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Friday, December 19, 2008

How to raise Frenchlings

The Franco-American Flophouse is a bi-lingual, bi-cultural family (even the cats understand English, French and Frenglish.) Contrary to what some people think it was not obvious when we had children that we would succeed in making it so. It takes more than one foreign parent to create a truly bi-cultural family in which everyone is “at home” wherever you decide to live. Success depends on your persistence and on your awareness of the forces that are aligned against you (schools, family members, the dominant culture). Here are four strategies that we have used that we think were particularly effective:

Language Equality - my husband and I use the One Parent, One Language method (OPOL). He speaks French to the Frenchlings and I speak English. This is the foundation but it is far from sufficient. Over the years we have come up with other strategies that we have added to OPOL:
*My husband and I are bi-lingual and we demonstrate daily to the children that we are competent in both languages. Since we live in France where the dominant language is French my husband and I reinforce English by speaking it to each other at home.
*French and English books and movies are always read/shown in the original language (no cheating and turning on the French soundtrack to Harry Potter :-)
*Recognize that language is a very emotional topic in many countries and that the larger society (in particular the public schools) has interests that are not necessarily compatible with your multi-lingual, multi-cultural goals. This has been my experience in both the US and France (in the latter I was scolded by the teachers when my children were young for speaking English at home). My advice is to not get into it with the schools or argue about it with family or friends. Just smile, thank them for their advice and then go home and do what you think is right.

Staying Connected
Language is only half the battle, culture is just as important. Frequent visits to the Other Country are indispensable. Our Frenchlings spend part of their vacation in France (Brittany) and part in North America (Canada and the U.S.) where they stay with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. This not only enriching from a cultural standpoint but it keeps the extended family firmly in the present.

Choosing a Third Place
Three years ago we packed up and moved to Tokyo, Japan for two years. It was the first time we lived as a family in a place where none of us were citizens and none of us spoke or read the language. The home court advantage was completely erased. For the first time we could see the subtle advantages that my French husband has when we live in France or I had when we lived in the U.S. It also gave us a completely different perspective on European/North American cultures which, seen through the eyes of our Asian friends and co-workers, are not so different...

The Grass is NOT Greener
The grass is not greener on the other side of the Atlantic. We do not live in France because it is a nicer place than North America and we do not spend our days filled with regret that we are not living in the U.S. This is what we believe and what we teach our children: there is no “better” place, there are only different places with different charms and challenges.