How much French practice is enough to be bilingual? (Plus our fall routine re-cap)

How much French practice is enough to be bilingual?I’ve read before (can’t remember where) that in order to achieve true bilingualism, a child needs a minimum of 30% of their waking hours in the target language. If a child is awake for 12 hours each day, we’re looking at between 3.5-4 hours of French per day. Yikes! That’s a tough bar to reach. Fortunately, I’ve also read stories of many people who have achieved bilingualism in much less time than that. Phew. I’m aiming for 20 hours per week because I figure that’s what they would get at French Immersion school, but I’m not panicking when we’re not there yet. Periodically, I add up the hours of what we are doing to see how close we are. Then, I try to add in another hour or two each week. So how are we stacking up this fall? Here’s what we have got on the go:

Read-aloud time – 4-5x per week for 15-20 minutes each time (total = 60 minutes)

I read a longer picture book aloud, my daughter (age 10) reads a medium-length one, and my son (age 8) reads a shorter one. My daughter just finished reading a bunch of Franklin books and then a few Harold and the purple crayon.   I also just pulled out some of my favourites from when I was a kid. Today, we read Fanette et l’aspirateur (no longer in print). So fun! My son has just started the A pas de loup series.

Reading on their own – 6-7x per week for 10-15 minutes each time (75 minutes)

I have a bin of French books from the library sitting in my family room. Right now, it’s full of Star Wars, Méchant Minou and some dog books. We rotate the books periodically. I really need to re-stock it so I’ll be hunting on my library’s web site tonight.

Screen-based interactive learning – 6x per week for 10-15 minutes each time (90 minutes)

Each child spends some time using a mobile app or web-based program. Right now, they are both working on the Mon-ornyx program just finishing up from the bird study we otherwise completed recently. They’ve been through the program a few times, but I’m having them go back and correct what they missed before. More details about that here.

Television – 5-6x per week for 20 minutes each time (100 minutes)

I’ve mentioned a million times before but it bears repeating that TV is not as good as other mediums. You can’t put your child in front of a screen and expect them to absorb a language. That being said, it makes a nice easy addition to other activities. Star Wars Rebels is the current selection, borrowed from our local library.

French “lesson” time – 4x per week for 20 minutes each time (80 minutes)

These vary quite a bit. For a while, we were learning about birds and doing the related activities. This week, we just went back to En français SVP (grade 2 immersion level) for my son and Je Grandis en francais (grade 4 immersion level, same series) for my daughter. These books have short stories to read and workbooks with questions and activities to fill out (read my review of the grade 2 level here). We’ll continue on with these for a few weeks and then change back to some more hands-on type stuff.

Workbooks – 4x per week for about 10-15 minutes each time (45 minutes)

My daughter is working on Grammaire de Base 4e année and my son is working through Trousse de Dépannage en lecture and Des Mots pour lire. Although he is more than capable of reading in French at this point, I find both of these series are excellent for vocabulary development. I plan on adding another series of books to this section as soon as they arrive. The books are coming from France, so I need to be patient. 🙂

Writing practice – 4x per week for about 5-10 minutes each time (10 year old only – 30 minutes)

I found some story prompts over at Mille Merveilles and put together a notebook for my daughter to use. On day 1 of the two-day cycle, she writes at least 10 sentences about the picture she chose and draws a picture to go with her story. I correct her grammar/spelling that evening. On day 2 of the two-day cycle, she writes out a good copy of her story and I re-check it for spelling and grammar. We usually do this on Mon/Tues and Thurs/Fri, so she’ll write a rough copy Monday, good copy Tuesday, new rough copy Thursday, and good copy Friday.

Oral practice – 7x per week for 5-10 minutes each time (45 minutes)

Each child is required to say at least 36 sentences in French every day.  As I wrote here this process started off really slowly and we’re working our way up gradually.

Oral and writing practice using IEW – 3x every other week for about 10 minutes each time (so about 15 minutes a week on average)

A few weeks agoIMG_5175, we started working our way through All things Fun and Fascinating from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. When I was preparing the materials to start using them, I thought it would be great to get some extra practice in the skills they teach using some French texts too. Extra skill practice and language learning together – yay! Each lesson takes a week to work through so week 1 we do the lesson in English using the IEW text. Week 2, we repeat the lesson but using some source texts in French that I found. Week 3, we go back to English and so on. I knew that I had to get some good texts in order to bait my kids to do this, so I made a duotang for each of them with a picture of a Ninjago figure and a write-up from the Ninajo French website.

French Club – once a week for an hour and a half (90 minutes)

We’ve taken the summer off for this activity, but I’m looking forward to starting it up again!

Just plain old talking in French – hard to measure (3-5 hours per week)

I speak to my kids in French as much as possible during the day while my husband is at work. Casual everyday conversation, questions, instructions, etc are all in French. Their chore charts and task lists are in French. When we walk the dog, I speak French to them. They now sometimes respond in French, but even when they don’t, I keep speaking in French.

Most of our academic work is still conducted in English because I found that explaining scientific concepts or math procedures was just too complicated in French. So, rather than do French immersion in the school sense where the academics are in French, right now we do most academics in English, but try to do life in French as much as possible.

So where are we at?

If you tally all of this up, we’re actually up to 13.5-15 hours, which is way more than I thought. Woo hoo! All these little bits are adding up. No wonder they have improved so much over the last year. Pardon me while I do a little happy dance around my office because I’m almost there.

Future projects

We’re starting to listen to some French music in the car on a more regular basis.

I’m trying to get a French gym class going at our local recreation centre. That is in the works with the co-ordinator. If it gets off the ground, that should add an hour or so per week – and the kids will have fun and learn some new games that they haven’t played before. I am really hoping they can find a time slot for us!

I’m also trying to participate in more field trips with the Francophone homeschoolers in our city. We did some of these a while back and then took a break because the kids weren’t ready. I think they will benefit from it now, and my daughter did her own happy dance when she heard me talking about the possibility of a pottery workshop in French. If we do one 2-hour fieldtrip per month, that translates into about ½ an hour a week on average of language learning time.

Adding these things won’t get us to our goal yet BUT they will bring us that much closer. Once we’ve got them established as part of our routine, I’ll think about what more we can do.

How much French do you think is enough? How do you incorporate more into your day?

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3 thoughts on “How much French practice is enough to be bilingual? (Plus our fall routine re-cap)

  1. That’s a lot of French! It’s really great that you know francophone homeschoolers for you kids to interact with – I think the natural French environment is probably the best thing for them!

  2. Pingback: Using Sick Days | : Thriving as a Full Time Parent

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