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.

It’s hard for me to see anything romantique about my B-level French, and I admit self-consciousness is 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!

 



15 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.

  • Hi! My experience is the opposite. The language is not French but it applies.
    Backstory: Cute boyfriend on long distance relationship moves in with me. We when we met we spoke English to each other, and English is not the native language of any of us.
    So at first, we continue to speak in English at home. He goes and signs up for language courses.
    Step 1 Greetings and basic expressions move to local language. The rest in English.
    Step 2 Naturally an easy topic for him becomes his regular practice. I don’t remember what it was, but maybe it was food shopping and cooking.
    Step 3. He increases his vocabulary and we add more topics ( not planned, he keeps trying to say things, and if’ it is too much he switches back to English.. Important communication and discussions still in English
    Step 4. 80% of our communication is done on local language. When we are mad at each other, English.
    Step 5. 99% Local Language.
    That was in 4-5 years time.
    Some rules: no correcting grammar or mistakes unless it’s terrible. Or after a while of repeating the same thing, but very casual. If it’s a cute mistake not even caring.
    I didn’t teach him anything, we just communicated.
    It’s so okay to have mixed language conversations and switch to the easiest one at any time. Like he greets in local language, asks something in local language and then next sentence is too difficult, so then in English. I reply in local language. If he makes a face, I repeat in English. Very casual.
    No expectations, no nothing, as long we are communicating is fine.
    It seems chaos it was not. It was fun. His progress was very fast, noticeable outside of home. No need to rush at home.
    We didn’t plan this, it was natural.

    Kids: in our case, just one. When she was born, local language was the home language, but each of us talked to her on their native language. Before 2 years old, she “spoke” the 2 languages. After that she chose the local language and we went along. Husband tried to keep his native language but it was frustrating for him to ask in one language and get a response on the second one. Cartoons ( if any) were in English.
    When she was 4, daddy’s language was back, and they have been having wonderful conversations since then. Her language skills dramatically improve when meeting grandma or other people that won’t understand her if she doesn’t try harder.
    Now we moved to a third country, and we are all learning a new language together, and my daughter also started an English school. It took her 3 months to have better English than me. Now she corrects our mistakes and pronunciation.

    I think my advantage here is that both my parents spoke different languages, also to each other ( they both understood both) and I’ve spent all my childhood switching languages, one for mom, another for dad. As a teenager I switched to talk using my mother’s language to my dad and he didn’t switch. I think we still do sometimes, I am just not aware anymore.

    • Thanks for sharing this Laura! Some good advice/lessons in here. It’s all about communication so whatever works for each couple is the “right way” as long as both are happy 🙂

  • I am an Austrian married to an American. So, we speak German and English at home – theoretical. I met my husband here in Vienna and my English was better than his German. I got pregnant quite early in our relationship and we moved together soon. We tried to talk in German to each other, but in daily life it gets quickly boring to explain the grocery list four to five times and then end up with the wrong things. So, I kept talking in English. My husband has an English-speaking work field, so his need to learn German was not too big. And we found that Austrians switched to English as soon as they found out he was from America. They wanted to improve their English! Then our kids were little I spoke German, my husband English with them. And if we were together, I sometimes translated what I said to the kids. As they grew older, I started to talk English more. The level of vocabulary the kids used grew and, in the evenings, it was harder for me to switch between German and English. My husband understands German quite well, just talking is hard for him. Sometimes I get scolded by family that I did not teach him better German. But I ignore it. It mostly comes from members who never learned a second language themselves. As a family or as a couple it must work for you.

  • I am a French who is marry with an Indonesian woman.
    All our story is in English, and I feel same like you: no reason for us to use French at home: I feel it is a stranger language for our couple now…
    English is not the native language of any of us, her language is bahasa, but for our couple, it is…

    If she want discuss in French, OK for me, but if she don’t want, OK for me too!

    For information, I discovered your blog by not even French.

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