My daughter was listening to a French music CD she got in her Christmas stocking when she suddenly asked me, "Why can I understand French?" It was a good question, coming from an American five-year-old who doesn't know many other people who understand it. "Because I've been speaking it with you since you were a baby," I reminded her in French.
One of my favorite language moments for her occurred last month when a Russian man came to our home to give us a woodwork estimate. He was delighted to hear me speaking French with my children and we had a long conversation in French about his French maman and his children's French-American schooling. He asked my daughter some lighthearted questions in French, and though she replied only shyly then, she spent the rest of the afternoon joyfully speaking in French to me (and to herself out loud). It's not uncommon for us to meet French speakers, but this was the first time I've really heard her speak French for more than a sentence or two without reverting back to English. A little encouragement from another French speaker can go a long way!
About a lack of speech in the target language: The director of our local Alliance Française recently told me that she never heard her daughter speak French at all until the daughter was in her late teens, and yet now she is quite fluent and is teaching at a local immersion school. Isn't it encouraging to know that our children can become fluent in a language even if they aren't speaking it often as a child? Still, anecdotes don't apply to everyone, and her story is probably not typical. I absolutely need to continue seeking out opportunities for my daughter to speak French with others if I want her to grow in her confidence and ability. Becoming fluent is a positive feedback loop: the more you speak the language, the more confidence you gain.
My son is turning two this week and he uses far more English words than French. (His sister spoke more French words at his age.) I think this is because he loves to mimic whatever his sister says in English. He learns so much from her! But he recognizes and understands more French words than his sister did at this age, probably because he is exposed to a much wider range of French vocabulary. You see, my vocabulary has grown exponentially since I began speaking French to my daughter.
How have I grown in my language knowledge? By reading a lot of children's books in French (thanks to Les Petit Livres, which I reviewed here) and by frequently consulting this fantastic French English Dictionary App on my phone. When I started speaking French with my firstborn, I had no idea how this decision would increase my own fluency. It's been a wonderful journey and I couldn't be more thrilled with the choice I made to raise my children in French, even if it's not my native language.
I wish you blessings on your language choices, friends! May you find encouragement and many resources for your family's language development.
What resources have helped you in your language journey? Which language do your children use when speaking to each other?