Do you ever feel the need to travel the world, explore new things? But, then find a million and one reasons why you can’t because you’re a busy mom, your husband can’t get off work, just the thought of packing up the kids makes you cringe? And, who would take the dog, who would grocery shop for grandma, and oh…the money thing? Well I did it. I still do it. I take my daughter to France everyday. Actually, that’s a lie. Some days we’re in French Canada or over in Africa, speaking French in Senegal. How do I do it? Follow me, and I’ll fill you in on my secrets…
The research is out there. We’ve probably all heard it. Although a new language can be learned at any age, children have an advantage. Well, that’s nice, but I don’t speak a second language, so I can’t raise my daughter bilingual. Or, can I? Here we go again…like my endeavor with baby signing (see “Signs of Genius”), I was setting out on a new parenting adventure. This could wind up going so wrong!
The first hurdle was picking a language to teach. I felt that Spanish and Chinese could be the most beneficial to learn, given current and future demographics. However, I wound up choosing French because it was the one language that my husband and I had both previously studied in school. If I was going to take on this project, I was going to need his help. So, French it was.
But mind you, my French instruction was only 4 years in high school over 10 years ago and then 1 year for fun at a community college over 3 years ago. I hardly remembered more than “Bonjour”! And, my husband hadn’t studied French since high school either. But, something stuck with me that a French teacher had told me along the way. If you want to learn to speak a language, you must act as though you live in that country, which would mean listening to French radio, watching French television, reading French books, and finding ways to engage in the language. This was not going to be easy, but curiosity got the best of me.
In the next year, my thoughts about how I was going to learn and teach my daughter French began to turn into realities. First, I started playing a silly game with her that we called “Ou est le cochon?” (Where is the pig?). I would hide her toy pig, and we would look for it, using simple French. Next, I discovered a language school for babies and toddlers about 25 minutes away from our home, and I signed Sarah up for classes when she was 18 months old. Browsing the language shelves at my local library, I found “7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child” by Steiner and Hayes and a helpful French review book. Before I knew it, I was also ordering a multiregion dvd player, and waiting for my online shipment of French childrens books, music CDs and DVDs. I went with what Sarah liked to keep her interested, and tried out some characters that were new to us. But, there’s no underestimating it: Dora in French was a hit!
Checking in at the French toddler class once a week for one hour and watching French Dora were important parts of the plan, but they weren’t going to make my daughter bilingual. I had to also supplement it with speaking at home. I wound up taking 10 French classes for myself at The Language School in Redbank, NJ. I was able to build a vocabulary of French phrases for common mothering situations, such as “It’s broke. We’ll have to fix it”. “I’m going to tickle you!” “Do you have to go potty?” I found talking with a native speaker in tandem with my borrowed French review book helped.
Time went by. The children’s language school closed. We had read all of the sparse collection of French childrens books in our library system. My go-to online French bookstore in France stopped shipping to the U.S., and taking French lessons became too expensive to keep up for myself. It was time for alternative measures. I found a good French Canadian bookstore online, ordered a subscription of National Geographic in French for myself and found a great francophone babysitter who would replace the closed language school.
But when I look back, I think, “why did I feel the need to make things a million times more difficult than they needed to be?” Like any mom raising a child in the first 3 years I was tired and busy. But, my mind kept moving at a pace more rapid than my body, and I kept thinking of more ideas of how I could raise Sarah bilingual than reasons not to. Our French adventure added to my normal daily challenges, but also increased my enjoyment of being a stay at home mom.
Sarah is 3 now, and when I talk to her in French, she answers in English. Funny, eh? But, I smile, because she actually CAN understand. And, that keeps us going. In the meantime, when baby #2 comes around (I’m 9 weeks along now and counting!), I’ll already know how to speak basic French and have all the French tools, which will make my life a little easier. Or, maybe I’ll just keep being me and take up Chinese.
This is an original Jersey Moms Blog post by Veronica.
The photo is of Veronica and her daughter walking in the French Alps in Chamonix, France.
 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=4724
 Naomi Steiner & Susan L.Hayes. “7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child”. 2008. Amacom Books.