I’ve been getting requests for an update on my children’s experience learning French, so I thought I’d write up a little report. For a timing reference, March 1st marked one full year in French schools, and at home, we speak almost exclusively in English. Here’s an update kid by kid.
In school situations, Betty seems pretty much fluent. If she’s out of school and speaking with a neighbor, sometimes she needs more context to understand (but at her age, that’s true in English as well). She gets complimented on her accent (or the lack of it) all the time. Here’s a little video of Betty telling part of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
Oscar is doing great as well. When we ask him to speak French at home, he sort of huffs and puffs about it, and is very resistant. But when friends come over, he doesn’t have to think twice and communicates with them only in French. He also thinks when I attempt to speak French in my thick American accent, that it’s hilarious!! He about dies laughing every time.
Olive is also excelling. She gets compliments on her accent as often as Betty and if we’re not listening, she speaks freely with any friends or neighbors she encounters. She never hesitates to answer the phone in French, and you may remember, she went a week-long ski trip with her class and spoke only French.
Maude gets compliments on her ability to construct a sentence correctly. She works hard! Maude is more hesitant to speak because she wants to get it right. And she’s doing great. Her grades are where they would be if she was in an American school, and she does all her homework in French.
Ralph’s French is impressive. Last week, his Language Arts teacher wrote on his paper: Your French is getting better every day. He often has top scores in his classes — even courses like history and physics which involve pretty challenging French. When the Hunger Games Movie came out last week, Maude and Ralph watched it in French (with no English subtitles). Previously, they’ve only wanted to see English movies, so that seemed like a major milestone.
As for Flora June, she’s almost 2, and we’re delighted with every sound that comes out of her mouth. She is a charmer!
Overall, they’re doing marvelously with their language and both Ben Blair and I are constantly impressed with how hard they work. Learning a language is tough! It makes your brain tired. For reals! It’s surprising out physically challenging it feels. For all of our children, it’s true that they understand more than they can speak — I’m not sure when/if that evens out.
My thoughts on kids + a new language, in case you’re curious:
It seems like, if you want to give children the gift of a second language, and make it easy for them, bringing them to a foreign country and putting them in school at age 5 and 6 is a wonderful way to do it. After a year or so, they’ll be pretty darn fluent without even trying! Ideally, you could then enroll them in a language immersion program when you move back to your home country so they can keep up their language skills. But the downside is, at those ages, they’ll probably have almost no memories of their time in a foreign country.
Keeping that in mind, if your goal is to give your children a broader world view or more cultural experiences, moving to a new country at age 10+ seems ideal. But picking up a new language will definitely be harder the older your children are.