Monday, 18 May 2015

Maman, en français, c'est La Reine des Neiges

Maman, en français c'est la reine des neiges” [Mama, in French its the snow queen i.e. the name of the Frozen movie in French] proclaimed Poppette yesterday afternoon as she sat around a table with her young English friends singing 'Do you want to build a snowman' and generally getting giddy about the Disney Frozen movie.

Just a few words but so very telling.

Being totally honest and laying my cards on the table, I am at a stage where I am extremely grateful for these small reminders that my children can and do speak French this being despite me and my best efforts to sabbotage the whole thing. Seriously. Over the past two years I have been far from consistent. I take full responsibility as little by little more and more English conversations have sneaked into our life. Partly because of being so busy, partly due to tiredness and laziness and perhaps also a lack of conviction. I remember a chat I had a few months ago with Belgian Maman (those of you who have been following our adventure for a while will recall that Belgian Maman is native French speaker who speaks only English with her two little ones) during which she pointed out the problem I was having was that having allowed a little English to creep in now and again, over time this had snowballed and it had become to feel the norm. I should really be more aware of this as I do tend to have an all or nothing personality. Routine and consistency are key for me.

It seems to be fairly widely acknowledged within the bilingual community that bilingual life can be tiring and takes real commitment even when using ones native language. Going the non-native route is likely to be a little trickier now and again because it’s not just the commitment and consistency that you have to battle with, it’s the lack of words at certain times. I think that, because of this, I have perhaps slipped into letting myself off the hook a little. I’ve used it as an excuse to “cut myself some slack” when, in reality all I have been doing is allowing myself to wander further and further away from my goal.


I implore you not to do the same.

It is not too late for us to recover from this. I know this simply because my children have proved that even though I dropped the ball, they picked it up and ran with it for me.

There are millions of little moments that remind me that they can and do speak French and that they are proud to do so. Such as when they comment on a French story I have just read to them, or when they drop obscure French words into conversation that I may have only used with them once or twice previously, or when we are in the car and they play who knows the most French words, or when one of them proclaims, "Mama, I know how to speak French but X doesn't" or when they are watching French TV and repeat whatever they have just heard even though I would have sworn blind that they weren’t listening. There are so many of these little moments that wouldn’t arise had we not had this dream of a bilingual household.

There are other occasions, however, when there is some resistance. Poppette, for example now refuses to join in with her weekly French class at pre-school. This doesn’t worry me as I think that it’s a boredom issue (chatting about colours and animals and foods etc. each week) although I had hoped she would enjoy the group interaction and signing. She has also started to pretend not to understand something when she clearly does. I’m not sure what makes her do this. She asks questions like “What is cinq [five]?”. I don’t give in to it as I know she knows but it’s a reminder to me that I can’t get away with the lack of consistency in my approach to their language acquisition forever.

Already I know that had I been as consistent over the past two years as I had been over the first two years, then our current language environment would be different. That’s part of the reason for me stepping up to the keyboard today. To share the reality of where our non-native adventure is at the moment and also to set my stall out about where that adventure will lead us next.

In this vein, I came across a great book recently called “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The premise of the book is that you should choose the one thing in life (or in each area of life) that is of most importance to you and that every decision or choice you make is based on whether or not it brings you closer to that goal. All of a sudden you can begin to see how a myriad of small choices you are making daily serve no real purpose and in no way lead you where you want to be heading. It’s all about being more intentional.

In fact, there’s a great short story that Poppette loves right now that really grabbed my attention recently. It begins “Je suis une petite graine plantee dans la terre….” [I’m a little seed planted in the ground...”]. As I acted the story out with her, doing the actions to represent this tiny seed, uncoiling, growing and stretching towards the sun, I realised that this language that I am sharing with my children is like that little seed. If I water and nurture it, it will most likely become la plus belle fleur du monde [the most beautiful flower in the world] and if I neglect it, deprioritise it and use our majority language instead… that poor little grain is likely to wither and die.

What a shame that would be after four and a half years of effort from our little family.