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OPINION: Make no mistake, raising bilingual kids in France is an intensive daily workout

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OPINION: Make no mistake, raising bilingual kids in France is an intensive daily workout
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17:29 CET+01:00
It's very rewarding to raise your children in a bilingual household and hear them slipping seamlessly from one language into another. But it's also hard work, writes Emilie King, the mother of two Franco-British children.
One of the joys of raising bilingual kids is not only seeing the way they switch so effortlessly from one language to another, but how they almost slip into different personas when doing so.
 
My ten-year-old daughter certainly seems to do that. Talking French, she's as Parisian as you get, naturally full of Parisian sophistication (something I've finally given up on despite stubbornly persisting over all these years - either you have it or you don't). In English, her French mannerisms slip away and she turns into something of an English rose, all softly-spoken and polite.
 
Looking at her today, I sometimes forget that raising her to be bilingual wasn't as simple as it looks. My amazed very monolingual French in-laws think it is all magically merveilleux, but in truth it hasn't always been plain sailing.
 
"They just pick it up!", "Kids are like sponges!" are frequent well-meaning but quite frankly irritating comments I've heard many times when I've questioned the ability of my children to become perfectly fluent in both languages.
 
 
For a start, my youngest daughter who's seven refuses point blank to speak any English at all. I'm absolutely forbidden from uttering even a single word of English at all anywhere near the school - lest she combust from sheer embarrassment.
 
Although she understands every word and can no doubt speak it, at this point I need to hear it to believe it because she simply never does except when she's visiting her family in the UK and really HAS to (and even then, not within earshot of me, her mother).
 
This is where we stand today. Over the years, ensuring English is as important in our family as French has actually been in my experience quite hard work. 
 
I was also raised bilingual, but my mother is British and English is my mother tongue. So when my first daughter was born, English flowed out as the natural language in which to address my children.
 
To this day, I persist in only speaking English to them at home, where I feel permanently engaged in some kind of daily intensive linguistic workout. I speak French to my French husband, as do the girls, but I always respond in English and I permanently try to resist the urge to slip into Franglais - more or less successfully.
 
In reality, this state of affairs translates into a bit of a language muddle at home
 
Sometimes the kids can't help mixing everything up. At bed time for example, my youngest always says: "Tu peux me 'tuck me in"? (the language police wouldn't condone this type of thing I'm sure, but I actually find it quite charming).
 
When they were much younger, getting the kids' English up to scratch was one of the reasons we went to live in the UK for a few years where my eldest was old enough to go to school. My youngest was too young, which probably accounts for her reticence today. The kids spoke very little French when we returned, and I must admit it was quite amazing to see how fast they caught up.
 
 
French is now their dominant language as the kids go to the local French primary school. So now we're back, I make sure there's as much English at home as possible: the children mainly watch films in English and I always read to them in English too.
 
On top of that I must admit, to take the load off a bit, a very pleasant English student comes round once a week to give the girls a hand with English reading and writing.
 
For secondary, I'm keen for the girls to attend a school that caters for native English speakers in some way or another. At that stage, I feel that if we don't go that step further and intensify their English learning, it won't happen just like that.
 
But I could be wrong. It's a topic that often crops up among my friends in France who are in the same situation, and their children vary.
 
Many appear to have picked up English pretty naturally. Some parents chose to put their children in bilingual schools from the start, which helps, as does of course if both parents are native English speakers and it's the only language spoken at home.
 
Another one of my friends, a French-British couple who live just outside Paris never bothered about English education at all and their daughter still ended up studying in a UK university.
 
Like so many things when it comes to bringing up children, everyone has their own way of doing things and each child is different.

But there is a general consensus among experts that children who speak several languages benefit in many ways in the long term. So I'll keep fighting doggedly on, and hope one day that my youngest will see the benefits of being fluent in both the language of Shakespeare and Molière.
 
And soon, who knows, she might even stop turning crimson every time I make the outrageous faux-pas of talking English anywhere outside the home. 
 
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