Monday, 4 March 2013

All Aboard the Language Rollercoaster

Raising bilingual children can be a real rollercoaster. I've heard countless stories of children refusing to speak their minority language for a whole host of reasons, not least because they just 'prefer' the majority language.

Sometimes things seem to be going so well that I feel like I'm flying...On the days where my language skills feel on point, when Little Man (11 months) shows me that he understands what I'm saying when I speak to him in French and when Poppette (28.5 months) chatters away with me in French, singing impromptu French nursery rhymes and repeating lines from her favourite French cartoons.

On other days, that same rollercoaster has me down in the doldrums... self critiquing my every spoken word and my accent and questioning the very reason we pursue this bilingual goal for our family.

Now that Poppette expresses her own opinions and desires more and more, this creates another language rollercoaster.....the big dip last week came one evening when she point blank refused to let me read to her in French - "Pas français, Maman. Anglais! Non! Anglais!".... I capitulated and then spent the next few days panicking that this was the beginning of some slippery slope which would culminate, somewhere down the line, in Poppette refusing to speak French.

Looking back with a more objective mind, perhaps it was just another case of her expressing her individuality and right to make a choice just like she does everyday when she refuses to eat whatever was her favoutire food the day before or to wear what was, until that point, her favourite t-shirt.

Who knows!

Since then we've been on an extraordinary up ! So much so that I've been having to pinch myself every now and again.

Poppette has been really upping her French with me to the point of about 95% of all our communications. She even comes bounding in from English speaking nursery and switches immediately into speaking to me in French.

The morning after her insistence upon an English story, Poppette was watching Jake et les Pirates du Pays Imaginaire (Jake and the Neverland Pirates) and exclaimed "Oh Oh Maman, Crochet a piqué le coquillage d'Issey" [Oh oh Mummy, Captain Hook has pinched Issey's shell"].... I breathed a sigh of relief that it may not all be over just yet and gave her a big old hug.

I was really quite amazed this weekend when Poppette, who was really quite ill with a sickness bug, still maintained her French with me. I would have expected her to perhaps slip into English.... possibly because that's what I wanted to do in the first instance. In fact, when she first became ill, I actually spoke to her for a few moments in English, just to satisfy myself that I knew what was going on and that she was ok. I don't think I need have bothered. She is quite capable of telling me (and often in full sentences these days) what's going on.

Another indication that Poppette really does understand the fact that she is surrounded by two languages came this weekend when I was reading Mireille l'Abeille (Thanks for the recommendation Tallulah) to her. She pointed at the words on the page, looked up at Papa and said (in English) "It's French look! Papa can't read it" :D

I have resolved to try and be less reactive to these ups and downs and to remember that everything is a phase and that just as it's not helpful to let the downs dent my confidence nor is it a great idea to let the highs make me complacent because as sure as eggs is eggs there will be more tests around the corner!

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