Before my journey into parenthood, I was a high school French teacher. I didn’t grow up bilingual and always wished that I had. While I love learning languages and cultures, language learning does not come easy to me. I had to work really hard to acquire French skills, especially since I am a very quiet introvert. I studied abroad for six months, spent a year working at a bar in a French monastery, spent a school year working in Senegal and I still try to keep up the language with movies and practice. What better way to practice than to speak to my son in French.
During the first six months of his life when all he did was sleep and gurgle, I read him my French novels, we listened to French podcasts together and I spoke to him with my heavy accent and strange foreign way of speaking. At first I was afraid I would mess up his brain speaking to him in a non-native language, but after reading the limited research available, it didn’t appear that this would be the case. There isn’t a lot of academic research as to what happens when a non-native speaker tries to teach a second language from birth, it appeared that my son might not master the language completely, but just a little exposure to a second language is beneficial.
During my graduate studies, I spent a summer working at a Montessori preschool in Guadeloupe (French speaking island in the lesser French Antilles). I noticed that a lot of parents at this private school tried to introduce their child to English at home. Their parents all had heavy accents and limited vocabularies (like me!) but those that had the most exposure to English at home were the most comfortable and had the best comprehension in English class at school.
So to all you parents out there who are hesitant- go ahead and learn a language with your child! In the U.S. the easiest language to learn together is Spanish- the public library has the largest selection of Spanish children books over other world languages. With language learning apps like Duolingo, you can advance your skills during nap time, and then read books together at bedtime.
It’s easy to not speak to my son in French, especially with a monolingual dad. I like the mental focus it takes. I will follow up this post with resources I use or make in French, and those available in other languages as well. My son isn’t speaking yet, but I have secret hopes that he’ll say Bonjour before Hello.