Wow, You Speak French!

One of the major hurdles for multilingual upbringing is about how to help children feel the ‘minority’ language is actually useful AND they can be proud of the fact that they are able to speak it, instead of being embarrassed. A few things that generally help include building a social network that allows the child to interact with other speakers in a natural setting, and travelling – or living even just temporarily -back in the native country.

But beyond parents’ efforts, there are other elements that play important roles in – positively or negatively – how the child would feel about the minority language(s), including particularly how the minority language is perceived by the country/community where the family live in. Is the language respected? Is it perceived privilige or rather neglected or unimportant? Is the language linked to a country that is generally perceived positively, neutrally, or eyebrow-raising-ly (is there such a word btw?)? All these – through people’s reaction in one wway or another – will certainly leave a mark on how the child would feel about speaking the language, and accordingly their willingness and capability of speaking the language.

Here is a story that’s shared by my friend H.X who lives in Sweden, which I think somehow illustrates the point above.

I talked to a friend of mine from Ecuador about her “success” in teaching her kids Spanish. She complained that it was very tough from time to time, and kids understands what she says but refuse to reply in Spanish, as they know mommy knows Swedish perfectly well. When her parents come to visit, kids insist to speak Swedish to them as well, which makes her very frustrated. …

So what does it mean for Nina and us? Here is my guess –

– French in Australia is one of the popular languages to learn at school for kids, and France (or Europe in general I guess) is considered as romantic and beautiful by Aussis, so French speaking kids perhaps are less likely to feel embarrassed. In fact, I often encounter ‘Wow you speak French’ reaction and those who have learnt French in school would generally make an effort to try to say at aleast a few words in French.

– Chinese is a rising star of the foreign language in the country, and more and more people recognize the value of speaking this language in terms of future employability & opportunities, although I think still it’s perceived by many as something too different, too difficult thus too far away from reality.

If any Aussi friends read this post, please let me know what you think of my guess 🙂 if you think differntly, do shout!

P.S. something funny a friend posted on facebook. I guess there is some craziness in every language, and here is what’s in English …


  • charuzu

    February 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm Reply

    I used to work with a French man who was married with a daughter. I visited their home
    once and I remember observing the parents speaking to the daughter in French but she would
    always reply in French. It seems that kids in Australia want to speak English because that is what their school friends are speaking. I studied French in school for 4 years, but now many more languages are taught. I know that French and German are popular subjects and made more interesting when a student can participate in a trip or exchange to that country. Some of my girls classmates have spent time in Germany and France as part of summer (European winter) trips.

    As for our experience – Japanese (bilingual wife) and Australian husband (with only basic Japanese knowledge) – it was my wife’s wish that our daughters would be bilingual. We bought Japanese animation videos, nursery rhymes and songs, but the bilingual skills never really too off. My older daughter studied Japanese until Year 10 but got discouraged with the grammar and the kanji characters – her Chinese classmates were more successful as they could understand the characters. However she knows katakana and hiragana and can read packaging of sweets and chocolates.

    The girls are interested in speaking Japanese and would probably consider learning some conversational skills for travel, however nothing has happened yet as they are busy with uni study. My wife is not learning some Mandarin for business travel, but she has the advantage of knowing the meaning of the characters.

  • hueyying

    August 10, 2014 at 8:04 pm Reply

    Came across your website and really love it. I used to live in Sydney but now in Holland. I try to speak Mandarin with my kids but find it quite hard to stick to it at all times as English the dominant language in our family. I applaud you and your husband for sticking to both French and Mandarin respectively as Nina will eventually pick up English at school. Yes it is true that French is a popular language not only in Australia but in Europe. It is one of the languages kids learn at school here in Holland and it is very useful in the working world 🙂

    • Yin @ trilingual family

      August 11, 2014 at 4:40 am Reply

      Thanks Hueyying for visiting and leaving the comments here! It’s comforting to know that there are people like you out there who share the similar experience and challenge with me. I’d love to hear more about your stories with your kids on the language front!

Leave a Reply