​Three Into Four: Parlez-Vous French?

13/03/2015 13:30 | Updated 20 May 2015

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As a child, I grew up sort-of bilingual.

My mother would speak Russian to me and I would repeat the basics back to her (known as "kitchen Russian", I could discuss most colloquial things but nothing of worldly importance). When she enrolled me in a bilingual French/English pre-school, it felt completely natural to be listening to a foreign language for most of the day.

Considering I later studied French and Russian literature, lived in both Paris and St. Petersburg and can pride myself on certain cultural accomplishments (how many people can say they got a body piercing while drunk on vodka in Russia?), I'm extremely grateful to my mother, even though as a child I thought her insistence on me speaking other languages was a nuisance.

Especially when she made me speak in French to waiters at French restaurants.

With the benefit and wisdom of my older years, I know that my mother has given me a huge gift that has also been a source of lifelong enjoyment. Even though both my French and Russian language skills could use a significant brush-up (or some vodka, perhaps), I can still understand, enjoy and appreciate them - and the cultures they represent.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my daughters - yet.

They are firmly English speakers (well, Liv, although speaking, isn't exactly an advertisement for the Queen's English: "Me taking me buggy on me walk - me coming!").

When D was in the baby phase, I read her the occasional Russian poem or French book, but that was the extent of our foreign language immersion. Now I wish I had persevered a bit more.

Once Liv came along - and sleep became a thing of the past - speaking comprehensible English became enough of a challenge for me.

Living in London, it's impossible not to notice the sea of cultures and languages everywhere, and lots of D's friends at school have a foreign parent whose first language isn't English, so by age four or five, are comfortably bilingual.

I would love for my children to have that gift, so I am trying to outsource: D has started French classes. Initially she and Liv were in them together because Liv was desperate to take part (and I loved the fantasy of Liv swiftly learning French at two so that she would be semi-fluent at four, with no work on my part).

It turns out Liv's main interest in the class was consuming biscuits and pouring paint on herself (there is a crafts portion which the kids love). She adamantly refused to repeat any French word that came her way, so we're no longer attending.

D seems to enjoy class - I think part of the excitement is telling her French friend at school that she's going to French each week - and I have been doing my part by reading the girls French board books (thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law who lives in France).

I've also been doing French immersion at home the best way I know how: by letting the girls watch French TV from time to time.

Since I haven't yet found a French show that they're super excited about, Peppa Cochon is mostly on the menu...

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