Becoming bilingual: time, techniques and opportunities with a newborn

Becoming bilingual

Is becoming bilingual a realistic aspiration for parents and children with only partial exposure to one of the languages?

As a language teacher and mother of two multilingual children, the answer is yes. It is, of course, not an easy path, but one that is worth all the effort.

I have been meeting other parents that have taken the decision to embark on this journey. I want to share their experiences with you and hopefully inspire others that might be considering teaching or learning an additional language with their children.

Here is our chat with Sarah:

Sarah is a native English speaker but her partner Will speaks French and English. When she gave birth to their son Theo two months ago, they decided to make every effort to raise Theo bilingual, which meant Sarah learning French alongside her newborn baby. Sarah talks about the unexpected challenges and joys of raising a new child in a new language.

What has been the best thing about motherhood so far?

His cuddles and smiles, and watching him grow – he’s grown so much it’s amazing to watch, and to think that I’m doing all that by myself – no wonder they call it magic milk!

Why was important to you that Theo was brought up bilingual?

Firstly, because he’ll have a relationship with his paternal grandparents, who only speak French. It’s really important to us that he has a strong relationship with his grandparents – we both have great memories of spending summer holidays with our grandparents, and I think that’s a lovely thing to have, especially because you probably don’t have as much time with your grandparents as you do with your parents.

Secondly, because I’ve always wished I was bilingual – and really I should have been – because my Dad is fluent in Farsi. When I was training as a lawyer, I had a colleague at the Bar who spoke fluent Farsi and English and I remember him getting specialist cases that far exceeded his expertise. He had this niche Iranian clientele, and it was nice because there was a camaraderie, and a trust there and he progressed much quicker. But what I’ve lacked in my career has made me more determined to give Theo those skills.

With Brexit on the horizon, the world is becoming more competitive and more uncertain than ever. English has such value at the moment, but I do wonder whether English will be such a benefit to someone in 30 years time as it is now, maybe it’ll become more important to speak another language – I suppose we don’t know yet.

I just want him to have as many options available to him as possible. For example, if he speaks French, he can choose to study in France or England. The price of education here is becoming extortionate, but over there it’s free, so French might give him that extra stepping stone that he wouldn’t have otherwise.

What resources are you using to teach yourself French to help becoming bilingual?

Before Theo, I listened to a language learning Podcast on my commute – the commute to work that is, from work I can’t even think, let alone have someone speaking French in my ear! I’ve got books where the page on the left is in French and one on the right is in English, and I also use ​workbooks which Will’s mum has kindly given me…she started me off with ones aimed at an 11 year old but they were too difficult so we’ve had to scale down to ones aimed at an 8 year old!

How are you incorporating French into daily life as a mother?

Now I’ve got Theo, it’s a bit harder to find the time to work on my French – and I wish I’d made the most of the time I had beforehand. I have a basic command of the language though, so I speak to him up to the level I can.

I’ve learned some nursery rhymes in French and play others through my phone – they’re pretty different – my favourite is about a bunch of cannibalistic sailors!

There’s also a class near me that does activities and nursery rhymes in French, it’s really sweet actually because they focus on trying to integrate children into the culture of the language they’re learning. Although they’re only little, all these things add up, and are really important, because I’m the one who’s with him most of the time, so I can’t just rely on Will who’s only there for a couple of hours in the evening, and even then, we’re both so tired, we tend to just naturally slip in to speaking English because it’s easy. So I have to supplement Will’s French with other things as well.

Becoming bilingual

“in the evening…we’re both so tired, we tend to just naturally slip in to speaking English because it’s easy. So I have to supplement Will’s French with other things as well.”

What would you say to other mothers who are teaching their child a new language?

Good on you! It’s such a great investment – it’s so much easier for a child to pick up another language, especially certain complex features of grammar and accent which are much harder to pick up later on in life.

It will be difficult, especially if, like me, the language is new to you too, and when you’re tired it’s very tempting to stick to the language you’re most comfortable with, but you can make investments to get around that – so books, nursery rhymes, classes, au pairs or bilingual nurseries – there are resources out there to help – you are not alone!

Our thoughts

I really like Sarah’s approach to learning together and using as many resources available to her as she can find.

On one of our blog posts we shared some ideas to learn together, have a look here.

Classes are great to bring languages alive Hoop App and Kiddiplan list many language classes for young learners, find one near you.

If you have chosen to teach or learn French with your little one this classes are our personal recommendation: Club petit pierrot

Thanks Sarah for sharing your experience with us!

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