Sunday, 24 October 2010

Where we're at

We're committed to the One Parent One Language approach, but I have to confess that I did have a moment of doubt a couple of months ago.

Being with me all day means that Puce's stronger language is English.  And me being (very) determined that her English would be every bit as good as her French, I've been (very) strict about making her say things "as mummy would say it" and picking her up on any French words that she's used with me, repeating them until they were registered.  The result is that she can already communicate relatively well in English and as she seems to have quite a lot to say, this means she can "converse" with my English-speaking family and friends.

The crunch moment came in the supermarket one day.  Her French grandmother was looking for a particular brand of biscuits; given that the biscuit aisles here are almost as long as the yoghurt aisle, this can take a bit of time.  Puce asked her, in English, what she was looking for.  Her question was well put-together and would have been intelligible to someone who spoke English.  Which Mamie, unfortunately does not.  I watched as they looked at each other, Mamie saying "Je suis désolée cherie, je ne te comprends pas" and Puce repeating and repeating the question, as if Mamie might suddenly get it.

And I realised that being able to speak English like a British child was all very well, but if she couldn't communicate with her family and little friends in the park, well, what use was it?  I began to wonder if I was ostracizing her, selfishly alienating her from the world in which she really lived.

I began to listen more attentively to how she spoke to her father.  Monsieur R's English is good enough that he understands everything she says to him, and his approach has been to repeat back to her, in French, when she talks to him in English.  Which, I soon saw, was most of the time.  When I asked him about it, he realised that he'd been comforted by the fact that, once at school, French would become her dominant language, so he didn't feel the same "need" to get the language in, as I did.  So I began to referee their conversations, probably being a complete pain in the neck: "hang on, hang on, that's English!  How does daddy say it?  Daddy?  And again?  Yes, OK, on you go"...  I'm good at being a pain in the neck.

I'd like to give myself the credit for it, although I don't think it was really anything to do with me, but about 3 weeks ago, something clicked into place.  Puce began really talking French.  And when she doesn't know a word, she asks how her daddy says it.  It's amazing.  I heard her complimenting her cousin on his "belles chaussures" the other day, and rather than feeling threatened (will she lose her English?) as I might have done before, I felt proud, relieved and happy that she was able to say what she thought and her cousin could benefit from the compliment.

Of course, there's still a certain amount of Puce-language too, but I think that's because sometimes she gets bored with mummy and daddy having their own languages, so she rattles on in her own, explaining to us that her word for butter is...well, whatever it is. 

So, to anyone else out there who is having a moment of doubt, stick with it.  It'll all come together.

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