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Hi All,

I am so glad to have found this website as it suggests that non-native speakers can teach their children a 2nd language, however, I dont know if we are in a position to do it & would really appreciate advice.
We are English & live in Sheffield, England. We are expecting a baby any minute. My husband is a linguist. He speaks French & German very well (lived and worked there for a while). His accent is very good but is is not bilingual having only started learning at school and having not worked in France for a while. I speak some French. My vocab is poor but my accent is fairly good & I am keen to improve.

Could we teach our baby French? It is not practical for one of us to speak French all the time to the baby (I know this would be best) but could we both speak French sometimes? Using books, pictures, prompts etc Or would the poor child get terribly confused?!!

Thanks. Any advice much appreciated.


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Hi, I hope I can give you some constructive advice.  I am a native english speaker as is my husband.  We have 3 boys and my youngest is now 4years.  I have been relearning french for nearly 18months and decided to teach my youngest along with me as he was with me always.  I started with him when he was 2.5 years.  I speak only french with him and my husband only english, as he doesn’t know any french, and this works very well.  It has been much easier to teach my youngest as my older boys were already at school and the timing was different as the younger the better.  My older boys understand a bit but not as good.  I read only in french, DVDs mainly in french, computer games in french and radion/podcasts in french so always french with my youngest when I am involved.  He goes to french playgroup with me each week and I have a teacher come each week and have just started with him as well so he can hear a better accent and my teacher can fill in the gaps that I miss.  I must say that you really have to be dedicated but if you want to do this you can.  It is amazing because just when you think nothing is happening they come out with a word or two maybe even a short phrase and that makes it all worthwhile.  It is really hard work sometimes and you have to be consistent with the programe you chose whether it is OPOL or ML@H.  Good luck and I hope I have helped you in some of your questions.

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I am sorry dear. I would suggest to only speak French to her or only speak english to her. You can’t mix the 2 languages.

I have known 2 couples whom both parents sometimes spoke english and sometimes spoke French to their children. All of their children had speech problems in both languages. However I have known couples where one parent only speaks one language and the other only speaks the other, this has worked very well. My own parents did this for me and my sisters and I had no problems learning either language. We became more proefficient in English, but we took French emmersion in school and I can say we all speak French like a native. Good luck raising your bilingual child. But don’t screw your child up and speak both languages to it. have your husband speak only French, and you speak only English. Have your child go to a French school. it works very well.

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Hi Athena

I totally agree with you that is why I only speak the french and my husband the english otherwise the poor child would become terribly confused.  My youngest is now separating the french and english well and knows which language is spoken by which person.  I am hoping to get him into an immersion school in 2009 I am keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well because the school is becoming very popular.


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Thanks for the comments everyone. Unfortunately we are not in a position for one of us to only speak French to her, and we are certainly not in a position to send her to French school. Not everyone is that fortunate, but it seems a shame to suggest that its all or nothing when we are simply trying to give her an opportunity. I am sure there must be a way around this? 🙁

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Dear Sam,

as usual in life, what you put in to it is what you get out of it… Some French is certainly better than none at all, as long as you keep your own expectations reasonable and treat it as a game for the child. Learning a language, as you know, is a very complex process, and a child need a certain ‘critical mass’ to learn it and to feel comfortable with it. The rule of thumb is 1/3 of child’s awake time in the minority language to actually speak it (less to understand the language but not speak it). So, based on that you can set your own strategy and realistic goals.

Good luck,


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Hi Sam,
I have heard of people successfully speaking 2 languages to their children and bringing them up bilingual.  I think that the trick is to keep the languages separate (stick to a particular place or time of day when you talk the 2nd language).  Children are more versitile than we give them credit for and if a foreign language is always spoken at bath time or at the dinner table for example, then that is what they expect to happen.  I think that the most confusing thing is if you are inconsistent and start a sentence in one language and finish in another.
As you are in England and both of you are English, English will definitely be the dominant language so the most important thing for you will be to boost the French side.  You can do that by getting lots of DVDs and children’s books in French to back you up.  They’ll help you with your French, too.  Have you considered getting the bbc Muzzy course for babies.  I’ve heard really good things about it.  You can look at it here if you’re interested:
Also, you could see if there are any French speaking play groups in Sheffield (I know that there are Spanish, Italian and Polish groups, but not sure about French).  Sheffield information Link (formally Children’s Information Service) has a list of the playgroups in Sheffield and so should be able to help you (contact : 0114 275 6699, web site: ).
Apart from that, when your baby’s a bit older you could consider getting a regular French baby sitter.  You could contact Sheffield Hallam or Sheffield University to see if they can team you up with a French Student.  You might also try the language departments of both to see if they know of any French speaking family groups that meet regularly if the Sheffield Information Link can’t help. 
I’m sure you’ll think of more ideas once you get into it!
Hope I’ve been of help

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I am French and my partner is British. I speak French to my daughter (who’s 3 and a half) and my partner speaks English to her. My daughter hears me speak English on a regular basis as, living in the UK, I have to interact with people in shops, schools etc and my partner being rubbish at French, I speak English to him. She understands both languages perfectly. She speaks more English of course as we live in the UK. But as soon as we go to France or school’s off and she’s with me all day she tends to switch to French after a couple of days.
As she’s now older and understands mummy & daddy speak 2 different languages, I ask her to tell me what she wants in French or when looking at a picture book I ask her what is it in French. It works very well.
I don’t think it matters if both of you speak French to her, as long as you speak it properly (so she doesn’t pick up any mistakes). Certainly use French books, DVD’s, TV and so on… Children are not stupid and will eventually pick that you’re using 2 languages. Just don’t expect your child to come up with whole sentences in French. My daughter often use both languages in the same sentence.
I also know a couple living in England: he’s Spanish and she’s French. Of course they use all three languages and their daughter has no problems.

Just be patient and don’t force your child to speak French. Good luck.



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