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Paige White

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I am part of a charity in the UK that organizes exchanges for children 8-11 and was looking for information on retaining a second language with monolingual parents.  My three sons have learned French after living six months with French famililes, but they are not challenged at school and I struggle to motivate them to maintain their language skills especially as I don’t speak French.  I am linking to your site from my blog  at
which is currently my outlet as we host a French child as part of our exchange organized by ALLEF.
My three boys don’t even use the French in talking with each other, much to my disappointment, so any suggestions would be appreciated and I will continue to read the site….

Anneka Brimhall

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Sounds like your children are older than mine, about 8-14 right? (mine are 2,4,6,& 8) It is awesome that they speak French and you want to do anything to keep that going. Make challenges or award points to whoever can speak French the longest in a day before they switch to English.  Let them teach you some, teens love to be the one with all the answers.  Give rewards for reading books in French.  Tell them you will only buy a new DVD if they watch it in French first. (at least in America most DVDs have French language as an option)(Doesn’t help me because we speak German, but I have my little ones watch everything in Spanish once hoping they will pick some up.)  Buy a simple, good French children’s encyclopedia that you can help them look up favorite subjects they don’t know the words for, and then have them explain it to their brothers after they have read it.  Make it fun and remind them that it can be their secret language between each other when they don’t want parents or schoolmates to know what they are saying.(one cautionoing it too much in front of other children can alienate friends)

Hope this helps.



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Hi Paige,

Many bilingual kids don’t get enough challenge within the regular school system for their language. Try private tutoring, playgroups or other age appropriate get-togethers with fully French speaking children. Thay have to NEED the language! I’m really surprised that having a French child in your own house doesn’t make any difference?

The other option is to just ‘maintain’ the language with TV, books and games during most of the year, and then spend vacations in France where they’ll be forced to use their French  actively. Maybe you can repeat the exchange program a few years out.

For older children to have a ‘constant’ feed of a foreign language can indeed be tricky when the parents don’t speak it… But, for lack of that continuous language use, bursts of intense learning should not be under estimated. See how well they did after 6 months in France! Anyhow, the most important thing is to let the French language play a continued role in their lives. The results may may not be that clear to you now, but persistence is key and stopping now is obviously the worst thing you can do. Remember how many of us managed to take our poor school English (or French or Spanish) and pull ourselves up by the shoe laces on that fateful day when we actually needed it 😉 Your boys are in a MUCH better position, so keep heart!

Best of luck and let us know what ends up working for you.
PS. Thanks for linking to us!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Christina Bosemark
Founder & List Moderator
Multilingual Children’s Association

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Because the French exchange child is living with us at the moment for the express purpose of learning French we are not *allowed* to speak any French in the house.  The boys do have French lessons at school, except for my oldest who tested out last year (English GCSE A* nearly perfect marks)  We have had what we call ‘French offs’ where I say things in English and they have to quickly translate for me – the fastest being the winner.  But the best thing is that they visit their exchange partners in the summer and speak only French for a time.  We are very lucky with ALLEF and living in England to have that option.  Thanks for the advice. 



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