bilingual parenting: marlène {english, french, italian}

Name: Marlène and Angelo

Number of children and ages: Nico (1 year old)

The languages your family uses: English / French (and limited Italian)


What motivated you to raise your child(ren) bilingually:

Geography: we live in Ottawa, the Capital of Canada, which is officially a bilingual city with a large Francophone population. Being able to speak in both French and English is a huge advantage for anyone who lives in our city.

Heritage: I am French Canadian, and Angelo’s family is Italian. Most of our family members’ mother tongue is not English. It is only natural for us to expose Nico to the languages of his ancestors.

But more than just learning the words of the language, I want my son to also learn and appreciate his French and Italian culture and heritage. I want him to know the songs and stories and history of the people he came from.

How does the bilingualism work in your family?

I speak to Nico in French about 80% of the time. He and I were pretty much inseparable for the first year of his life (I was on maternity leave for 12 months), and I spoke exclusively French to him both at home and when out and about. I am chatty by nature, and so he heard A LOT of French during that time!

Angelo speaks to him in English. When the three of us are together, I usually speak in English, but I throw in French translations to create this weird hyper bilingual language. For example:
“You are wearing blue shoes (des souliers bleus) on your feet (sur tes pieds).”

I do this for two reasons: 1) for Nico to learn both the French and English words for things, and 2) in the hopes that Angelo will learn some French despite his resistance…

What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered?

The biggest challenge for us so far is that Angelo speaks very little French. I desperately want him to learn, but he feels very overwhelmed by the language, so we’re taking it slowly.

It’s challenging because I feel like I have to switch to English when Angelo is in the room to include him in the conversation. I DO NOT want to create an atmosphere where Nico and I speak in our own “special” language that dad can’t understand. I also want to teach Nico that speaking in either language is acceptable and welcomed. Too often French speakers in our city refrain from speaking in their preferred language because it is seen as an inconvenience for Anglophones.


What have been some of the rewards of raising a bilingual child?

The biggest reward at this point (since Nico hasn’t started speaking yet) is that I speak in my mother tongue a lot more often than I used to. Before my son was born, I spoke English almost exclusively, but now I find that I switch to French often, even when my son is not around.

It has also given me the opportunity to revisit a lot of the culture behind my language. I pulled out all of my old French songbooks and story books, and looking back at the folklore that shaped my childhood has been incredibly nostalgic and rewarding!

What role does your extended family play in your decision and ability to raise a bilingual child?

My parents speak French to Nico, which helps greatly. My mother watches him two days a week, so he still gets consistent exposure to French now that I’m back at work (the rest of the time he attends an English daycare.)

Angelo’s Italian family was resistant at first, but now that I’ve been speaking to Nico in French in front of them for over a year, they have decided to embrace it and often comment on the similarities between French and Italian. I tell them often that I would love nothing more than for them to teach Nico (and us) some Italian to make him trilingual!

What resources have you found useful?

Since our city is bilingual, classes and drop-in centres offer activities in both French and English. Nico has gone to French Storytime at the library, participated in French drop-in playgroups, and we’ve met other French families through local social media groups.

At home, Nico’s library is filled with equal numbers French and English children’s books – they are our best tool so far in ensuring that Nico gets exposed to proper grammar in both languages!!

What are some of your long-term goals?

I’d love for the three of us to become so comfortable with both French and English that we seamlessly and easily slip out of one language and into the other in our everyday conversations.

Also, Nico will attend a French grade school, and I hope that he will not have a discernible accent in either language.

What advice would you give a new parent starting the process?

It is never too early (or too late) to start! I began speaking to Nico in French from the very first day he was born. Angelo is just starting to learn at the age of 37 – and I have high hopes that BOTH will be French speakers soon!!

Also, if you’re having a hard time finding an “entry point” to begin teaching your child a new language, start with folk songs or classic stories in that language. This will allow the language to flow and make it easier for you to know what to say.


Thank you, Marlène, for sharing your family’s story with us! If you want to follow Marlène’s adventures in parenting, biking, running, and crafting, find her on her blog, Speed Trials. Want to read more bilingual/multilingual parenting stories? See the many families previously profiles for this series here. 

Are you a multilingual or multicultural family? Do you want to share your experiences with us? Contact me for details!

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About simplybike

{Bikes, a new baby, and the story of us.}
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One Response to bilingual parenting: marlène {english, french, italian}

  1. Everything is very open with a precise clarification of the challenges.
    It was definitely informative. Your website is very useful.
    Thanks for sharing!

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