Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Non-Native Thought for the Day #1

I have been thinking a lot recently about bilingualism and the idiosyncrasies that go hand in hand with choosing the non-native approach.

There seem to be some strange traps and curve-balls that I don't think you can necessarily foresee at the outset. As such, I have decided to note them here on my blog as they occur. Hopefully, in addition to helping me remember the finer details of this journey, it will help others by flagging potential issues that may lay ahead of them.

I have come to a frustrating realisation: when a child is learning to speak, it often mispronounces its words. Somehow, when this is done in the listener's native tongue, their brain subconsciously sifts through the myriad possibilities to come up with a possible match for the sounds it has just heard. This means, more often than not, that the child's meaning deduced... Even if it takes a few guesses.

My experience (which is soooo frustrating and disappointing) is that, where a non-native language is concerned, the brain just doesn't seem to process these sound variations quite so well. It's as though its catalogue of possible options is incomplete.

It is frustrating for both parties :-(

This weekend, for example, Poppette kept saying 'Mazaza'. I just couldn't glean a meaning... She repeated it three or four times and then, simply said 'Shop'.


Of course. She had been saying 'Magasin'.

I came away from that exchange feeling as though she must be thinking 'Wait a minute! Aren't you the one that's supposed to be able to speak French???'.


Not really sure what can be done about this. I must try harder....


  1. I know it must be fustrating. But even as a native speaker, we all have this kind of duh moments. Of course, this is what she meant! It happens a lot. And I think it may happen even more with a multilingual child as there are more influences on sounds.

    1. Hi Annabelle...Thanks for taking the time to let me know that I am not alone and that it's not necessarily a symptom of the fact that French is not my first language.

  2. Yes, I've learnt to check which language the kids are using when playing 'I Spy' after many moments guessing English words only to find they've gone for a French one!! It's frustrating, but also a good sign that they are using their minority language :-)

    1. Ha ha... I'll have to bear that one in mind when we start to play... Even though they get one over on you sometimes... that fact that they want to play using French is a reward for your hard work :D I love it when I overhear Poppette playing with her toys in French.

  3. It happened to us, too, on a few occasions :) But I think it happened when I was expecting my daughter to reply to me in English, for example, and she replied in Romanian (it was obvious to me that my ear/brain was wired for a language, and not processing the other, at that moment.)But don't worry, as she's growing, her language(s) will definitely be clearer, and also your brain will get more used to it.
    My frustration, when my daughter was smaller, was that I was not able to express my feelings towards her, in English (non-native language to me). I could communicate, interact, read, sing etc, in English, but when I had to express feelings, that was hard! But recently, I've realized that now I can do that!
    So, I guess the more you use your non-native language to talk to your daughter, the more native that language will become!

  4. Hi Adina...It's an interesting point that you make about the expression of feelings. It's defininately something that feels odd to me to. I put it down to the fact that if you haven't lived an emotion in a language before, then when you start to use the words they can lack the physiological sensations that come hand in hand with them in your native language... I am hoping that, just as it has with you, these words and feelings fuse and become more and more the norm over time thru living the experiences in my minority language.

    How old is your daughter now?