Amig@s, it’s been a few weeks since we left off with the series Family Fridays. It’s good to be back into the rhythm of it again. If you’re new to the blog, I’m so glad you’re here.
Family Fridays is a series I started back in October in which I highlight and interview a different bilingual or multilingual family each Friday. Through these interviews we not only get to meet a new family from cool places around the world, but we learn and take encouragement from their experiences in this fun adventure called bilingual parenting.
Today, I’m so honored to introduce you to fellow bilingual maman and blogger, Michele Cherie from Intentional Mama. Please check out her blog! You’ll be so glad you did.
Michele has a unique and uplifting story to share with us. Be encouraged!
Give a brief snapshot of your family’s language dynamics and your family’s language policy (what language(s) do you speak, who speaks what with whom?).
Bonjour! I’m a California-born girl who learned French in high school, college, and by studying abroad. I married a Thai-born guy who grew up speaking Thai at home here in the U.S. We live in Oregon and are raising our children (ages 2 and 5, plus a baby due in January) in both French and English. I speak French, my non-native language, with our kids, while my husband sticks with English. (He’s more comfortable using English than Thai.)
The dominant language of our home is English since my husband doesn’t speak French and I don’t speak Thai, but because I use French with our children, our five-year-old daughter will sometimes speak French with me. (My two-year-old son is using more French words all the time but I’m not sure yet if he can switch into French entirely.)
What prompted your decision to raise your children bilingually?
I’m passionate about the French language, and I loved teaching French to middle and high school students for a few years before our daughter was born. Trying to raise her in French seemed like a fantastic gift and a grand adventure. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep it up as she grew, but it was worth trying!
My husband, on the other hand, wasn’t interested in speaking Thai to our children. He didn’t think he’d be consistent and he didn’t feel compelled to pass the language on to them. Now, however, I think we both wish he had chosen to speak Thai with them—they wouldn’t be left out of conversations at family gatherings, and perhaps they wouldn’t reply to me in English as often if the languages of our home didn’t include English.
What positive growth or results have you witnessed in your children/family because of their bilingualism?
I’m biased, of course, but I love seeing the positive impact that bilingualism has brought to our family! Our children have a much larger understanding of the world than I did at their age as a monolingual. They’re exposed to a larger variety of stories and have a more diverse view of the world (also because we enjoy hosting exchange students). Their vocabularies are rich, their play is creative, and they really enjoy interacting with people of all ages. They’re good listeners and they pay attention to their surroundings. I think all of these factors are linked to their bilingual upbringing and their exposure to diverse languages and cultures.
What challenges have you faced or are you facing with language rearing and learning? How do you handle them?
The challenge of our OPOL (one parent, one language) household is that one of our languages, English, is also the dominant language outside the home, so there’s a heavy cultural pull towards on our children to use English all the time. I do my best to emphasize French by getting as much time and conversation with my children as possible. I’ve chosen to be a stay-at-home mama and I’m homeschooling my daughter in French. (The nearest French immersion school is too far away to be an option right now). We hope to improve our children’s French fluency by taking them to France for a few months next summer.
Honestly, I don’t consider my non-native knowledge of French to be as sigificant of a challenge as overcoming the English-dominant bias. Thanks to a great French/English dictionary app and French book rental company Les Petits Livres, I’m expanding my knowledge of French all the time. Educating my children in French will only help our language knowledge grow.
Can you talk about the cultural aspect of bilingual parenting as it relates to your family?
My husband and I are both Americans, but our experience living and traveling abroad has brought more diverse practices to our parenting:
- French aspects of our home: we have dinner together each night, usually with fruit or yogurt for dessert; we avoid committing to too many activities for our children, and we place a high value on quality books, music, and art.
- Thai influences: primarily food and family. My husband loves to cook even more than I do, and we enjoy his Thai cooking as often as we do French, Italian, and Mexican. Food inevitably links to family because whenever there’s a birthday—or any excuse to gather—aunties, uncles, and cousins all get together for more food, laughter, and loud conversations!
- More global aspects of our parenting: I’m a strong believer in baby wearing, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and what Alfie Kohn terms “unconditional parenting,” meaning that I try to extend grace and love to my children rather than trying to manipulate their behavior with punishment and rewards. I do resort to those methods when I’m overly tired, but generally I find there are much more effective ways to influence children’s hearts towards wiser decisions, even when they are very young.
Share a memorable moment you and your family experienced with language learning, something that shed light or taught you a lesson about bi-/multilingual parenting.
Once, on the way home from a playdate with some French-speaking friends, my daughter told me, “Mom, I forgot I knew English. I just emptied my head of English.” It was interesting for me to hear her preschool perspective on switching languages!
How do you involve your family, community, school and/or world at large in this bilingual adventure?
Sharing our bilingual adventure has been crucial to my language consistency. I launched my blog, Intentional Mama, just over a year ago so that I could share this journey and any useful French resources I found with others. We can all use encouragement for our bilingual efforts! Blogging has held me accountable and helped me realize the depth of my commitment to this path.
Other than that, my choice to speak French all the time has sparked a language interest from family members and strangers alike. People are curious about how I learned French and ask my children and me how to say things in French. Many people have expressed a revived interest in deepening their knowledge of a foreign language after I share my story. People are so encouraging!
What advice or encouragement can you share with other families raising their children bi-/multi-lingually?
When it comes to language exposure, focus on reading over screen time, and emphasize fun conversations and interactions rather than passive listening and watching. Young or old, we all seem to learn languages best by interacting with others and listening to their stories rather than through educational films and software.
I also believe that the language of a child’s schooling and education has an enormous impact on their language development—and can promote atrophy of the home language. Children spend so much time in school (and, as they grow, on academic work) that the language of instruction often comes to be their most comfortable language, despite the language of their culture or parents. I would advise parents to really consider all the language options available for their children’s schooling, and to make sure the language of instruction is a language they want to be dominant or nearly so.
Freebie! Anything else come to your mind about the issue of bilingual/multilingual parenting?
What a joy it is to raise children bilingually! To work on such a challenge over time brings delightful moments that are as rewarding as parenting itself. I love the closeness that bilingualism brings to my relationship with my children, and yet at the same time it expands their potential for relationships with so many others in the world. I’m grateful for the opportunity to take this journey!
Merci beaucoup, Michele, for sharing your family’s story with us!
If you would like to share your family’s adventure in bilingual parenting, please drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!