Reports of Princess Charlotte being bilingual in Spanish made the news when she was just two years old. Older brother George also speaks the language taught to them by their Spanish nanny. It's no surprise that members of the royal family learn multiple languages given how much world travel their roles involve. Children, like adults, learn at different rates and can speak words and phrases from one language more than the other which makes the term 'bilingual' hard to determine. Babies and small children are especially adept at learning additional languages as their
brains are still actively developing. A baby is able to hear the varying tones and sounds of different languages, which enables them to learn easier. Hence, it's thought the earlier you start teaching children, the easier it is for them to become bilingual.
Ahead of UN French Language Day on 20 March 2021, we spoke to Or Danielle, mum to Adrian and Annabella on how she and husband Arnaud choose to raise their children to speak not just French and English, but Hebrew and Russian too.
Between you and Arnaud, how many languages does your family speak?
There are five languages in our family: English, Hebrew, French, Russian and Armenian. Arnaud and I speak to each other in English, as I do not understand French, and he does not understand Russian or Hebrew.
I speak to Adrian and Annabella in English, Hebrew, and Russian, and Arnaud speaks to them in English and French. We also speak and answer each other in different languages too, and our three dogs get spoken to in all languages so I’m still not sure what they understand at this point!
A lot of bilingual speakers will converse in a combination of the two languages when at home, but one language tends to be more prominent. How does that work in your family? Do Adrian and Annabella have a preferred language to speak in?
English is the language that most of Adrian and Annabella’s friends speak, making it the more prominent one. After we travel to France or Israel, I always find that they are more connected to French or Hebrew for a few weeks. Adrian really loves learning French and I have organised him Zoom lessons in groups with his friends which he really enjoys. Due to Covid Annabella hasn’t started learning French in a class yet, but this is something she will hopefully start soon. Generally, they prefer to speak in English, but I think over time their preference will change as they build up confidence with other languages.
Why is it so important to you to raise Adrian and Annabella bilingual in French and English?
It was always very important for Arnaud and I to make sure Adrian and Annabella were bilingual. We have family in France so French was always a language we wanted to teach them. Speaking more than one language is great for any child’s development and helps with their communication and cognitive skills. I know that raising my children in several languages will give them a lifetime to benefit from cross-cultural friendships as well as broadening their cultural horizon and exposing them to new experiences in life.
When your children first started talking, what language did they speak? And how did you introduce and separate the second language?
Adrian and Annabella’s first language was English, but they would pick up words from other languages and use them in the same sentence. To be honest, it was worrying at first but over time they realised and understood who speaks and understands what language. The way other languages were introduced over time was not only through communicating with them but also with the help of books, TV shows, music and activities.
When we read the children books before bed, we always repeat the sentence in a different language or buy their favourite book in a different language. Every morning before school the kids do some French practice with Collins Education Books and there are some other amazing activity books that have really helped. As we are a family who love cooking and baking at home, we have fun making recipes from different cuisines. I always encourage the kids to say the ingredients in different languages which has been a simple way for them to pick up new words (which are of course the most important words in our house)!
What are your top five tips for parents looking to raise their children bilingual?
1. Don't give up - it does take time and effort... but when they come out with words, you'll be proud, and you won't regret it!
2. Make learning a language fun for children - arrange lessons with their friends so they can all learn together or organise playdates with other kids who speak a second language.
3. Sing songs, play music and dance in your language - a simple and fun way to help them remember things.
4. Buy alphabet wall stickers to place around the playroom and encourage children to form words in different languages.
5. Put their favourite TV show in a different language - Adrian loves Paw Patrol in French!
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