The Key to Full Bilingualism? An Early Start
School worries start early. Even before our little girl was able to walk, we were thinking about her education. Raising our daughter in a French-speaking province in Canada, we knew one thing for certain: We wanted her to begin learning French right from the start and looked for a daycare that would provide her with rich socialization experiences with children from diverse backgrounds -- and focus on introducing her to French early on.
The Daycare. We chose a wonderful daycare for our daughter, where French was introduced gradually, beginning with barely any in the first year, and progressing through four years. The final year is fully French.
The First Year. In the first year, the languages spoken were less important than the fact that she was receiving care from great educators. While she still only spoke in baby talk, she was hearing French spoken around her, as the daycare educators would say the names of colors, basic shapes, and recognizable animals in both English and French. "Une pomme," she could call out correctly when shown an apple.
The Second Year. By the second year, our little girl had a best friend, a little Venezuelan girl, and she was even picking up a bit of Spanish! In this year, the kids played more independently, and sang French sing-along songs in music sessions, twice a week. As they were just mastering language in general, the emphasis was on learning context-appropriate words and phrases: how to play nicely with others, how to share, and how to ask for things they want. "S'il vous plaît" and "merci" were heard often in our household as we attempted to ingrain good manners at the same time as language.
The Third Year. By year three, the focus on language skills increased. Now, they were not just learning the names of letters but how to write them out. We noticed that, early on, one of our daughter's greatest pleasures was learning to write out her name and then, one by one, writing out the names of her friends as we told her which letters to use. We knew French had really taken root when we woke up one morning to hear her warbling sweetly "Aux Champs Elysées" to herself while still half-asleep.
The Last Year. Our daughter is entering her last year of daycare this fall. She's excited about school and loves going there, often chiding us if we pick her up too early. By this time next year, she'll be off to big girl school in French immersion, where she'll get to put her newfound French language skills to good use. We may tear up a bit when she “graduates” from daycare, but we're happy knowing she is on her way to becoming fully bilingual, thanks in part to her early start at "la garderie."
Julian Haber is a writer and photographer living in Montréal, Québec with his wife and four (and a half!) year-old daughter, who teaches him something new every day. When he's not working on an assignment or photographing corporate events, he's at home cooking with his mini sous chef, reading stories and playing made-up games with his daughter. Which, somehow, he always loses.
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