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.