Monday, April 09, 2007

profile: Gill's daughters growing up with English and French in France

Gill lives in Grenoble with her three daughters. Get to know her at her blogs French Windows (about her life in France, with detailed explanations of French history and culture) and Limping Iambics (her original poetry)!

What is your language background and history?
I’m from Shropshire, UK. I moved to France in 1987 to work in a bookshop and I never looked back! I have a degree in French from an English University.

What languages are you exposing your children to, and how?
My three girls were born in Aix-en-Provence. I’ve brought them up more or less on my own so English is their ‘mother’ tongue. When they were young, all their books, cassettes and videos were in English. They know all the English nursery rhymes, too. My eldest child came with me to the International Primary school where I worked at the time so she really had more exposure than the others (we all spoke English there and the classes were in English)

Why do you want your children to speak English and French?
In my case, I just wanted them to be able to communicate with their UK family – grandparents, aunts and uncles etc.

How well do your children understand and speak French and English? What are their preferences?
My eldest child speaks French and English with equal ease. She will slip from one to the other for no real reason – much like myself these days! She can read and write better than many English children from what I’ve seen (well, she’s technically an adult now, since Boxing Day!). Many of her friends at the International Lycée she attended spoke only English and many of the teachers were Anglophone. The other two can speak if they need to but French is easier for them. They all speak to each other in French. They all hate me to speak French, though – even though I’ve been here for 20 years and my accent’s pretty good! Mum doesn’t speak French, see…

Have you been able to expose your children to the culture(s) where the second language is spoken? How?
My parents come over regularly and we’ve been over to England a few times although money is tight in our family! Most of our DVDs are in English and of course, much of the ‘music’ they listen to is in English (if you can call it that). As for culture…well, I sometimes cook à l’anglaise and they used to love English cakes – but they’re always dieting these days so I don’t make them any more…I’ve always celebrated Christmas the English way, which is different from the French way.

What challenges have occurred as you teach your children a second language?
I have not ‘taught’ my children a second language – it’s their mother tongue and they learnt as other children learn their mother tongue. However, it was more difficult to teach them to read and write in English and I gave up in frustration (except for the eldest who had no problem at all). It was more to do with them not wanting to – I didn’t want to force the issue either. They learn English at school, of course – but often badly and the youngest two have ended up with an American accent! (no offence – it’s just that I’m English!)

What resources have been most useful to you?
As I said, books, cassettes, videos…

What do you think parents, caretakers, teachers, and/or researchers need to know about teaching a second language to children? What do you wish you had known when you started? What, if anything, would you do differently now?
That it’s perfectly normal for a child to use both languages in the same sentence – especially when they are young. Mine still say ‘Y a-t-il un towel dans le drawer?’ etc. It all sorts itself out eventually. Also, it’s important to be consistent and the parent who speaks the second language must always speak it to the child except for certain situations that have been decided on beforehand (when other non-speakers are present…otherwise it’s a bit rude!). I now wish I had insisted my children take German or Spanish as a second language at school – not English. I think it has hindered them.

This is the first family that I've profiled whose children are all teenagers, so it's very encouraging to see how well it can work when you're raising kids with more than one language. Merci beaucoup, Gill! Readers, have you had similar experiences? Please click on "comments" and share your ideas….

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