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Reply with quote  #1 
My partner is bilingual French-English, whilst I am an English native speaker. My French is really quite good (although far from perfect) but we live in London where we speak English 90% of the time. We are now expecting a baby in March whom we would like to bring up bilingually. My partner is committed to speaking French to him.

Should I speak French to him too and hence use ML@H? If I did, on the one hand, it would help to cement the minority language; but on the other hand:
a. I would, of course, make mistakes and, at times, be at a loss for the right word - which might lead to mixing and b. (perhaps more importantly) imagine that I would feel rather unnatural communicating with my son in what is not my native tongue.
So is OPOL best?

My partner and I would have to continue speaking English to each other as I cannot imagine us being able to transform the language of our relationship into French.

Experience influences me here: We have friends who are in a similar position. They live in London too. The mother is a native Spanish speaker and the father a native English speaker. They speak English to each other but both parents speak Spanish to their child. This is despite the fact that the father's Spanish is very week (much weaker than my French!). The result is that the Father communicates to his child in what seems to me a very awkward and limited fashion.

Any advice very gratefully received!
Reply with quote  #2 
Great question Tim. OK, I have to admit to being partial towards ML@H, as an overall method. Why? Because the total time parents have to influence their children's language usage is so short these days. The kids’ friends take over their lives within tree years or so, and then the community language gets all the spotlight. In a rather “result oriented” world I’ve noticed that parents feel extremely disappointed if they put effort into the OPOL system and the child refuses to speak the language later on.

You have two great advantages, should you decide to use ML@H.
1) Your partner speaks French, so you have instant access to translation or improving your own language, should you want it. And, now that you have a reason, you’ll subconsciously pay more attention to her language, and that on it’s own will improve your language too.
2) No adult language learner ever knows the “baby lingo”, which is one of the key reasons to feeling slightly unnatural in communicating with baby. But, you’ll have all the French lullabies, nursery rhymes, etc all around you right at home. You’ll be able to pick up on your partner's communication with baby really fast.

So, what about that downside — feeling awkward speaking another language to your child. The only way is to try. Parents tell me it I awful the first two weeks, then it starts to turn. Give it a try for one month and let me know how it goes.

Incidentally, I have first hand experience with this. Although Swedish is my mother tongue I had lived outside Sweden for so long that I hardly ever used it. So, once my daughter came along I thought it was the strangest thing to start speaking it again. And I had absolutely zero knowledge of how you speak it to a baby. Not until I joined a Swedish parent group did I build a baby-related vocabulary. That is what ultimately made me feel comfortable speaking my own language to her. Joining a French parent group in London would probably be pretty easy, so why not give it a try?

One last word. If you go for OPOL, the good news is that London has at least one, probably several good French international schools. That is always a way to firm up the French at a slightly older age.

No, actually, one more thing. Another potential downside I hear from parents, is that their family thinks it is “silly” speaking foreign language to baby. Not much more you can do there than explain your reasoning, and if in doubt send them to this website.

Good luck,
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Christina Bosemark
Founder & List Moderator
Multilingual Children’s Association

Reply with quote  #3 
Dear Christina

Thank you for your response.

Yes, I take on board your arguments in favour of ML@H. I think that we shall start out with it and then see how it goes.

We have already been looking at French-speaking playgroups and - thinking further ahead - French schools here in London. Of course, if we did decide for total French education from the age of four onwards, that might mean that OPOL would be better solution... Hmm... I am sure that time will tell and we shall work it out.

A fantastic website, by the way, full of useful info and ideas!

Reply with quote  #4 

Dear Tim,

I'm also a non-native (advanced) speaker of Spanish in the U.S. in a ML@H situation and I run into words that I sometimes don't know, but I say, "Hmm, we'll have to ask Daddy that one," & then ask my spouse or I look it up in a dictionary. I impress my Spanish-speaking friends w/ my animal kingdom vocab (you won't believe the range of animals that appear in children's books: know hedgehog in French? Better find out!). I didn't understand my child's baby talk as easily as native speakers did, but my husband didn't either b/c he didn't have as much experience w/ children as women typically have had in the past (as high school babysitters, etc.). So there were some frustrating days, but it's worth it! She speaks lovely Spanish now at 2.5 years, also assisted by spending one year in Peru: good for both my daughter and me.




Reply with quote  #5 
Dear Stephanie

I'm glad to hear that your creation of a ML@H environment is working well for your daughter and that your decision to take the plunge with your own Spanish paid off.

I'm OK with hedgehog (l'herisson), am not sure about some of the others (hare... hmm... maybe its somewhere at the back of my mind... but I certainly don't know weasel!), but am sure that, as you say, my partner will be able to help out with such things. I have just received through the post a variety of books and CDs, including a beautiful Larousse collection of fairytales which has plenty of old-fashioned words, along the lines of 'fairy God-mother' et cetera, that I shall have to look up!

Anyway: thank you for your message.

Reply with quote  #6 

Glad you brought this up. I am in a similar situation - I'm American living in France with a French husband. We're expecting our first in May. I am grappling with the same questions, although I have worked as an au pair so know a lot of French kiddie vocab already. Just wanted to say thanks for the insight.

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