Identity issues with becoming bilingual in French
Your article about native English-speakers not being top of the class in English lessons in France (August edition) rang bells.
We moved here when my children were seven and nine years old. Not all their teachers could handle the fact. They would correct their pronunciation, and mark them down.
Children easily feel sensitive if they differ from their peers.
They need reassurance from both parent and teacher.
This isn’t easy if you don’t speak good French yourself.
One has to set this against the huge overall benefit of being automatically pretty well bilingual, and experiencing a second culture at a young age.
The next hurdle comes when the children’s grasp of French outstrips yours.
They get very cocky, and you can find them, maybe innocently, using gros mots without you realising it.
You have to work at learning the language quickly, make sure you keep up.
We found ourselves saying “Speak English!” all the time, as they chattered to each other in French, and were in danger of losing fluency in their native tongue.
We borrowed copies of Shakespeare’s plays, and read them around the kitchen table, otherwise their native culture would have been non-existent.
Thirty years on and I don’t think they feel completely English or French. I still correct their English expressions – and they still correct my French!
Helen Beaney, by email
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