The Grand Experiment: Speaking a Non-Native Language with Children


As an American who was raised monolingual, speaking French to my children requires an ongoing mental effort. Admittedly, I taught French to middle and high school students for several years, but when my first child was born, I still had doubts about my ability to speak French consistently. I am a fluent French speaker (you can find more about how I learned French here), but since it is not my native language, there are plenty of gaps in my knowledge.

Nonetheless, I wasn't going to let those gaps stop me from trying to share what I knew with my child. Books such as Raising A Bilingual Child were highly informative and helped me learn from other parents who have tried to raise bilingual or multilingual children. Speaking a non-native language with my baby felt like a grand experiment, but the risks were minimal and the benefits glimmered from the start. (I'll write more about those in future blog posts.)

Now, over four years later, I no longer doubt my ability to speak French consistently. I still switch to English when I'm angry or exhausted, but at these times my four-year-old daughter reminds me, "Mom, speak French!" She's grown accustomed to my reading aloud to her in French (I translate on the spot) to the point that she refuses to let me read to her in English. And even though she almost always speaks to me in English, she can translate into French if asked. I interpret all of these truths as signs of success, and I've loved the bilingual journey together.

What passion do you want to pass on to your child? Which language would you speak to your child if you could?