Bringing up bilingual

A friend of mine recently referred to the way my 3-year-old daughter speaks as Creole. It a great way of describing it: she speaks an absolute mixture of French and English. Phrases like “Can you s’il te please tirer my culotte” (please pull up my undies) are very normal in our household and it is so cute I don’t want it to change! But it won’t last; she is quickly learning to differentiate her two languages.

In our household I try to only speak English at home and the children are exposed to French at school and with their friends. I myself grew up with a French mother, and an Irish father but spent my childhood in Germany, so I grew up speaking English, French and German. I actually now have a bit of an accent in every language I speak! As a child I really did not enjoy coming from a multi-lingual family as I felt I was different from my friends. My girls have the great advantage of going to an inner-city Paris school where a huge amount of the kids speak at least two languages, if not more.

So now that I am trying to bring up my kids bi-lingually myself, I have done a bit of research. I am not an expect in anyway, but here are some of the facts I thought were interesting:

  • Being bi-lingual or tri-lingual has nothing to do with intelligence, people of different levels of intelligence are multi-lingual.
  • Children start differentiating between languages around the ages of 2-3.
  • Bi-lingual children do not usually learn to speak later because of learning different languages, as previously thought.
  • One of the simplest approaches towards having bilingual children seems to be the one-parent/one-language approach. It is easier for a child to differentiate a language if one person speaks one language consistently to them.

Voila! I am really interested to hear if anyone else has tips and ideas on how to bring up kids with several languages!

- Emilie

22 COMMENTS - Add your own

1. Marta | January 3, 2012 | Reply

Hi Emilie! Your children are very lucky! There are many blogs I can recommend. I blog about bilingualism Spanish-English in Spanish in http://www.abilingualbb.blogspot.com/. I have some blogs on my blogroll, these are some of my favourite ones: http://www.mommymaestra.com/, http://www.multilingualliving.com/
or http://babybilingual.blogspot.com/

2. Sara | January 3, 2012 | Reply

Excellent tips Emilie! As a teacher at the International School of Brussels and also raising a bi-lingual daughter (soon TWO) I couldn’t agree with you more. We also encourage our families to speak their home language when home and not worry about practicing the new language (For example, the English they’re learning at school.) unless it comes up naturally (Like how it does with your daughter. TOO cute!!!). Another piece of advice we give to parents (who ask about this) is to wait until the child is solid in at least one language (speaking, reading, and writing) before adding a third. (My husband wanted to teach our daughter French AND Italian from the start!!! Plus English from me! Needless to say, she’ll get Italian from him later, like in 5 years or so. :-)) Excellent post!

3. Carmen | January 3, 2012 | Reply

I can’t but envy you. My Spanish children attend an English school in a “desperate” attempt to offer them the chance to become “kind of” bilingual. But still, being exposed to several languanges: my nephews, for instance, have German and Spanish parents, and now have moved to Japan, where they attend an American school. They have a big mix in their minds now but it will turn into a privilege!

From the close situations I know, your tips are the ones that work. Common sense always does!

4. Agata | January 3, 2012 | Reply

It’s so great when a child can learn languages in a natural way! We are polish family living in the Netherlands. My 5 year old son is speeking two languages ( I think the polish is much better because we also read him a lot of polish books so the vocabulary is bigger) but when he play alone he talks to him self in dutch! he also is having dutch friends – of course! He has a bit of strange accent in both languages, but I think it will change in time. He is really interested in languages and want already learn others, what I found so great!
Great post – thank you!
xxx all the best in New Year 2012.

5. Caroline | January 3, 2012 | Reply

Hi Emilie,
My daughter was 15 months old when we moved from Paris to London (she is 4 now) and I feel it was the perfect age to learn a 2nd language – she was already totally understanding French, would only hear English from the child minder and only French at home, Soon enough she was perfectly talking the 2 languages,
Now we have moved to New York and I just hope she will keep the British accent I love so much !
If you have time to answer to me on my e-mail about the school you’re children are in in Paris, I would really appreciate, just in case we come back to Paris soon,,,
thanks!

6. Emilie | January 4, 2012

Hi Caroline, We live in the 11th arrondissement and it is just the local state school that we happen to live close to. It is very good!

7. Marion | January 3, 2012 | Reply

Great tips Emilie! Our family isn’t bilingual per se as my husband and I are both French and always spoke French to our sons (aged 3 y.o and 18 months). We recently moved back to France after 7 years in the UK. My kids went to an English nursery since they were 6 months and the eldest was almost better in English than in French. His exposure to English is now very limited that we’ve moved back to France and that he goes to a French preschool (in a fairly rural area). I wonder whether anyone has any suggestions to maintain his English, beyond the obvious things like books, DVDs and trying to attend English speaking playgroups? Friends from Scotland will be staying with us for a week in February so that will be a good test I guess! Thank you for a great post! xx

8. Emilie | January 4, 2012

The only thing I can think of is taking them back on holidays regularly as there is nothing as good as being surrounded by a language!

9. Bring up bilingual children « Bilingualissimo | January 3, 2012 | Reply

[...] the full article “Bringing up Bilingual“ by Emilie (Babyccino [...]

10. Courtney in London | January 3, 2012 | Reply

I’m so incredibly jealous of all of you with bilingual children. What a gift you’re giving your children. How lucky they are!
Both of my dad’s parents were Dutch and moved to America from The Netherlands in the late 1940s. By the time he was born, they were speaking only english in the house. And as a result, he doesn’t speak any Dutch. How sad!
It’s crazy, living in London, because we feel like we’re in the minority not having bilingual or multi lingual children. So many kids here have the benefit of speaking multiple languages.
Maybe I should move my family to France? Or to The Netherlands?
x

11. Emilie | January 4, 2012

OOh please come to Paris!

12. Esther in Amsterdam | January 9, 2012

Or to the Netherlands!! How fun THAT would be!! (And after all, your kids ARE 1/4 Dutch!!) xxx

13. Stacy | January 4, 2012 | Reply

Internet is great… would have loved having contact with other bilingual families when I first moved to the south of France sixteen years ago! I learned by trial and error.
My oldest who did all of her schooling in France, has been in the states doing her university studies for two years now.
My 3 and a half year old really speaks both languages beautifully. Yes with a little french accent for the english, but speaking from experience ,it fades out later.
For those children who are not attending bilingual schools, as neither of my older did: BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS! My two oldest children read from infant to young adult on close to a daily basis in English. We came back from every trip to the states with obscene amounts of luggage full of only books . This is a bit trickier the last few years as the airlines are charging crazy fees and the limits are so restrictive. The children naturally aquire grammar, spelling, and rich vocabulary.
I also found long ( one month) visits every other summer indispensible.
One last thing: do not panic if your child has a period where they “reject ” one language . My son completely stopped speaking in English for close to two years!! After a short visit from family , during which he used his sister as a translator (omg!) I cracked down. The next visit I obliged him to speak! If you keep speaking and reading every day, the phase will pass. I have heard a lot of people say they’ve had similar experiences.
Anyway… thanks for all of the fun articles !

14. Sana | January 5, 2012 | Reply

Hi Emilie, this is the first time I leave comment hear so would like to tell you how much I love your blog and website!!
Both my husband and I are trilingual (we share 2 languages) so my daughter has a tough task ahead of her (she’s only 2 months old) because we would like her to communicate well with both sets of Grandparents (who live in different countries). Right now we’re focusing on 3 languages with the fourth “on hold” for later but being a “mix” myself I find it extremely difficult to focus on speaking one language to her consistently – it’s not natural for me :) all the best! Sana

15. gillyp | January 5, 2012 | Reply

I’m with Courtney – incredibly jealous. We are English parents and as such, neither of us speak another language (other than my
poor attempts whenever we are on holiday in France with school girl French) Our primary education system (age 3-11) continues to let us down with regards to a serious attempt at learning another language – and for most of us we would be unable to back it up at home anyway, Just not

16. Alison | January 5, 2012 | Reply

My son is trilingual, however my husband and I are both monolingual. We speak English at home, my son is taught in Euskera (Basque language) at school, and he speaks Castellano with his friends. His English is his best language, which is not surprising as we didn’t move to Spain until he was 3.5 years old. We read to him in English and listen to the radio in English. He watches TV in all three languages.

17. Pa[u] | January 6, 2012 | Reply

at home is:”one-parent/one-language” Mum= spanish; dad= french.
the boys go to French school but Victoria (2 and half)is in a indian playschool. She speaks English and Tamil at school.

18. The challenge of raising kids bilingual « avalunas | January 7, 2012 | Reply

[...] I read the following post on Babyccino Kids. I find this a very interesting subject, mostly because I have the ambition that my kids at least [...]

19. Cate | January 11, 2012 | Reply

I echo what Courtney and gilly said. Sometimes I feel like my kids are the only ones with one language, however it is not just the Uk primary school system letting us down but the secondary one too.

20. Alice | January 14, 2012 | Reply

Very interesting topic! I am french, my husband is german, we have 2 daughers (3yo and 18months), we just moved to Germany after 5 years in England so my girls are trilingual (although they dont speak properly yet, they do understand the 3 languages properly).
My challenge now is to decide for which type of school they should go (french? german? international school?) as this will become their “main” day to daylanguage . It is not an easy choice, the systems of education are very different (french education quite strict and more about learning by heart things, english system quite early at learning writing and more focused on oral skills, german system let kids be kids first before starting school….)
Anyway i was sent those 2 links on the topic, they are really good to know more about bilinguism http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius_of_babies.html http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/science/31conversation.html?_r=2
Enjoy!
Alice

21. Christine | January 15, 2012 | Reply

I live in a bilingual city – Ottawa, but grew up in Toronto and my husband grew up in Northern British Columbia, so we are pretty much as anglophone as you can get. As an employee of the Federal Government there is a big pressure to learn French here and I am eager for my son to learn French while he is still young to avoid the frustration of my trying to learn a second language in adulthood. We plan to put him into French immersion starting at age 4 and I hope to take him on trips to French-speaking countries to fully immerse him some more. The problem with learning French in a bilingual city is that kids ends up speaking Franglais – that’s our version of “creole”. Even Quebeckers make fun of the French spoken by Franco-Ontariens. It’s not unusual here to observe a group of teenagers blend English and French into the same sentence e.g. That’s so dope, n’est-ce pas? Still, I envy my Ottawa-born colleagues who are so seamless in both French and English that I can’t tell whether they anglopones or francophones Sigh.

22. MotherWifeMe | January 19, 2012 | Reply

Hello! Just stumbled across your blog as I’m trying to find blogs of people creating bilingual households for their children – as I am doing for mine. Anyway, bilingual stuff aside – fab post above btw – I’m loving browsing round your site, it is beautiful, so I am away to subscribe to it now!!

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