Wednesday, September 06, 2006

profile: bilingual expatriate family back in the US

Pumpkin, an American, her French husband, and their four bilingual kids have just moved from France to the US. You can read about their life in France and follow their adventures in America on her blog, From My French Window. Here's what she has to say about the family's linguistic transition between the two countries:

The day after arriving back in America after over two years, Sweet Bear (almost four years old) started “baby talking” while speaking French. It got worse and worse as the week went on. She even started talking to her father in English. He would just say what she had said again but in French. He has continued to speak with all the children in French. Petite Clown (almost three) didn’t seem to be bothered by switching countries. She continues speaking English with English speakers and French with French speakers. My father’s wife is French-Canadian which is nice since it is another person in the family that is fluent in French and English. The children seem to speak mostly with her in French.

After the first week here I decided to start speaking in French with Sweet Bear when I was able to use correct French. Even if I am far from perfect in my French I felt she needed to hear more French. After 15 minutes of my speaking in French with her she started to get her confidence back. The only problem was that she told me she was speaking in English when in fact she was speaking in French. I think the poor kid got confused as to why everyone went from speaking French to speaking English. I had explained that we were not going to live in France where everyone speaks French but in America where everyone speaks English. However, she got a little jumbled up in her head as to what language was what. I think she was sticking to English during her transition because the majority of the people were speaking in English. She had lost her confidence for French for a short time.

I have continued to speak with her in French on and off for the last few weeks when I felt she needed me to. The past few days I have not spoken with her in French any more than before we moved to America. I have always spoken a little in French with the children and translated immediately after in English.

What I had not realized was that I was speaking much more in French with the children than I had realized while living in France. Once we were surrounded in an all English environment, I clearly heard the French. I don’t think it was bad for the children. I do think that if we had stayed in France speaking in English at home may have not been the same as time passed. I think we would have ended up speaking in a mixture of both languages.

Now that we are in America I am starting to speak with my husband in French with him correcting me constantly. I want to speak in French because I miss it. The biggest reason is that it is important that I speak French with my husband so that the children hear French and feel that French is a part of the home. My husband and I will speak with the children in our own mother tongues so that we can give them a strong model to follow. Besides with my accent I would destroy their French....

We have also agreed to try to live near a French school so that the kids will learn to read and write French at the same level as if we had stayed in France. It is very important to Vilay and I that our children are comfortable with the fact that they are bilingual and bicultural. We don’t want them to feel like they have to give up one culture or language for the other. So, we think a bilingual school is extremely important in keeping French equal to English....It amazes me every day how easily my two middle children switch from speaking English with me to speaking French with their father. They have even translated for my mother what they said to each other (they still speak French together) or to their father.

Best wishes to Pumpkin and her family as they get used to being back in the States, decide where to settle, and continue to create a rich francophone environment at home so the kids don't lose that connection with France!

No comments:

Post a Comment