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


  1. Anonymous22 July, 2011

    I can so relate to your concerns! How many times a day do I fumble through a sentence or trail off because I don't know the word?! It's hard to tell how much my son is really getting, since he isn't talking yet. But I still think it's worth the effort! And the article you found offered great advice. We can't do this alone. (That's partly why we blog and read each other's posts, right?!) We need all the help and support we can get. I also find it a comforting thought to know that I don't need to learn EVERY new vocab word right now ... Aleksander's language will develop over time, which also gives me some time to learn (at least some of) what I need. Stick with it and hang in there!

  2. bonne maman, Wow! Very challenging! do you know what type of help you're looking to get? a french speaking nanny perhaps or a tutor? look forward to seeing this on the carnival! bises xoxo

  3. So good to hear that others out there face the same challenges and fears. I speak my non-native Spanish to my son and have the same concerns. But, as he's not yet 2 and is just starting to talk, I don't have any solutions to share with you. How wonderful that you've found a French Saturday school! Good luck, and keep sharing your experiences. I agree with "GermanintheAfternoon" that we can learn a lot from each other.

  4. "Stick with it and hang it there"...those are words to live by.

    Good luck as you journey along. I am also trying to stay focused on this as well.

  5. Dear Bonne Maman,

    Please don't stress yourself about this ... the vocabulary will come when you need it! In both languages! May I suggest the following?

    1) One of the earliest inspirations for me came while watching another parent at the zoo with their daughter (while my son was still an infant, and not yet talking) - this anglophone parent had an adult reference book with her on reptiles, and she was telling her daughter all about the animals she saw at the zoo while referring to the book. Now, I keep copies of pictorial reference books in the car and around the house ... and all three of us use them, me and my son for French and my husband and our son for English.

    2) Don't think of this journey as "teaching" the language, but rather focus on "helping them to experience the world" in multiple languages. Then, just as one parent makes a mental note to share with the other "that interesting anecdote about what Johnny/Susan saw or said or did", you could perhaps try to deliberately repeat experiences in each language. The vocabulary will grow in both, for all of you.

    Good luck!

  6. Thank you so much for your helpful and supportive comments.

    It can be so hard not to overwhelm yourself worrying about what's around the corner but if I really sit back and think about how things have been working so far, I know that for the time being the language has kept coming as I have needed it.

    Liavek your suggestion to change the way I see what I am doing is fantastic. Just a small mental shift but it helps relieve the pressure doesnt it.

    Filling my house with books is certainly not a chore...seriously, if Amazon did a reward scheme, I would be a platinum member :-), if you have any specific suggestions of French titles (particularly the reference books you mentioned) do please do let me know.

    There are days when the challenge really excites me and today is one of those days. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I am feeling ''up for it'' :)

    This may well be due to me having just spent the past week and a half in France. Lots to write about on the topic when I get a moment to sit down at the computer.

  7. Maman,

    I echo the others...and add this. When Kaya was younger, I felt this pressure to learn tons of rhymes and songs and games, ALL before she was old enough to really want them, and me not know them. I made cards, hung them up around the house, tried to "study" them...alas, I still only know a few of those particular songs. The ones I know now are those that are on our cds that Kaya now requests that we listen to over and over again. It did help me a lot to listen to the songs when she was a baby, because now that she's older, I at least know the tune and can learn the words as she wants me to sing them to her--which she does, repeatedly.
    We'll often sit at the breakfast table after we eat, for example, and she asks me to read from her rhyme I just flip through, and read them, doing the hand motions if there are any. She doesn't care that I don't know them, and neither do I, now. There are a lot of natives, like you said above, that don't know a lot either--like reptiles.
    SO glad that, at least 2 months ago, you were stickin it out!!

  8. Hi Tamara.... you hit the nail on the head there when you said "Kaya doesnt care that I don't know them".... All this pressure we put ourselves under... sometimes I literally exhaust myself with it... when actually... is it energy well spent??.. the worrying, i mean... probably not.!!!