The basic gist of the plan is this: Speak French for 30% of his waking hours. Why 30%? Research has shown that to reliably become bilingual children need to be exposed for at least 30% of the time to the language. An hour of lessons once a week may have some benefits (an hour seems to be adequate exposure to keep babies able to make and hear the sounds in a language, for example), but it doesn’t predictably produce a confident bilingual. 30%, if I can hit that target, will give Nelson the benefit of confident bilingualism as well as the neurological and psychological benefits of bilingualism (I’ll talk about these in a later post, I am sure).
So how to speak to my child for 30% of the time? First, I will note that this has been a lot easier for me in these first two weeks than I ever imagined. Speaking to a baby you can slow down if you need to, and you naturally speak slower anyway. I also am very happy to say to him (in French) “Oh, I don’t know that word! Let’s go look it up.” I am finding that my vocabulary and fluency already expanding pretty quickly as well. But I also have some tricks that I have been using already.
A central part of my plan is to read, read, read. I read children’s books, I read grown up books, I use first words books to give me a topic to talk about and say everything I can possibly think of to say about it in French. I have raided the library, and will continue to make very good use of their stock of French language materials. We read particularly while he is nursing and drifting in and out of consciousness.
Another source of language input is music. He loves being sung to already, and I am planning to teach myself at least one new song in French a week to sing to him. I was able to get some discs from the library and also to download a lot from Spotify.
The most difficult piece is that I hope to expose him to French in other contexts, so that he realizes that French is an important and useful language outside of the Mommy/baby relationship. In the near future, once life has settled down again, I hope to enroll in a conversation class and to start attending a French language conversation group with him once a week. I am also hoping to sign up at the French Cultural Center to make use of their library and to try to get involved with the francophone community in the area. And at some point soon, everyone I know who speaks French is going to be harassed to speak to the baby in French. I also hope to visit some francophone country as often as possible. This might mean driving up to Quebec (not too far from Boston!) once in a while.
I am trying not to obsess about the too distant future– preschools, babysitters, summer camp, pen pals, introducing him to alluring young women who only speak French.
I also am working to keep my own French improving. Reading to him so much has really helped expand my vocabulary and my fluency with grammar, but there are still big holes. I have been using the Pimsleur audio program, and am hoping to continue with that during his night feedings (if I have to be up for 40 minutes anyway, and can’t really play with him because we want him to get his days and nights straight, why not?). I also hope to finish up my last unit of Rosetta Stone and do some review in that time block. And I need to get back to listening to the news in French. For something a little more fun, I’ve been watching Rome (the HBO series) with French dubbing and subtitles.
I will keep updating as all of this evolves!