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OPOL- when will dd speak secondary language?

(26 Posts)
GuybrushThreepwoodMP Sat 27-Dec-14 21:16:00

DD is 2 years and 2 months. I'm British, dh is French and we live in the UK. English is the dominant language and French exposure is from dh, weekends spent with in-laws about one a month, regular video calls plus French radio on at home and some French cartoons.
Her English is coming along brilliantly- full sentences, always makes herself understood, nursery say above average language skills.
She doesn't speak any French yet even though she clearly understands French as well as English. When dh speaks to her, she answers him in English. She often translates what he says into English for the benefit of others but never the other way round.
We're not making any attempt to force her to use French so far as we just assumed she would speak it when she was ready and that English is more important to her right now because it is the dominant language.
Is this all normal? When is she likely to choose to speak French? Should we be doing anything to help?

sashh Sun 28-Dec-14 10:37:55

Does she know little girls can and do speak French?

Not an expert but my niece took ages to potty train because 'little girls wear nappies, mummies and daddies wear pants'.

If she only encounters adults speaking French and all the children at nursery speak English she might think she isn't supposed to speak it, just understand it.

What happens when she talks to daddy in English? Does he respond in English or French?

GuybrushThreepwoodMP Sun 28-Dec-14 11:16:54

Papa always responds in French- he never speaks to her in English.
She has plenty of French cousins- boys and girls- her age. We see them about every couple of months or so.

Bonsoir Sun 28-Dec-14 11:21:50

From your post it sounds as if her exposure to French-speaking significant others is about 5% of her exposure to English-speaking significant others. You need to make French much more important.

cloudjumper Sun 28-Dec-14 11:28:05

It might take a while before she speaks anything other than English... We have a similar scenario, I'm Swiss-German, DH British, living in the UK. DS is 3.5 and doesn't speak any German, other than a few words that he uses in English sentences. He understands German and will answer correctly when I speak with him, but always in English. One of his friends from nursery is half-Italian, and it's the same with him.
We just spent Christmas with my family in Switzerland, and DS only spoke English all the time.
I think that unless we actually move to a German-speaking country or DH starts speaking German, too, it will stay like this.

Aubasaurus Sun 28-Dec-14 11:28:43

My dd is in a similar situation, it's just now at 2y11m she's starting to respond in French to DH and MIL more consistently. Obviously if she had more people speaking French to her it would happen more quickly but there's a limit to what you can do! We accept that her French will probably never be as fluent as her English but she'll be able to communicate effectively with her French relatives and that's what matters to us.

WidowWadman Sun 28-Dec-14 11:31:07

It took ages for my German daughters and a lot of "daddy says this & Mama sagt das". My oldest is six now and pretty fluent, her 3 yo sister struggles a bit more

GuybrushThreepwoodMP Sun 28-Dec-14 11:43:24

Bonsoir, how can I increase exposure do you think? She is with both me and dh every morning and evening and all weekend and dh is always only speaking French. Add that to having French cartoons on telly and France Inter on in the background when I'm at home alone with her and her exposure seems like plenty. I don't know what else we can do! It isn't a case of making it more 'important'- she has a French passport and we ensure that her binational culture is important. We do video calls with French family, Papa is always always only speaking French. Argh. I thought this would be easy.

GuybrushThreepwoodMP Sun 28-Dec-14 11:46:25

I guess I'm just hoping that as she is speaking English brilliantly and understanding French perfectly, actually choosing to speak French will just come naturally as she grows up.

BaronessBomburst Sun 28-Dec-14 11:50:05

When she wants to! I live abroad and know families with all kinds of combinations of languages. Sometimes it's taken a sibling or a best friend who also speaks the same language to kick start the change. When children realise they have a 'secret language' it becomes much more exciting and important. DS was four before he actually starting speaking Dutch, but it was all already there in his head.

Bonsoir Sun 28-Dec-14 11:50:18

Which language do you and your DH speak together?

IME (very very extensive), one parent speaking the minority language to a child with no other daily interaction in that language is insufficient exposure.

BaronessBomburst Sun 28-Dec-14 11:51:09

X-post with you OP, but yes. smile

Bonsoir Sun 28-Dec-14 11:52:47

Any chance of French-speaking childcare? The language of nursery/nanny is hugely influential.

BaronessBomburst Sun 28-Dec-14 11:56:27

Most interesting family I knew, she was Russian, he was German, and they met and married in France. They always spoke French together, their own languages with the children. Then they moved to the Netherlands and the children went to a local school where they spoke Dutch. But as part of an expat community they were constantly exposed to English. By the time the children were about 8, they spoke the lot. I couldn't judge how fluently but they certainly used all the languages and switched constantly depending on who was present.

GuybrushThreepwoodMP Sun 28-Dec-14 12:02:18

No French speaking childcare. We are giving her all the exposure we can. Don't you think she will ever speak it with our current situation?

noramum Sun 28-Dec-14 12:04:15

DD has German as home language and English as outside. It took us until she was 4 to get more than the odd word out of her.

What helped was exposure where she has to use her German, more than just talking to us and the odd conversation on Skype.

We now go to Germany in the main holidays and do lots of farm stay where she needs to speak German to have playmates. She is now 7.5 and can switch - if she wants. But at home we have 90% English as she doesn't seem to see the need to speak German.

Your child will do it very similar. Unless you force a French reply - which I do not like as I think it will backfire - you will need to engage more with French children, ideally not in an English setting. Try a bi-lingual nursery or a French nanny/childminder who will speak just in French.

kalidasa Sun 28-Dec-14 12:32:33

We are in a very similar position. DH French, me English, living in London. DS is 2y1m. We do OPOL. DS's nanny understands French but is herself Romanian and speaks (excellent) English to him (and he hears her speak Romanian as well as they spend time with another nanny). I am about to have DS2 and have been in hospital/bed for the ENTIRE hellish pregnancy so DH has been doing essentially all the morning/evening/weekend care, plus my MiL quite often at weekends (obviously she is also French speaking). I speak French with my MiL but almost solely English with DH. (DH complains about this, and I will make an effort to speak more French with him again when I am less ill. My French is fairly fluent.) DS has always been very chatty, though he's not particularly advanced - at the 3-word sentence stage. His vocabulary is very mixed - I'd say about 40% English words, 20-30% French words and another c. 30% of his 'own' words where we don't really know which language they originated from! E.g. he says 'black', 'rouge' and for 'blue' a sound that is somewhere between 'blue' and 'bleu'. He mixes the languages completely in sentences, and his choice of word order varies too, with English order slightly dominant I'd say. He seems to have pretty much complete comprehension in both. His spoken language seems on a par with his peers, though a bit harder to understand because of the mixture of vocab, and also he does seem to have more of his 'own' words at this point than other children his age. Oddly he is very good at recognising letters and seems really fascinated by them which I find quite surprising as obviously DH and I call them different things!

If you're in North London and would like some French speaking play dates let us know!

GuybrushThreepwoodMP Sun 28-Dec-14 12:35:08

We're in Cambridge otherwise I would love to!

kalidasa Sun 28-Dec-14 12:41:29

How lovely! Actually Cambridge is the one place we might leave London for, but that wouldn't be for another few years. I can see it is probably a bit harder to arrange bilingual stuff there though - in our bit of London about a third of young families seem to be French! So DS often meets other French-speaking children at the playground etc. Though most are 'fully' French just working in London for a few years if you see what I mean.

MissYamabuki Sun 28-Dec-14 12:43:15

OP she will come in leaps and bounds if you put her in a situation where she has to speak French. Maybe leave her in the sole care of relatives who won't speak English to get because they can't .

BTW I think you are providing lots of exposure. I can't see what else you can do on that front - maybe organise regular coffee mornings with other bilingual families so the kids can play in French together?

Stripylikeatiger Sun 28-Dec-14 12:44:21

My ds is nearly 2 and he has always spoken his minority language (English) as much as his dominant language. We only ever watch English TV and we have quite a few English speaking friends.

Ds now speaks to me almost exclusively in English and he speaks dp's language with him.

Solasum Sun 28-Dec-14 12:50:44

Watching with interest, though DS just at the babbling stage now.

I read somewhere that for complete fluency, there needs to be exposure at least 30% of the time to the minority language. For this reason we are about to bite the £££ bullet and have a PT nanny who actually can't speak more than a couple of words of English.

Solasum Sun 28-Dec-14 12:51:50

Have you tried DVDs of familiar cartoons only in French? Computer games etc? Flash cards etc. Lots to download.

GuybrushThreepwoodMP Sun 28-Dec-14 12:54:20

She stays with mil in France on her own (she's staying there two nights this week while dh and I have a lovely weekend alone in Belgium!). She just speaks English. Guess we just have to continue that and it will happen.
We used to live in London. The opportunity to meet other bilingual families would have kept us there but eventually we realised that it made financial sense to move (plus I got a job in Cambridge).

MrsRosetree Sun 28-Dec-14 12:54:30

I wouldn't worry, it will come. She sounds like my friend's DD: very advanced in the dominant language, completely refusing to speak the dad's language, similar setup to what you are describing. When she was four, she just one day opened her mouth and out came perfect Danish. Her younger brother meanwhile seemed to learn both languages side by side. Both are now perfectly bilingual.

So I'd say it's individual to each child and it seems to me you are doing all the right things.

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