Monday, November 26, 2007

Max learning French and English in France

Amy is an American married to a Frenchman and raising two children in France's Loire valley. Max is two and his sister Lucia is 5 months old. Amy blogs at Chitlins and Camembert and was gracious enough to let me interview her for this blog! As Max is around my nephew's age and also the age of some of my readers' children, I think a lot of people will identify with her family's situation.

What is your language background and history?
I am American, and am semi-fluent in French (I speak and understand it well, but can’t write) and have a bit of Italian. My husband is French, and his English is good.

What languages are you exposing your children to, and how?
We are raising our children in the countryside in France. I speak English to them, read books to them in English, and they watch English DVDs, but everything else is in French (father speaks French, as do grandparents, nourrices [nannies] and daycare center).

Why do you want your children to learn a second language?
Because I have a fear that my children will grow up and not be able to speak my language.

How well does Max understand and speak English? What does he think about it? Does he have a preference for certain languages in certain situations and with certain speakers?
Max (the two-year old) understands both English and French, but doesn’t speak yet. He has a few words in both languages (English = hot, ball, nose, eyes, mama, dada; French = au revoir, chaussures). I can tell that his inability to speak is starting to frustrate him.

[Note: in the time since Amy completed this questionnaire, Max has started to talk both in French and English! Read about it here.]

How have you been able to expose your children to the culture(s) where the second language is spoken?
The only exposure my kids have to the English-speaking culture is by watching DVDs (Elmo, Disney videos, etc.). But I’m hoping to take them to the States for a month each year so that they can have a “total immersion” experience and meet other children who speak English. (We’re in the countryside, and don’t know any other English-speaking kids.)

What challenges have occurred as you teach your children a second language?
There is a temptation to use words in French when I know Max has a good grasp of the word in French but not in English. Also, since his grandparents and nourrice don’t speak English, they don’t know when he’s using an English word, so can’t encourage him.

What resources have been most useful to you? What, on the other hand, has not been useful?
Max is really into Elmo, which is great for picking up words in English. But besides that and books, I don’t really have any other resources.

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?
I’m just starting, and we’re just kind of going with the flow, not using any sort of technique or method.

I think it's great that Amy's been so successful at getting Max to understand (and now speak) both languages when there's so little reinforcement of English in their area. It'll be great when the siblings can speak English together! Amy, has your husband considered speaking English at home, even just now and then, but consistently, say every morning at breakfast, or when sitting with the kids on a certain piece of furniture? Are there any anglophone families at the university you could get together with for an English play group with the kids? You know, life in the French countryside often sounds idyllic to me, but I forget about how isolated it must sometimes seem to foreigners. Readers, do you have any questions or suggestions for Amy and her family?


  1. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for your reply to my search for case study families. However I wondered if I could quote from your excellent profiles on your blog? You have some interesting siblings there..let me know what you think, good luck with the pregnancy too!

    Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert

  2. Hi Suzanne,

    Sounds good! Let me know which ones you'd like to quote from, and I can contact the families and make sure it's okay with them.

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  4. My french cousin married a Nigerian guy. They're living in Paris and have two girls who perfectly speak both languages. To teach them the two David speaks french to them, and Véronique speaks english... So the girls translate to there mother when there father speak in french !