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The Child Responds in English When We Talk to Him in French - What Should We Do?

Note: The parameters below apply to children younger than seven years old.  

  • If English is the language of communication at home and the language of the majority in the surrounding society, this behaviour is normal.

  • The child has a very good awareness of bilingualism, his own and that of the Francophone parent in the family (or of the two Francophone parents, if that is the case). In general, a child who goes through bilingual language development becomes aware of their bilingualism around the age of three.
  • The child is reflecting the reality that surrounds them in which English dominates.
  • It’s the law of least effort: the child’s parents can still understand him/her. Statistically speaking, from the child’s point of view, French is not as useful as English.

But… don’t forget that…

  • If the Francophone parent (or parents) has established a habit of speaking French when they are with their child or during certain situations, they will have established an emotional connection with French.
  • It’s possible that the child doesn't know how to express what he/she wants to say in French but knows how to in English. Everything depends on the child’s level of exposure to French. 

What should you do?

  • Adopt an encouraging attitude with expressions such as:
  • “You make me happy when you speak French.”
  • “Can we speak in French when we’re together in the car?”
  • “That’s in English. In French we say…” 

Avoid

  • Constantly saying “Speak French!” to the child.  
  It’s better to show children that we have fun in French than to impose it. If children see that we have fun in French, they will be more likely to imitate us.