We're a trilingual (English-Spanish-French) family living in France. And I have also been told to not to speak English to my girls. It is a classic cliché given by teachers and doctors.
In order to help you we need more information about your family: - Do you only speak Soninké at home (both you and your husband)? - Do you have older children? - Who has cared for your daughter before she went to school: was she looked after by you, did she go to a crèche, did you leave her with a childminder ("nounou")? - Does your daughter watch cartoons in French and listen to nursery rhymes in French? - If I understand correctly, your daughter is in her first year of nursery school ("petite section" in the "maternelle"), which would mean she has just spent over 3 months there. It is early still, your daughter will better her French. Does she play with other classmates?
To give you an idea, in 2021 my 5 year old had a little Colombian boy who arrived in her class ("moyenne section") around February/March, if I remember correctly. He spoke no French whatsoever. The teacher sometimes requested my little one's help to translate to him. My daughter now tells me he speaks and understands French (though his French isn't perfect yet). The problem might be that the teacher wants every kid to fit in exactly like the others as it also means less work for her.
To give you another idea of kids' great adaptability I can also give you my own personal experience as I was raised as a trilingual kid too. When my parents' put me in a British school abroad, I only spoke French. I had been moved to a class with smaller kids to be able to pick up English and the teacher forbade me to speak French to her (she spoke it) and to the only other French classmate. At the end of the term, I spoke English and was moved to another class with kids my own age.
Kids pick up easily, but we need to give them time and trust them. But teachers in France do not usually have much experience of bilingualism and often want every kid to be at the same level as they have to handle 25 kids. They don't have time and some can't be bothered.
I will wait for your answers to the questions above before I venture into saying any more.
If your daughter loves school, interacts well with her peers and understands her cartoons in French then, personally, I would not worry just yet. I would give her more time. If the teacher summoned you in November, your daughter had only been schooled in French 2 months.... that is very little time! She cannot reasonably expect a child to pick up French perfectly in such short period of time.
I would say to wait the end of the school year and see. She is only in "petite section" for Heaven's sake! They can't expect her to do everything perfectly... she's still so tiny! Keep an eye on her school report and see how she develops between her January and July report. See if she progresses. It is really a matter of time. If you ask me, we live in a society where you are expected to tick certain boxes ("rentrer dans des cases" as we say in French)... but we are human beings and we are all different...especially kids! I remember my eldest daughter's teacher in Moyenne Section asking me to take my daughter to a Speech Language Therapist because she did not pronounce well (which is why a doctor told me to stop speaking English to her). When I took her, the SLT was irritated at the teacher and said that teachers are impatient, they expect all kids to speak perfectly when they start school when in fact all kids need is time to mature their language skills, not speech therapy! She told me my daughter only needed time but given the teacher and doctor's attitude, she gave my eldest a little speech therapy for 6 months. My eldest pronounced fine after that.
I would not bring the Majority Language (French) in your home just yet. Once it is in your home, it would not only reduce the exposure to your minority language (Soninké) but could also create a resistance in your child ("why should I bother speaking mummy's language when she speaks the language everyone else speaks?"). You can help your daughter by exposing her to external sources of French by organising playdates, taking her to the park so she mingles with other kids, take her to Story telling times at your local library, etc...
Anyway, that is my humble opinion. You know your daughter best. Use your gut parental instinct
Adam's book is a wonderful resource. The chapters are really short, which might make it easier to read even if you consider you have limited English skills. If you don't feel able to read Adam's book, I don't know if you noticed he also has a wonderful blog (Bilingual Monkeys) that you might find easier to read and research on the topics you are interested in.
Hope this helps. Feel free to share any other doubts you may have and keep us posted on how your little one is doing.
I will enroll her in activities with other children so that she can get used to the French language and maintain the soninke language at home.
I started reading articles from Adam they really liked me.
Frankly your advice reassures me it was hard for me in my entourage because most them speak French with their children they told me it's not worth it because when she starts school she will no longer speak our language.
This has motivated me to do my research. I will keep you informed of it's evolution.
Frankly your advice reassures me it was hard for me in my entourage because most them speak french with their children they told me it's not worth it because when she start school she will no longer speak our language.
It is true that when bilingual kids start the Majority Language (ML) they realise that society uses only the ML so they:
1) don't see the point of using the minority language--especially if they know their parents speak the ML, 2) they want to fit in and look like their friends, they don't want to stand out with their "odd" language. A lady once commented to me this changes with teenage as it is a stage where kids want to stand out instead of blend in.... I don't know if it is an absolute truth but the argument is a very interesting and appealing one!
However.... it is not a fatality. And if you really don't want it to happen you have to try to put up a fight before you surrender (not a fight with your child, of course! But to fight circumstances and try to make it work). That was my family's story with my eldest resisting the minority languages: but we pushed through and we now have a fully trilingual family. Never give up. When you give up, failure becomes a certainty. If you continue trying, at least you still have a hope of achieving your bilingual adventure.
This has motivated me to do my research.
Do! It is ever so important. I failed to research when my eldest was born. With hindsight, I realise it was a big mistake and that I would have spared myself a lot of heartache has I started researching from the beginning instead of when my eldest was 4 and resisting the minority languages!
Hada, welcome! I hope 2022 is a good year for you and your family!
Amy has given you a lot of good advice, and I strongly agree with her thinking. Maintaining your minority language at home, without using French, is very important during your daughter's early formative years. As Amy advised, if you "give in" to the teacher (or anyone else) and start using French along with Soninké, this will undermine both of the "core conditions" for success: your daughter will then receive less exposure in the minority language, and she will feel less need to use Soninké with you because you'll be giving her "permission" to use French, too.
So stay strong and continue using only Soninké. Small children are able to acquire the majority language very quickly once they are immersed in a majority language environment. In fact, that language will eventually become dominant so it's vital to establish and sustain your bond and your communication with your daughter in the minority language. From the teacher's perspective, your daughter doesn't have "enough French" right now, and that may be true, but give your daughter another 6 months and her ability in this language will grow just fine and will no longer be an issue.
In fact, I was a teacher at an international school here in Japan (an English-speaking school) and many of the young children entered the school without any English ability at all...and a few months later they could already engage with others in English. I fully expect that the same thing will happen with your daughter, but in French.
Be patient, be persistent, and have perseverance!
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you! I send my best bilingual wishes from Japan to France!
Adam Beck, the founder of Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo, is the author of "Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability"; "Bilingual Success Stories Around the World"; "I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL!"; "28 Bilingual English-Spanish Fairy Tales & Fables"; the fun-filled wordless picture book "Bearded Dragon, Home Alone"; and the award-winning humorous novel "How I Lost My Ear".
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