Something Poppette (aged 3 ½) said to me recently spurred me on immensely. We were lounging around in the garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon when we heard the sudden roar of the neighbour’s lawnmower.
“Maman” exclaimed Poppette “Le monsuier tond le gazon” (Mummy, the man is mowing the lawn). Seriously, this just ticks all the boxes. Not only had my daughter just spoken an entire, grammatically correct sentence to me in French but it was something so random and unexpected that it made me understand that she is just absorbing everything like a sponge.
Poppette’s language use at the moment can be summed up as being a real mix. She speaks English with English people, a mix of English and French with me and mainly English with Papa and Little Man with random bits of French thrown in. She very rarely uses full French sentences (although it appears that she can when she wants to). She comes out with things that surprise and impress me in equal measure.
I think the issue here is that I look at language acquisition from the perspective of a monolingual English speaker who learnt other languages through school etc and because of this, I have a subconscious sense that the words or grammatical structures I (and scores of my classmates) grappled with will also be tricky for her. This is not true. In reality, every French word is as easy or difficult as the next in the mind of a bilingual child or infant language learner. A word is just a word. A good example would be the fact that many English speakers struggle at first to differentiate between les chevaux (horses) and les cheveux (hair). Poppette proved to me that this is very much not the case for her recently as we drove past a field of horses and she exclaimed “Oh, des chevaux!” (oh, horses). She will never confuse the two. So the lesson here for me is that I need to stop projecting my weaknesses or concerns onto her and just continue to speak.
Little Man is also progressing in leaps and bounds. He has been a very chatty Little Man for a long time. By the age of 18 months he could put three (English) words together and has always had a really good understanding of the concepts of me and I etc which I think sometimes children don’t quite grasp at first. Now, at 25 months old, he chatters away quite merrily in both English and French although, in French he uses single words rather than sentences.
There are, in fact, some words that my children never say in English, at least, I’ve never heard them use the English word. Such as salon (living room), salle de jouets (play room), calîn (cuddle), essuie-tout (kitchen roll), linge (laundry), douche (shower) and serviette (towel). Also, there are a few terms that cause immense confusion when we have visitors... particularly the fact that Noddy is known as Oui-Oui (pronounced wee-wee in French) and he is Little Man’s favourite cartoon character... when Little Man wants the potty he tells us he wants to do a pipi.
So, I definitely feel things are moving along steadily in the right direction, DESPITE me having had the several wobbles over the past 12 months or so and DESPITE the fact that rather than speaking 100% French I speak more like 80% French with them right now and..... horror of horrors ..sometimes read books to them and sing to them in English too.