Everyday Family Language Routines - and why creating them is so important when you are teaching your children a new language.
This post explains what happened when our usual day-to-day life was interrupted and what I learnt from it about keeping up our second language.
Things have been pretty crazy for the last few weeks in our house. Everybody has been hit one after the other with the flu like virus that’s been going around and as a result we have been thrown out of our usual routines. I found that this has impacted my ability to post regularly on the blog but also on my ability to prioritise our French language learning and speaking as a family.
What happens when the Routine falls apart?
Our usual evening routine has to run like clockwork in order to fit everything in. My partner is a teacher and needs lots of time to work in the evenings and I am trying to fit in blogging as well as studying French and Welsh.
This means that we have to work out a way to divide the small amount of time we have been the children's’ bedtime and our own to fit everything in.
But our carefully balanced schedule has completely fallen apart in the wake of the virus and lots of important jobs have had to be pushed back.
One of those jobs has been writing posts for the blog.
Another has been speaking to the children in French as much as possible.
Falling off the Language Wagon
I found that the mental energy required to frame my thoughts in a non-native language is sometimes just too much. It’s something that I only really started to notice when I was ill or exhausted.
You are probably aware that you make errors even in your native language when you are really tired like saying the wrong word or not being able to think of the word you want to say quickly. The effect is multiplied tenfold when you are trying to speak in a language that you don’t speak fluently.
I was getting frustrated and a bit despondent because I knew I wasn’t speaking anywhere near as much as I wanted to in French but at the same time my energy and motivation were at an all time low.
I had no time to work on the blog and I was struggling with motivation because I was thinking ‘how can I write about speaking to your children in another language when I’m not fulfilling my own family language goals?’
I think I would have felt like giving up altogether if it hadn’t been for one thing.
And it’s a thing that had become so habitual that I didn’t even notice it until my partner commented one night ‘I love hearing your bedtime routine with Fred’.
He was referring to our nightly rituals that we do in French.
The Start of our Language Routines
It had started really simply when I first learning French and Fred and I started saying ‘Bonne Nuit Papa’ before we went upstairs.
Gradually I added more French as I felt able to.
Now our bedtime routine looks like this:
(In French) I say something like:
‘It’s time for bed, we need to clean your teeth and brush your hair. I’ll find the toothbrush. Can you see the brush? Well done, do you want to watch Caillou before you go to bed?’
We watch an episode (or two) of Caillou, his favourite French cartoon.
I summarise what has happened in the episode.
Then I say something like:
‘Have we got everything we need? Have you got your milk? Have you chosen a story? Which one have you chosen? Oh good, I really like that story! I’ve got the torch so that we can read the book. Are you ready? We need to go up the stairs very quietly so that we don’t wake up your brother. Let’s go and say ‘goodnight’ to Daddy.'
This all happens entirely in French. It’s not groundbreaking but it’s a pretty big advance on ‘bonne nuit’. And it’s so ingrained that it just happens without me having to think about it.
Why using a routine makes speaking easier:
There are two reasons why doing your daily routines in your target language makes speaking easier.
1. You do them everyday.
Obviously, the more your practise speaking, the better you will get and the easier it will become.
If you learn the words and phrases you need to carry out the routines that are part of your everyday lives, you will have many opportunities to repeat them. And, of course, your children will have many opportunities to hear them too.
2. You can use a script.
If you listen to yourself speaking in your native language when you are doing the bedtime routine or getting everybody ready for school in the morning, you will almost certainly find that what you say is very similar everytime.
My words aren’t identical every night but it’s all a variation of the same script and I do repeat lots of the phrases that have become second nature.
If I did the bedtime routine in English I reckon I would say pretty much the same thing every night too. The most ‘spontaneous’ part is when I summarise the events in the cartoon that we watch together, but that’s easier because I’ve just heard lots of the language I need in the cartoon itself. That’s much easier than thinking something in English and trying to say it in French.
Anchor your language to your Routines
Another bonus to anchoring your target language to your everyday routines is that your children are hearing the new language in a very familiar context.
If you habitually say the same thing just before you leave the house in the morning, your children are going to understand what you are saying from the context, even if they don’t understand the words.
This is very powerful tool in helping children using context clues to aid their comprehension and is also likely to meet with less resistance because they feel good about their own ability to understand.
How to Start
When I started, our routines literally consisted of a couple of phrases: ‘bonne nuit’ at bedtime and ‘tu es prêt?’ On y va!’ when it was time to leave the house. They have grown organically from that simple start over time to create longer exchanges.
Here’s the easiest way to create an everyday language routine:
You can subscribe to my blog and download my ‘Everyday Routine Scripts’ fillable pdf to get your started.
Choose a routine - bedtime, mealtime, getting ready for school etc. Something that you do everyday (or most days) that works for you and your family.
Pay attention to what you say when you go through the routine in your native language and make a mental note of some of the things you say.
Choose 2 or 3 simple sentences or phrases to translate into your target language.
Start using them! You’ll find that once you start using the sentences everyday, they will become second nature and it will be easy to add to.
Building a Solid Foundation
There are now a few ‘anchor’ points in our day when we have started habitually using French which didn’t fall by the wayside over the last few weeks - like when we are cooking together and when we are getting ready to go out.
This is not enough in the long run. I need to (and want to) speak in French in new situations, speak spontaneously and respond to what they are doing in the moment in French. I want to expose them to French in a wider range of contexts and experiences. But when energy levels are low or life gets in the way I know that by using and adding to my routine ‘scripts’, I’m building a solid foundation that will keep French part of our daily lives.