Meet Olivia, from France, living in Australia

For this second interview, I had the privilege to interview one of my classmates from my international school days.  Olivia is half-French, half-British, and grew up in Spain.  We attended the same school and in spite of time and distance, and thanks to Mr. Zuckerberg 🙂 , we have remained in touch. She now raises her 2 boys, aged 10 and 8, in English and French.

I would like to thank Olivia for taking the time to answer my mini-interview and also for her lovely last tip, which she gave to me long before today and which has truly helped me in my trying days on my own bilingual journey. 

Merci Olivia! 🙂

Tell us a little bit about you, your family and the language strategy (OPOL, ml@h, Time & Place…) you use to rear your children bi/multilingual.

We have always used OPOL. I speak French and my husband speaks English. We live in Australia therefore English is the dominant language spoken around us. 

What are the 5 (or more) things you did that with hindsight have made a difference on your bilingual journey, and why do you think they had this positive effect? 

1. Join a minority language community –We specifically moved to an area, which has a high French population due to the bilingual program available at the local school. Before starting school we attended a French playgroup. This was a great way for the boys to see that this was not only Maman’s language but that other children spoke this language as well. 

2. Stick to using your minority language –Prior to school I also enrolled them in a French maternelle in a small group setting of five children where they would do table work and sing French songs. Although I had continually spoken in French, my children were starting to reply in English. The maternelle (preschool) teacher recommended that we might use the ‘room approach’, e.g: in this room we only speak French. The kitchen was a good one as they were more likely to need to talk to ask for things in the kitchen. However I did not find this approach worked so well for us (if the children are tired or hungry it was not the best time to ‘enforce’ French).

3. Try to expose your child to situations where they need to speak the minority language – What has worked best has been to be in situations where they know they will have to speak French for their own satisfaction, to make friends. We have been camping on holidays in France and their French improved drastically as they wanted to make friends. They attend a school which has a bilingual program so they have to speak French with the French teacher and their friends during class. 

4. A lot of minority language reading – We read lots of French books and my parents organised a subscription to children’s French magazines as a birthday present. My eldest is really into football so we bought him books about French football (and a Panini sticker album). 

5. Focus on one minority language and add the other ones you might have at a later stage – I am also a Spanish speaker and my husband understands Cantonese as his Mother is Chinese (but she mostly speaks to him in English). However we found it very hard to ‘add’ those languages to our household when we did not speak those languages regularly- we do not speak those with each other or with people around us.  My eldest son was completely surprised at 4 years old when he found me watching Spanish news and asked incredulously « do you understand what they are saying? ». I will be keen to introduce Spanish to my boys soon.

What is the n°1 tip you would give to any bilingual family on this bumpy journey?

Most  people in the world are multilingual (think of China or India) yet you might be told along the way that it would be ‘easier’ if they spoke one language. We were told by one speech therapist that it was confusing our child to speak two languages. Research and real life tells us this is not the case. Multilingualism is not only beneficial to children (in their brain development) but it is also about passing our culture through language. I would say to other families, don’t be put off by negative comments and connect with other multilingual families around you or online. 

Mini-bio: 
Olivia is a Franco-British mum to 2 boys living in Australia, who are growing bilingual English/French.

Photo credits and permission: Olivia

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