Bilingual is Better

My husband and I are raising our four-year-old daughter bilingually using the OPOL method– he speaks to her in English, and I speak to her in French, which is my second language. She is fluent in both languages at this point; her French was stronger until she started preschool this year. Unfortunately, although she still speaks to me almost exclusively in French, she refuses to speak French to anyone else, even native French-speakers whom she has known for years. Any tips on how to overcome this hurdle? There are very few French-speakers where we live, but we are sending her to a French-immersion day camp this summer. I’m concerned that she’ll just speak English to everyone for the full two weeks!  - Tracy

 

Dear Tracy,

It sounds like your 4 year old is going through a very normal phase for that age of showing she can act independently of you. Some call this “defiance,” but I see it as a positive step in self-affirmation. My son did the same thing around age four (actually he wouldn’t speak to anyone in French, including me, so consider yourself lucky!). Every child is different, but what worked in my family and I have seen work in others is to do two things:
1) don’t turn speaking a foreign language into a power struggle. If she doesn’t want to speak to others, don’t force her. It’s better to preserve her positive feelings around French than to make into a battle.
2) let the phase run its course. As with most things kids do, it doesn’t last that long and then they are onto something else.
You also might be surprised and find that in her immersion program – far from you – she is perfectly willing to speak French. But even if she isn’t, just keep speaking French to her, don’t make a fuss over her not speaking it, and just like tantrums and bed-wetting, this too shall pass.

Bonne chance!

Julia Pimsleur

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