Month: July 2018

One parent one language

Why we don’t use OPOL: One Parent One Language.

One Parent One Language, or OPOL, is widely touted as THE way to raise bilingual children.

To set the scene; my partner and I are both fluent in both languages (French and English) although we have different mother tongues. We live in the UK. We don’t use OPOL in our house with our three children. Never have.

They are all bilingual. Our oldest is biliterate and we are working on that with our second. We are also very concious of biculturalism.

I do emphasise that every family dynamic is different and you decide what is best for your children but here is my take on it. My view will be quite controversial to some people. I’ll also give you some specific, alternative methods.

The Positives of OPOL

Ok, I do see the thinking behind OPOL. The key to becoming proficient in two languages is exposure. It would therefore follow that a c. 50/50 split at home would be a great method to maximise your child’s exposure to that language.

The other potential advantage of OPOL is that it could be said to create ‘need’ which is the second important factor in language acquistion. Parents hope that by only speaking one language each, children will believe they need to speak that language back to be understood. Meh. Kids very quickly figure out what languages you understand. You can’t really trick them.

For me it is just too strict. Life isn’t like that. Where is the flexibility? Will a one size fits all apporach work for all international families?

Is it 50/50 parenting in your home?

When my oldest child was a baby, my husband was working five days a week in another city. I was very aware that these precious first 12 months of his life were critical for his cognitive function and language development. I was the one effectively holding down the ‘language learning fort’.

Surely OPOL in it’s strictest form would require me to only speak English with him? Wouldn’t this mean his exposure to French – our minority language – would have been significantly reduced?

I was a first-time Mum with a lot on her plate but I was determined. I sang in French, I made posters and pictures in French for him, I read and read and read French stories to him. We Skyped Daddy and his French grandparents and after the calls my brain would be in French so I would make the switch and I would speak French for the hour or so after the call. Our (non) strategy progressed from there.

Aw Man! I get the minority language?

OPOL also means that one parent gets potentially the harder job…! Shouldn’t you both show enthusiasm for both languages? If your partner speaks two languages and you speak one, then having children is sometimes the kick up the posterior you need to start learning. In our experience, the kids seeing Mummy speak French (I am a native English speaker) and Daddy speak English (a native French speaker) fluently (plus trying hard at Spanish!), has created a feeling that multilingualism is natural and part of life. Something to be embraced.

Is ‘language guilt’ healthy?

It worries me a bit that parents stress about the method of speaking to their children. Sometimes before they are even born. There is a drive and a passion for their children to speak both their lanaguages, I sincerely get that. However, feeling guilty as you slipped up and spoke to them in English instead of French/ Spanish/ Mandarin etc on top of your already ENORMOUS parenting to-do list is not good for you.

By all means think about it before baby is born. I would actually strongly suggest a discussion with your partner and close family. Find a local club or class for your minority language. Get books! Lots of them and learn nursery rhymes. But don’t panic about a strict routine or structure. It has to be as unique as your family is and you may not be able to decide how it will work until baby arrives… more on that later!

Play with the language, deepen the connection

For us, this is key. If we didn’t switch languages in our house constantly as much as we do, we wouldn’t have half the fun with our bilingual gift! Conversations might start in one language and end in another. Controversial!

I think playing with the home languages enables children to see the communicative power they have. Enabling a ‘no rules environment’ has helped to create a stress-free, love of language and a desire to continue.

Imagine a child being scolded for using the ‘wrong’ language at the ‘wrong’ time or with the ‘wrong’ person. The connection to this language may fizzle and a battle may commence…. I have seen this with a few families where their child has begun ‘rebelling’ against the language after years of detecting that there can be a ‘wrong’ language.

‘Code switching’ is also a fabulous sign of a flexible and emotionally aware brain. It can sometimes be incorrectly identified as ‘laziness’. I’ll post about this later this summer.

What does research say?

In 2007 Annick De Houwer conducted a study collecting data from nearly 2,000 families with varying language pairs (Applied Psycholinguistics: Parental language input patterns and children’s bilingual use) to judge the impact of varying bilingual strategies at home.

The results showed that the OPOL strategy did not result in a significant difference to children becoming bilingual versus both parents speaking both languages.

Bienvenido Al Mundo!

Before listing a couple of alternative methods, here is a rather wonderful story I heard which shows the power of love on the impact of your language plan. A multilingual aquaintance (and professional linguist) told me she had devised a highly structured language plan for her faimily when she was pregnant. She herself had picked up many languages in her childhood with her main language being Spanish. She had decided that she would speak to her child in German some days and English in others. Her extended family would speak Spanish to the child. Then after a long labour she was passed her new arrival. She snuggled the baby close and spontaneously whispered, “Bienvenido al mundo”.. (welcome to the world in Spanish). The language plan needed to be revised!

Alternative Methods

So what are you saying Felicity? Cross your fingers and hope for the best? No, I truly am not. I know as well as the next bilingual family that some kind of thought needs to go into your language plan. Here are ideas for inspiration.

MLAH – Minority Language At Home. I would say this could be key for families who do not get to travel to their home countries. There is always a minority language in any bilingual family. This is where your attention should be. This method has high success rates in studies.

NATURAL EXPOSURE METHOD – Ok, so I made the name of this up. Speaking to your kids A LOT in both languages. Language rich experiences as opposed to a strict timetable. Quality input. Identify your minority language and assess from time to time whether you think they need more exposure to it and address that. I think I am highlighting what many families are doing. And making it work. Don’t ever feel bad that it is not text book but do pay attention to exposure to the minority language.

As I mentioned, exposure and need are key. Find situations where you can speak the minority language. Skype Grandparents, watch cartoons or films TOGETHER in your minority language and talk about it afterwards, play a board game which uses your minority language, learn a new song and have a karaoke session…

The result in our house?

Three fully bilingual, happy children. With all bilinguals they have one stronger language and that is English. They are schooled in the UK so that is to be expected. They construct complex sentences and can converse fully in French on a range of subjects. Our oldest can also read in and write French. Ok, we have not hit teenage years or any complications that will come with that but we are fortunate to have family in France and I will be hitting them up for holidays and Skype sessions.

So my conclusions from our mini-family experiment? Exposure is key, nurture is crucial, fun is… well fun!

If you want to get in touch about any of this. Questions about your family dynamic, issues or even to give me top tips! Get in touch! I love chatting these things through. I can point you in the direction of research and great websites plus my own experience working with bilingual families and monolingual parents striving for a rich language life for more than 6 years.

But most of all, enjoy languages. They are not ‘taught’ they are life.

Felicity x

learn through taste teach french babies and kids

French with kids! A step-by-step guide to learning through taste

Let’s take a multi-sensory approach to learning when teaching a new language!

You learn language through MEANINGFUL and DAILY interactions. That is how you learned your first language and that is how you will learn your second language.

For any family dynamic, monolingual parents ‘teaching’ their baby a second language, bilingual parents striving to increase exposure to their home language or mixed heritage parents raising their child in a mixed language environment – quality and quantity is KEY!

For babies and kids that means – fun, engaging natural interactions.

So grab some fruit, sing ‘Pomme de Reinette’ to set the scene (check out YouTube or ask me!) and try out this fun idea to eat and learn at the same time. A winning combo!

See my fun activity here

If you liked this – check out this French kids vegetable poster


Riding a Bike_language learning

3 Ways language learning is like riding a bike

Teaching Children Languages

I spent most of my Saturday afternoon with my 5 year old trying to ‘teach him to ride a bike with no stabilisers’.

It was hard.

I had been through this experience before with my oldest child and I didn’t recall it being so stressful for either of us.

Sitting on the grass. Looking at my poor wee guy slumped at the bottom of the hill, bike slung to the side, forehead crumpled, arms crossed. I started to think of the similarities of teaching a child a new language and riding a bike… and it ended in success.

Attitude check

I am going to be honest. After about 45 minutes I started to lose enthusiasm for the bike riding as well. The progress was s-l-o-w. It was no coincidence that it was around this time that my son started losing interest.

I had to quickly have an ‘attitude reset’! No passive agressive over tones. No quiet sighs. Pure positivity!

This is the same with a language! If you try to sing and say the words whilst listening to a cd or at class. If you read foreign language books regardless of your accent and point out the names of fruit in the supermarket… GUARANTEED your child will absorb this positive energy and enthusiasm.

In class, the kids who really take to the language well are, not unsurprisingly, the ones whose parents are up dancing to the songs, laughing at my (rubbish) jokes and generally showing that they are interested in learning French as well.

“Right gorgeous, give me that bike!” I said, and ran back up the hill with it. “Mummy is going to have a go!”

What are your learning & thinking styles?

Three years ago when my older son learned to ride a bike, we talked about how the bike worked, why his stabilisers were holding him back, we talked strategy and then he put it into practice, trying over and over until he got there.

I find that there are TWO KEY AREAS of a person’s personality which impact acquiring a new skill: learning style and thinking style. It is ULTRA important to identify these as a language tutor as it can be quite stressful for children when you mix them up.

The three main LEARNING STYLES are visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (physical movement). Most people have heard of these. But do we pay them any heed in real life? Very young children tend to be kinaesthetic learners so having highly physical and tactile lesson plans are great. But visual and auditory should also be considered for developing learning styles.

THINKING STYLES fall into two categories: reflective and reactive. A reflective thinker will take time to digest and analyse a subject or question. Ideas develop gradually and are well thought out. A reactive thinker will see an answer quickly. They can jump to decisions which may lead to the quality of their answers being more ‘rough and ready’. Neither style is bad or good – they just require different techniques in teaching.

My oldest son is a (mostly) auditory learner – he asks LOTS of questions and listens to answers, retaining lots of detail. He is reactive thinker – fires back questions and mistakes don’t phase him. So me running beside him shouting instructions worked when he was learning to ride a bike. He was keen to get cracking!

Using the same techniques threw my younger son into a panicky rage! Too much info! He covered his ears and began to despair at the details and perceived complexity of the task.

I stopped and thought about it.

He is the first to reach out and touch a new object. He is very physical when he plays. He is also definitely a reflective thinker. Prefers coming up with near perfect answers. Hmmmmmm…

“Honey, why don’t you get on the bike without me getting involved. Forget the pedals and try this yourself. Get a feel for it and just balance to the bottom of the hill. You won’t get this perfect first time but you will get there.” I adjusted my technique, trying to work with him just as I would do in a Mini French class.

Success. He relaxed, enjoying the calm. He had time to think this through himself and just get a feel for balancing without all the extra detail and glided on his own down the hill (wobbling).

It is like, well, riding a bike…

So having nailed a few successful rides down the hill my son started to gain confidence and it was clear he was finally progressing. Braking needs work… apologies to the man with the large shopping bag. Thanks for jumping out the way. You are pretty nimble.

We are not entering the Tour de France just yet. There is some more practice to do. I reminded myself that if we get back out on his bike again soon this ‘work’ has been registered in his brain and wont be lost. He has attained a certain level which we can now build on.

This is the same for languages. Studies have show that children who were exposed to meaningful, quality second language input as young children are able to recall it as adults. It may need some prodding and support but it resurfaces and adults can then make the decision to take it forward.

Starting a language as a young child, with the right parental attitude and correct support, also creates a positive relationship with that language. It demystifies the other languages and makes them feel more accessible and part of life as opposed to a school subject to be tested on. Starting young gives a child more options. I wouldn’t particularly liked to have learned to ride a bike as an adult… the brain definitely finds tasks like these harder.

In summary, with enthusiasm and the correct approach learning to ride a bike becomes child’s play. And Mummy get’s to go home and have a large glass of wine.

PARENTING LANGUAGE teach french babies and kids

What you need to know about yourself to stop holding your child back from learning

“I didn’t like languages at school. I was no good at remembering verbs and all that.”

I have met thousands of families at my classes. Parents whose French abilities have ranged from fully fluent to nonexistent.

What I have noticed with the second category is that they have often had to overcome some big mental hurdles and hang-ups that they have about their own language abilities which stem from being subjected to dry and uninspiring French lessons at school.

The parents who come to the sessions are the ones who have chosen NOT to let these bad experiences pass through the generations. They choose to confront their fears to let their children reach their potential.

I’d like to thank those parents who take the risk and join Mini French despite their reservations. I see you in the first class – shy and sometimes apologetic. I am inspired by you and I love taking you and your child on a wonderful journey. These parents are often the most enthusiastic by week 2 or 3 as they have seen the magic and the progress their children are already making through an up-to-date play-based, music and movement method where everyone is encouraged and supported! Well done to you. Thank you.

Don’t let your hang-ups hold your child back. We are all guilty of it until we become more conscious of it.

I reflected on this the other day via Facebook…

Are we holding our kids back? Sometimes a video is easier to explain!

Posted by Mini French on Thursday, July 19, 2018

BICULTURALISM CHILDREN teach french babies and kids

The importance of ‘Biculturalism’ & 5 practical steps to foster it

As ‘enlightened’ parents seeking to bring up their child with more than one language in their life we can often focus on bilingualism as the only goal. But what about biculturalism?

I am fascinated by ways we can boost our kids brain function! If eating loads of amazing food, travel and enjoying cool events are your thing then read on!

We will look at the advantages as shown in recent research followed by steps you can take – regardless of your family background – monocultural or multicultural.

Bicultural Advantages

– Cognitive Function

Studies show that having been exposed to two cultures with differing perspectives on a wide variety of aspects of life, biculturals have an enhanced ability to weigh up the merits of alternative options. What are the benefits of this?

When confronted with a problem, biculturals will find a higher number of solutions. They show enhanced creativity and critical thinking.

This often translates to a higher resilience and ultimately improved academic results with biculturals being generally more entrepreneurial and employable. It is our job to set our little ones up to be ‘big ones’ one day and these are skills which will help them in all aspects of life.

Plus, fostering biculturalism is a fun journey so I see it as a win-win!

François Grosjean provides a nice summary with more in-depth details on research in an article in Psychology Today.

– Global citizens

Exploring the fact that people have different sets of ideas, customs and social behaviour, fosters an awareness and higher tolerance of different views. With the current polarisation in world politics perhaps we should be supporting our children to embrace diversity? Just a thought.

From a young age, biculturals will seek our friends from a wider social circle – countries, race, backgrounds… free holiday accommodation at your pals villa in the south of France? Invite round to another friends house for some delicious home-made tapas? Don’t mind if I do.

The benefits to broadening your child’s mind are limitless!

– Who am I?

If, like me, you may be a parent whose partner has a different culture to yourself (in my case we are a Scottish-French family) or you are expat parents who have integrated really well in your new home country. You may be starting to realise that your children are identifying with one culture over another.

Does this matter? They are bilingual – won’t that ‘do’? And won’t they feel bicultural naturally?

Well, it seems that it takes a little bit more work that just telling them “you are also French/ Italian/ Polish just like Daddy” or “you are Spanish as that is where you were born.”

It also seems that it is pretty important to support our children to have a firm grasp of their roots. Having strong connections to and clear knowledge of your heritage has been shown to enhance your sense of well being. It promotes confidence and an acceptance of your unique identity – pride in who we are!

We are setting our children up to be balanced, happy, confident adults.

5 Practical steps to foster biculturalism

So with all these advantages, what practical steps can we take to support our child and enable them to reap the benefits of biculturalism? Many of these ideas can be adapted for families with one cultural background who are striving to foster a multicultural environment for their child.

Let’s start with the tasty one

All cultures have dishes we can recreate at home. Look online or at a recipe book with your child if they are old enough and choose a meal to make together. Discuss the fact that we eat at different times in different countries. Have a French evening once a week.

In our house my husband often makes madelines and I am a huge fan of les galettes bretonnes!

My mother-in-law is also very helpful in making sure we eat French food when we visit. It broadens their preferences and opens their mind to new ingredients. I owe her a lot for that actually 🙂

Don’t underestimate the power of learning about a culture through food! I have more recipes on this blog if you are seeking French recipes and will be adding more.

Sport – Allez les bleus!

This is an easy one for me today as France is playing the football World Cup! Allez les bleus! Since Scotland did not qualify, this has given the kids a team to follow 🙂

You could easily choose a player in Wimbledon or find a special sport on YouTube which is particular to your/ your partners culture.

Get stuck in! Put bunting up! Paint their faces, explain who the players are. We have invited the neighbours round for a French celebration – French cheese and pâté board…. and champagne if we win. Bien sûr. If we lose, I guess we will have to drink it anyway. C’est la vie.

Sport fosters a sense of pride.

National Events – “Did Napoleon steal that as well Mummy?”

After my recent soul searching on this topic, and a discussion with my husband who is totally on board, we have been actively working on exposing the kids to events in France.

Yesterday was Bastille Day so we watched the military parade via French tv online. This opens up debate and discussion on lots of aspects of the culture and history of a country.

We saw the obelisk in Place De La Concorde at one point, for example, and this lead to a discussion on Napoleon and the artefacts he brought back to France.

For my two year old it was all about the ‘hélicoptères’.

News & Music

Put on the radio or news from the country of your choice. This helps with your child’s vocabulary but also their exposure to what is happening in that country. Discuss world events and talk about who the leaders of the country are. I was surprised when my 7 year old pointed out Emmanuel Macron on the tv one day – we must be doing something right.

If you do not have the linguistic level to fully understand what they are saying on the news, you can benefit from the music they play. Try Radio Pomme D’Api for kids music.

Positive Attitude – Don’t freak at the pig’s head

Lead by example, perhaps one of the most important ones. As I mentioned, my husband and I are taking a team approach on this. We are always careful, despite our engrained cultural differences, to avoid speaking negatively about the other culture. Of course, we make the odd joke and humour is a powerful communication and education method, but we always take care to boost the other culture.

When we travel to France I have always embraced all aspects even if they were at times alien to me. You’d be surprised about the major underlying differences in attitudes and practices in cultures which on the surface can seem to be very similar.

Adapt on holiday to meal times and daily routines. Go to local markets together and don’t freak at the live lobsters and bloody butcher counter.


So in summary, there are many huge advantages of being bicultural. You can take fun and easy steps to foster this at home regardless of your home circumstance. Language is of course a big part of culture and Mini French can help you with that.


Most of all enjoy the experience of being part of a multicultural world and you will reap the benefits.