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Second language acquisition - should I speak to DS in French at home?

(21 Posts)
Smorgs Tue 15-Sep-15 20:53:56

We are British and live in France and DS1 has just started maternelle (he'll be 3 at the end of October). Until now we have spoken English at home and (I'm embarrassed to say) mainly socialised with English-speakers, but he has done two mornings a week at halte garderie plus a bebe gym class once a week and hears me speak French to my neighbours/doctor/ in shops etc.
He is struggling at maternelle, which I expected to an extent, but it has been a pretty tough couple of weeks and he has cried a lot. His teacher says it is because he doesn't understand the language and I should speak French to him. Obviously I have taught him basic courtesies, but I was always under the impression that I should give him as good a start in his native mother-tongue as possible and then the transition to learning the second language at school would be easier, but now I feel really guilty that I should have been putting much more effort into teaching him French before he started. Speaking French exclusively at home isn't an option as DH isn't fluent, but should we have tried to do OPOL even though I'm fluent but not bilingual (and still make some grammatical errors)? Obviously I can't change the past, but should I now start speaking to him in French? He does want to learn French now and he's asked all weekend "Mummy, what's fire engine in French? What's bin lorry in French? What's man/woman/lights/bird in French?" Are there any other tips on how to help him learn French quickly? I'm thinking of asking a boy from his class over to play to help him make friends, as I don't think he really is so far.

clearsommespace Tue 15-Sep-15 20:58:21

Ignore the teacher. He will catch up in French soon.

clearsommespace Tue 15-Sep-15 21:00:10

You probably know a lot more about this than the teacher. It is a good idea to invite friends over.

CoteDAzur Tue 15-Sep-15 21:00:14

Of course not. OPOL works when two parents have different native languages.

Get a French babysitter/nounou to regularly speak French to him & read him books in French. Arrange playdates with French friends from his maternelle class. Show him French cartoons.

Smorgs Wed 16-Sep-15 14:21:48

Thanks everyone, reassuring to hear. I've just been listening to him in the back seat of the car counting in French - it's amazing how fast they pick some things up?!

Ilikedmyoldusernamebetter Thu 17-Sep-15 09:04:38

We do minority language at home (live in Germany, DH is German but genuinely bilingual - native English speakers rarely realise he's German/ not a native English speaker unless told) and my kids have all stayed home with me til the month of their 3rd birthdays, speaking only English with me, and then started German state Kindergarten (mornings only, 20 hours a week) at 3.

My older 2 kids were both indistinguishable from monolingual German children by the time they started school at 6, according to everybody including their teachers - DD's German grades are well above average (every other child in her primary school class was a native German speaker) and her school English (as a foreign language) teacher refused to believe she was an English native speaker initially, being familiar with DD around the school but not having taught her English - she believed the class were playing a trick saying there was a native English speaker in the class until DD managed to force herself to speak in English to the teacher - it is quite a mental leap for a child to reply in a language other than the one they are being addressed in!

So minority language at home works perfectly! Thankfully the head of our wonderful Kindergarten, despite having never had a non native speaker in the Kindergarten before, was absolutely supportive and never once tried to suggest I speak German to the kids - and my eldest does have a natural gift for language so paved the way for her brothers who followed her path. Mind my German was so bad when DD started Kindergarten nobody in their right mind would have suggested it being used as the main form of lanuage between me and my child (a few xenophobic local elderly busybodies tried telling me I lived in Germany and should now speak German absolutely all the time, and always with my now German children, but they were easily ignored, and as it turned out those bods actually don't and can't speak proper German themselves, but a dialect...).

My only caveat is that we are absolutely immersed in German outside our front door, and pretty much never socialise with English speakers except when we go to the UK - we tried to for a while, but we live very rurally and its logistically impossible to get into the city where there is a native English speaking community in term time. This means my children have picked up German at a functional level before starting any formal education - just in the playground, at with-parent toddlers groups and music groups, and out and about, and have had native German speaking friends before starting Kindergarten.

I think the only thing you need to change is the exclusive socialising with English speakers - invite lots of potential new friends over as much as you can, and hopefully he'll be coping easily in French within 6 months and truly bilingual within 2 or 3 years. Its the mixing outside school that is key I think.

If you speak French to him he will eventually stop speaking English, unless your DH spends a lot more time with him and fully engaged in talking to him than most dads sadly are able to...

Smorgs Thu 17-Sep-15 09:34:43

That is really helpful thank you. Yes I think you're right about socialising. I have found it hard this far as so many French women are back at work by the time their babies are a few months so there aren't lots of opportunities to meet people other than nounous or ex pat parents.

Ilikedmyoldusernamebetter Thu 17-Sep-15 09:57:23

That is hard Smorgs (I had heard that before but forgotten). Germany - especially rural areas of southern Germany, is the polar opposite in that almost everyone stays home for 3 years, and most mothers only work part time even with school age children - school days finish at or before lunch time, so it is actually really hard to work much! A problem in its own way if/ when you do want to get back into the workforce, but great for integrating and socialising with preschoolers!

NKFell Thu 17-Sep-15 14:20:49

My Mum spoke Spanish to me when I was little then I learnt English at nursery/school- my English Dad spoke to me in English at home but apparently I understood more than I spoke. I now have a regional English accent and I'm bilingual.

I'd say ignore the teacher or his English will deteriorate but also yes socialise him more and get him French toys/books.

I spoke Spanish to my son (so did my Mum) and now at 6yrs he's bilingual. He speaks English with a regional accent and Caribbean Spanish.

poocatcherchampion Thu 17-Sep-15 14:26:24

They will learn French so quickly.

We are English and in england (although I speak a few other languages passably, previously well)

Dd1 who is 3 ha s an hours French a week at nursery. She has been there 4 months. She astounded us on holiday by understanding some of what people were saying, counting to 20 and singing a few French songs - all of which she has now taught her 2yo sister. While we were there we bought some picture books with words, longer stories and song CDs and they have learnt them all and love them. It is just fab!

ChilliMum Thu 17-Sep-15 14:41:15

Hi Op, hang in there it will get better very quickly. My ds (Oct born also) started without a word of French, they are still just babies at 2 and maternelle is quite structured and i think a ltitle unsympathetic (there aré plent of tearful french children too every year) My ds cried every morning for the first couple of weeks but we introduced a special routine where he would wait at the window and I would wave and blow kisses so he had something to focus on as I left the room. I also only sent him for half days in petite section.
He has just started grand section this year. Loves school, loads of friends, speaks like a native I am told. He also hates me speaking French that is for school and friends not me he says but I think it also helps keep the languages separate.
I know it's heartbreaking now but it will pass.

TwmSionCati Thu 17-Sep-15 14:45:36

I have studied SLA and IMO the teacher is wrong. OF course he has to hear his mother speaking her native language. To suggest that you speak to him in (possibly) erroneous French is just silly.
Mind you the French education system is not exactly known for its understanding and accommodation of additional needs is it?

Booboostwo Thu 17-Sep-15 15:59:14

My DD has been in France since birth, went to creche and now is in moyene section but we speak English at home. For some reason she is quite blocked about her French. She is on the whole a quiet, shy, stressy child but becomes even more so when having to respond in French. Her teacher has been wonderfully encouraging but we are now waiting for an appointment with an orthophonist who has been very helpful with a friend's child with the same problem.

I would say keep speaking English at home, find opportunities to encourage exposure to French (I have not cracked the great mystery that is succeeding in setting up a play date with a French parent) and keep an eye on his progress. By CP they do need to be fluent to follow the more demanding curriculum but that's quite a way off.

amyboo Tue 22-Sep-15 13:55:53

Definitely ignore the teacher and atick to English at home. My kids were born in Belgium and DS1 went to French speaking creche full time from 5 months. But his dominant language was (and probably still is) English. So when he started maternelle he hardly spoke a word - we had tears, days where he came home thirsty cos he hadn't asked for a drink and all sorts. Then after about 3 months it all clicked, he got confident and the French flowed. DS2 has now just started maternelle and is totally mixed up with Engliah and French so gets frustrated when his teachers can't understand him. Again, I'm sure it'll all just click into place in a few months. And he was also in French speaking creche from 6 months old.

Your DS will be jabbering away in French by Christmas I'm sure. FWIW my son's school takes kids from the loval refugee centre and you wouldn't believe how quickly some of them go from zero French to fluency!

BoboChic Tue 22-Sep-15 13:57:52

As others posters have said, the teacher is talking nonsense. You must continue to speak English to your DH and to your DS. DS will learn French soon and the more he attends maternelle, the quicker he will learn it.

Boobz Wed 30-Sep-15 16:20:20

Echo what everyone has already said here. I have 3 DC. We have lived in Italy for just over 2 years, and all three went to a multilingual nursery (English/French/Italian, with mainly Italian in the playground) since they were 4, 3 and 18 months respectively. Having spoken nothing other than English before arriving here, they picked up Italian remarkably quickly. After a year at that nursery, the elder 2 girls started at the French Lycee here (aged 5 and 4) and they too had the wobbles at the beginning of the year - "I don't understand, they don't understand etc.," but we trusted the teacher who said they would absolutely pick it up by the end of the year. In fact, I'm pretty sure they were pretty fluent by the end of the first term! And they happily flip between English at home, French in the classroom and Italian in the playground - children are amazing creatures! DH has spent the last 3 years learning Italian (at the beginning for 6 hours a day!) and recently passed exams which make him degree level, and yet even he is amazed how much better they are than him already in Italian, whilst also picking up French and perfecting their English too.

DH and I don't speak French particularly well, but wanted them to be bilingual, so have opted to educate them in French all the way through until they finish their education. My youngest, our son, has just started at the same school as the girls, and he too had the crying session at the beginning but after 3 weeks he has settled in, and no one has suggested I speak to him in anything other than my mother tongue - I would be useless compared to them anyway!

Good luck.

Smorgs Wed 29-Jun-16 15:23:22

I just thought I would update you all, as you were so kind to reply to my post in September, and it might help anyone else going through a similar thing.

DS settled in quite well after September doing mornings only. He seemed initially quite keen to learn French and although we continued to speak English at home, I would tell him what various nouns were and little phrases he might need at school. He would often get mixed up. We did one playdate but it went a bit wrong as I said to come over after nap time and they turned up at 5.45pm! DS is usually having dinner then shortly followed by bath time and bed.

So in January I decided to start him doing full days, to increase his exposure to French. He seemed OK to begin with then I kept getting called in by the ALAE staff (they look after them during the two hour lunch break and do various activities with them) to say he was playing up in the canteen and not eating much. By March it was becoming a real problem and they suggested seeing the school psychologist so I stopped him going all day and we went back to mornings only.

The psychologist observed him for a few days over a few months and we have now had an 'equipe educative' - a meeting with the psychologist, the teachers and the ALAE staff. They said DS was in his own little world at school, doesn't interact much with other children, apart from one very autistic boy in his class, often messes around and doesn't join in with class activities or do any of the consignes correctly. He doesn't speak any French at all (he speaks to them in English) and they doubt he understands a great deal too. Then he said he was hard to assess due to his lack of French but he wondered whether he is on the autistic spectrum. They have said they will make sure he has regular stimulation and is closely monitored by his teacher next year to try and help him.

I feel very depressed really. I'm not convinced about the autism - I've posted on the SEN children board about this. I think his coping mechanism is to go into his own imaginary little world. There are 30 kids in his class and the teacher is also the directeur so he's often called away to his office and the ATSEM is left in charge. He hasn't learnt much this year I don't think. He can sing a few songs in French, recite the numbers one to 20 and the days of the week and can draw a bit better, that's all. Perhaps I should have continued with full days but he was clearly becoming such a problem to them. I'm full of worry about whether to continue next year or send him to a bilingual or even the English International school. I'm going to use the centre de loisirs over the summer to try and keep his ear attuned to French (if it even is at all attuned!) with a view to him continuing at French school in September. Then if it's still a disaster I'll move him early next year, or just go back to mornings and go to an English pre school in the afternoons.

Partly I'm glad I got the psychologist involved because at least I have found out that there is a problem (the exchange between his teacher and I every day is - Me: 'Ca va aujourd'hui?' Him: 'Oui, ca va') but the other half of me thinks that he's looking for something that isn't there and my son is going to be labelled etc etc.

1frenchfoodie Sun 04-Sep-16 21:13:39

Hi Smorgs, I hope you and your DS have had a good summer and the rentrée scolaire went well. I've no advice, unfortunately, just warm wishes. DH and I move to France next year with our DD who will be 10 months when we move so we may well have similar challenges. I speak pretty fluent French but DH who will be a SAHD speaks none (yet) so looks like we need to ensure DD gets into French cartoons and track down native speakers to hang out with.

Mamabear12 Sun 25-Sep-16 20:48:19

He will learn french soon enough when living in France! But if you want to help hurry it along, I would start explaining and speaking words in french as you teach him and doing flash cards, french music and cartoons. My daughter has been learning french the last month and has picked up 100 words at least. We are not french and live in England and she is 4.5. We have a nanny a few hours a week, use flash cards, have nanny read french books, youtube french cartoons and music. I practice with her as I learn and use the words in every day activity. I feel if you make an effort and get them to use the words they learn fast and remember. I counted the words that she really knows well (meaning if I ask what the word is in french she can say it back quickly w out help or she will use the words herself w out me asking). I encouraged her to use the words if she wanted something. For example if she wants cheese she must say "Je voudrais du fromage" and always says please in french, thanks in french, etc. When she is playing with different colour cups or markers for example I will point at each one and ask her to tell me the colours in french. When we are in the park as we see different animals, I will ask her what is that in french (pointing at a dog, bird etc). Same with fruits etc. Kids learn by repetition. So I do this every day. It takes a little extra work. You are lucky because your son will learn automatically bc you are in France and because you speak the language. I don't even speak the language and I am managing to teach my 4.5 year old and almost 3 year old and myself! It just takes a lot of effort and reminding them speak in french! Obviously it is a little easier with my daughter bc she is older and understands she is learning another language...where my son does not quite get that

Madamfrog Fri 30-Sep-16 18:48:23

Mamabear, I'm sorry but there is absolutely no comparison between dabbling in a language for fun, in a country where is is not spoken and where you are not a native speaker, on the one hand, and trying to integrate a child into another culture with another language, where the school prerequisites and assumptions are different on the other. Especially if you are not a native speaker yourself. One is artificial, the other essential.

I think the OP is right to worry and I hope that things are going better with support from the psy and school - at least you have another two years before the CP, perhaps some orthophonie might help? Has it been raised? Do they have a bit of English in maternelle which might give him an opportunity to show he can interact verbally? My children refused to speak French to me when we lived in the UK, because I also speak English but they spoke in French to my mother when she visited, and to family in France, because it is obvious it was their main language, sometimes it takes a bit of time and help to get sorted out. Don't be downhearted.

FWIW, When I was your son's age I assumed everyone was bilingual and I thought they were just being unfriendly if they didn't respond if I spoke the 'wrong' language to them. I thought if I could do something then everyone could - perhaps your son is doing the same thing.

Alli91 Wed 19-Oct-16 23:30:22

My daughter's started learning Spanish in 6 months. We had a nanny from Mexico. So she heard Spanish all her life. Now she is 12 and we planning to send her to the private school in Spain and we have a big work with gathering and translating documents for applying. Thanks guys from this agency www.translateshark.com/spanish.html they help me a lot with all these documents requirement. She speaks Spanish fluently but I want to give her more.
Don't care about your teacher. Get a French babysitter, show him French cartoons, read him French books, talk with your DS. If earlier your child begins to learn foreign languages, the better result will be.

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