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? 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.