Episode 10: Q&A – How to introduce a third language when the parent is proficient yet not fluent in the language?

Episode 10


Episode #10 Transcript

Hey there!  Welcome to another Question & Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.  If you have a question related to bilingualism that you would like answered on the show, head over to the Bilingual Avenue website and on the contact page and leave an audio message.  We’ll be answering your questions every single week and hopefully learning from each other’s experience.

So let’s take a listen to todays’ question.

Question: My name is Maria, I am from Florida.  I have a 3-year old bilingual daughter.  She knows English and Spanish pretty well and I would like to teach her French.  I can understand written and spoken French but I have little practice speaking it.  How can I introduce this language to my daughter? Should I wait or do you think it’s important to start with a few hours each week?

Thank you Maria for reaching out and sharing your question with others.

First off, congratulations on raising your daughter in a bilingual environment.  That’s no easy task and I am excited that at three years old she is speaking both languages so well.

I am also excited to hear that you are considering introducing a third language.  In your question, you ask how to introduce French to your daughter and if you should wait or start with a few hours a week?  When I think about your question two things really come to mind.  Yes you’ll have to think about how to introduce the language but you also want to think about how to make sure you differentiate between the language you are already speaking to her and the new language.

So let’s start with the how –

I absolutely think that you can start introducing French now with a few hours a week and you don’t have to wait! Take advantage of the fact that she is still young and spending a lot more time at home than she will when she gets older.  You mention that you read and understand French well but you can use some speaking practice.  And that’s ok, here’s a perfect opportunity to practice.

My biggest advice would be to really plan your lessons.   When you are passing on your mother tongue or a language that you are already fluent in to your child, the vocabulary will come to you with ease.  You don’t really have to think about vocabulary and grammar very much.  You can sit down and play and just go with the flow.  However, when the language does not come to you as easily, a little bit of planning in advance can help you to think through what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Planning does not have to be a very long endeavor.  As a mom, I know that time is of the essence.  Just set aside a few minutes a day or a week depending on how frequently you want to speak French with your daughter to reflect on what you want to achieve with her for a given “lesson.”  I say lesson with quotations because it does not have to be very rigid, you can still have your lesson as you play.  In fact, the more fun you make it the likelier she is to pick up what you are teaching her.

I would also say that you want start simple so that it is easier for both you and your daughter.  Pick vocabulary words that you have a good handle on and use those to start off with.  You will feel more comfortable speaking it and lay a solid foundation for your daughter.  You can then start building on that foundation.  By slowly increasing your exposure to French, you will find yourself learning as you go with your daughter.

Now to supplement your language learning journey with French, I would recommend a resource that Michele Cherie shared on episode 3 called Les Petits Livres, an online book rental service specializing in books in French for children aged 0 to 12 years old.  We all know the importance of books and the role it can play with language, so start reading together and I am sure you’ll pick up a whole lot of vocabulary yourself.

And then on episode 7, I interviewed Adriana Zoder from Homeschool Ways where she talks about how she is introducing French to her already bilingual children.  She speaks exclusively Romanian to her children but they are now learning French.  She talked about great resources on that interview but then on her blog she has a whole section dedicated to French that is called French Friday.  Again her blog is homeschoolways.com. Head on over there and check it out for some great resources.

Now let’s talk about the second consideration and that is how to make sure your daughter makes a distinction between the two languages.

One thing that is certainly working in your advantage is that you have spoken one language to her exclusively since birth and she has already internalized that relationship.  Going forward, I would just recommend that there is a clear difference between when to speak one language and when to speak the other.

You can actually achieve that very easily.  One approach is to always work on French at a particular time of day.  For example, first thing in the morning you spend one hour working on French and then there is a clear end time and you can transition into your primary language.  This language strategy is called Language Time.  Another approach is to always speak French while doing a specific activity.  Let’s say, for example, that you and your daughter like to go on walks around the neighborhood.  You could then use French only when you go on your walks and use the vocabulary you are learning to describe your surroundings.  Of course, pick an activity that works for you and your daughter and that is going to be repeatable going forward.  This strategy is called Free Alternation.

If you are interested in learning more about the different language strategies available to parents, you can check out my blog post at bilingualavenue.com/languagestrategies. If you are interested, you can even sign up to receive a language decision tree to help you find a strategy that works best for you and your family.

Click here & get a copy of the Language Decision Tree!

Whichever strategy you use, you just want to make sure that again there is a clear distinction between the two.

Well Maria, thank you for submitting your question.  I hope you found the answer helpful.

Remember if you have a question, make sure to leave an audio message at bilingualavenue.com/contact and we’ll answer it on the podcast.

May you have fun travels on your language journey.  Hope to see you again on the avenue.

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