I just read Carol’s blog; A French American Life Perspectives on my bicultural family from a Francophilic, Francophobic Anglophone. Sometimes, it’s complicated.
In her blog from February 21, More French, Please!, she writes about how her children are become fluent in french. Their sentences are full of english and french words. This takes me back to when I first moved to France with my French husband and our 2 boys.
Jacques and I are bilingual. We decided when our first child was born that he would speak to them in french and I would speak to them in english. This was hard to do when we moved to France. At home I spoke english but when at the store or with french friends, I usually spoke french. I didn’t want to be that American who had been married for years but still didn’t speak french.
We moved to France in the 1980’s when my oldest child was 6 and my 2nd child was 18 months old. The children picked up french quickly. Niko at 2 years old went to french daycare and Laurent went to the french public school. I continued to talk to them in english at home.
In 1982 my daughter was born, (she is the one who just got married), and by the time she started school at age 2, the teachers were worried since she rarely spoke. At home she chattered away but at school this wasn’t the case. It seemed that she wasn’t sure what she should be speaking. By this time, the boys were totally fluent and doing well in school.
We moved back to California when Lexie was 4. Now the children had the opposite problem. Their french was good, they spoke english like American children but they couldn’t read or write like American children.
Lexie solved the problem and I think that many small children do this. She realized that she needed to speak english to be understood so she completely dropped the french. Getting it back was not easy and she needed to study it as she grew up. Laurent (the oldest) was 13 when we returned and he was fluent enough that he just added onto his english and kept the french. Niko, age 8, was also old enough to keep both languages.
Children pick up languages quickly and use the one that gets them the “ice cream” the fastest. These days, Niko and his wife live at our home in Provence. If you read my blog regularly, you know that they just had a baby, Olivier. Since he is only 1 month old, I realize I’m a bit premature but, I’ll be interested to see if he picks up french or english first? It will also be interesting to see how quickly baby Olivier becomes fluent in both languages.