After living in Europe for two years, we were exposed to so many different cultures and people for whom speaking more than one language was no big deal. Europeans generally speak at least two languages, often more, without thinking that was unusual.
While we were living in Luxembourg, I decided to take my French training and start imparting that to my kids. The goal not so much being that they would become fluent in French, but to expand their horizons, and make them aware of other languages and cultures in the world. However, if they become fluent ... that would be awesome. Also, because they are still so young, their brain ‘catches’ language so much easier than when they get older.
I speak mostly English, and about 30 percent French with my two little ones. I am conversational, not fluent in the language, if you’re wondering why I don’t do 100 percent French. We have also put our kids in a French preschool, so they are exposed to native speakers regularly.
Here are some tips of what I have done to make this seem more attainable for your family.
1) Start small. Try making getting dressed a bi-lingual experience. Add a new phrase each day. “Pick your socks.” “Choose your shoes and put them on.” If you repeat them daily, your kids will soon respond without your needing to repeat in English.
2) Don’t give up. Even if your kids don’t start speaking back to you in French, just keep adding phrases.
3) Other times to add some language into your second language diet: Meal-time, Bed-time, Potty time, “I love you,” etc
It’s nice to be able to converse a bit with my almost five-year-old in French, and she is so proud when it happens. She had the biggest smile on her face when she ran to tell Daddy she had a conversation with mama in French. What did we say?
-“Mama, I’m hungry”
-“What would you like to eat?”
-“I want cereal.”
-“What kind of cereal would you like to eat?”
-“Please get your spoon and wait at the table.”
While not exactly riveting dialogue, I spoke only in French with her, and she understood me perfectly. She spoke half in French and half in English, which makes me so proud. She thinks language is fun, which shows me yet again, that this is the best time to be exposing her to it.
Looking back on when I began learning French (middle school), I did not think it was fun at all. Seeing my kids singing French songs, and playing games in French, I have realized it’s just another adventure in learning about the world for them. They think it’s fun! And, they have an incredible ear for hearing accents. My daughter can say the french “r” with no difficulty at all, while after years of trying my “r” words still sound abysmal.
Don’t be intimidated to try this in your own home! Start small and build, and soon your kids will look at you and say “Vert” when you ask them what color something is!