Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Bilingualism Should Equal Fun and Frolics and Not Stress and Hassle

Multilingual Living ran a great article a couple of weeks ago setting out 10 things you should NEVER say to your bilingual child. Corey Heller, the author, is a real inspiration and I have lost count of the times that one of her pearls of wisdoms has given me renewed motivation or food for thought along this multilingual path.

It's a good thing for us all to remember that bilingualism is a fabulous thing but only if it does not come at the expense of relationships and harmony within ones family unit.

To this end (keeping things light and fun) our home at the moment is filled with music and stories. Poppette is really loving listening to music right now and always points at the stereo insistently whenever it isn't on. We have been stocking up on fabulous music CD's, story CD's and books. Some of the most recent and highly recommended ones are:-

50 Histoires à lire en turbulette a great set of stories and rhymes for young children with gorgeous illustrations.

Contemimes a CD with music and short songs for young children. The music here is really lively and so so different from any other CD we own. Very original and a wealth of great vocab for young ones to learn whilst having fun. This CD comes with a book with the song lyrics in and suggested hand mimes to do along to the songs.

Coco et les bulles de savon a short story book with illustrations accompanied by a CD with a spoken version of the story set to music and real sounds (such as the bath running at the appropriate point in the story). Coco is a cheeky little monkey who gets himself into all sorts of scrapes. There is a whole series of Coco CD/book combos available and we will definitely be increasing our collection.

If anyone has any suggestions of other fun books or CD's do let me know.

Ooh that reminds me - Maria over at Busy as a bee in Paris posted a link to another blog (The Inspiration Thief)  which also took me to another blog (Oopsey Daisy) with a great idea for Christmas Book Advent Calendars. It’s a little late for me to sort for this year but it will be at the top of my 'To Do List' for next Christmas. The idea is that you get 24 Christmas themed books (or maybe mix it up with an activity or a project) and wrap them up for your little one(s) to open each day until Christmas... the opportunities this would open up for having fun in the minority language seem limitless.... Joyeux Noël everyone.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A short update and details of a useful little website

It's all been very quiet on the language development front since I last posted. In fact, I would go as far as to say Poppette has seemingly stopped using the word 'Ouais' (yeah) for now and the only word she is using at the moment is 'ta'. I have read that it is quite common in the early language development of children that they stop and start with the words they use.

Although she is not currently saying much (although she does chatter away in her own little Poppette langauge quite merrily), she understands and reacts to more and more every day, showing us that she is soaking up the language around her.

By way of an aside, I have found what promises to be a useful website called 0-5.com http://www.0-5ans.com/menu_Accueil.html - it has a wealth of interesting games, recipes, nursery ryhme words and much, much more in French for the 0-5 age group.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Poppette's Language Development

Now we have moved into the exciting phase of Poppette starting to speak and try out more and more sounds, I have decided to create a log to help me keep a clear picture of her language development. If you are interested, you can access this log by clicking on the tab marked ''Poppette" at the top of the page.

Three days ago mum and I were sat playing with Poppette. She had been playing with her bilingual games cube. Suddenly, it chimed out 'au revoir', which it does whenever you don't press any of its buttons for a while. I immediately repeated the words. Then, to our total astonishment, so did Poppette!!!! I kid you not. Now, I don't actually think at this stage that she knows the word or the context in which to use it. I think she was definately just mimicking the sounds. For that reason, it doesn't make it onto our language development log just yet. But still, what a fabulous, fabulous achievement for my little one year old girl.

A French-speaking, English friend came to stay last week.  She was amazed to see Poppette's response to me speaking to her in French. She commented that Poppette clearly understands a lot and responds accordingly. Like me, I think the fact that it is French that Poppette is responding to is what amazed my friend and that had the same interactions occured in English it would have almost gone by unnoticed.

It was great for me to have some honest third party thoughts on the situation.

A few examples of what Poppette understands are :-

'Tu veux manger?' (Do you want something to eat?) - to which Poppette will either say 'Ouais' (yeah) and point to her highchair, or simply shake her head to communicate 'no'.

Tu veux boire? (Do you want something to drink) - again Poppette will either say 'Ouais' or shake her head.

Va chercher Doudou! (Go get Doudou) - and off she goes :-)

Passe-moi tes cubes! (Pass me your building blocks) - which she does one by one until they are all back in the bag.

Viens! (Come on/ Come here) - whether she obliges or not definately depends on her mood :-)

Stop! Ditto ;-)


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

French Saturday Club

A couple of weekends ago, Papa and I took Poppette to a French Saturday club that we had found in a neighbouring city. We had been wanting to go along for a goodwhile but had had to wait for La Rentrée (beginning of the new school year).

The club had originally been set up by a group of francophone parents who wanted their children to be able to play and learn in French alongside other French speaking children. It has grown and grown and now offers a playgroup for the babies and younger children and a structured school setting for children aged from 4 upwards. Here children, who are schooled in the English school system during the week, are able to learn to read and write in French.

I am so happy to have found the school. My only regret is that it is not closer to home. With a drive of anywhere between an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half each way dependent upon traffic, it is quite commitment. That said, it is well worth it.

So... first impressions. Well, Papa and I were impressed. The playgroup kicked off with all the parents taking it in turns to introduce themselves and their child(ren). I have to say, I had been nervous for the whole drive over and sitting there waiting for my turn to speak up I could feel the butterflies in my tummy. My French friend who we had gone along with (her son is one month younger than Poppette), gave me a wink to help quell my nerves. Some of the parents seemed a little surprised that both Papa and I were English and had taken on such a gargantuan task as to bring up our baby bilingual, but there was none of the negativity I had feared.  All of the other families had at least one French native as a part of the parental mix.

Talking to some of the parents, it was really clear that even for a native speaker, there can still be many bumps in the road when trying to raise your child to speak a minority language in a majority language country.

After the introductions we sang loads of Comptines (nursery rhymes). I surprised myself by knowing far more of the words than I would have previously given myself credit for. It seems that the never ending stream of CD's and books are paying off...

Following the nursery rhyme session the babies all played together with toys whilst their parents chatted and sipped coffee. The older children all participated in an adult led activity - making masks. It looked great fun.

Before attending the playgroup, the question Papa and I had been asking ourselves was just how much Poppette would get out of it attending at her current age. Well, I don't think that the benefits of group play and seeing different faces and scenery can be underestimated, but she may not get any real language benefit for a few months yet.

Poppette herself voted with her feet.... or more accurately, her eyelids which were firmly shut as soon as the nursery rhymes had finished and remained so for the next hour and a half until the playgroup session ended...


That said, I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time in an environment where both children and adults were chattering away in French and am really pleased to say that I was fully accepted into the fold. It really does seem that my fears that people think we are odd for speaking French to our English daughter is more of a figment of my imagination than a reality and that actually people think that it’s really something quite admirable.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Is there such a thing as the perfect balance?

I can't help but wonder whether there really is such a thing as the perfect balance where bilingualism or multilingualism is concerned. I'm not just talking about a balance in ability but also in passion, commitment and even confidence.

As a mother who has chosen to speak French only (ok...ok.. I'm not going to paint myself as the saint that I  clearly am not.... so I will rephrase that ..) - As a mother who has chosen to speak French as consistently as possible to my daughter, I naturally have a vested interest in her French language development. Recently, I have been over the moon to watch her responding to more and more words and phrases. She now actually comes to me when I say "Viens!" (Come here!). It's amazing to watch a child's development and to witness the wonders of the human brain. How a brain comes to process and understand the spoken word is mind boggling whatever language is in play. However, I can't help being that little bit more excited about the fact that my 11 month old English daughter is more than capable of responding to a command/ request spoken to her in French.

So... when I went to collect Poppette from nursery last week, I couldn't help feeling a little bit protective towards her French language skills when the nursery nurse told me that she had been saying 'Ta' all day long, on each occasion that someone had passed something to her. I was surprised as 'Ta' is not a word that Papa or I  ever use - clearly Poppette has learnt this word from her time in nursery. Argh... she has only been there a month and already they are filling her head with English... help...

Seriously, I am now starting to realise that I am going to have to talk, talk and talk some more at every given opportunity if French is to be given even a fighting chance. Five days a week in nursery are clearly going to lead to English immersion. Where's the balance in that :-(

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Il est où, Doudou? (Where's Doudou?)

I am so excited to sit down and write this post.

Poppette understands French!!!!

I have no idea why I am so suprised - afterall, I have been speaking French to her since she was around 3 months old (so for the past 8 months of her life). Still, it was such a shock when I first realised.

Without doubt she understands the following:

"Il est où, Doudou" - (where's Doudou (her little lamb comforter)) - when I ask her this question, she looks all over until she can see him then crawls over to wherever he happens to be and grabs him. So now we often play a game where I show here Doudou, then put him in a box or behind a toy or something, then I ask where he is and she sets of to retrieve him. Brilliant!!!

"Elle est où, la lumière" - (where's the light) - when I ask her this she looks straight up to the light fitting in whichever room we happen to be in and holds her hand up towards it.

I'm also pretty sure she understands "encore" (more) and "fini" (finished).

Actually, in my more excitable moments I sometimes wonder if I might have just heard her say "ouais" (yeah) but then I am not sure that this is really possible at the tender age of 11 months....

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Trying to keep one step ahead on the non-native path

I am oh so conscious that I just haven't had the time to sit down and write for far too long now. Sometimes life gets in the way and other priorities raise their head. That said, there is barely a day goes by when my brain doesn't whiz around ruminating upon some element of this bilingual life we have chosen. So... as it's Bilingual Carnival time again, I have been spurred on to get back on my blogging horse.

Over the past few weeks I have been grappling with the worry that my language skills may not keep up with the ever evolving needs of Poppette. Of course, I know that it's a moving feast and as time goes by I will, with the right effort and determination, pick up more and more appropriate vocabulary and turns of phrase. But really.... that commitment seems huge... especially in the dark hours of the early morning when I should be sleeping but my brain won't allow it! It's the seemingly little things that monolingual and native-speaking parents won't ever need to give a second thought to that create such potential minefields for a non-native ... such as making Halloween masks, baking cupcakes, making friendship bracelets....

At this stage... all I can do is panic! My common sense tells me that I just need to buy some French crafting and activity books and look out for DVD's in the same vein as Disney's Art Attack (but en français) and learn from them. It's a daunting prospect though... trying to keep one step ahead at all times.

I know that attending the French Saturday school we have found will really help; or at least I hope so. This is a place where Poppette can play with other children in French and I can mix with French and Francophone mums... both of us absorbing more and more language. School is now out for summer though and I await September term with real anticipation.

I read an interesting letter on the pages of InCultureParent Magazine yesterday which reinforced the validity of my concerns. The non-native (OPOL) Maman in question had written for advice as to whether she should give up speaking Spanish to her 3 year old son as it is becoming exhausting. She makes a really solid point in that, although she is fluent in Spanish, with the best will in the world it is still her second language and her level when compared with a highly educated native speaking Spaniard is ‘rudimentary’; the result being that her son is nowhere near as eloquent in Spanish as he is in English. The expert's response was reassuring, namely: - 'Bravo for how far you have come on your own so far' and 'Now it's time to get some help!'

If any one has any experience or advice about how (or how not) to proceed, or any resource suggestions, then please do either leave me a comment or email me at non.native.adventure@gmail.com

Monday, 20 June 2011

George Saunders just landed on my doorstep.....

George Saunders is arguably the most well known non-native bilingual parent of them all. His book "Bilingual Children: From Birth to Teens" is held in the highest of esteem and has become somewhat of a bible for many people who are considering or who have already begun bilingual parenting.

Born in Australia, both George Saunders ("GS") and his wife speak English as their first language. GS also speaks German (and French) and, due to his great interest in language, linguistics and bilingualism, decided to raise his three Australian born children to be bilingual (English/ German). His book chronicles the process and contains a wealth of information and advice.

I have hunted high and low for this book. It is out of print and sells for a king's ransom. I thought all my Christmases had come at once when the local librarian found a copy on the library catalogue... only to see his crest fallen face moments later when he realised it had been nicked six years ago.

Oh well... King's ransom or not... I just have to read this book.

It arrived this morning. I can see me not getting much sleep this week as I try to cram all 258 pages in during Poppette's downtime.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Today's Buzz

Continuing the theme of talking French to Poppette as much as humanly possible and in the interests of keeping things fresh and fun for the both of us, I am always on the look out for new ways to amuse. Today's inspiration came from a great little book called 365 activités avec mon bébé - in the guise of activity 244 "Marielle L'abeille".....(Marielle the bee).

We already had a head start in that Poppette has a small bee with a very similar name - Poppette's bee is named Mireille after the character in her book by Antoon Krings - Mireille L'abeille. She also has a beloved little bear whom I have affectionally named Nounours (Teddybear). So, out came the two cute little soft toys and I set about learning the little story set out at activity 244 by heart...

Connais-tu Mireille?
Elle est jaune et noir
Elle aime le soleil, les fleurs et le miel.
Un jour sur sa route, elle croise un gros ours
Qui veut lui voler son beau pot doré.
Hors de ma vue, compère Ours!
Si tu voles mon déjeuner,
Je serai obligée de te piquer le nez!


Do you know Mireille?
She is yellow and black
She loves the sunshine, flowers and honey.
One day when she is out and about she bumps into a big bear
who wants to steal her golden pot.
Out of my way, Dear Bear!
If you steal my lunch,
I will have to sting you on the nose!)

What a gorgeous little story.

Bees aside, the other buzz of the day - Poppette made two more sounds! Almost a month to the day that she first said "Dada", this morning she added "mamama" and "nanana" to her repertoire. Although I am aware that these are just sounds and not actual words that Poppette is linking to people as yet, I would be fibbing if I said I didn't feel a tingle of excitement down my spine when she said "mamama" and I know that when Nanny hears her say "nanana" she will be hard pressed not to feel the same...

Friday, 10 June 2011

Si je dis des bêtises, il faut me pardonner....Forgive me if i'm talking nonesense...

They say that, in order to help a child learn to speak, you should talk to them and then talk, talk and talk some more. Surely it then follows that, if you want to help a child to speak a minority language (i.e. French) in a majority language community (i.e. England), you need to speak to them in the minority language even more.

This is the reason for my constant (often inane) blathering.

It dawned on me today that, if anyone were to overhear the incessant monologue I direct towards my darling daughter, they would more than likely mistake me for a crazy person :-)

I mean, in reality, there are only a certain amount of things you can usefully say to a baby... "Come on darling, let's go change your nappy." etc so I took the decision not only to narrate to Poppette what I or we are doing but to try and play games which can be verbalised such as today's game of hide and seek with Madame La Grenouille (Mrs Frog)... "Allez Poppette, tu veux jouer à cache-cache? C'est moi qui compte... un, deux, trois" (Hey Poppette, do you want to play hide and seek? I'll count... one, two, three"). The amount of words you can get into a game like this is unbelieveable... "Où est-ce qu'elle se cache la Poppette? Est-ce qu'elle est dans le frigo...non. Est-ce qu'elle est sous son lit?... non"... (Where is Poppette hiding? Is she in the fridge... no. Is she under her bed?...no.) You get the idea.

Sometimes I catch her looking at me with the most bemused look on her face. She clearly knows I'm talking rubbish!!!

Thursday, 2 June 2011


I just had to sit and write down my thoughts and feelings this evening to make sure that I capture this positive moment in black and white – it will hopefully help to keep me on the straight and narrow should I have a shaky moment going forward.

Speaking French with Poppette seems to have taken on a life of its own this week. I am trying to analyse why…. So that I can bottle it and use it as and when necessary!

We have had practically total immersion for a few days. Yesterday was spent with a French friend (my language swap buddy) and her three children and we didn’t speak English at all. It’s fabulous to be able to surround Poppette with others speaking this beautiful language.

I have been speaking exclusively French with Poppette this week and, to my great delight, I even maintained this when I had workmen over and when we were out and about. It definitely seems to be getting easier now that Poppette is becoming more and more interactive. Even though she cannot yet respond in any language, she is soaking up the speech around her and reacting to it. The crazy fact is that she understands French just as much as she understands English at this stage because she is surrounded by both languages. I have to pinch myself really to make myself believe that this is her reality. For me to stop now would be taking something away from her .

I have to admit that I am still lagging behind where I would like to be in terms of speaking French to Poppette in the company of friends and family. I have realised recently that, in large, the reason for this is that I actually fear (totally unjustifiably I might add) that people that have never heard me speak French might actually just think I am making it up… or that I am able to perhaps ask for directions or a cup of tea but over and above that am just overstating my capabilities.

Once a person has heard me speak French, I can and will happily speak French to Poppette in their company. Only the other day a friend was visiting and we were discussing my reticence to speak French to my daughter in company. She pointed out that, although I thought she had never heard me speaking French to Poppette, she had many times… it’s just that I hadn’t realised. She mentioned that, although I hadn’t really spoken French when she had been involved in the conversation, I had done so when she was present when the conversation was just between Poppette and I. As soon as my friend said this, I felt able to speak more and more French to Poppette in her company.

Likewise at playgroup, although the host had known of our bilingual home life since day one, I hadn’t actually spoken French to Poppette at playgroup for fear attracting strange looks. Then one day I attended with a French friend of mine and, of course, we chatted away in French amongst ourselves the whole time. After this I was totally at ease speaking to Poppette when there alone. Basically, once I knew I had nothing to prove, as these people had already witnessed my fluency, I felt totally at ease.

C R A Z Y.

Anyhow, the fact is that I am feeling super excited at the moment. Our bilingual household is really taking shape with our stocks of French books and toys and the like growing nicely.

Up until today I have made a point of only buying books and DVD’s for Poppette in French. Likewise for speaking toys such as her Tourni’ Piano by Vtech. So today when I nipped into town and bought her three finger puppet story books in English, I knew it was a sign that I was feeling more comfortable with this bilingual business and that it is feeling more established in our home. I will tell Poppette these stories in French whilst Papa does so in English. That said, English resources are so easy to come by that I know I will return my efforts back to the French ones now... I can't wait for my next trip accross the channel where I can load up my bags... sometimes buying online just isn't the same.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Le Chat Français

Each week Poppette and I go along to a great playgroup where our time is filled with nursery rhymes, singing, dancing, interacting with fabulous puppets and playing with musical instruments (well, mainly rattles and maybe a few drums for the slightly older babies). Poppette loves it and I love that she loves it.

It is at this playgroup that we met Le Chat Français. He is one of the many life-like puppets that the host of the playgroup brings along from time to time. At other times there may a dog, a camel, even a spider... but none of these other puppets claims to hail from foreign lands.

I was over the moon when we were introduced to Le Chat Français as making his aquaintance was most unexpected at a playgroup for English children.

Each time Le Chat makes an appearance, the host plays her favourite French song which is called 'Les Oignons' (onions)...I have never heard of this song and neither have any of my French friends. It is very wordy and rather fast - certainly not a song who's words could be easily understood and repeated by youngsters.

So... I have offered to give some of my music to the group's host to bolster Le Chat's repertoire. My hopes are twofold -  a) as Poppette gets older, she will be able to sit and sing these songs along with the other children which will be great fun for her - she may even have fun helping them learn the words and b) the other children will find these songs fun and want to join in.

It strikes me that if we start with something like 'tête, épaules, genoux et pieds' (head, shoulders, knees and toes) we can't go far wrong. It is sung to the exact same tune as the English version and it will be relatively easy for the children to pick up these new words and then go home and show off to their friends and family. They will be language learning without even really noticing.... and surely that's the best way of all to learn.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A Wise Old Owl That Can Only Speak French

For a while now I have been wanting to give Poppette a soft toy that could only speak French. I have been on the lookout for the perfect one.

Yesterday I found him in the guise of Monsieur L'Hibou (Mr Owl). He's totally adorable and thankfully Poppette seems quite taken with him (I would run out of fingers if I tried to count how many times I have bought her what I think is the cutest soft toy on the planet only for her to pick up an empty Evian bottle and play with that instead!).

So, the plan is that, as Poppette grows and interacts more with her toys, she will (hopefully) always interact with Monsieur L'Hibou en français. For now, I will start to bring that alive for her by singing Dans La Forêt Prochaine with her whenever we play with him. It's a really cute song, whose lyrics are as follows:-

Dans la forêt prochaine,
On entend le coucou.

Du haut de son vieux chêne,
Il répond au hibou.

Coucou hibou, coucou hibou,
Coucou hibou, coucou.

A rough but not nearly as poetic translation would be:-

'In the nearby forest you can hear the cuckoo sing.
From high up in the old oak tree he is responding to the call of the owl.
"Hi there Owl", "hi there Owl", "hi there Owl", "hi".'

This version on YouTube is slightly different to the one on Poppette's nursery rhyme album (Toutes Mes Chansons Préférées) but the tune is the same.

I have also been thinking of creating un coin français which was suggested to me by another blogger...an area in our apartment where only French can be spoken.... even by Papa or friends and family. . . . I think that could be really good fun for everyone.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Our Budding Bilingual Baby Says Her First Word

Sunday was an exciting day ... it marked seven months since Poppette was born. I have to pinch myself sometimes ... I can't believe she has already been with us this long. Practically every day sees her learn a new skill... rolling, picking up with her pincer grip (most notably grabbing my eyelashes one day between her finger and thumb as I leaned over her crib!) and then on Sunday came her very first word.


Hmmm. Well this is an interesting one. As I understand it, from a linguistic point of view this is one of the easier sounds to master and very often a baby's first sound. I do wonder though whether this holds true world over or just with Anglophone children. If anyone knows, please do drop me a line.

Now Poppette definately hears the words Papa and Daddy more than Maman and Mummy simply because whilst Papa is away on business mid-week I talk about him lots and we skype every night... and, as I switch on the computer to Skype, I always say ''Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy''...... I'm not sure why, since the rest of the time I definately refer to him as Papa.

Anyhow... this is not a competition, right? I am more intruiged by the linguistics behind this chosen word/ sound and whether Poppette's next one will be Francophone in nature - bearing in mind she definately hears more French than English right now.

If anyone has any information or experience on what sounds Francophone children tend to commence their speech with (or indeed any other nationality), I would be really really interested to hear from you.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Au Dodo Poppette

Despite always thinking that we would be one of those families that didn't pay too much attention to routines, now that Poppette is almost seven months old (boy how time flies), we have come around to the realisation that we could all do with a little more sleep in this house and that perhaps a routine might just be the way forward!

Common wisdom has it that babies thrive on routine and that the constant repetition of actions in the same order each night before bed might just make a baby catch on to the fact that they are supposed to go to sleep at the end....

Apparently, until the routine is etched into your baby's head, you should also make sure you read them the same story each night. For this part of our routine we have a great book which I can't recommend enough. It's called Au Dodo Les Animaux [C'mon animals it's time for bed ] and is a soft cloth book with a furry cover. The book is entirely in black and white and has pages which crinkle and little flaps on each page for your baby to lift up.

The story basically takes you through a young child's bedtime routine with each animal doing a particular activity e.g. getting undressed, putting on pyjamas, brushing their teeth, having a glass of water, having a story etc Each page has a short sentence on it which rhymes e.g. "Petit éléphant se brosse bien les dents" [Little elephant gives his teeth a good clean].

Poppette really seems to enjoy this story (or at least crinkling and chewing the pages) which ends with all the animals in one big bed and the line "Au dodo les animaux" and of course we always add "Au dodo Poppette".

She seems to be catching on - touch wood.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Le Langage Enfantin Revisited

Having posted a link earlier in the week to a web page featuring 'le langage enfantin', I decided it might be helpful if I put together a list of all the words I had come accross over recent months. So I have created a page which you can access by the tab at the top of my blog.

I will keep adding to it over time.

As always, if anyone has any suggested additions or amendments, please do let me know either by posting a comment or emailing me at non.native.adventure@gmail.com

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Le Langage Enfantin en Français

Since beginning to speak French with Poppette I have been making a huge effort to increase my knowledge of child orientated vocabulary. It's not always that easy to find. Mostly I pick it up from children's story books and by asking French friends.

Sometimes I just drop lucky when searching online. Today was one of those days. I found this page of words used by french children on fr.wiktionary.org.

I have noticed that someone has created a Spanish guide (downloadable from the Internet) to children's language for English speakers wishing to teach Spanish to their children. If only someone would do the same in French. I would be first in the queue to buy it!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism

April's Blogging Carnival is now out.

This is the first time I have contributed an article and I am really excited to have done so.

As always, there are loads of interesting stories and perspectives to muse over. If you're interested, click here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Kia Ora - One Mother's Non-Native Māori Adventure

Yesterday I was reading a post on the Multilingual Living website which asked for its members to finish the following sentence :-

'I feel like my multilingual parenting journey is....'

I was struck by the words of one member who wrote the followong:-

'Like a walking along a long a varied shoreline in changable weather. Sometimes the sands are golden and beautiful bustling with energy and life. Sometimes the sand is hot and your are jumping side to side wondering how you are going to make... it to the waters edge. Sometimes the journey is cold and lonely and the waves break furiously seemlingly out of control around you and things feel helpless, hopeless out of control. Sometime I look over with envy at monolingual families who have all the beachwear and gear and we struggle to dig with sticks and shells building our language. Mostly its like hanging and talking in the warm sun about whatever it is we are doing feeling or creating for the future, all in our language and knowing no matter how difficult the journey is, we are on in for an amazing adventure which others will join as we go.'

Talk about summing the whole thing up perfectly. This is exactly what multilingual parenting (certainly from my non-native standpoint) feels like.
Interestingly, this family's story is another fabulous non-native one! The Maman in this family studied Māori (her heritage language) as an adult at university. She has spoken exclusively Māori with her son for the full nine years of his life and now this little boy can laugh and joke and fully express his personality in this language which, of course, for him is a native language. It is this idea of expressing humour in a language that really strikes me - not easily done and a real mark of bilingual ability.

That such non-native bilingual sucess can be achieved, with a language where resources and native language speakers are so scarce, should be a real motivator to those of us out here that are aiming for bilingualism for our children with a far more main stream language pair.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Winning the (Language Swap) Lottery

A few months ago in a bid to increase both mine and Poppette's exposure to the French language, I came up with two ideas:-
1) find or set up a French playgroup; and
2) arrange a language swap i.e. find someone who wants to learn, practice or improve their English and help them in exchange for them doing likewise for me.
So far, the issue of the playgroup has been a little frustrating. I had several people contact me initially only to vanish into thin air. This could definitely take a whole lot of effort and patience on my part if it's ever going to happen. Good job i started thinking about it now whilst Poppette is still so young.
The language swap has been a whole different kettle of fish. I had started to think this was a non-starter when, three months after placing my ad, the only approach I had had was from some guy living in a different city who wanted to get to know me better via webcam . . . Hmmm
Then out of the blue I received an email from a woman wanting to know if i was still looking for a language swap. We met last week and I feel like I have won the language swap lottery. Not only have I found a swap but I think I may also have found a new friend. We got on instantly and she loved Poppette too ( naturally :-) ).

Monday, 18 April 2011

My Imaginary Box

Some French friends invited us to go on a picnic on Sunday. It was Poppette's first ever picnic and our first for a long time. The outing had been set up by the local French meet-up group - "The Frogs". There were about fifteen of us in total sitting out in the sunshine, sharing stories and eating food. It was a great atmosphere.

A happy moment came during the picnic when one of the French women in the group asked me if I was French. She was surprised when I said no because she said that I don't have an English accent when I speak French. My initial  reaction when people say this to me is to feel as though they are trying to be nice to me but then Papa is always at pains to say that people wouldn't keep saying it if it weren't true and that I should take it as the compliment it is meant to be.

I know he is right. It's just crazy how it seems to be human nature to believe the negative stuff and question the compliments.

So, I will take the compliment and put it in my imaginary box marked "Reasons Poppette and I Continue to Speak French with Each Other".

I will have a rummage around in that box to see what else is hiding in there for a post sometime soon. . .. and I promise an update on 'Immersion Week' too.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Grumpy Old Goat

Poppette and I just bumped into my old French tutor. He was always a grumpy old so and so but, despite my better judgement, my eagerness to speak French whenever the opportunity presents itself got the better of me.

After the usual pleasantries and Monsieur Grumpy's offering of congratulations in respect of Poppette's arrival, I found myself telling him about our bilingual aspirations. Even as the words tripped off my tongue I felt myself wincing at my inability to keep my mouth shut.

Sure enough, instead of the kind words of encouragement I craved, I heard a firm "it's not all about the language you know, the culture is very important".

Bah humbug. So despite my recent resolution to stop explaining myself to people and just get on with living my life the way I choose, I found myself telling him of the ways we intend to promote Poppette's knowledge of French culture before we move to France.

The good thing to come out of this conversation is, however, that, rather than making me doubt myself, it has fired me up to carry on just to give him the proverbial poke in the eye!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Stations de Radio FM Françaises

I have found a great website with links to loads of French radio stations which you can listen to over the Internet.

Click here to see the list.

I have had Skyrock blaring out for a few days now... it takes me right back to the days when I was living the other side of the channel and that was my radio station of choice.

Also.. the March issue of the Bilingual Blogging Carnival has been released. There are some great articles as always. For those of you who are not familiar with the Carnival, I can recommend it wholeheartedly. It is full of inspirational stories and tips from bilingual and multilingual families the world over.

Sunday, 27 March 2011


 Quand on parle sa langue maternelle, les mots viennent sans même pas y penser. Quand on parle sa deuxième langue, des fois les mots viennent moins vite et des fois ils ne viennent pas du tout. 

 Translation : When speaking your mother tongue, words come without you even having to think about it. When speaking a second language, sometimes the words come slower and sometimes they don’t come at all.

I am going to come clean.

For the past few weeks (since the je t'aime versus I love you conversation to be exact) I will admit that I have found myself using only about 20 % French with Poppette. Yes, I am disappointed with myself and yes, if I am totally honest, I have enjoyed the simplicity of speaking my mother tongue.

I have been seriously questioning my commitment to this bilingual ideal. I haven’t worked out yet whether it is because I am still too scared or simply just being a realist.

If our goal to move to France comes off, Poppette will speak French anyway. If we don’t get there, I wonder whether I should be focusing on her English skills instead?

So what to do?

I need to know how it feels when I commit myself fully. It doesn’t seem wise to take a decision whilst feeling like a doubting Thomas.

I have noticed that speaking French feels more natural the deeper I am immersed in the language e.g. when I am reading French language books and watching films/ TV and spending time chatting with French friends. When I chat in French (by which I mean in a two way conversation and not the unreciprocated type I currently engage in with Poppette) then my brain moves up a gear.

I find speaking French stimulating. Exciting. Somehow living my life in a second language adds a whole new dimension and layer of enjoyment. It is not quite so with unreciprocated conversation. During such conversations I am conscious of the lack of authenticity and I question my words and even my accent sometimes.  It is easier to go off track or at least to feel that you might be doing so when there is no-one to bounce off. That said, I know that conversations with Poppette will not remain one way for long and it will be down to the decisions I make whether, when she is able respond, she is able to do so in one language or two.

So… I have a plan.

My plan is to immerse myself for a whole week in as much francophonie as possible and limit the impact and exposure to English in so far as I can (quite a task living here in the UK I know… but I’m game). In terms of TV, radio, music, literature – these will be limited to French only (I may even miss my favourite soap opera for a whole week…. but that could be pushing it just a little J ). I will make a conscious effort to avoid both phone chats and emails in English -my English friends and family will understand, afterall, it will only be for a week.

My hope is that this week of immersion will reignite the fire in my belly and my faith in this endeavour.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Who says you can't raise your children bilingually?

I read an article on the Multilingual Living website today which I found both interesting and inspiring.

The article is entitled "Who says you can't raise your children bilingually?". Here's a link to the article.

The article comments on four misconceptions that often put a parent off from taking the bilingual plunge, namely:-

(1) the all or nothing belief i.e. the fear that if you don't speak the target language 100% of the time your child cannot possibly become bilingual (false - just decide what you are comfortable with and go with it);

(2) the fluency belief i.e. the fear that your own fluency isn't quite up to the job (false - make a commitment to improve on the job and you will be fine);

(3) the fear that people are going to laugh at you (they might but so what); and

(4) the fear that you won't be able to do it forever (take it a day at a time).

The article also comments on the fact that the phrase "I am raising my children to be bilingual" may well overwhelm a parent and lead them not to continue. A sensible suggestion is made that, if the term "raising" frightens you, then you ought to simply use a different term that you can be more comfortable with.

If anyone out there is feeling these fears and has not yet read the article, I encourage you to do so.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Inspirational Non-Natives Doing The Bilingual Thing

This is just a quick post to acknowledge the ongoing inspiration I am finding within the bilingual community.

I was reading a post by fellow non-native parent and blogger, Tamara Staton who, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is mother to Kaya and speaks to her in German (Tamara's second language). The post (dated 9th March) which you can read here gave me a real boost.

It is always great to hear a positive story on a day when you yourself are not feeling at your most positive. Hearing that, at only 2 years of age, Kaya is speaking 80-90% German with her non-German mum is confirmation that this endeavour can bear fruit.

In addition to this success story, Tamara posted a link to details of another successful non-native endeavour - that of Douglas Hofstadter and his family. Mr Hofstadter is an American who successfully raised his two children in Italian. You can read more about that here.

The Hofstadter's story is one that non-native bilingual dreams are made of.  Mr Hofstadter made a commitment to speaking his second language to his children (apart from in certain limited situations) even though he realised this would mean his children may well miss out on certain nuances of his personality. Through a combination of that commitment, a couple of year long sabbaticals in Italy and the use (for a time) of Italian au-pairs, his children (now aged 19 and 22) not only continue to speak Italian with their father but between themselves as well! Fancy that - two American born children, living in America and speaking Italian to each other out of choice. Fabulous.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Difference Between Je t'aime and I Love You

Those amongst you that have read 37.2 le matin (Betty Blue) by Philippe Djian will be aware of the following line “Se fixer des buts dans la vie, c’est s’entortiller dans des chaînes …”(to set yourself goals in life is to bind yourself in chains). I can certainly identify with that right now as I have been feeling the constraints of the chains I have bound myself in with this bilingual goal for Popette.

I am not known for my risk taking, far from it. I am definitely one that plays by the rules… so… having read countless books and articles on the OPOL method, I have been as scrupulous as possible in keeping to my role as the French speaking parent. Then, a chance conversation with a French friend of mine the other day made me feel that I could perhaps rip up the rule book and loosen those chains a little. We were discussing the fact that when she is expressing her love to her English husband she says ‘I love you’ for his benefit and ‘je t’aime for hers. Her reasoning being that she feels somewhat detached when she says ‘I love you’ as English is not her first language. To feel it she needs to say ‘je t’aime but for her husband to feel it he needs to hear ‘I love you’. This all makes perfect sense. I know that when I express love towards Poppette in English I feel it physically in my heart. When I say ‘je t’aime I still mean it but it doesn’t feel quite so intense.

I don’t think anyone would argue that first and foremost comes my relationship with my daughter. Language comes second. I will say that again (for my own benefit really) ‘language comes second’. The sense of release that came with that realisation was huge. There is no need to be so fixed and academic about this process. I should be guided by my instinct and my daughter's needs. The adventure should be fluid and fun and above all else, full of love.

p.s. although this means that I plan to allow myself to express myself in English from time to time should that feel more appropriate, it doesn’t mean that I am going to go all gung-ho as I realise that that could be the beginning of a very slippery slope.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Like a Rabbit Caught in the Headlights

Today Poppette and I learnt a new nursery rhyme:-

Les Cinq Petits Cochons (The Five Little Pigs)

Cinq petits cochons tout roses et tout ronds
Celui-ci reste à la maison
Celui-ci va faire le marché
Celui-ci mange tout
Celui-ci ne dit rien
Et celui-ci pleure tout le long du chemin.

This is another rhyme so close to the English version I grew up with that it has easily cemented into my head.

Today at playgroup Incy Wincy Spider was sung in both English and Spanish. I could have piped up with the French version given that it trips off my tongue hundreds of times a day when Popette and I are alone. But...... I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I kept quiet and no-one knew my little secret - that I am the Araignée Gypsie Queen.

Maybe next time.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Baby Talk

I am pretty comfortable at talking my way around most topics in French (put me around the table at a dinner party and I'm good to go) but one thing I knew I would have a vocabulary gap around was baby talk. Chattering about winding, weaning, splashing in the bath or expressing emotion and doing so in language that can be directed at a young baby rather than in the adult terms I have been used to using.

I have also scratched my head as to what a French 'squeak' might sound like or a French 'splash' or how one would talk about blowing raspberries etc The answer :- 'squeak squeak' is 'pouet pouet', 'splash' is 'plouf' and the French don't talk about blowing raspberries - they just make the noise...not a framboise in sight.

There is no other solution here than to try my best to fill that gap and that's what I have been doing, diligently, since this adventure began. There are so many resources out there (TV, radio, books, the Internet, friends, magazines) and I have found it has simply been a case of working through as many of them as possible. I have started a list on the side bar to the right of this post entitled "French Language Resources" where I have begun to upload details of books and CD's I have found to contain useful language. I will keep adding as I go.

The dictionary has become my best friend and I also make sure to ask French friends for help with the more obscure idioms that you just can't make up.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

L'araignée gypsie.... sing along

My mum came to visit shortly after my post on Incy Wincy Spider last week. Having been the one who had taught me all about Incy in my youth and helped it to become my favourite nursery rhyme, she was eager to learn the tune to the lyrics of l'araignee gypsie so that she could do the same for Poppette mais en français.

This post is for my mum and anyone else who found themselves wondering about the tune.

YouTube yet again came to the rescue. Click here to find a cute little snail singing the rhyme. You will find that if you search 'Les comptines de L'escargot' you will find the same little snail rehearsing several different french nursery rhymes.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Language and Laughter

Today turned out (most unexpectedly) to be filled with language and laughter.

I had decided to take Poppette to a local playgroup as she really is getting to want and need more and more stimulation. She is such a curious little girl. Now, I fully expected the playgroup to be full of other mum’s and little ones that we could mix and have fun with…. What I didn’t expect was for a good 50% of the children there to be being raised bilingually!

Seriously, there were English/Spanish, English/ French, English/ Danish, English/ Bengali and even one young girl being raised to be trilingual English/ Greek/ French. Wow.

The sounds of these beautiful and varied languages being spoken floated through the air and mixed with the laughter of the children and the parents. I spent a good deal of time chatting with a great French maman en français and we have arranged to meet up weekly for coffee. One week we will speak French, the next English. Her little boy is one month younger than Poppette so hopefully, over time they will inspire each other to be proud of their bilingual talents.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Incy Wincy Spider

The weird bit about nursery rhymes is, that in your native language, they just roll off your tongue. You can find yourself belting out impromptu renditions of row, row, row your boat or rock a bye baby during playtime, bath time, hug time or anytime really. Unfortunately, in my second language, where there should be rhyme there is often just a pregnant pause.

Of course, I have spent a good deal of time learning the words and tunes to various classic French nursery rhymes but somehow they just weren’t rolling off the tongue the way I would like. I decided this simply had to be down to the lack of nostalgia. I have no connection back to my own childhood when singing a nursery rhyme to Poppette in French.

And then I stumbled upon: -

L’araignée Gypsie

L’araignée Gypsie monte à la gouttière,
Tiens, voilà la pluie, Gypsie tombe par terre,
Mais le soleil a chassé la pluie.
L’araignée Gypsie r’monte à la gouttière.

For those of you who don’t speak French - L’araignée Gypsie is effectively Incy Wincy Spider – one of my favourite childhood rhymes. It even has the same little actions that go along with it.

I feel like I have hit pay dirt. A rhyme that I connect with in French almost in the same way as I do with the rhymes that are hard wired into my brain from infancy.

But I am sure this one little rhyme will begin to wear thin for all involved if I keep singing it at the rate I have been doing for the past couple of days.

So I am appealing to anyone who may know more rhymes with a similar French/English crossover – could you please let me have details?

Sunday, 20 February 2011


This weekend initially presented itself as a potential tipping point on this fledgling journey. The direction of travel – monolingualism!

I had woken on Saturday morning feeling truly overwhelmed and under resourced to continue. At this point, I decided to Google my blog, so that I could read my entry from earlier in the week, in the hope that it would raise my positivity. I didn’t find my blog, but serendipity led me elsewhere….. to the blog of Tamara Staton where she relates her ongoing endeavour to raise her two year old daughter Kaya to be bilingual English/German. Tamara speaks German (her second language) to Kaya.

On her post of 23rd January 2010, Tamara talks of her struggles and crises of confidence when Kaya was just over a year old. The content hit me like a brick – that entry could have been written word for word by me yesterday – I would have only had to change the names.

A whole year later and Tamara and Kaya are still going strong on their bilingual adventure and Kaya is speaking both English and German in pleasing amounts.

Tamara and Kaya’s story buoyed me incredibly. The cherry on the cake came along this evening in the guise of three comments to my post of 16th February. I am really happy to be able to say I feel incredibly supported – firstly by those friends and family who know about our bilingual endeavour (I will admit that, whilst I am still finding my feet, I have been slow to share the fact of my speaking French to Poppette with many people) and, secondly, by the kind words of Sarah, Tamara and Tongue Tales. To know that there is a whole community of bilinguals out there, who are happy to spur both me and each other on, is just a fabulous feeling.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Adventure Begins

The decision to embark upon the journey to bring our daughter (who we lovingly refer to as Poppette) up to be bilingual was probably one of  the hardest decisions I have ever made and, for now at least, I continue to revisit the decision with every day that passes.

My mother tongue is English. I am also lucky enough to speak French having lived in France and having had a passion for the language since I first began to learn it at the age of ten. My partner is also English and currently learning French. When we pondered the long and sometimes arduous road to the acquisition of a second language later in life, both my partner and I were immediately agreed that it could be nothing but a good thing if our child were to be lucky enough to learn both English and French from birth. We considered the options available to us and decided to use the OPOL (one parent one language) method.

Despite our overwhelming conviction that multilingualism is a good thing, I will admit to having certain fears and insecurities as to its application in our lives given that I am to create an emotional link with my daughter in a tongue that is not my own.

I have (and continue to) research the topic well. There are many arguments for and against the idea of what is often referred to as ‘artificial bilingualism’ i.e. the use of a non-native language. On balance though there seems to be more support than criticism.

The main criticism for me, I realise, comes from the devil on my own shoulder. The little devil that undermines me and causes me to question my own ability and to worry that I could be, at best, harming my daughter’s psyche and, at worst, ruining her life! Although these ideas may seem a little melodramatic, I know that I am not the only one to have struggled with them.

For a while I worried that there could be gaps in communication. Then I decided that the sensible option was to stop worrying that there might be things I could want to say in the future but wouldn’t know how and to concentrate on whether I could say the things I want to say from moment to moment and day to day… so far I am pleased to say that the words keep coming and I am pleased with progress.

I have taken a lot of inspiration from great blogs maintained by others who have taken the non-native plunge - particularly Papa et Piaf, Bringing Up Baby Bilingual and Speaking Spanish To My Daughter. The more I look, the more I find that us non-natives dreaming of a bilingual future for our little treasures are not in as much of a minority as we might each have feared at one point or another. As and when I find other inspiring and useful blogs or websites I will add links here. Hopefully, this way this blog can become a useful resource and support for others out there considering whether to embark on a bilingual journey (particularly where a non-native language is to be involved).

As our daughter is currently only 4 months old, it will be a while before I am able to blog about her language acquisition and reaction to living in an OPOL household. In the meantime, I intend for this blog to be a place where I note my observations and fears (hopefully there won’t be too many of those!) and general musings. I hope readers of the blog will be inspired to leave comments, thoughts and suggestions.