I Still Speak English at Home with My French Husband. Here’s Why.

I Still Speak English at Home with My French Husband. Here’s Why.

I confess that my French is not as far along as I would like. But when people here in Paris find out I am married to a Frenchman, many are quick to scold me for not speaking French at home with my husband. I’ve been tsk-tsked by friends, teachers, colleagues, even Uber drivers.

Commonly heard: “It’s the best way to learn!” or “You’re so lucky to have a live-in tutor!”or “Tell him to only speak to you in French.”

If only it was that simple.

I moved to Paris about a year and a half ago and immediately threw myself into intensive French lessons. I adjusted to speaking French in public. Then I managed to get a job at a French company (though my output is in English). I do my best to speak French with my husband’s family and friends.

But the one place I rarely speak French is in my own home with my husband. We do watch local news and our shared vocabulary is peppered with French words, but our daily conversation is a private island of English in a sea of French.

At one point we tried to spend one hour a day speaking only French together. Then we tried one day a week. Neither effort lasted very long or worked out very well. Now I’m going to stop beating myself up, and stop feeling guilty that our Parisian apartment is an English oasis for me.

I have bonded with several expat spouses over the predicament of making “the switch.” There is a lot of pressure and guilt involved with living in another country and not speaking the language perfectly, especially when your partner has a whole life in that language. While the necessity of learning and speaking is pretty straightforward when it comes to public life, emotions complicate this in romantic relationships.

Here’s why I’m done feeling bad about speaking English with my husband in private (for now):

It is bizarre to switch after “meeting” someone in one language

Our history is in English, our jokes are in English (or Franglish) and we got married in English. Because I spoke zero French when we met and we spent the first five years of our relationship living in the United States, by default English became our lingua franca.

While I have loved discovering who my husband is in French, and feel like I understand him more by living in his country, it still feels strange to speak anything but English when we are alone.

Speaking French is work for me

After a day of utilizing French to run errands, feed myself and get my job done, I simply don’t want to work to speak to my husband. I just want to enjoy our time together. I make the effort everywhere else, so for now I’m giving myself a pass inside the walls of my home.

I don’t feel like myself in French

At this point in my learning process, the French language is utilitarian for me. I can go get a flu shot in French, but I still can’t manage to translate my personality much. Pretty hard to connect when you feel only a couple steps above a robot in the charisma department.

I hate making mistakes in front of him

He’s not my live-in French tutor, he’s my husband. I don’t like using the wrong verb forms in front of him or having him correct my pronunciation. Of course I ask when there is a word I don’t understand on TV, but I don’t want to be his student.

There is nothing romantique about my baby-French. Admittedly, self-consciousness is definitely the biggest thing holding me back, but the embarrassment factor is not something I’ve been able to overcome at home.

We are setting a precedent

If we have children and decide to stay in France, it would make sense to speak English at home with them when we are all together. They will have every opportunity to speak French in Paris, but learning and maintaining English will be a bigger challenge.

Are you in a multi-lingual relationship? Which language do you speak at home and how did you decide? And if you made “the switch” please leave a comment and share your tips with me!

 



10 thoughts on “I Still Speak English at Home with My French Husband. Here’s Why.”

  • I met my husband in NYC, at that time his English wasn’t very good. I had worked in France and West Africa , as well as used French a little bit for my work, so we spoke French together. As his French improved, we spoke mostly English at home and spoke French in public places like the subway, stores, etc. Now we live in France and we have 2 daughters so only English is spoken at home. I agree with you, you should speak English with your husband for exactly the reasons you suggested. I continue to listen to TV in English as well , with French subtitles, My situation is a little different because I I came to France already speaking French, albeit grammatically incorrect.. I still have a lot to learn.

    • It’s a much longer process than I expected when we first discussed moving here. There is no shortcut when it comes to learning French — even if you live with a native speaker!

  • My family has lived in Paris for six months now and the transition to speaking French has been slow. My wife, who studied french, is much farther along than I am and our daughter sounds like a native. I do a little bit of studying each day, but I don’t see myself discussing Voltaire in French anytime soon!

    With that said, let’s give a shoutout tp English! Did you know:

    More people speak French than any other language.

    1 out of 3 meetings tomorrow in Europe will be in English.

    It is the language of business, science, technology, entertainment, diplomacy, and aviation.

    For every one word in French, English has four words. Over 600,000!

    My point is simply this: we should be thankful everyday that we have access to this beautiful, expressive, and practical language. Sure french is great and we should continue the struggle to master it, but English is our home.

    • Oops, I meant more people speak English than any other language (Spanish has the most native speakers, but more people know English as their primary or secondary language than any other language).

      Desole! 😬

  • It is so true what you said. You explained it perfectly how I feel. I am a native Spanish speaker but our story started in England and it was not until a few years of marriage that we decided to move to France and for the first time I heard French on daily basis and I had the same comments about having my private tutor and it just doesn’t feel the same.

  • YES! All of this! We have tried… When friends scold me for not speaking French at home I explain my husband will almost always answer if English if I TRY to speak French. When I asked him why he said he “does not know me in French”. Mostly I appreciate that I can be clearer in English with him when we speak about more than groceries, movies, etc…. We speak French when we are out and with French friends. Yes, this process takes much longer than I anticipated. Thanks for being in league to just accept we need a little oasis. I love becoming “more French” but yes, I will always be part American and this is one of the things my husband loves about me. 🙂

  • Hi Charli,
    Well, as my husband trying to speak french with me my response most of the time is English. And sometimes i cannot understand him since speaking French is differ from written. . . Ha ha ha! We still speak English at home because it’s easier for us to understand each other in different aspects. I am still struggling my French speaking ability until now. But , I know i am on track in learning this beautiful language.

    Have a nice day !

    Amour

    • It takes longer than I expected but when I think back to a year ago I do realize how far I’ve come. I find it easier to understand than speak as well so I relate to your responding in English.

  • I am French, my husband Filipino. We lived in the UK when out children were born. We always spoke English at home out of necessity. The children did not pick up French until much later, and after extended visits with my mother. If you want your children to be bilingual, you must continue speaking English at home. Kids soon learn what they need to get by, and if it’s the same language at home and out in the world, that is what they’ll speak.

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