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.