear me speak English then. So I can't be 100% French speaking in front of her. Is this an issue? Also she won't really hear me speak French to anyone else, have searched in vain for French kids groups etc where I live (w yorkshire). Could it still work!?

Any thoughts greatly appreciated☺

Bonsoir Wed 04-Jun-14 12:43:42

I think that you will need more than just you to make it work. My DD is a "natural bilingual" - I am English, DP and the DSSs are French and we live in Paris. I speak English to DD and the rest of the family speaks French. She has attended a bilingual school since she was 2.10, we go to England 8+ times a year, she goes on English-speaking summer residential camps and I buy endless DVDs and books in English. We have loads of pluringual families around us and do activities in either language all the time.

DrankSangriaInThePark Wed 04-Jun-14 12:53:01

No she can't ever be bilingual. Very few people can, even bilingual ones grin I have only ever spoken to dd in English, and dp in Italian. To a non-expert, she is probably bilingual. But as times goes on, I notice that her proficiency in both languages vacillates, according to where she is. She is 10, and whilst I have no fears that she will always be near-native, I wonder if she will lose some more of the total bilingualism that she had as a small child.

What she can be, is highly fluent (possibly even near native speaker fluency) as long as she has the exposure to the languages from an early age.

My degree is French and Spanish, and I am passionate about the latter. I am already planning on shipping dd off for months at a time etc etc hopeful that this is a passion I can pass onto her.

But it would be ridiculous for me, as a native English speaker to speak Spanish to her instead of English (which is kind of what I think you are suggesting, if I have understood correctly?)

schlafenfreude Wed 04-Jun-14 19:26:38

There was a poster - MIFLAW - doing this but I think he was near bilingual and a university lecturer who had spent large amounts of time in France himself. Or something. And he lived in London so had plenty of francophone support.

We are raising our DC bilingual my using OPOL, but also trying to encourage fluent Welsh. However given that there are no Welsh speakers locally and my Welsh is not native (and I can spot my deficiencies) I don't expect them to become trilingual. So I'd go with fluent French for your DD and that's already a huge gift.

alusnitcher Wed 04-Jun-14 19:53:02

Interesting comments, thanks. You're right, achieving 'bilingualism' is completely unrealistic. I suppose I meant fluent, given the lack of support around I guess I can continue to expose her to French and aim perhaps for her to end up very competent or something like that.

I know drinksangria it does sound a bit ridiculous but I did hear someone on radio 4 talking about how they had done it, which inspired me to have a go. Having no experience of these matters it's really helpful to hear yours.

alusnitcher Wed 04-Jun-14 19:54:44

Also will see if I can find any threads with that poster Schlafenfreude, thanks☺

SizzlesSit Wed 04-Jun-14 20:00:37

I know someone doing this with German.

Im a bit dubious to be honest. You can give her an excellent exposure to the language but she wont be bilingual, possibly not fluent either

However, its not the end of the world. I learnt French at school. No one in my family speaks French. I now live in France and am fluent (live and work in French ina high-powered job) so not being exposed from birth didnt matter.

halfdrunktea Mon 16-Jun-14 08:36:49

I know someone who speaks French to her DCs, but she has a French mother and was raised bilingually. She is the only mother I have met who's constantly speaking another language to her children. Her DH doesn't speak French so I think she wants to maximise their exposure.
I think they could certainly acquire a lot of vocabulary and grammar.

Ellle Mon 16-Jun-14 23:37:33

I say go for it. If you have a high level of fluency in French, and are determined to do it, and think both you and your dd will enjoy it, then I don't see why you shouldn't.

Obviously, there are various levels of bilingualism, from the highest at one end of the spectrum (true bilingual with equal proficiency in both languages in all areas) to the lowest ones where one language is only passive and might be in just one of the areas (listening, or reading).
So, as long as you are clear and realistic in your expectations, you should be fine. As others said, only few achieve the "true bilingualism", but I think whatever level in between you child can get it will always be higher than none.

If you do choose to speak exclusively in French to her (the more exposure the better), when you go to NCT/playgroups you keep doing this, while at the same time you talk with the other mothers in English.
Yes, eventually your dd will realise you can speak both languages, but by the time she can question this she would be already used to talking to you in French and will continue doing so out of habit (that's what you aim for).This is what I a did with my now 5 year-old son, and I am currently doing with my 1 year-old baby.

Depending on your level of fluency, you might find that on occasion it is hard for you to only talk to her in French. Either you don't know all the vocabulary for more complex topics of conversation as your child grows up or find it more natural to revert to your mother-tongue language when you are upset or emotional. My husband, despite being English, is exclusively talking in the minority language to our children as he is quite fluent in it. It has never been a problem.

One thing I have noticed is that most children that I know who are in an OPOL environment don't seem to have as high level of bilingualism (i.e. they understand the minority language but reply in the majority language). So although I know the OPOL method can be successful, I personally think it is more challenging as there is less exposure for the minority language.

Go to France as much as possible, get lots of books and DVDs in French, and if you can try the rule of TV shows only in French (that we used with great success).

It can totally work. Best of luck!

weegiemum Mon 16-Jun-14 23:53:23

My dc are as bilingual as we've been able to make them!

We only speak English at home (though ds can swear in fluent weegie!)

However, they've all been educated through the medium of Gaelic since age 3. They attend the only 3-18 Gaelic school in Scotland and it's amazing watching/listening to them (now age 10, 12 and 14, just coming to the end of P6, P7 and S2) nattering away in Gaelic to teachers, friends, old ladies who we meet on our frequent trips to the Hebrides, music teachers etc.

Dd1, our eldest, is just starting exam courses and she will sit maths and history through Gaelic, as well as English, Ghaidhlig (Gaelic native speakers), French, Spanish, Art, Design&Manufacture and Physics.

All of our dc have turned out to be good at languages, maths and music (they play traditional and classical instruments) which is often seen as a benefit of bilingualism.

We regularly get weird looks (especially from family!) at our choice, and no, there's not a huge international benefit to speaking Gaelic, but bilingualism, or even fluency, in and of itself is a great thing. Our dcs school has a motto "Da Canan, Da Chultur, Iomad Cothrom" (Two Languages, Two Cultures, Many Opportunities") and I suppose that's what we're aiming for!

Go for it. I think, as long as you can communicate as well as possible with your child, then they will do well with the opportunity you are giving them.

steppemum Tue 17-Jun-14 00:13:54

It is totally possible to raise a bi-lingual child by having each parent speak one language to the child. You have to work hard though to make the second language as wide in terms of vocab. The second language is usually the one which isn't spoken in the community

The usual advice is that you always talk TO the child in (in your case) French, even if you talk to other adults in English and even if she answers in English, you only talk to her in French.

I would raise a couple of things to think about though. If French is not your mother tongue, will you feel that you can communicate to the depth and breadth of your own language with her? Are there things you can't say effectively in French?
To make it work, you have to continue until she is end of primary before you slacken up and introduce English (from you) and even then continue it.
Also, studies have shown that it is much easier to do if your dp at least understands French. If you end up having to translate back and forth, it usually becomes too difficult.

It is a great gift, People talk about baby Einstein type activities, but really being bi-lingual gives the brain so many advantages.

Go for it as long as you can!

MadameDefarge Tue 17-Jun-14 00:27:10

No. You must communicate with your child in your mother tongue. Other languages can be introduced alongside this, but your child needs the deep knowledge of language you communicate in your mother tongue in order to a) be adept in that language and b) learn another.

OneLittleToddleTerror Wed 18-Jun-14 22:37:04

I would say go for it.

We are doing OPOL with DD and I speak the minority language to her. DH doesn't know the minority language. I agree you just have to be realistic at what you are aiming for. I don't expect true biligualism. A passive knowledge of listening would be enough for me. There is ofc the benefit to brain development.

Like Ellie have mentioned with many OPOL families, DD replies only in English and she is 3yo. When she was younger she has about 50/50 single words in both languages. She has never made the leap to making sentences in the minority language. And now she only uses one word in the minority language and everything else is in English. (The one word is cuddles. She uses it in English sentences).

She can understand me in the minority language, most of the time. But sometimes if it's something complicated I can tell she can't undestand. You have to be prepared for that. Also although I'm a native speaker of the minority language, I left over 20 years ago as a teen and I don't use it in my day to day life. This means although I have no accent and don't have grammatical mistakes, I have large gaps in my vocabulary. If there are foods, animals, anything I don't know the word of in the minority language, I simply use the English word with DD.

Also DD always know I can speak English. It is inevitable when I speak it to everyone but her. And more irritatingly my family and others who speak my language always speak to DD in English. Even broken and heavily accented English. I think the fact that she speaks in English to everyone naturally lead others to reply in English.

Maia290 Wed 23-Jul-14 22:51:09

I don't think it is impossible, but I can honestly say that bringing up your children bilingually is very difficult, even I am a native speaker of a foreing language, and my son is not speaking the language to me (very frustating!).

I am often reading blogs about bilinguism and I have seen 2 people succeeding at non being native speakers and getting their children to speak the language to them. I recommend you reading this blog written by an american mum not being native at German who speaks German to her daughter, her daughter speaks German to her:

And this other article from a mum who speaks some Cantonese and managed to bring up his son speaking Cantonese:

Good luck!

AnnaBegins Wed 23-Jul-14 22:58:56

It is completely possible and I hope to do this when I have kids. Check out MIFLAW's posts and the bringing up baby bilingual blog.

Just because you are fluent rather than bilingual, doesn't mean your dc won't be bilingual - they will be as it will be one of their two first languages.

Please don't be put off by the first few posters!

tastyberries Sat 26-Jul-14 21:22:12

I am the op of this, just changed names. Thanks for the advice, really helpful. I think it's v true about having realistic expectations. Maybe I already said that! Anyway, I'm enjoying persevering with it and hope to achieve a passive understanding and vocab use. Thanks Maia I will check out that blog. Anna I've had a read of MIFLAW's posts, v interesting. Shame he seems not to be on mumsnet any more or to do his blog. Wonder how he's getting on.

tastyberries Sat 26-Jul-14 21:25:39

Forgot to say, thanks for the encouragement!

PortofinoRevisited Sat 26-Jul-14 21:44:18

Hmm - I would say if it is not your mother tongue, you could work towards fluency but not for her to be totally bilingual. My dd has lived in a french speaking environment/education since aged 2. We speak English at home but her French is still stronger than her English I would say despite what i would say was total immersion in both languages since she could speak. We have to work on the spelling and explain the meaning of lots of English words as they come up. And those odd colloquialisms - the ones you have as a native speaker.....

DrJuno Sat 26-Jul-14 21:49:28

I know someone who has done this. Wife speaks their native language and he speaks a different language (my native language) which is not his mother tongue.

I can tell the kids aren't really bilingual as they are quite accented in the second language, BUT they are pretty fluent for their ages so..... I still think it's beneficial.

It's a fuckload of work though.

PortofinoRevisited Sat 26-Jul-14 22:46:21

If, for example, I said to DD that someone was "thick as two short planks" she would have no clue what I was talking about. I constantly have to explain this sort of stuff. It is hard to actually explain such sayings!

AgentFF Thu 18-Sep-14 14:42:53

Hi I'm trying to do this and sometime feel silly doing so (and it is really hard to try to keep doing it all the time). Its good to hear that there are others who are in the same position. I'm trying to see if there is a local group of mums in my area to get together with - I speak Spanish although I'm English and was thinking it would be good to have more Spanish influences in my DS's life.

chrome100 Sun 21-Sep-14 07:28:21

My mum did this to me and my sister. I love languages and adore speaking to my mum in French. I'm completely fluent (although have an English accent like her), did MFL at university, have lived in three different countries and also speak German and Italian to a high standard

My sister, otoh, didn't really enjoy it and whilst she picked up a bit, really can't speak much French at all.

So based on our experiences, I'd say it also depends on the willingness of the child to learn and speak the language too.

Greythorne Sun 21-Sep-14 07:35:17

I think it is ambitious.

Whilst you have a 10 week old baby, it is probably easy to chat away, sing little songs etc. in. French.

When you are dealing with a recalcitrant toddler or you want to explain something serious or potentially uncomfortable (like death, puberty, bullying, problems in the family, world etc.) to an. 8 year old, I suspect you will find it easier and more appropriate in your mother tongue.

gastrognome Sun 21-Sep-14 07:59:01

I agree that it could work, but it will take a lot of effort for you and your daughter. And make sure you are prepared to answer her questions on why you are speaking to her in French. She may find it hard to process.

I live in a French speaking area and my husband is French and speaks to our daughters in French only. But DD1 still went on French strike for over a year, and used to ask why she "had" to speak to daddy in French. We never forced it by the way, just told her that daddy is French and so he speaks to her in that language. It took a while for her to "get" why different people speak different languages.

lightgreenglass Sun 21-Sep-14 08:08:44

Research has shown that children are immense at learning language and will self correct any flaws you may teach them about a language if you're not native, increasing the complexity of the language themselves - so it is possible.

My mom was not a native in the language she spoke to me in but she was fluent and I am definitely a native! I'm not a native in one language but my son most definitely will be as we use it all the time alongside English and I know many other children of parents who do the same as myself and they are native bilinguals. You can't achieve pure bilingualism but the reality is that very few people achieve that but you can achieve near native fluency.

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