It’s always been the plan, that she would be bilingual. That’s the advantage of having parents from different countries, right? You get that effortless form of language learning where it isn’t really learning at all. Seeing it in action, It’s not really what I expected.
Last year, when she was two, everything was mixed up in a whirl of words. She blabbered on to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen (although not necessarily understand) and there was no recognition of the different languages.
Now, that’s shifting. She told me a few months ago that when she went to school she speaks ‘en fancais.’ There are times she’ll say a word and then ask, ‘what’s the anglais, Mummy?’ When she’s with her dad (Papa) and her grandparents, she speaks nothing but French. With me, it’s English. And there are direct translations. She asked, ‘Mummy, can we go see the voisins (neighbours)?’ in an English accent. She said a starfish was an ‘etoile poisson’ in French (it’s actually an etoile de mer, but you can see her thinking). It baffles me that someone so small can grasp the concept of two distinct set of words and grammar to communicate with.
But the other, non-word based things are really interesting. The other week she bumped into the table. Not an odd thing for a toddler, but when she did it she said ‘aye!’ instead of ‘ow!’ She already has a little gallic shrug, the cockerel says ‘cocorico’ and when you knock on a door it’s ‘toc toc toc.’
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It’s adorable but it makes her feel a bit distant. As if, in sharing her with another language, I’m somehow going to miss out on something. She’s also clearly figured out, very early on, that Mummy is not very good at French.
We were all reading a book together. Well, I was reading, the other two were listening. It was a French book. After a page or two she said, ‘no, Papa lire,’ and passed it over. As if I needed more reminding that my pronunciation needs work.
At his parents’ house, there were only books in French. Instead of putting up with me reading them, she gave them to me and said, ‘in Anglais, mummy.’ It was surprisingly hard. Reading in French, figuring out the translation and saying it in English meant that story time went on for far longer than usual.
It also made me feel much more stupid. We were reading a book about a pig who wants to see the world (obviously) and she comes across a cow. When she asks him if this is the world, he says no, that it’s just the ‘abreuvoir.’ The thing that animals drink out of. There was even an image of it. I had to get my phone out before I remembered it was called a trough.
And she’s already translating for me. She explained to me that a ‘remorque’ was a trailer, when I didn’t know the word for it and we were playing cars. She’s only three. Any hopes I had of keeping up with her language acquisition are fading, especially as I’m now the designated English speaker of the household.
When we eventually get out of lockdown, perhaps I’ll be able to talk to people more and actually improve my French. Until then, I’ve got a very small person leading the way.
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