What's Her Secret?: French native works to keep culture alive for children

abredeson@islandpacket.comJune 11, 2012 

Benedicte Gadron poses with her children, Zoe and Tom, and their cat, Tea Bell, at home on June 6.


  • Features writer Amy Bredeson writes about Lowcountry moms who have advice to share. Email her at abredeson@islandpacket.com.

Moms know it sometimes can be hard to get their children to respond to any number of inquiries -- whether it be asking them what they want for dinner or checking on the progress of their homework.

But imagine trying to get your kids to respond in French when they live in an English-speaking country.

It might not be easy, but Benedicte Gadron of Hilton Head Island says she is committed to raising her children in a bilingual household. And she will do whatever it takes to keep her French heritage alive for her two young children.

Name: Benedicte Gadron

Town: Hilton Head Island

Strength: Teaching her children French

A native of Valenciennes, France, Benedicte Gadron and her family moved to the States about four years ago to be close to her in-laws. They only planned to stay a year or two, but liked it so much that they haven't left.

And even though the kids' first language was French, they have lost some of it during their time in the U.S.

Gadron has to work hard to keep her children -- Tom Gadron, 11, and Zoe Braden, 7 -- interested in learning about their culture when they're submerged in a completely different one at home.

She speaks to them in French, plays French music for them, reads French books with them and prepares traditional French cuisine.

Question. Why is it so important to you that they speak French?

Answer. It's a root of their identity. Right now they might not see the point. But in a few years, if I don't keep it alive and they see they could've been bilingual without hardly any effort, they might resent me. ... Another reason, which is very practical, is university. I want them to have the possibility to do their studies in France. And I want them to be able to communicate with my family.

Q. Do you ever speak to the children in English?

A. I try to speak only in French. I have to admit, after a year I tend to speak some English words sometimes, but it's mainly French.

Q. And you expect them to respond to you in French?

A. It's been a little hard lately with my son because he hasn't been to France for two years. It really looks like the more time he is not in touch with the native country, the harder it is for him to feel like speaking French. But I make my point. I just say, "I don't understand you" if they speak English to me. ... It's a challenge to keep the children speaking the language. It's work. I think that people might think it's natural, but it's work.

Q. Do you have any advice for other moms who want their children to speak their native language fluently?

A. I think the secret is to keep your own motivation really high, not to be lax about it. This year, I regret a little bit that I didn't put more effort into the lessons that I was giving the three years before. Nothing I can do now, but because of that I'm motivated again to do a better job next year.

Q. So you seem to do a great job teaching your children all about the French culture. Is there anything you are not so great at?

A. Yes, many things. I'm not great at keeping up with school schedules. As you can see, I asked you the time for my son's graduation. And I was looking at your agenda, and I was thinking, "Gosh, that would be a good thing for myself."

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