Multilingualism in my family: Phoebe's story

30 Jun 2014

It has been a long time since I posted one of those: Multilingualism in my family. This month we meet Phoebe and her family. She lives in France and is raising her children to speak French and English. I love how languages seem to flow very naturally at the dinner table!
You can find out more about her family and life on her blog.

French-English sign in Canada via Scazon on Flickr

1. Name


2. In what country do you currently live?


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

2, aged 14 and 9

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

I speak English to everyone (including French husband), French husband speaks French to everyone, boys reply back to me in English, their dad (my hubby) in French and between them mostly French.  Around the dinner table for example it really is a mix of both depending on who is speaking to whom.  My boys will always speak to me in English, then if their dad comes into the conversation he’ll speak in French so they would reply back to him in French but turn to me and add something in English etc.

5. What language do your children hear outside home?

9 year old hears French at school but has a few English-speaking friends, 14 year old is at an International school where he gets about 25% English.  This will go up to 50% (or more) next year in LycĂ©e (high school). He has many English-speaking friends. We live far from any family so on a daily basis they don’t hear extended family speaking, though we go to UK at least once a year and family visit us regularly.

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

9 year old about 80% French 20% English, 14 year old 65% French, 35% English (approx)

7. Did you set out to follow a particular method to raise your child(ren) multilingually? Why? Why not?

We always knew we’d speak to the children in our native languages.  There was never any discussion as it was how my husband and I communicate anyway.  I always speak English to him he speaks French to me.  The only time he speaks English is when we are in the company of non-French speakers and same with me and French.  I only speak it to him/to my kids when with fully French-speaking people.  But even this I usually speak to the kids in English and then say it again in French for their friends!  I always knew I couldn’t cuddle my newborn and sing to him/chat baby-talk in anything other than my native tongue it just wouldn’t be natural.  I never read any books nor talked to any professionals.  The internet was not what it is now and there weren’t the same resources to research things.  I barely knew any other bilingual families when my 1st was born, I just did what came naturally and didn’t complicate things.  As it worked with N° 1 I carried on the same way 6 years later with N° 2.

8. What works with your current family language set up? Why?

Our method works just fine for us.  Both boys are fully bilingual, though the oldest has a more British accent in English, and N°2 has a little more interference from French.  They both read and write in English too, mainly by osmosis!  I always read to my boys in English and encouraged them to read too.  They just picked it up themselves without formal teaching (at what could be considered the “normal” age to read and write).  I have always insisted on books in their original language so they’ve read Harry Potter in English (first, in French after if they want!) etc.  Films too.  Always in their original language.

9. What doesn’t work? Why?

I honestly haven’t come across anything that doesn’t work.  My boys have never rejected English or been embarrassed to be different from their friends.  They are happy to speak to me in English in front of their French friends, but I do think it helps that we live in a very international community with plenty of other foreigners and many languages being spoken so they aren’t the only “weird” ones.  We do get a lot of funny looks and interest when in restaurants and other public places though as we fluently combine English and French.

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


11. Any other comments

I think going with what comes naturally to you and not over-intellectualising and analysing everything is important.  Try not to stress.  I remember one of the few bilingual families I knew when N° 1 was little getting very cross with me for letting him throw in the odd French word when he didn’t know it in English, saying he’ll never be bilingual if I let that happen.  Well, in stark contrast to their doom and gloom forecast, my son is as bilingual as is possible, as happy in both languages despite having lived all his life in France, has no sign of a foreign accent in either language and top of his class in both French subjects and English.

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