Raising Bilingual Children

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It’s no secret to those of you that know us that, ever since Olivia was born, we have been trying to raise her bilingually.
 
Throughout my pregnancy I was adamant on this (even before I was pregnant I wanted my children to learn other languages and be brought up bilingually if possible).

It’s been harder than anticipated – the truth is, when the foreign language isn’t your first language, it’s difficult to remind yourself to speak it at home, especially when your partner doesn’t also speak the same language!

Jamie has been an avid learner for a while now, however he considers me fluent (I don’t consider myself fluent, but, yes, I can speak French fairly well) and he is still learning. That hasn’t stopped us from attempting it though! Olivia actually has a very good French vocabulary, considering she’s 2!

So, for any parents who are wondering how they can also cultivate a language skill in their little one, these are the resources and techniques we have found most helpful:

 

1. Muzzy

Muzzy are a BBC resource on DVD that are specifically aimed at children. For the first 18 months of Olivia’s life, she wouldn’t watch the television (partly because she didn’t want to and partly because I didn’t want her to), but, from her being a few months old and able to sit in a bouncy chair or baby walker, she would watch Muzzy. If I needed a little break, to have a wee, a shower, a cup of tea, or food, I’d plonk her in front of Muzzy and felt ZERO guilt for sticking her in front of the TV, because she was learning.

2. Youtube

This has been a more recent discovery, since dreaded Peppa Pig made an entrance into our lives. I mitigate whatever hatred I feel towards that damned pig by letting Olivia watch it in French, and, FYI, Youtube hosts an hour long video with back to back episodes in French.

3. Songs

I have always sung to Olivia at nighttime, and I used to sing French songs to her more often. I simply googled the lyrics to our favourite Disney songs and sang them in French. I also learned the French lullaby ‘Alouette’ and that one is a particular favourite in our house!

She has also learned body parts by singing ‘tête, époules, genoux, pieds’ (head, shoulders knees and toes).

 

4. Animals/Teddies

On our morning walks to the childminder, Olivia would of course see lots of things outside that she had never seen before. Each time she discovered a new thing, I would teach her the word in French (only French – she would have plenty of time to learn the English word later!)

This evolved into using her teddies, as she has many animal teddies, and teaching her the words for the animal using each of these.

5. Flashcards

Olivia has a ‘My First French Words’ set of flashcards that we have used since she was 14 months old. These have probably been the most valuable resource! She is able to tell me most of the French words for the pictures on the Flashcards on request.

6. Bath books

She has had bath books since she was a tiny baby, and I would use these to tell her the names of the animals in French during bath time from her being that young age!

I bet you’re wondering how much she’s actually picked up…

Well, on 1 January 2018 when she was 18 months old, she could already say:

  • Kaka (poop)
  • Pipi (wee)
  • Bras (arm)
  • Bouche (mouth)
  • T’aime (love you)
  • Papa
  • Couche (nappy)
A month later, she could also say:
  • Arbre (tree)
  • Cochon (pig)
  • Chat (cat)
  • Pied (foot)
  • Bon nuit (goodnight)
  • Dents (teeth)
  • Papillon (butterfly)
Now,  she can say full sentences. Her entire list of French vocabulary is in italics below:
kaka, pipi, bras, mains, dents, pied, jambe, tête, bouche, époule, genoux, oreille, nez, je t’aime, bon nuit, bon matin, au revoir, bonjour, couche, arbre, fleur, orange, jus, cochon, mouton, vache, canard, grenouille, cheval, chat, chien, oiseau, souris, flocon de neige, pomme, banane, saucisse, pain, croissant, poissons, pâtes, glâces, manger, grande, blanc, rouge, vert, papillon, s’il vous plait, merci beaucoup, trés bien, princesse, belle, petits amis, joyeux noël, à bientôt, ça va, je m’appelle Olivia, oui, non, 

un, deux, trois, quatre

 
Now she is 3 months away from turning three, and she recognises French words. She tells me that Cinderella is speaking French if I put the film on in French for her, and she tells me off for speaking French too!
It’s not quite what I wanted, but I’m proud of how much she’s come on and how clever she is! She will pick languages up easily at school, and I’ll continue doing what I can to teach her at home.
Have you ever taught your children another language? What did you find helpful?
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Sarah

I am well on my way to becoming a barrister, and hope that one day my little munchkin will follow in my footsteps! I'm also a wife to a Grenadier Guard dealing with army life, and I write letters to Olivia as well as writing for the amazing blog we run over at www.mummykind.com

15 thoughts on “Raising Bilingual Children

  1. Our children really wish they were brought up learning Greek (their Grandad is Greek) however when my husband was growing up it wasn’t a common thing to do so he never learned. Things would be different now. I would definitely encourage it #KCACOLS

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  2. This is really interesting. I didn’t realise there were so many resources to help teach your child a different language. it must be hard though with it being your second language too but it sounds like she is doing amazing with it #kcacols

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  3. It must be difficult when it’s not your native language, but it sounds like you’re doing a great job in giving your daughter the foundations of a second language. I think it’s easier for me, I’m teaching my daughter my own native language, but even that has its obstacles when we’re in a completely Spanish speaking environment and I think I perhaps need to use more resources to encourage her to speak more English. #kcacols

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  4. It is so much easier for kids than adults, so good job doing right by them. I think with all we are doing with the internet and social media, we are disgracing the only language we know! Oy! #kcacols xoxo

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  5. It sounds like you are doing a great job. I wish I’d done this with my boys but I found it hard to do as my husband doesn’t speak Chinese. In the end, I just figured it was easier to stick with English! #KCACOLS

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  6. What a fantastic approach. I enjoyed learning languages at school but I found French confusing with the masculine and feminine, I wonder if learning it as a tot would have helped. #KCACOLS

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  7. Wow! This is great. She has picked up quite a lot. My daughter is in senior school and does French and Spanish at the moment, she hates them and is quite adament that if she can she will give them up when she chooses her options. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time

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  8. I’ve been teaxhing my 3 year old daughter French as well, for about 6months now. I grew up bilingual(english speaking family, french area and schools), but I always kept both languages seperate so speaking French to her never came naturally for me. Her enthusiasm to learn it has been a major motivator for me and we read in French a lot. I point out words as we read, so for example ” Je met mon chapeau et mes bottes” I will point at the hat and boots at the right moments. She knows her colours and can count to 10 in French well enough that out of context she will sometimes reply to a question in French rather than English . She knows many articles of clothing, body parts, oui, non, merci , je t’aime, bon matin, bonne nuit, and is starting to form small sentences and sing songs (mainly frere jacque). We hope to introduce her to Dutch later on when she can pick it up by immersion(Belgian familly) because so far she has not been very receptive to it beyond the regular goodbye and greeting phrases she hears regularly. Goodluck with your teaching! The younger the better for sure!

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