Monday 18 May 2015

Maman, en français, c'est La Reine des Neiges

Maman, en français c'est la reine des neiges” [Mama, in French its the snow queen i.e. the name of the Frozen movie in French] proclaimed Poppette yesterday afternoon as she sat around a table with her young English friends singing 'Do you want to build a snowman' and generally getting giddy about the Disney Frozen movie.

Just a few words but so very telling.

Being totally honest and laying my cards on the table, I am at a stage where I am extremely grateful for these small reminders that my children can and do speak French this being despite me and my best efforts to sabbotage the whole thing. Seriously. Over the past two years I have been far from consistent. I take full responsibility as little by little more and more English conversations have sneaked into our life. Partly because of being so busy, partly due to tiredness and laziness and perhaps also a lack of conviction. I remember a chat I had a few months ago with Belgian Maman (those of you who have been following our adventure for a while will recall that Belgian Maman is native French speaker who speaks only English with her two little ones) during which she pointed out the problem I was having was that having allowed a little English to creep in now and again, over time this had snowballed and it had become to feel the norm. I should really be more aware of this as I do tend to have an all or nothing personality. Routine and consistency are key for me.

It seems to be fairly widely acknowledged within the bilingual community that bilingual life can be tiring and takes real commitment even when using ones native language. Going the non-native route is likely to be a little trickier now and again because it’s not just the commitment and consistency that you have to battle with, it’s the lack of words at certain times. I think that, because of this, I have perhaps slipped into letting myself off the hook a little. I’ve used it as an excuse to “cut myself some slack” when, in reality all I have been doing is allowing myself to wander further and further away from my goal.


I implore you not to do the same.

It is not too late for us to recover from this. I know this simply because my children have proved that even though I dropped the ball, they picked it up and ran with it for me.

There are millions of little moments that remind me that they can and do speak French and that they are proud to do so. Such as when they comment on a French story I have just read to them, or when they drop obscure French words into conversation that I may have only used with them once or twice previously, or when we are in the car and they play who knows the most French words, or when one of them proclaims, "Mama, I know how to speak French but X doesn't" or when they are watching French TV and repeat whatever they have just heard even though I would have sworn blind that they weren’t listening. There are so many of these little moments that wouldn’t arise had we not had this dream of a bilingual household.

There are other occasions, however, when there is some resistance. Poppette, for example now refuses to join in with her weekly French class at pre-school. This doesn’t worry me as I think that it’s a boredom issue (chatting about colours and animals and foods etc. each week) although I had hoped she would enjoy the group interaction and signing. She has also started to pretend not to understand something when she clearly does. I’m not sure what makes her do this. She asks questions like “What is cinq [five]?”. I don’t give in to it as I know she knows but it’s a reminder to me that I can’t get away with the lack of consistency in my approach to their language acquisition forever.

Already I know that had I been as consistent over the past two years as I had been over the first two years, then our current language environment would be different. That’s part of the reason for me stepping up to the keyboard today. To share the reality of where our non-native adventure is at the moment and also to set my stall out about where that adventure will lead us next.

In this vein, I came across a great book recently called “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The premise of the book is that you should choose the one thing in life (or in each area of life) that is of most importance to you and that every decision or choice you make is based on whether or not it brings you closer to that goal. All of a sudden you can begin to see how a myriad of small choices you are making daily serve no real purpose and in no way lead you where you want to be heading. It’s all about being more intentional.

In fact, there’s a great short story that Poppette loves right now that really grabbed my attention recently. It begins “Je suis une petite graine plantee dans la terre….” [I’m a little seed planted in the ground...”]. As I acted the story out with her, doing the actions to represent this tiny seed, uncoiling, growing and stretching towards the sun, I realised that this language that I am sharing with my children is like that little seed. If I water and nurture it, it will most likely become la plus belle fleur du monde [the most beautiful flower in the world] and if I neglect it, deprioritise it and use our majority language instead… that poor little grain is likely to wither and die.

What a shame that would be after four and a half years of effort from our little family.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Belfégor et l'orage and other (free) online story books

Goodness, it's been a long time since I sat down and tapped away here on my beloved blog and I have so many stories bustling around in my head dying to get out that today's post really should be about an altogether different subject.

It should be about the progress we're making on our bilingual adventure. It should be about the quirky, cute little sayings both Little Man and Poppette keep me endlessly entertained with. It should be about the bumps in the road that never seem to go away but still aren't big enough for me to throw in the towel.

So...that post will come and it will come soon. But for now, I want to leave you with a link to a set of super cute stories that you can listen to whilst looking at the pages of the book on your laptop, smartphone or tablet. My favourite is Belfégor et l'orage - the story of a little dragon who can no longer breathe fire...

Click here to access that story and twelve others.

Bonne lecture

Thursday 22 May 2014

Creating Opportunities for your Child's Language Development

I read an interesting article recently on a website called Playing With Words 365 which focussed on creating opportunities for your child to speak.

The main message is that we should wait... have a little patience... and let our children speak.

It's true to say that as parents, we often anticipate so many of our children's needs with the result being that they don't need to finish a sentence to get their needs met.

Reading this article opened my eyes quite a bit to that.

The article gives some useful and very simple tips such as moving things your child likes or needs a little out of their way or "accidentally" forgetting to do something like put their toys in the bath or zip up their coat so that they have to ask.

Most of the suggested tips are geared towards the very young child just learning to speak but the concepts can be easily translated to preschoolers and above. Really, the idea is about maximising the opportunity, space and time for dialogue during day to day life.

It just strikes me as a really simple idea that could have great benefits.

Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival

I'm a little late to the party, but here's a link to April's "Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival". April's theme is one I'm really keen to explore - how to teach mulitilingual children to read.

The carnival is being hosted by Adriana over at Homeschool Ways.

Click here to read more.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Poppette corrects Little Man's French

Poppette corrected Little Man's French last night.

I didn't know what to do first...(a) star jumps or (b) run for a pen and a scrap of paper before I forgot the details of their little exchange.

Guess what I went with lol

The conversation (which may lose a little in translation as the pronunciation is quite key here) went like this:

Little Man: "My chaussonzzz" (chaussons slippers) - in French the 'S' here is silent but Little Man went all English on us and pronounced the 'S' :-)

Poppette: "No, they're 'chaussons'"

(She did this with a silent 'S' and in a pefect little French accent)


One happy mama.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Maman, Le Monsieur Tond Le Gazon

Something Poppette (aged 3 ½) said to me recently spurred me on immensely. We were lounging around in the garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon when we heard the sudden roar of the neighbour’s lawnmower.

Maman” exclaimed Poppette “Le monsuier tond le gazon” (Mummy, the man is mowing the lawn). Seriously, this just ticks all the boxes. Not only had my daughter just spoken an entire, grammatically correct sentence to me in French but it was something so random and unexpected that it made me understand that she is just absorbing everything like a sponge.

Poppette’s language use at the moment can be summed up as being a real mix. She speaks English with English people, a mix of English and French with me and mainly English with Papa and Little Man with random bits of French thrown in. She very rarely uses full French sentences (although it appears that she can when she wants to). She comes out with things that surprise and impress me in equal measure.

I think the issue here is that I look at language acquisition from the perspective of a monolingual English speaker who learnt other languages through school etc and because of this, I have a subconscious sense that the words or grammatical structures I (and scores of my classmates) grappled with will also be tricky for her. This is not true. In reality, every French word is as easy or difficult as the next in the mind of a bilingual child or infant language learner. A word is just a word. A good example would be the fact that many English speakers struggle at first to differentiate between les chevaux (horses) and les cheveux (hair). Poppette proved to me that this is very much not the case for her recently as we drove past a field of horses and she exclaimed “Oh, des chevaux!” (oh, horses). She will never confuse the two. So the lesson here for me is that I need to stop projecting my weaknesses or concerns onto her and just continue to speak.

Little Man is also progressing in leaps and bounds. He has been a very chatty Little Man for a long time. By the age of 18 months he could put three (English) words together and has always had a really good understanding of the concepts of me and I etc which I think sometimes children don’t quite grasp at first. Now, at 25 months old, he chatters away quite merrily in both English and French although, in French he uses single words rather than sentences.

There are, in fact, some words that my children never say in English, at least, I’ve never heard them use the English word. Such as salon (living room), salle de jouets (play room), calîn (cuddle), essuie-tout (kitchen roll), linge (laundry), douche (shower) and serviette (towel). Also, there are a few terms that cause immense confusion when we have visitors... particularly the fact that Noddy is known as Oui-Oui (pronounced wee-wee in French) and he is Little Man’s favourite cartoon character... when Little Man wants the potty he tells us he wants to do a pipi.

So, I definitely feel things are moving along steadily in the right direction, DESPITE me having had the several wobbles over the past 12 months or so and DESPITE the fact that rather than speaking 100% French I speak more like 80% French with them right now and..... horror of horrors ..sometimes read books to them and sing to them in English too.

Monday 2 September 2013

Back on the blogging horse

Wow, has it really been nearly five months since I wrote anything here on my beloved blog. Seriously, I can't believe it. Life has been a total whirlwind with my feet very rarely touching the floor for long enough for me to keep on top of everyday life, let alone indulge in the luxury of writing a blog post.

The last few times I wrote, I was most definitely feeling unsure as to whether I wanted to carry on speaking French with Poppette and Little Man. Knowing we were due a family holiday to France this August, however, I told myself that I would be a fool to stop before then as I ought at the very least give my children the opportunity to explore what they know (and, of course, show me and hopefully nip all my fears in the bud) whilst totally immersed.

I was right to wait.

Whoever spoke to Poppette, in what ever environment, be it in the local supermarket or pharmacy, the ticket lady on the merry-go-round, our French friends, our next door neighbours, she understood and spoke back to them. It was a crazy feeling to realise that my daughter (who will be 3 years old in less then two month's time) really speaks French and that, had I not pushed myself through the doubting and spoken to to her in French all this time, we would have arrived on holiday and she would have understood 'rien'! Likewise, for Little Man (now 17 months old) who, although he still only has a few French words in his spoken vocabulary, clearly understands French when it is spoken to him.

The holiday was amazing on many levels - I mean, put me in France and watch me float - just being there makes me happy. But to watch my children just fall into being a part of it all. Wow! Watching them play in French with our friends' two little boys (who are French and also French/ English bilinguals) was just brilliant... The game un, deux, trois soleil for one really seems to have stuck with both Poppette and Little Man who still cover their eyes every time they hear the words. Also, our friends spoke only French with my little ones which was priceless.

One day whilst in France, Poppette came to me and said "Maman, je veux manger" [Mummy, I would like something to eat] - until that point, she had always said "Maman, I want manger" so, in my eyes this was a huuuuge step..... the minority language immersion environment helped push the majority language out.

She's gone right back to saying "Maman, I want manger", now were home, but at least I know now that there are words in her head just waiting for the right opportunity to come back out and that this will be just the same with Little Man.

It's back to that old chestnut of just having faith. Believe it will work and it will. Keep working towards your goal. It's not always easy (far from it, at times, to be honest!!) but.... well, the proof is in the pudding.