Unlike learning a second language, experience has taught me that to teach kids a second language, you need a plan. There’s nothing organic or natural about it.
My twins spoke French Creole for the first three years of their lives.
When they arrived here, learning French was more like a transition than a leap. Eighty percent of the vocabulary of Creole is French.
So French doesn’t really count. English was a true second language for them. When I started speaking English to them a few weeks after they arrived, they laughed at me. They thought it was a made-up language. They thought I was playing.
That’s when I realized I needed a plan.
It’s all about rules. My husband and I decided they would speak only French to him, only English to me. The first thing the girls figured out was how to get around the rules. When I asked them a question in English, they turned around and answered Jean-Benoît in French! So we started pretending not to understand French.
Eventually they accepted that Mama was the law on the English language.
But since we live in an almost uniformly francophone universe, we still needed rules and a plan. We decided to alternate the language of the bedtime story every night between French and English. I made them watch some of the DVDs in version anglaise. I invited their English-speaking cousins to play. And basically I stick English into their lives at every opportunity without them noticing, like other parents do with vegetables. (And they still have a natural taste for French).
Finally I put them in English primary school. In French immersion. I know, that sounds weird. They study in French and play in English. Next year they will do half their courses in English, the other half in French.
Will my plan work? If not, I’ll have to come up with a new one.