Language Report

I’ve been getting requests for an update on my children’s experience learning French, so I thought I’d write up a little report. For a timing reference, March 1st marked one full year in French schools, and at home, we speak almost exclusively in English. Here’s an update kid by kid.

In school situations, Betty seems pretty much fluent. If she’s out of school and speaking with a neighbor, sometimes she needs more context to understand (but at her age, that’s true in English as well). She gets complimented on her accent (or the lack of it) all the time. Here’s a little video of Betty telling part of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

Oscar is doing great as well. When we ask him to speak French at home, he sort of huffs and puffs about it, and is very resistant. But when friends come over, he doesn’t have to think twice and communicates with them only in French. He also thinks when I attempt to speak French in my thick American accent, that it’s hilarious!! He about dies laughing every time.

Olive is also excelling. She gets compliments on her accent as often as Betty and if we’re not listening, she speaks freely with any friends or neighbors she encounters. She never hesitates to answer the phone in French, and you may remember, she went a week-long ski trip with her class and spoke only French.

Maude gets compliments on her ability to construct a sentence correctly. She works hard! Maude is more hesitant to speak because she wants to get it right. And she’s doing great. Her grades are where they would be if she was in an American school, and she does all her homework in French.

Ralph’s French is impressive. Last week, his Language Arts teacher wrote on his paper: Your French is getting better every day. He often has top scores in his classes — even courses like history and physics which involve pretty challenging French. When the Hunger Games Movie came out last week, Maude and Ralph watched it in French (with no English subtitles). Previously, they’ve only wanted to see English movies, so that seemed like a major milestone.

As for Flora June, she’s almost 2, and we’re delighted with every sound that comes out of her mouth. She is a charmer!


Overall, they’re doing marvelously with their language and both Ben Blair and I are constantly impressed with how hard they work. Learning a language is tough! It makes your brain tired. For reals! It’s surprising out physically challenging it feels. For all of our children, it’s true that they understand more than they can speak — I’m not sure when/if  that evens out.

My thoughts on kids + a new language, in case you’re curious:

It seems like, if you want to give children the gift of a second language, and make it easy for them, bringing them to a foreign country and putting them in school at age 5 and 6 is a wonderful way to do it. After a year or so, they’ll be pretty darn fluent without even trying! Ideally, you could then enroll them in a language immersion program when you move back to your home country so they can keep up their language skills. But the downside is, at those ages, they’ll probably have almost no memories of their time in a foreign country.

Keeping that in mind, if your goal is to give your children a broader world view or more cultural experiences, moving to a new country at age 10+ seems ideal. But picking up a new language will definitely be harder the older your children are.

P.S. — If you’d like to read them, earlier kid reports are here and here.

99 thoughts on “Language Report”

  1. Hi, congratulations for your kids!!!!. I moved to Canada on September last year, close to winter, with my two kids (5 yo and 11 mo). The oldest boy started the kindergarten one week later, and he didn’t speak English, zero( we speak spanish), but know he is amazing, his teacher said he understand almost all at school and we are really happy. We think about french inmersion too, buy is soon yet, because he need learn english first. And is true to me is really hard talk in English, is exhausting, my english is not better now than before, because during winter I stay home, It was so cold here!!!.

  2. BETTY, you are wonderful. When I watched your video, I was like Grandma Julia. I played it over and over again so I could see you and hear you.

    And guess what else?! When your Mom was in Kindergarten, she had a little denim jumper with buckles and she wore it with a pink shirt, just like you.

    Love you millions,
    Grandma Mac in China

  3. What a wonderful experience for your family. I came across your site a little over a year ago when I was researching moving to Paris…I was so excited to see your family making the adjustments to moving to France – after 14 months of waiting to move, we were just told we are moving to London instead this summer – my daughter Camilla is very excited to learn “British” instead of French. Love your updates!

  4. I love this post. My husband and I hope to take our four kids (9,7,3,7 months) in a few years. Do you have them in public schools? How do the schools compare to American public schools?

  5. Wow so impressed with Betty’s video! She sounds absolutely French and has the hand gestures to go with it :) So adorable. I watched your traveling to France video again from last year. That must seem ages ago for the kids now. They’ve come a long way! Hope you guys enjoy the rest of your time in France and all of you are always welcome in Amsterdam if you decide to visit again!

  6. What a cutie! It is so true that kids learn faster than parents and ours have shown us that each time we have moved and learned a new language (Danish being our third foreign language after Spanish and Arabic.) The really great thing about them learning one language, is that it seems to help them learn the next one a little easier. My kids were completely fluent in French and Arabic when we lived in Morocco, but they cannot remember any of it now two years later and one more language learned. I have asked around and many have told me that if they were immersed in it again that they would pick up right where they left off after a little time. Here in Denmark, kids start learning English in 4th grade, but by 6th they start French, Spanish, or German. We’re hoping our kids will choose French so they will remember it and be able to use it later in their lives!

  7. My son is fluent in English and Italian – when you see how easy it is for them to pick up a second language, it is really tempting to go for a third and a fourth! I would really like him to learn our local dialect but unfortunately nobody in my husband’s family speaks it any more – such a shame! Thank you for a lovely post – your children are really wonderful.

  8. Wow she’s amazing! her accent is beautiful. I think it’s great what you’ve done for your kids – you’ve given them a life skill and an amazing experience x

  9. Oh how adorable!
    Keep them practicing, that is very important. I learned French when I was in Rwanda (between ages 3 and 6) and I can honestly say I have never lost it. People often ask me wether one of my parents is French speaking. But they need to keep practicing, even if it is by watching french cartoons.

  10. Betty just exudes sweetness! That video is adorable, as is she. Thanks for the update on everyone. It makes me think of that old saying, “Bloom where you are planted.” Children often do, don’t they?

  11. that video of betty was darling! my husband is in the military and in a couple of years we might be heading overseas, either to somewhere in europe or to japan. my husband really wants to put our (now 2 yr old) son in japanese school if we end up going there, so this post was inspiring for me! our daughter (due any day) will be 2 when we head overseas and so while we’re there she’ll have an opportunity to learn a new language as well (unless of course we get sent to england or something!). and, on a side note, my husband’s aunt and uncle know you from scarsdale–the inouyes, do you remember them? and we’re also friends with “this little miggy” and her husband from byu/columbia. so when i read your blog i always feel like i have some little connection to you :)

  12. I’m French Canadian so I know what French is supposed to sound like and I must say that your daughter’s accent is very impressive considering she has been in France for only a year. She has mastered the pronunciation of the Rs perfectly which is one of the most difficulty part of the language.You have a very bright child! I hope she does not loose it when she returns to the US. It would be a real shame…

  13. Oh Betty sounds wonderful! I’m so glad you’re giving us updates. I’m also chronicling my children’s bilingual adventure (French and English), and this inspires me to continue posting. Someday I hope to get them to France or Quebec for a year to polish the skills they’re learning in immersion school here in America.

  14. Betty is adorable! What a wonderful experience you’re giving your kids. I enjoy hearing your perspective – thanks for sharing!

  15. Hi !!

    Waou ! I’m french and your daughter is really cute. Her accent is great even for the “r” wich is really difficult for english speaking people. Sometines i didn’t understand what she said but it’s maybe beacause she’s speaking really fast.

    Where are you living in France ? I’m from Paris…well the “va

  16. OMG – I’m dying over here. Betty is too cute speaking French! Plus I’m TOTALLY impressed with her fluency and the rest of your kids as well. SO super cool!!


  17. Did you know that when French people say your children speak “sans accent” – it’s a huge deal – it’s the highest praise possible!

    Have you consulted with the AEFE site on French schools in the US? AEFE is the French government agency that manages French schools abroad. I know that Boston, Portland and San Francisco have AEFE-accredited schools. Cities with larger French communities like NYC have full lycee. It would be wonderful if your kids can continue in the French system.

    My son is in CM2 so he starts college/sixieme next year (in Sydney!). Curious to know your observations on the curriculum content that Ralph and Maud are taking in French lycee vs. US high schools.

  18. Denver Montclair International School is AEFE-accredited – this is important for us as it means that if ever you guys move anywhere in the world, your AEFE-educated kids are immediately accepted into other AEFE schools. Plus because the curriculum is standardised globally, it also means that they can change schools without missing a beat – a real boon for highly mobile families.

  19. I love the video, she is adorable, and her french is impeccable. As we live in Montreal, my son is also exposed to several languages, and i sometimes wonder if it’s not too much for him. He mixes the two quite a bit, and while it’s adorable, I do hope that once he starts school, things will fall into place.
    I’ve always believed that the more languages someone speaks the better.

  20. My husband and I both speak French fluently (he’s anglophone Canadian, I’m American) and we really wanted our kids to speak French. But we live in a tiny little Midwestern town so immersion schools of any kind are out of the question. We have 3 kids ages 5, almost 3, and 1. My husband started speaking only French when our oldest was 3. I speak French when he’s home and mostly English when he’s not. It’s amazing how quickly our kids have become fluent. Our oldest can switch back and forth without even thinking. Our middle child understand everything perfectly and speaks in an endearing Franglais (the other day he said “Papa, I speak franglais comme toi.”). We worked in France for about 10 summers until it became too tricky with kids…now we try to go back every 2-3 years during the summer. Crossing our fingers that we’ll be able to move over for a year once my husband is on sabbatical 2 years from now!

    ps, I’m an LDS mama of 3 and blogger at Stand and Deliver. I think this is my first time commenting here.

  21. I also had the experience you describe–when I was 5 my family moved to Germany for a year, and I attended first grade in an all-German school. I actually remember it very vividly, but have very few memories of our life before we went to Germany. My theory is that the dramatic changes in my surroundings and life and language overwhelmed my earlier memories. I also wonder if the effort I put into paying attention to the language (I would come home from school each day with a mental list of words whose meanings I wanted to know) helped me also pay attention to the other details of my new life–so that I remember the house we lived in, the toys I played with, people’s faces, and various actual conversations. I was fluent within a few months–and still have a lot of the language, although the grammar is harder for me now.

    I think you are giving your kids a marvelous gift with this experience. I hope to do it for my kids someday–although I’m not sure how that will happen at this point! My oldest is already almost 6…so if we ever go it will be later for him.

    Congrats to your kids for their courage and hard work!

  22. That video of Betty is so adorable! What a great achievement at such a young age for all of them!

    My mom and her 2 siblings lived in the Paris area for 9 years while growing up. I always wished I could have had a similar experience, and it’s something I’d love to give my kids one day, too. I’m hoping for sometime while they’re in elementary school.

    I learned french in school, and when I was 20 did an internship in Belgium as a camp counselor for french (only) speaking kids while living with a host family. I spoke only french all day every day — so I know exactly what you’re talking about it being physically taxing. I actually had a headache every night! But my french improved so much in one short month. When I left on a french-speaking mission the following year, there was virtually no culture/language shock. I only wish I was better at keeping it up… french immersion programs for your kids would be incredible. And the older ones will be off to college before they know it! Study abroads, language programs, internships, etc…

  23. I had to come all the way back to this post just to listen to betty speak in french…I am 24 and she is just so inspiring. :) I’m hispanic so I should probably learn to speak more fluent Spanish before jumping on the French train but it’s just so beautiful!! I saw someone recommended Alliance Francais here in Denver, maybe I’ll check it out and report back ;)

  24. This was such a great post! Like I’ve told you before, you have inspired us to choose France as our next place to live (after we are done with our year in Asia). Since we travel full-time, we do a mixture of homeschooling and traditional schooling. We enrolled our 4-year-old in a Jardin here in Bogota (what they call daycare) so that he can be around Spanish all the time. He is now completely fluent (after 6 months) and can go back and forth between Spanish and English. Since I speak Spanish, it falls to me to keep him “immersed” while we’re in Asia.

    However, one of the main reasons for choosing France and staying for a year is so that our sons could become fluent in French. Our son will be almost 6 at the time and our main worry was how we would deal with school issues like homework and grades if the language skills aren’t there yet. We were on our way to crossing any traditional schools off the list until I read your school series and saw how wonderful it was for your children and how quickly they picked up French. This has cemented our decision to put him into a traditional, French kindergarten class when we arrive.

    Thank you so much for all of your inspirational posts!

  25. Thanks for all your posts on the schools and how your kids did. The posts on the schools and the language are so helpful as we are getting ready to move there this summer. Very, very helpful!!

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