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Readers' tips: How to bring up bilingual children in France

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Readers' tips: How to bring up bilingual children in France
Photo: AFP
17:23 CET+01:00
Each week The Local asks its readers to share their tips about various aspects of living in France. This week we asked our readers for their advice on bringing up bilingual children. Here's what they had to say.
One of the most difficult challenges for foreigners living in France with their children is bringing them up to be fluent in French and a second language - which for most readers is English.
 
Coming up with a strategy can be tough and it can be equally difficult to get both partners to agree on how to go about navigating the situation.
 
For some parents, particularly when the couple are dual nationality , it can cause a fair bit of stress. It can be even more complicated when the couple are of different nationalities and neither of them are French, which means there are three languages to master.
 
One thing many of our readers agreed on was sending children being brought up in France to French school as it provides a good entry not just to the language but to life in France. 
 
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"Let them go to a French school, sure it's hard at first but they learn to speak French a lot faster. They also learn the French customs and way of life," said reader Robyn Carroll. 

Another reader Sedulia Scott who raised bilingual children said: "If the kids go to a French school and speak English at home, that seems ideal for becoming truly bilingual. However my kinds started to want to speak French at home -- that was a problem for a while." 
 
Michèle Pignarre Wronski who grew up with an American father and French mother, also advises sending children to French schools. 
 
"Enroll your children in French schools. They will receive a far superior education, if young enough will easily become bilingual and it will open their social life to a new world.
 
"In my opinion, any non native language must be taught in infancy or elementary school years. That is the optimum time for a child's brain to process the duality or plurality of a second or third language," she added. 
 
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Speak English at home
 
Equally important to many readers who contacted us was speaking English in the home. 
 
"Carry on speaking English to them at home. This way they remain truly bilingual - it can be very easy to forget the English vocabulary in speaking another language 24/7," Shani Booth said. 
 
Vanessa Smith Powell added: "Our children would translate from French to English as they learnt everything in French and we only speak English at home. I never thought they might lose their mother tongue."
 
However others suggested that at home each parent should speak to the child in their own language. 
 
Linguist and a mother of bilingual children June Hutchinson also advised speaking to children in your mother tongue at home, advising that parents start doing this while the child is still very young.
 
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"My suggestion is that a parent should speak to children using his/her own native tongue - unless the parents are totally bilingual or even trilingual. Best to do this before the age of say 4 or 5 years," she said. 
 
And others said they mixed it up, trying not to stress out the child.   
 
Lucy Yvart, who is British and lives with her French husband and their children in France said: "Not putting our children under pressure has worked for us. We start in French and finish or answer in English, or vice versa, it's a muddle of language at home. 
 
"But the eldest is now completely bilingual, I have no doubts that the youngest two will be too," she said, adding that the family had a lot of contact with her British family and friends."
 
Another reader Francesca Michel shared a similar sentiment, saying: "Never give up, never scold if they won't talk English. Take a deep breath, say the serenity payer and just keep going."
 
 
Francesca added that it is a good idea to try and make English fun, suggesting that starting a Wednesday English club: "Nothing beats English party games - the chocolate game teaches them to count, play pass the parcel with English language forfeits in each layer!"
 
Some readers suggested children's television programmes in English or French, with CBeebies, a BBC channel for children. 
 
But the overwhelming message from the parents who contacted us was the importance of being patient. 
 
"Don't get hung up on the fact that your kid replies in French, persevere, continue in English - it will sink in. They will always have a bigger passive vocabulary in the less dominant language, but that's ok. They may understand more than they can say," said Francesca. 
 
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