How we bilingual: Part 3

Over the next bit of time, I will be sharing specific blog posts and bloggers who have helped validate what I am already doing or that have great ideas that we will be incorporating it into our great bilingual family experiment! Check out previous posts below:

Things I wish I Knew before… offers a blog post with three key lessons on raising bilingual. Some lessons overlap Fake Flamenco’s Five tips, and I love the resources she provides: a website, Multilingual Parenting, and articles on the benefits of raising bilingually. Below are I Wish I Knew’s three key lessons and my take-aways:

Be persistent and consistent. Over at I Wish I Knew, they practice One Parent One Language (OPOL). It’s exactly what it says: one parent speaks one language and the other parent speaks another. This method seemed the best for us, although we did not start off right away.

Why? Because I was hesitant at feeling rude toward or excluding others if I did this (My sister and I used to do this all the time when we wanted to exclude our parents from conversation). Chouchou and I had the shortest conversation ever about it, and he basically gave me carte blanche (the go ahead to do as I please) so that MC learns French.

That was a big weight lifted, and we started at once with the OPOL. I Wish I Knew warned at the awkwardness of this, and I concur – it was uncomfortable transitioning into speaking French only with Mon Cœur (MC), but we have made a habit of it, and the people we encounter in our daily lives have come to understand me as that crazy American lady who insists on speaking French to her kid. Oui, c’est moi (yes, that’s me). Smile.

There are times however when I switch into English, and of course, if MC gives me a book in English to read, I read that in English to her. Overall, though I speak to her in French and in order to stay consistent, we begin with French as soon as we wake up in the morning.

Relax your expectations – There were many points that were made about relaxing expectations. Some expectations were never even in my realm of thought, such as expectations of perfection of the language grammar and pronunciation (perhaps because I know my grammar and pronunciation are less than perfect!). The points which really resounded with me were:

Don’t think that your mastery of the language is necessary – I did worry at first since my grammar is less than perfect – did I use the subjunctive appropriately just then? Wait, should I be using the plus-que-parfait or imparfait? Any other question involving tenses of verbs or combinations of tenses, it’s popped into my mind and I’ve worried about teaching MC something wrong.

Instead of worrying about doing it all wrong, I’ve considered this an opportunity. I am learning more about the language through new vocabulary daily as I find gaps, and revisiting grammar points as I realize I need a refresher.

Don’t feel like everything you say to them has to be in that language. Let’s be honest. English is my first language – it’s more natural and the thought process is more fluid if I speak to MC in English. Inevitably there will be some switching from French to English. There are words that I don’t know in French, and I’ve begun making lists around the house of words to look up later, so I can use them next time. Words I looked up today? Panda bear (un panda), polar bear (un ours polaire), elf (un lutin). Apparently, I already knew two of the three words in French, I just didn’t know I knew them.

Don’t require that every word has to be in your language. In other words, it’s okay if your child doesn’t speak 100% in your language. MC rarely answers me in French, she mostly answers me in English. However I know she understands, and for right now, that’s enough for me. She will “parrot” like my level one ELs in school would – I provide a simple phrase, and she repeats it. For example, I tell her every morning, every evening, and every time I leave her Je t’aime (I love you) and she will repeat back to me t’aime (love you).

Talk a lot and repeat yourself. I Wish I Knew’s last lesson is one I have to keep reminding myself. Sometimes in the morning, I enjoy the quiet drive. It’s nice and calm. I hate to talk just to talk, and the introvert in me keeps me quiet most times. So I have to remind myself to talk a lot – I try to describe what I’m doing, talk about what we are going to do that day, point out things I see (the moon, a horse, a school bus, etc) and when all else fails, I turn the radio on and sing along.

Are you raising bilingually, too? What are some lessons you’ve learned? Share them in the comments section!

How we bilingual: Part 2

Over the next bit of time (notice the indefinite quantity of time – there are so many quality bilingual bloggers out there), I will be sharing specific blog posts and bloggers who have helped validate what I am already doing or that have great ideas that we will be incorporating it into our great bilingual family experiment! Check out previous posts below:

Five tips for raising bilingual: Fake Flamenco’s post I enjoy reading Rebecca’s posts – they are witty and informed, and always teach me something. Her Five tips post encouraged me to commit and find a routine and rhythm that works for me.

Commit. 

I just have to do it, stick with it, and forgive myself the silly grammar mistakes that I will make. And commit to continuing my language learning by looking up new words that never existed in my vocabulary before this bilingual adventure. New words this week: Christmas wreath (une couronne de Noël), reindeer (un renne), and jingle bell (une clochette).

Start early. 

I began speaking with MC exclusively in French when it was just us, while I was in my third trimester with Millie. I thought that was the best time, as Millie would hear in utero, and of course MC would still be soaking up the language. At first I was worried to exclude my Chouchou when speaking French to MC in front of him, so we spoke it only when it was just us. Then we had our life crumble before us and I reverted into English only and survival mode. Now we are back on track with MC at only 2 years old. She is absorbing the language, and I can already see the rewards in speaking French to her again. Even when she responds in English instead of French, she shows me she understands. Every night at dinner I ask her « Tu veux du lait ou de l’eau ? » (Do you want milk or water?), to which she always responds, “Milk, please.” I sometimes have to remind her to say please, so I’ll simply say « S’il te plaît. » and she will repeat in English, “Please.” I say bisou (kiss) and she puckers up!

Make a routine. 

I have made a conscious decision to speak with MC starting from the time she gets up until she goes to bed. I still have to switch to English sometimes for certain words or to clarify, but the majority is in French. If I don’t start first thing, I tend to not keep up with it. It all starts with a « Bonjour Mon Cœur.  Tu as bien dormi ? » (Good morning my heart, did you sleep well?). I have slightly modified this approach, when we aren’t just conversing or playing, and when I am truly trying to get MC to do something, I have been speaking in English so that she understands, and so that I don’t stumble on my French. The English flows more naturally, giving me more authority over a situation – she knows I’m being serious.

Create Community. 

We connected with a friend who runs a bilingual daycare and I began volunteering there, so MC had a place to go speak French with other students. We stay in touch with friends and colleagues near and far who love to video call and talk to MC. I attended an open house at the Alliance Française with MC, and need to join, as they have great events and an awesome resource room. She’s a little young yet for the classes they do for kids, but we could both benefit by accessing the wonderful books, games and activities they have available to members in their offices. At story time I found other parents who spoke a heritage language with their kids. Other world language/ESOL colleagues offer their experiences and insight into raising their children bilingually. My community is a mix of people I can connect with and discuss raising bilingual as well as opportunities for MC to play with other kids who speak French.

Entertain. 

Right now, MC’s favorite thing to do is sing and that’s been a great entertainer in the car. We’ve sung bilingual versions of the ABCs and Old MacDonald (Dans la ferme de Mathurin) as well as comptines and other chansons. Other favorites are equally easy to incorporate French conversation, such as art and talking about what we are making; nature walks and talking about what we see; and playing matching games and thinking out loud to find matches.

How we bilingual: Part 1

If I haven’t made many posts yet about raising bilingually, it’s because I had not gotten into a groove and figured out exactly what to do and do consistently.

I’ve been checking out other blogs that touch on raising bilingually, and am comfortable with what we’ve been doing for the past week. Many blogs mention different methods of raising bilingually, one method being One Parent, One Language, or OPOL.

Chouchou speaks English only and I speak French and English, although French is a second language. For the past week, I have been speaking to Mon Cœur (MC) pretty much exclusively in French. I also like that Chouchou is also picking up some French here and there, so I don’t feel like I am excluding him when I speak to her in French.

For example, every day this past week, he has been home when we leave for school, so I tell MC, <<Allez faire un bisou et un calin à Papa. Dis-lui je t’aime et bonne journée!>> (Go give dad a kiss and hug. Tell him I love you and have a good day!).

Throughout the week, I have needed to switch to English for words like: flush! (tire la chasse d’eau!) and pull ups (une couche-culotte) thank you wordreference!; and I have switched to English when trying to negotiate with a toddler pre/post tantrum. I just want to make sure she understands, right?

Over the next bit of time (notice the indefinite quantity of time – there are so many quality bilingual bloggers out there), I will be sharing specific blog posts and sites who help me feel validated in what I am already doing or that have great ideas that we will be incorporating into our great bilingual family experiment!

Simple everyday activities: MammaPrada’s post validated many things that I already do:

1 &2. Reading books in French and singing songs on the radio are the top things we like to do. The other day, in preparation to send a birthday video to ma maman française (my French mom), we sang Joyeux Anniversaire…a lot. Every time I finished the song, MC said “Again!” and I would ask her in French, “Will you help me?” She’d say, “No!” and that was our thirty minute car ride to school. On repeat. Smile.

3. Naming objects while doing chores – I try to name objects whenever we are doing chores, taking baths, doing dinner, or walking around, and MC has begun to repeat me in French, which I love. Today she learned what un aspirator (a vacuum) is and got it for me so I could clean before school. On the way to school, she was practicing how to say octopus in French (une pieuvre) because she was taking it to show and tell at daycare today. She was going, “Pee-you!… vruh” which just made me laugh so hard before dropping her off.

4. Watching movies. MC doesn’t get much screen time daily, but when she does (usually if I’m trying to cook dinner by myself or complete a chore by myself), she loves her tv show Toupi et Binou – the best buy ever from a dollar store! Who would’ve thought I’d find a French (Canadian) show in a dollar store in central Virginia?

Also, sometimes we will watch movies in the French version so she is hearing the language. When I do this with an American movie that she usually watches in English, I tell her, “Madeline wants to watch with you, so can we please put it in French?,” and I bring her Madeline doll out. It’s our little symbol to help her know she’s hearing French. Whenever the Madeline doll comes out, we speak in French so Madeline can understand, too.

5. Play games to learn numbers. We enjoy counting steps when going up them, counting number lines, counting objects in books and around the house, etc. There are also lots of counting songs in French that we will sing together. My favorite? Un, deux, trois, je m’en vais au bois.

Why bilingual?

We’ve decided to raise our kids bilingually. Why? How?

Our world becomes increasingly smaller; despite original geographic distances that would separate countries, cultures, and languages, we are now able to reach as far as our keyboard and after a simple search find songs, clips, and stories in another language. We can connect with people across the world much easier now – whether email, phone or WhatsApp. It’s incredible to think about how easy it is to access and learn new languages now as opposed to when I was growing up (which really wasn’t that long ago).

Lockets on a bridge in Paris, 2015.

Chou Chou speaks English only, aside from les gros mots (ahem, words that shouldn’t be repeated in polite company), and I speak French and English. I’m not a native speaker, although I am fluent, and I hesitated at first to not speak French to Mon Cœur (MC) for this very reason.

“Doing is better than not doing, and if you do something badly, you’ll learn to do it better.”

Twyla Tharp

Sometimes my pronunciation is off, sometimes I forget to conjugate a verb, but when I stopped to think about it, any native speaker of any language is apt to make a mistake, too.

Ever said to your child, “Hey look at the fishies!” only to remember that the plural for fish is…fish? Yes. Me, all the time. This is just one example of many. (smile)

After giving it some thought, I resolved that I truly didn’t have an excuse not to be raising MC bilingually, especially since I was capable of speaking in French and English with her.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

I want our kids to appreciate other languages and other cultures and to be world citizens, too. Just because our native language is English and it is the Lingua Franca doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue learning another language.

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein

I have had some amazing opportunities to learn and use the French language: I’ve hosted and been hosted by French families, studied abroad, worked with the French Governor’s Academy, attended a French immersion high school, and interned with the VCU/UR French Film Festival. I want to pass on all the opportunities that come from knowing multiple languages to my children.

I want to give MC a head start to learning languages by simply reading, singing, and listening to music with her in French. It’s not about sitting down with a lesson plan, it’s about using language to talk about pictures, the weather, what we are doing. It’s about singing the alphabet or counting or talking about color in French. It’s about finding a community of other speakers where we can exchange and converse in the language and immerse MC in different language and cultural experiences.

I’m stumbling through this and learning as we go – I hope to create a more solid routine and build a list of resources – check back often, as I learn from my mistakes, I’ll share them with you!

À bientôt! (See you soon),

Vous aussi? You too?

Today at story time, I met two lovely ladies who are raising their kids bilingually, too – Swedish and Russian.  We talked for a while, and I felt renewed in my attempts to raise Mon Cœur (MC) bilingually. 

These moms encountered similar road blocks – learning new words for vocabulary that isn’t as high frequency except in baby contexts. Think…poussette, biberon, marcher à quatre pattes (stroller, bottle, crawling).  I also lamented over grammar and accents for me, since I am not a native speaker.  

In the end, we all agreed that in speaking this other language to our children, we were keeping our language skills up and were also learning new words ourselves that we wouldn’t have reason to otherwise.

Regardless of the mistakes that I may make, I am helping MC develop an ear for another language – she is already catching on, too and code-switching (linguistics-speak for knowing which language to use with whom and switching accordingly).  Here’s a snippet from our conversation in the garden this afternoon:

MC: Mommy?

Me: Oui, bébé? 

MC: Maman? (See how she heard me speaking to her in French and switched over?! She’s so smart…although I am partial)

Me: Tu es trop intelligente! (You are too smart!)

My rule of thumb for raising MC bilingual is to try to speak to her in French whenever it’s just us.  When I am out with family that doesn’t speak French, I may speak to MC in French and then repeat the phrase in English, or I may just speak in English.  It’s promising to see her code switch, since I haven’t been consistent in speaking French with her all the time.

Even though I have been getting better about speaking to her in French, MC doesn’t tend to answer in French. Unless it’s dealing with la politesse (manners & politeness), and then she might say, “S’il te plaît, maman,” (please mommy).

One common wish among the moms at the library today was finding native speakers, preferably with children, within our community.  That may be easy in a larger county or city, but being in a rural setting makes it a little more challenging.  As capable as I feel to speak with MC, I feel it would benefit her to hear other French speakers.  Especially other native French speakers.

At a recent Alliance Française open house in Charlottesville, MC and I were able to meet other French speaking families and eat Nutella crêpes! This particular AF has some amazing resources in French for kids – games, books, maps, etc in French.  By using the AF as a resource, I am hoping to provide more French opportunities to MC right in our backyard.