Multilingualism in my family (Tallulah's story)

20 Nov 2012

This week, we meet Tallulah and her family. Tallulah lives in London with her husband and two children. Tallulah writes a great blog and she tells us how she has switched from French to English after 5 years of non-native French. She reminds us how tough it is. Pretty amazing!

 © kpiau on Flickr

1. Name


2. Blog

3. In what country do you currently live?


4. How many children have you got and how old are they?

Two (8 & 5 years old)

5. Who speaks what to whom (in the home)?

We all speak English at home. Papa teaches them a few Twi phrases, but it’s quite sporadic!

6. What language do your children hear outside home?

School is immersion French. Schmoo also takes Mandarin classes once a week, and we support this with Mandarin iPad apps & cartoons at home. All of their (limited) screen time is either in French or Mandarin.

7. If you had to put a percentage on the languages your child(ren) hear what would they be?

For both children it’s the same, 50% French, 50% English. There’s a tiny bit of Mandarin & Twi in there too, no more than 5%.

8. Did you set out to follow a particular method to raise your child(ren) multilingually?

Yes, at first I always spoke to them in French. It felt a bit odd and was very, very difficult not to use my mother tongue, but I felt this was the only way to ensure their fluency. As someone who’s studied languages I never underestimated how much of the minority language they would need in order to be able to speak it. Once they were both at the immersion school, I gradually switched back to talking English at home, to my great relief! I spoke French to them for 5 years.

9. What works with your current family language set up?

Now it’s all English at the home. Actually that’s not entirely true, as fairly frequently me or the kids will flip into French, maybe because the vocabulary is linked to school or something we’ve previously discussed in French. I barely notice it, but my mum tells me we do it a lot!

10. What doesn’t work?

Occasionally my husband has to ask what we’ve said, although his passive knowledge is pretty good now! And vice versa, it’s quite tough on me sometimes when we are with my in-laws and they’re all talking Twi, laughing at jokes I can’t understand.

11. What would you do differently if you could or would have to do it again?

I don’t think I would do it differently. Although it was extremely hard, talking French with my kids gave them a real head-start on the language for immersion school, and notably in my daughter’s case, bonded them with the language (she tells everyone she’s French!).

Thank you very much to Tallulah for answering my questions and taking the time to reflect on those answers. I think a lot of us can relate to jokes with the in-laws that we don't understand!

If you are a multilingual family and would like to be featured on my blog contact me.

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