Can you pass on a language without being a native speaker?

Today we have an interview with Rachel, who is teaching her daughter french, but she’s not a native speaker of french.
I’d been chatting to Rachel before. We met via the Speak to the Future LinkedIn group. I was really excited when I found out she’s teaching her own child French at home, although her mother tongue is English, like we’re doing at home.

Learning about le poisson d'Avril

Learning about le poisson d’Avril

We met Rachel in her hometown of Carlisle in the Easter holidays.

– The first question was from Emily: Why do you live in the north?

I’m from this area and my parents live here. There’s lots to do with little ones in Carlisle.

– What do you do for work?

I’m a freelance translator of French and German and private tutor of French. I also occasionally do some voluntary work in French classes in a local infant school.

– What made you want to introduce a foreign language to M?

I can see that it’s a massive advantage for her to be introduced to languages at a young age. Little ones are like sponges – they learn so quickly. She’s at an age where she’s not shy about using another language. I have the language skills so can pass them on to her. I know she won’t become bilingual through me – I’m not a native speaker and we don’t live in France – but I want her to have a good grounding in another language, to enjoy it and be confident in it. I was surprised from how early on she could distinguish between French and English and how much she has picked up.

– Do you do lessons with your little one?

No, we simply do it as part of our everyday life. She likes to watch “Pierre le lapin” (Peter Rabbit) and other English-language cartoons she knows on the tablet in French, as well as original French-language cartoons. We’ve also got some CDs of French songs – she in particular likes trying to sing along to songs on one called “Maxi Enfance”. We enjoy sharing French books and puzzles. I’ve got a French mummy friend we exchange books with, which is a great advantage.
I joke with friends that I teach her “French by torture” – we play a tickling game where I’ll stop tickling only when she says “arrête”. She often shouts “encore”!
We visit France together. Last time we were there, M bought herself a book. I explained the procedure/what to say, all in French, and she quite happily went to the counter and said all the right things at the right time, and was delighted to have “tricked” the lady into thinking she was French!
She’s just started French lessons at her preschool, so we’ll see if she lets on that she knows lots or is quiet and acts like she doesn’t know any!

"We love to share these magazines together"

“We love to share these magazines together”

Alongside learning the actual language, I also think it’s important to teach M about some of the traditions and culture of France. For example, we recently read an article together on Easter in France, from which M not only learned a couple of new Easter-related words but was also interested to find out about the “cloches volantes” that bring sweets to children in France. We also had fun making “poissons d’avril” as I taught her about this French 1st of April tradition. I was also able to use this activity to reinforce colour words with her.

– Finally, what would you say to other parents wishing to pass on their language skills to their little one?

Go for it! There’s no better time to learn than when they’re young – the younger the better! Especially if you’re a native speaker, but even if you aren’t but have the right background and skills in the foreign language. It’s fun for both of you and wonderful to see their progress.

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