fbpx

Advice

Why and How teach my child a new language

Why and how should I teach my child a new language?

Let’s face it being able to converse in a second language is pretty cool. It is also hugely practical when travelling and a great selling point on your CV. But is that it?

  • Well actually… research has revealed that the impact on the brain is the most fascinating part. It has been proven to boost overall mental agility, creative thought and problem-solving skills.
  • Furthermore, what about the simple fact of teaching your child that there is a big wide world out there? That there are different cultures to uncover and adventures to be had?!
  • “The critical period”. There is some evidence to support the idea of there being a ‘critical period’ between age 0 and 7 when the developing brain is more plastic and able to process additional languages. I would say there is truth in this but that you can start a language at any age. For me, the main driver for starting early is to ensure a positive relationship with language learning from the outset. Spark their curiosity for languages now and you will be amazed how they grasp opportunities to build on this foundation in the future.
  • Starting a language in the early years gives children a head-start before school (where language tuition is still relatively patchy). Let’s face it we are all ambitious for our children’s futures.
  • But mostly, it is quite frankly amazing to see. It never fails to bowl me over when a two or three-year-old of monolingual parents sings a French song to me or follows instructions in French after only a few weeks of learning a new language.
mini french, learning another language, bilingual kids, French, Spanish, kids learning

Let’s bust a couple of myths, shall we?

“Children will mix up languages.”

The human brain was potentially never meant to be monolingual. In fact, it can easily process several languages at once. Bilingual children sometimes mix languages which is actually positive as it shows that the brain is able to flexibly flick from one to the next. Like a cerebral work out.

“My child should master English first.”

Similarly, to the above, starting a second language will not impede the development of the mother tongue. Studies actually show that it increases overall communication and boosts brain development.

How on earth do I begin teaching my toddler or preschooler the foundations of a new language?

Whether you are thinking, “I was never good at languages” or “I am pretty good at languages, but how do you talk to a toddler?” there IS a way for you to start today.

What is important is making it fun and manageable. I can recommend a step-by-step approach which you can easily adapt to your own routine. You will see results quickly – and you will have fun whilst giving your brain a work-out.

mini french, learning another language, bilingual kids, French, Spanish, kids learning
Inside a Mini Languages class in Edinburgh

STEP 1. Identify the moments you have time together

There is always at least one time in the day when you have one-on-one time (or one on two, one on three for larger families).

Bathtime?

One mealtime?

Getting dressed in the morning?

STEP 2: Find songs to sing in your chosen language

Use this one-on-one time to introduce a song. If you can find a song which matches up with the activity you are currently undertaking, i.e. a water related song while you are in the bath, then even better!

At class this is exactly how we get started. We learn a series of carefully selected songs then build on the learning with toys and interaction with an experienced teacher.

If French is your language of choice, I am happy to share some suggestions for you below (feel free to get in touch for Spanish ideas as well):

Build this into your routine and you will both learn all the words in those songs! Effortlessly.

STEP 3: Once you have established these songs into your routine and feel like you are learning them. Take it further.

In class I always share simple activities for keeping up the learning at home. Here are some of them:

  • Talk about the weather in the morning – make some cards from paper plates. Draw pictures on one side and the type of weather on the other. Leave them beside the fruit bowl and choose one and say the weather every morning over your ‘petit déjeuner’ 😉
  • Play restaurants together– role play can be incredibly effective – and fun! Find all the vocabulary you need in this link.
  • Do the Mini French challenge– you’ll learn so much with quick daily activities free to your inbox.

Watch out for the Mini Languages French Facebook group which I am starting soon which will have free activities and videos (email me for info)

Simple steps, when made fun will have lasting effects! Remember the goal at this age is to pique their interest and demystify languages. By the time they start formal education they will be miles ahead and you have given them a positive experience showing them that languages are part of life and fun!

Preschool French Preschool Spanish How do I teach my child a new language

If you are looking for support in a fun welcoming environment where you will see results quickly, join us at Mini French or Mini Spanish. Classes are Edinburgh for age 0 to 8. Or ask your nursery to get in touch with us to start classes there.

Food Habits French kids don't throw food

French kids don’t ​throw food

France is often cited as the gastronomic capital of Europe, if not the world. Did you know that French cuisine has even earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List? And who could argue? It is fair to say that the French take their food pretty damn seriously.

From personal experience, the most striking difference between the UK and France in this regard is their attitude towards, and knowledge of, food. You are expected to know your camembert from your époisses and your cèpes from your champignons de Paris… Initially, this could be interpreted as snobbism but scratch the surface and you will discover genuine respect for food provenance and quality ingredients.

17% of French children (age 6-17) are overweight

French Ministry for Health 2015

When it comes to “les petits”, French children are often lauded as having fantastic eating habits. A 2015 study conducted by the French Ministry for Health showed that 17% of French children (age 6-17) were overweight and 4% were classed as obese. However, these figures are significantly less than the European average. Furthermore, this rate is stable in France. Whereas in the majority of countries the rate of childhood obesity is on the rise.

However, they are doing something better than us. What is it?

That said, as with all other European countries the French are dealing with an obesity epidemic – 17% of children are overweight. This is not insignificant. However, they are doing something better than us. What is it?

Being a cross-cultural family, my husband and I often find ourselves pulled in two different directions when it comes to many issues. However, I have to admit that when it comes to eating, we side more with French culture. So I have been pondering on what exactly it is that keeps the French achieving lower obesity rates? How can make practical changes in your own home to set a good example for your children? Well, here are my top 5 “food lessons we can learn from the French”. See if you agree…

1. The French eat together

Breakfast in France is not a bowl of cornflakes in front of Paw Patrol or a coffee gulped as you run out the door. Breakfast is a sit-down meal. Set the table. Warm the milk. For a strong start to the day, connect as a family and fill your belly French style. Dinner is the same. Mum and Dad sit with the kids. Everyone eats the same meal, at the same time – a bit later than in the UK and it just works. Their attitude? Don’t have time? Make some.

2. The French eat big meals

For me, this may be the cornerstone to French eating routines. A meal is a meal. It isn’t two slices of sliced white bread, plastic cheese and a limp leaf of lettuce. It is a warm dish with meat, vegetables, pasta or rice. Or a packed salad drizzled in olive oil. It is, above all, a pleasure. It rewards your body for its morning efforts and sets you up for the afternoon. This goes for kids as well – at school canteen and at home.

3. The French don’t snack

Clearly linked to eating consistent meals, you won’t see kids snacking all day long. Breakfast is hearty. Lunch is an affair. Your next official eating interval is at 4pm for your ‘goûter’. Since becoming a mother I have always implemented this. Yes, there are times when your kids are just starving and you give them a chunk of bread or fruit outside of meal-time. But really, a filling snack mid-afternoon should be sufficient to see you through. It is ok to be hungry sometimes.

4. The French eat in season

A big one and the one which is hardest to implement in the UK due to our lack of affordable local markets. The French respect the seasonal food calendar and tend to have favourite summer and winter recipes. This means fresher, higher nutrient content and reduced food miles. Endives in summer and ratatouille in winter? Snigger. Not sure what that even means? Check this website to see what is in season this month!

5. The French value quality

There is a reason the French high street is enduring better that ours. Bakers still line the streets and local butchers are not hard to find. And I think this is due to the value placed on quality ingredients. It is not unusual to spend a decent amount of your weekly wage on your meat, cheese (and wine). Food is a pleasure and not a fuel. With a starter, a side and a dessert (which could be plain yoghurt and fruit), you are not talking huge quantities of meat or key ingredients, making it an affordable method even for families. Plus, children are treated to little luxuries like local cheese and charcuterie, hors-d’oeuvres on special occasions and pastries from the patissier… Appreciation and portion control are the lessons here.

Of course, there will be French families who do not fit the above description exactly but I can tell you that they will be the exception to the rule. While UK and American influences are creeping in, I have faith that the French will maintain their strong foodie culture. It is doing them, and their children, the world of good. Moreover, if there is a culture which can stubbornly endure – it is the wonderful French.


Baby Words French _Infographic

Baby Words in French

 

Baby Words French _Infographic
Baby Words French _Infographic

So what is funny is that I often have parents in class who have very decent French – some could even read ‘Le Monde’ newspaper or watch the French news… but they do not know how to speak to little kids 🙂

In this infographic series, I will provide fun and useful words for speaking to your child.

Enjoy x

Activities with babies Edinburgh

‘Banish Baby Brain’: 7 brain-stimulating activities for parents

I have always disliked the term ‘baby brain’ (I have also heard it be called ‘momnesia’). New parents have so much on their plate, of course, their focus is elsewhere! However, there is scientific backing to suggest that mothers are impacted by a lack of concentration and focus.

It is true that as a new parent you can feel like your brain is not functioning correctly. You could even be forgiven for thinking that you were losing brain cells in those first crazy years of parenthood. We just focus on this new arrival who turns into a testing toddler and then an active preschooler… It passes in a flash and we can forget to embrace it.

But what about #selfcare? How about using your time with your child to learn and grow WITH them?

Why keep learning as an adult?

We create new neural connections in our brain when we learn and practise something new. These neural connections enable our brains to process information more quickly and keep our minds sharp.

Additionally, studies show that those who continue ‘exercising’ their brain in adulthood reduce their risk of, or delay, certain types of dementia.

So, when you find yourself in charge of a little one and the day is stretched before you, see it as an opportunity. There are LOADS of activities you can get up to with your young child to keep your mind active.

Here are my top 7 brain-stimulating activities for parents:

  1. Sewing – Although this may not initially seem baby-friendly (pins, sewing machines…!), I know several Mums who have used their extra time at home to learn basic dressmaking or home furnishings. Edinburgh’s Red Thread Studio runs baby-friendly midweek classes. I have not been but it looks awesome! Red Thread Studio
  2. Podcasts – Parenting is a funny thing. At times you don’t have a second for yourself. Then sometimes you suddenly find yourself in need of entertainment i.e. baby falls asleep on you or toddler falls asleep in the car just as you arrive at the supermarket – potentially wasted time! Not if you have a back up of podcasts to listen to! Download several to your phone on a subject which is new to you and sit back, listen and learn. Two of my fave are TED Radio Hour and Stuff You Should Know (SYSK) but you can find literally thousands of awesome quality podcasts. Not sure how to download a Podcast? Read this article.
  3. Free online university classes – These days we have access to a world of knowledge at our fingertips, literally. In recent years, there has been a rise in access to quality learning-programmes online – for free! For online courses created by universities, check out Future Learn. You can browse their enormous catalogue of subjects, enrol and learn: any time any place.
  4. Yoga – It is quite obvious that any regular exercise has physical health benefits.  Most people are also aware of yoga’s positive impact on our sense of wellbeing but did you know about its brain age-defying properties? A recent study has shown a link between regular yoga sessions and a higher number of brain cells! The good news is that you can easily start yoga with your child and many groups out there can support you. In the Edinburgh area, check out YogaBellies parent & child classes where you will get a warm welcome from Jen, Louise or Rosy.
  5. Museums – Not on your list midweek? Think again! Museums these days are mega-child friendly and also pretty quiet during the week in Edinburgh. I have had whole exhibitions to myself while the baby sleeps in the pram or even crawls on the floor beside me 🙂 There is also always caffeine nearby. I go a lot with my 3-year-old and she loves looking at the paintings and is now quite at ease in a gallery! The National Galleries Scotland run BYOB talks (Bring Your Own Bump!) “Monthly informal gallery chats for grown-ups with their wee-est ones.” Amazing!
  6. Languages – Of course, this is where my passion lies and I would encourage you to grasp this opportunity with both hands! Learning a new language has huge proven cognitive benefits. Brushing up on our existing level can seem daunting but believe me, it is not all that hard. At Mini French (or Mini Spanish coming next year) you can learn along with your child. The language coaches are trained to keep parents and children engaged and you will come home feeling brighter in every way!
  7. Socialise with purpose – Finally, as parents of young children, we ALL have days when we are overwhelmed and can barely function (in fact I am writing this in bed with a toddler next to me). On these days, meeting up with fellow parents who are all in the same boat is very important. There are social groups around the country. One very good one in Edinburgh is MumUnity. A supportive bunch of Mums run by Amber, the founder of Lottie’s Boutique. You will be met with no judgement and a cuppa. Your mental health is paramount. At Mini French, you will also meet lots of cool, like-minded parents. Our aim is for every parent to get a warm welcome and many stick around for a coffee after.

So there you have it… which brain-boosting activity will you start this week?

Bingo French counting

Step-by-step method for counting in French with your preschooler

Learning a language together is all about simple steps. Just start somewhere! When you start to see results you’ll be spurred on to achieve more 🙂

Let’s start with counting in French. Below is a manageable home lesson plan to learn to count to 20 (or 10 if that is your child’s current counting level).

1. Start with singing numbers in French together

Music is a very powerful learning medium.

Here is a video from YouTube which I quite like… be warned it gets stuck in your head but that is the point!

At Mini French, we incorporate several counting songs into our sessions. One example is “Un, Deux, Trois  nous irons au bois” (1, 2, 3 we will go to the woods!)

2. Put counting in French into daily practice

As a parent, you will already be aware that children learn through ‘doing’. Here are three simple ideas:

Snacktime: Select a snack today which is made up of small parts i.e. grapes, raisins, crackers…Count them out into a bowl together. Grab a teddy. Count out a snack for teddy. Let your child count out the snack for you. You could add in “Miam! C’est bon!” (Yum! It is tasty!)

Walking: Pass the time and encourage your little one to keep up (!) by counting in French when you climb the stairs or are walking to the car or bus. I know a good song for this but I can’t give away all my secrets in one go… 😉

Shopping: Count the food as you place them in the trolley or at the checkout. This could lead on to learning fruit names. Download my fruit poster here.

This is also something you can ask your care provider to get involved in. Most adults can manage to learn to count in a new language and will relish the challenge! My childminder was delighted to speak in French a little when she looked after my youngest.

3. Play a counting game: bingo or a ballgame

Bingo: Remember that it can be hard for young children to verbalise new words so asking to point at words is easier. Download my bingo printable. There are three levels: ‘Niveau 1 – Niveau 3′. 

COUNT IN FRENCH PRESCHOOLER BINGO

Ballgame: Keep things moving! Children are very active learners and like to have hands-on experience. Grab a ball and kick or throw to each other and try to get to 20 (cheating is allowed!)


So there you have it, adding some small activities into your busy day can be very effective in giving your child a headstart in a language.

Positivity and encouragement are the main resources in your language teacher toolkit. This will boost your child’s confidence and have a snowball effect in their language learning. I see it happen ALL the time at class. Those parents who put in a tiny bit of effort at home through music or games will result in their children having a solid grasp of the foundations of a second language in their preschool years.

Fancy another activity? Check out my Learning Through Taste home lesson!

Felicity

 

French children books in the UK

How to get French children’s books in the UK?

I am often asked how to find good quality French children’s books in the UK. I love children’s books. Our house is full of them! My children have learned a huge amount of their French vocabulary from books I purchase in France. I received great feedback on a post I wrote last year with my French book recommendations on Amazon.co.uk but the selection they have currently is not extensive.

Other than that you can pick them up in French bookshops, supermarkets and vintage markets. But what if you are not heading to France this year and have exhausted the Amazon list? Or you are looking for a special present for your little one? Or even to improve your own French (I’d highly recommend kids books for language learning).

Monthly to your door

What if I were to tell you that there is also a service where you can have brand new, professionally selected, French kid’s books delivered monthly to your door…(I should note at this point that I have no affiliation with this service).

L’école des loisirs is a renowned French language publishing house specialising in children’s books. They created the Max Book Club (L’école des max), offering subscribers eight books a year from November to June to reach a wider audience. Fortunately for Brits this service is available internationally.

We have been subscribed to the service since my children were pretty much newborn thanks to their French grand-parents and I would highly recommend it. I like books from a range of publishing houses but I think most of our family favourites are from L’école des loisirs.

There are eight ‘series’ or categories within the book club. Each series is designed for a certain age group. I would recommend sticking to the early age series’ BEBEMAX or TITOUMAX as they are suitable for up to age 3 and age 2 to 4 respectively but the vocabulary will be challenging enough for non-French speakers. They have simple sentences, bright illustrations and engaging stories which will have you learning French together through age-appropriate vocabulary.

Through their website you can also peek inside the books to see the level. The website is quite comprehensive with some audio versions available. I’d encourage you to check it out.

How do you subscribe?

There are two types of subscriptions: Individual or Group. My family qualifies as a ‘Group’ as we have three children all receiving books (from different series). This qualifies us for a slightly reduced rate. £35 – £42 per child (depending on series). So if you can find two other willing friends, you could subscribe as a group as it is an attractive price for kids books. You will receive the books in one package to a single address.

Full pricing here

Otherwise, you can sign up as an individual. Prices start at £48 for the BEBEMAX series. If you have any issues or questions there is a UK contact email address on the website.

To note, if you subscribe after November you receive all the previous books for that season – so you can sign up at any time – perhaps a Christmas idea from a generous relative? Or one for the Santa list?

Finding French children’s books in the UK can be tricky but reading can be a really wonderful way to improve, not only your own French but your cultural awareness. So why not check out the book club and receive a little language gift every month?

Bonne lecture! Have fun reading!

 

 

 

French for kids

Watch our new video!

It has been a very busy few months! Mini French has been signing-up a record number of children to our programmes. We are obtaining consistently high re-sign up rates from families and have started working in many new nurseries who are all giving us great feedback.

My teachers and I work hard to ensure that our programmes are highly engaging and very effective. We focus on babies to age 7 as I am passionate starting a language in the early years. It is a very specialised role to be able to entertain and engage this age group but sooooo rewarding!

But how did Mini French begin? Watch the Story of Mini French to find out!

For happy brains and bright futures, join Mini French!

starting a language with your baby

Start a language with your baby: Jack’s Story

When you start a language with your baby or young child, you are embarking on a rewarding journey. Most parents these days are keen for their child to gain the foundations of a second language. However, many parents do not know which age to start a language with their child or how to go about it!
Knowing that other parents in your area have started this journey can give you confidence in your decision. So let’s hear from one of the lovely Mums who comes to my sessions and learn from her experience! Jack’s Dad has also joined us on many occasions! Remember any parents or grandparents who would like to join are more than welcome at the sessions.

What is your background in French?

I am half French.

What were the main reasons that led you to think about starting a language with Jack?

I grew up in a multi-language household and it really encouraged me to travel and be curious about different cultures. I think it is so important to instil an awareness of different languages and cultures from an early age but in a fun way.

What age did Jack start Mini French?

He started at just over three months old.

What do you like about Mini French?

Felicity is hugely enthusiastic and is excellent at both capturing and keeping the attention of the children. She has excellent props and toys to go with the songs. It’s so imaginative.

Did you have any reservations before you started?

I wondered whether the classes would be wasted on such a young baby but I sang the songs at home and they quickly became firm favourites. He also really responds when anyone says “coucou” to him!

How does Jack react in the sessions?

When he was really young, Jack just watched and listened but seemed to really take everything in. He is now more mobile and tries to crawl to collect the toys himself. He watches and tries to learn from the older children in the class.

What is Jack’s, or your, favourite French song?

“Deux petits canards au bord de l’eau”. It’s now the one song that immediately soothes him.

What are your hopes for his language journey in the future?

I don’t want to force another language upon him but I would be thrilled if he continued to learn French – or any other language for that matter. It would also be so lovely to see him speak to his French relatives.

What would you say to parents thinking of starting a language with their children?

It is so important for it to be fun.

 


 

So there you are! Watch your baby grow and learn through a new language. I am here to help. Why not get in touch today?

bring child up bilingually

4 Steps to bringing your child up bilingually

So you are pregnant or are already a parent and are hoping to bring your child up bilingually or with a solid knowledge of another language! Amazing! I have three bilingual children and spend lots of time with families just like yours. It is a joyful journey!

The good news is that you can do it. It is possible regardless of your situation. However, what you need to know is that the fact of having one parent who speaks one language well and another parent who speaks a different language well, is not sufficient. A child will not magically become bilingual without some effort from their carers. As you suspected, it is a skill to be nurtured. Don’t worry though! I have been there and can share my experience to give you some shortcuts.

The photo is of my first born and I eight years ago. He was three weeks old and I was a new parent with a lot on my plate but pretty damn happy and determined he would become bilingual so he could grab every opportunity presented to him in his future.

Here are the steps I wish I had known back then to successfully bring your child up bilingually:

  1. Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)

It all starts with the right attitude. Do not skip this step! It may even be the most important one.

There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, the correct frame of mind will hold you in good stead for the journey as bilingualism is a long process. It is not like other life skills like… swimming, let’s say, where you may stop once they are safe in the water and can swim a length. Learning two languages is intertwined with life itself. It brings lots of joy but it helps to be confident in your goals and your plan. We will discuss this further in step two.

There will be bumps or occasional setbacks. Times when you can’t see progress, moments when you wonder if it is ‘working’ or when you let doubt cloud your mind when a well intentioned friend or relative questions your plan. During these times and you need to be sure in your own mind why you are choosing this route.

Secondly, children are highly sensitive to the feelings of those around them. They can sniff out anxiety or stress a mile off! You do not want to pass this on to your child. PMA all the way! Complaining to them that they have replied in the ‘wrong’ language. Or, spot testing them in front of a group of other family members will create a negative association with the language which they may carry into adulthood. Remember that in the first few years of your child’s life, the goal is to ensure they see languages as a happy part of life. A positive, normal part of their surroundings and NOT a test, challenge or worry which could lead to a ‘language rebellion’ or refusal to engage in that language. (NB: you can work round this if it happens to you but, if avoided, then it is better!)

  1. Make a Family Language Plan (FLP)

Looking back I had a pretty good attitude. I did my research and was firm in my beliefs as to the benefits of learning a second language from birth. I understood that it would be a marathon and not a sprint.

What I didn’t really have was a plan.

A Family Language Plan is the way in which you will ensure that you are nurturing both the minority and majority languages in your family. It helps to keep you on track. Your minority language is the one that your child will naturally have less exposure to and tends to need the most TLC.

Your FLP could take the form of an in-depth discussion with your partner or it could be a genuine document where you note your ideas and resources you plan on using and add to it when you see cool ideas. Pinterest can be good for this. What is important is that you are both on the same page and are clear on how you anticipate ensuring that your child is exposed to meaningful input in both languages. It can be something you refer to when you run out of ideas or the minority language needs a boost.

Areas to consider in your FLP:

  1. What is your goal for your child? Key words/ conversational/ bilingual/ bi-literate/ bi-cultured?
  2. Which languages do both parents know? Do you know the words a child will tend to use in that language?
  3. Which languages will parents speak when they have 1:1 time with their child? For bilingual families, One Parent One Language or not(this article may help)?
  4. Is it time for one or both parents to scrub up on their partners’ language?
  5. What will the family language be i.e. meal times? If your level is not very advanced in your chosen language, perhaps choose one evening when you identify the items on the table in that language instead of full conversations – French Fridays?!
  6. What other family and friends can help and have you spoken to them about your plans? Can you have a regular Skype/ Face Time session?
  7. Should there be a day or time when the minority language is encouraged? i.e. Sunday games night?
  8. How will you ensure stories in both languages are read with your child? Where can you get books? READING IS SO IMPORTANT!
  9. Do you know lots of songs and nursery rhymes in the minority language? How can you find some –Cd or download? AGAIN, SINGING IS GREAT!
  10. Are there local playgroups or language groups aimed at young children you can attend?
  11. What about babysitters and bilingual childcare?
  12. What radio stations and TV programmes could help to maximise exposure? Which cartoons are popular in the country of the minority language? Some ideas here.
  13. What “boosts” do you have up your sleeve for days or weeks when you need to increase the minority language? i.e. For younger children, a quick game using your hands? Head, shoulders, knees and toes? A favourite book, toy or song?
  14. Have you considered when you will tackle writing in the minority language, if that is one of your goals?
  15. When it comes to culture, will you try eating food from both countries? Celebrating festivals from both countries?
  16. When can you travel to a country where your minority language is spoken?

This list is intended to start a conversation and not to scare you! As you will see later on, your plan can, and should be, flexed as your child develops. It also gives you a strong foundation to answer questions from friends and family giving you confidence in your approach.

A Family Language Plan as unique as your family is. I will share mine over the coming months and you may find inspiration.

  1. Put the plan into place

Now you have the best attitude and an awesome plan you are ready to rock!

Stand-by your plan. If you expose your child to a new language regularly, you and your child will see results but enjoy the journey! Remember to make sure that you add your own personality and, crucially, keep it as fun as possible.

Watch your growing child and get to know what is working and what is not. As they develop, note their learning style – do they prefer active games, particular games or toys? Is there a class they enjoy a lot where you can get further advice?

Keep it up but do not beat yourself up when the plan changes from time to time and if you are finding that there are certain parts that are just not feasible then you may want to make some changes. Which leads us to the final step.

  1. Review your plan periodically

The best plans are flexible and are reviewed from time to time to keep them fresh.

This is something I now do frequently with my partner. We think about each of our three children and discuss what each of them may need to advance their spoken or written French, which is our minority language.

For example, we were previously doing joint evening stories with our two older boys but we realised it is time for our younger boy to begin reading in French now that he is reading well in English and understands the concept of phonics. So he now has a story with Daddy separately and they choose a book with more basic French words to build his confidence.

Another example – we realised at the end of the school-term that the spoken French in the house had reduced. We made a conscious decision that on our two week holiday we would only speak French between us as adults… lo and behold the children followed.

Regardless of your level – monolingual parents or bilingual parents – the principles of having a plan, putting it into place and reviewing it still apply.

So what now to start bringing my child up bilingually? Take time to go through step one and two, grab a cuppa and look for local resources. Put your plan into action with support from friends and family. Then review it from time to time. Keep it fresh and fun.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. I love a chat and would welcome your experiences.

Good luck!

 

 

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