Thursday, November 18, 2010

What about Griffin?

You know, I've bombarded dozens of people--mostly strangers!--with my questions and then published profiles of their families on this blog; but while I have probably answered a lot of them myself along the way in the 4.5 years I've been writing here at Bringing up Baby Bilingual, I've never actually written out answers to my own questions all in a row.

And, well, I'm not going to do that now either. But one of the students who volunteered with my Reading Buddies program is now a student at Colorado State University, where I used to teach, and she contacted me because she's doing a paper on bilingualism for her English class. So as long as I was typing answers to her questions, I may as well share them here!

1. What made you decide to raise your son bilingually? What advantages, if any, do you hope this will give him, and are there any disadvantages which weighed against those?

So many reasons and advantages! For example,

• Facilitate travel, future study abroad opportunities, and career possibilities
• Develop an awareness of and interest in other countries and their inhabitants
• Train the brain to make it easier to acquire other languages and to be able to better understand how languages work

Disadvantages? It takes a lot of effort on my part, almost certainly more than it would if he were being raised monolingually, and I occasionally get funny looks or nosy questions when we're in public together. (Just two days ago, someone asked me, "Is your son adopted?" She couldn't fathom any other reason why a parent would choose not to speak English with her child in the US.) Also, as Griffin grows up and can communicate better, my monolingual husband has more and more trouble understanding us when we speak French.

To me, though, these are all minor drawbacks. It helps a lot that my husband, my family, and my in-laws are all very supportive of our raising him bilingually.

2. Living in an English-speaking society, how do you promote the French language in your son's upbringing?

• Read copious amounts of books and magazines in French (purchased at conferences, yard sales, eBay, online, and more)
• Translate books and songs from English to French for him
• Play lots of music in French (CDs, Radio Ouistiti)
• Sing to him and recite nursery rhymes in French
• Watch DVDs, videos, and YouTube clips in French
•Play games online in French (see the category "French Language for Kids" in my sidebar)
• Attend a weekly French playgroup
• Attend a French storytime (granted, we've only been doing this for less than two months)
• Hire French-speaking babysitters (this has been with limited success, though one of the three did have a French mother and thus a beautiful accent)
• Invite French-speaking friends to spend time with us and make sure that they do speak French with me around him
• Research to learn about additional resources and to establish contacts with other parents raising children with French and English in Anglophone countries (in other words, write this blog)
• Use Skype to communicate with Francophone friends (okay, so I haven't actually done this yet, because it's hard to motivate Griffin to sit still and converse in front of the computer)
• Dream of family vacations to Francophone countries (some day!)

3. Do you encounter challenges in parenting greater/other than you would expect with a monolingual child?

I have spoken exclusively French with Griffin since he was born. It's very challenging to be a non-native speaker of the language I use with my son for two major reasons:

I'm simply not as fluent in French as in my native language, English, which means that I am regularly searching for words and phrases to express ideas that I never needed to say before becoming a parent (such as "He had a diaper blow-out on his onesie while sitting in the bouncy chair"). Also, since I stopped teaching when he was born, I am no longer around other French teachers very often, and I miss speaking French to grown-ups on a daily basis.

And in a way, I have rejected the intimacy that comes from sharing one's native language with one's child. No matter how I try to translate the songs, books, and rhymes from my childhood, they're just not the same when rendered in French, so he will never love them the way I did. The lullabies I sing him are now dear to my heart, but it took a year or two for me to feel that way. The sweet nothings I whisper in his ear are always in French. It doesn't always feel natural.

On the other hand, since I have to deliberately think about French when I talk to my son, it means that I am perhaps more present for him, attending more, reflecting more. And this brings with it a different sense of intimacy because I have chosen--and continue to choose--to speak French with him. We communicate carefully, actively, lovingly, even though it's my second language.

But it will be his first!


  1. I am encouraged to read your blog and especially these notes about raising your son in your non-native language! I am looking forward to being a new mom in April and planning on speaking my second language, Spanish, to my child. I am mostly just excited about everything right now, but I know that it will be difficult at times. Knowing that there's all this support and resources on-line (here and other blogs) is great.

  2. Sarah: I wanted to say that I don't think that you have rejected intimacy of mother-son relationship, because it all depends on what you talk about and how spend time together. Based on what I read on your blog, you have that intimacy.

  3. Hi Kara! Welcome to my blog, thank you for your comment, and congratulations on your pregnancy. I think you'll find a very supportive online community of nonnative parents raising their kids bilingually. Keep in touch!

    Natalia, thank you. Yes, I do have a very strong relationship with Griffin, and we spend a lot of time reading and talking and singing and snuggling together. But sometimes it does feel like something is lacking because I'm simply not as comfortable in French as in English. I mean, I majored in creative writing as an undergraduate! Expressing myself clearly and precisely and creatively is so important to me.

  4. Hi Sarah,
    I just found your blog today and find it amazing of you to have taken the path you have chosen with bilingualism.
    We are raising our kids bilingualy as well, but I can't even imagine what it would be like to be doing it as a non-native speaker. I find it hard enough as a native speaker! ;-)
    Good luck! Keep at it!
    And I definitely agree with the other comment that you still have intimacy in your mother son relationship, although I can see how you would find it harder than if you were raising him in English. My husband is German and if we are having a discussion and I get emotional, I ALWAYS switch back to english. It is most comfortable and natural for me in that situation since i can say EXACTLY what i want to say, without having to search for words or think about Grammar.

  5. Welcome, Cryklein! Thanks for your words of encouragement. I'm going to add your site to my blogroll--I'm looking forward to reading more about your boys' linguistic adventures, especially since Griffin is right around Liam's age.

  6. Hi Sarah, I just discovered your Blog, it's very interesting especially in my case, because I gonna have a baby (a little girl), and I would like to do exactly the same that you do. I'm French live in France, and I would like to raised my baby bilingual by speaking to her only English... maybe we can exchange about it ? my email : and my Skype : fred_gz_france,
    Hope to talk to you soon... Happy New Year

  7. Bonjour Fred! Welcome to my blog and thank you for commenting. How interesting to "meet" my counterpart in France! I'd like to hear more of your story and will be in touch. Please come back often and leave comments!