Wednesday, 15 May 2013

No Mummy! Speak French!

I'm still really struggling with my own thoughts around carrying on with our bilingual endeavour. I'm pretty tired with all that's going on at work and at home so it doesn't leave huge amounts of time to sit and think all this through rationally! One thing I have decided though, is that I must keep going unless and until I decide to stop. By that I mean, it doesn't make sense to stop speaking French to my children whilst I grapple with whether or not to continue since, if I do plump for continuing, I will have wasted time and potentially confused my children into the bargain.

That said, I have let myself speak English on a few occasions with both children recently. Apart from the nagging pang of guilt that I am letting them and myself down, it actually feels pretty liberating!

However, Poppette (who is now 31 months old) really doesn't seem to like me speaking English with her.

In fact, she positively resists it.

On the few occasions over recent weeks where, for one reason or another, I have chosen to speak English with her she hasn't accepted it at all.

On one of those occasions, I needed to carefully explain to her why what she had done was wrong (as in why it was not good behaviour) and that she shouldn't do it again. I switched to English because of my own fears of not getting the message across right and not wanting to cock up the lesson for her.

Another time it was because she picked up an English language book at story time and, quite honestly, I just didn't have the energy to translate so I started reading in English.

This morning, it was because she asked me a question in English "What's that Mummy?" she said, pointing at a traffic sign. I had a blank... what on earth is traffic sign in French. eek... "It's a sign, baby", I said.

"Non, Maman! Parle en français" [No, Mummy! Speak French!] she demanded just as she had done on each previous occasion.

Obviously I'm pleased! I mean, even when she chooses to speak in English to me, she still wants and expects me to reply in French. I am rather astounded though.

I remember reading somewhere long ago, when I was first weighing up whether I dare embark on our non-native journey towards bilingualism, that bilingual children tend to identify people by the initial language they speak with them and can feel uncomfortable when that person changes language with them. I guess that in Poppette's mind, mummy equals French.


  1. Hmm... was writing a comment and it disappeared so not sure if it submitted or not, anyway I will start again!
    I think that Popette has answered your dilemma for you - she is clearly thriving on being brought up with 2 languages and keen for that to continue. I think that what you are giving your children by doing this - to be bilingual from toddlerhood - is amazing and gives them such an advantage over most other children. It will be so much easier for them if they want to pick up a third, fourth or even fifth language in later life! I sometimes wish that I had been brave enough to do this properly with Little Imp, rather than just speaking French in dribs and drabs - but I know that it wouldn't have worked in the same way because I didn't do it with my older two and so conversations between all of us would be unnatural in a mix of two languages. Little Imp is so happy to sing in French and to read stories in French and she loves our toddler French group and Preschool French class but she is now resisting other attempts at speaking French responding with "What does that mean?" - when she knows what it means! - or "Speak English Mummy!" Maybe she will embrace it more fully again, could be just a toddler phase - but I just don't know. Have you researched French schools? Not sure if there are any locally but if that was an option then maybe you could think that you are being the French input now and then once they are at school they will be getting it there and so you can relax it at home a bit? I seem to remember reading something on Tallulah's blog that she has relaxed on the French with her now that they are speaking it all day at school...
    Sorry if this is a bit rambling but I hope it has in some way helped.
    Just remember that what you are giving your children is something so special that they will always be grateful for as they grow!! Hugs, Emma xx

    1. Hi Em greta to hear from you. Sorry I have beeen soooo long in replying... the past month or so have been totally crazy and I haven't had a minute to spend on my blog.

      Firstly, I can see how it must be difficult introducing French to your older children, although, from what you have said before, It seems they respond quite well to the bits you do do with them? And i can also see how it could be diffiicult then to speak french with little imp at the risk of excluding the other children. Its a tough one. but the fact that you do as much french with Little Imp as you can is brilliant isn't it. She is gettin gan undertsanding that there is more than one language, more than one way to express yourself, more than one word for any one thing...and without doubt she will reap huge benefits from that.

      When i hear myself say these things to you i sit and wonder why on earth i let myself have a wobble at speaking french to my children!

      I'm pleased to say that over the past couple of weeks ive been back on track and not felt the need or desire to speak English to either Litle Man or Poppette. Also, Little Man has been showing more and more that he understands French which is really exciting for me.

      I had a bit of a wierd one last week when we spent time with some firends some of which have never really heard me speak french full stop, never mind to my children. I felt myself speak English a lot to the children, mainly out of feeling self conscious although i wrapped it up by saying it was so that everyone could understand what i was saying.

      I need to work on that!

      As for schooling. There's nothing in our area (apart from a saturday morning school in a neighbouring city which i think you and i have talked about before - i can let you have details if not). Tallulah and her hubby were brave and bold and moved to London to be near a french school. There's also one in Bristol and that has crossed my mind but its a huge life changer...and...if weare going to make such a change, i'd prefer to live in France :-) ... again... i'm no longer sure how realistic that is!.. ok... i'm really rambling!!! speak soon

    2. Great to hear that you are feeling back on track! :0) I think you are right - if you are going to make a big big life changing move then you might as well make it France!! Little Imp is still singing away in French but still not chatting so much, my big girls wowed me on holiday in France earlier in the summer though I am truly amazed how much they have absorbed the last year and a half!! They were little superstars!! :0) it just goes to show that every little word and phrase they hear is stored up ready to use even when they are a bit older getting started. Hope all is well with you guys, Emma x

  2. You are absolutely right, some kids don't like their interlocutor suddenly switches language with them. I am not talking about the odd word here and there in another language. My daughter hates it. She finds it difficult to engage with people who one day will address her in German and the next in French.

    1. Does she also resist people who speak "the wrong " language? e.g. a german person speaking French rather than their native german?

  3. Ce soir, Pirouette me demande : "maman, on lit les cartes en anglais ?". C'est génial de se dire que eux aussi prennent plaisir. C'est un super moment de partage et de complicité avec nos enfants.

    L'autre jour, avec une amie qui a une petite fille du même age que Pirouette :
    - Sophie, comment on dit papillon en anglais ?(elle avait apprit le mot quelques mois auparavant à l'école) - pas de réponse, elle ne s'en rappelait plus.

    Je demande ensuite à Pirouette qui jouait :
    - Pirouette, comment dit-on papillon en anglais ?
    Et là, il ne prend pas la peine de se retourner, continue de jouer et dit tout naturellement "Butterfly". So proud of him !

    Alors si, it's worth it !

  4. Youpi! Bravo Pirouette!

    Oui... c'est sûr... Quand Poppette me parle en français je suis tellement fière...même si pour elle c'est 'normal'... je ne m'y habitue pas.. c'est épatant!

  5. Good for you for keeping up the effort! We're raising a fluent triligual/triliterate in Mandarin/Spanish/English as monolingual American understand the conflicts. Soon we are headed back to France to add French.

    She was born in 2000, so we've been at this for a while with many ups and downs, but now she is so fluent that she is teaching others. very worth the effort.

    My husband's Grandmother was from Spain and only spoke Spanish, but despite his parents being fluent bilinguals ( they didn't English until school) they did not pass it on to the kids.

    Thus his Spanish is very poor, weak and accented and his family would never call him a Spanish speaker.

    Still he was a help in the first few years of raising our child from birth in Spanish ( we also supported her with lots of other things including native speaking babysitters and Spanish native playgroups etc while in the USA).

    At 15 months she realized that we were speaking 2 languages when she said excitedly..."mama says kitchen and daddy says cocina".

    She is a very verbal kid ( walked and talked in both languages at 6 months) so by 2 1/2 it just got too hard for my husband to communicate/keep up with her in Spanish. Her Spanish was already far ahead of his. He couldn't say what he wanted to say, so we decided to let it go ( 1p1L) at that point.

    She didn't seem to miss it, nor did she say anything.


  6. Wow! How wonderful that your daughter actually requests French from you! That is amazing! Shows that your hard work is paying off! Mine is only 10 months old but I am extremely anxious as to what her first visible/verbal reactions will be to letting us know she understand that there are two languages going on around her.
    Amy @