This isn't really home anymore. It's the first time in my almost 18 years abroad that coming "home" no longer feels like "home." My room is now my old room. My house is now my parents' house or grandma and bopi's house. My town is now my hometown. Even my running route isn't mine anymore because I can't run anymore!
Thursday, 6 November 2014
Tuesday, 7 October 2014
One month into the new school, and Suzanne has never been happier! This morning while she ate breakfast she said, " I'm so lucky! Today I have Dutch, English and my class picture!". I knew Suzanne wasn't at her best last year. But neither my husband nor I realized how sad Suzanne was. Until we saw how happy she is now!
Suzanne entered CE2 (French 3rd grade) and changed schools so should could be in section internationale. In Lille, that means either the private schools or Sophie Germain, a public school in the center of Lille. She left all her friends behind. But, it's been an empowering experience for her for a couple of reasons.
She rides her bike to school on most days - with us along side of course! But that makes her feel confident and proud. She's made tons of new friends. Which also is a major confidence builder. And, last but not least, she is the best English speaker in her class. But she's far from being overconfident and full of herself about it. She's just happy...and I didn't realize the social pressure was so heavy for her at her old school. I don't really take it as a parenting failure, but look at it as Suzanne's strength of character : she was putting up with a lot and got through it! Every child needs a secret garden so I don't blame her for not telling us how sad she was.
She says that only 2 other kids in the English class speak fluent English. But I can already see what she's learning. In the first week alone, she learned how to write the date in English. In my quest to get my kids to speak, I overlooked such a small thing like the date. She can speak almost perfectly, but doesn't know the date! She's learned how to write the numbers up to 20, write the colors, and she's also doing art in English. It's really an amazing opportunity!
Let the bilingual adventure continue!
Monday, 25 August 2014
They say that you are more lacks with your second kid. I'd say it's both true and not true. When Suzanne was learning to speak and developing her bilingual-ness, I posted regularly. I feel like Max has slipped through the cracks. Of course, one kid is less work than two so I'll cut myself some slack.
On that note, Max turned 5. I had some tough times with Max's language acquisition : he was slower to speak than his sister, when he did speak it was mostly in French, he would speak French as the community language in the US and UK. But one thing Max has always been meticulous, precise and very funny little person.
Where Suzanne was always comfortable with English and communicated at any cost, mixing words, making up words...Max is Max. When he speaks English, he speaks English. French is French, with only some exceptions. If he doesn't know how to say something, he either finds a different way or says he needs to tell me a secret. It's not that he's ashamed of not knowing, but he wants it to be perfect. This personality trait carries through to everything he does : he likes numbers, is obsessed with superheroes and knows everything about them and is a whiz at legos. For his birthday, we got him legos for 7-14 year olds; he put the vehicles together almost alone, using the booklet. He calls himself a "master builder" like in the Lego Movie.
His meticulous, almost engineer like thinking crosses over into his communication; he wants to understand why and how. He makes very few language mistakes, but sometimes mixes up his grammar in both languages. Despite his precision, he has an accent. Whereas Suzanne mostly sounds like a mini version of me (light East Coast American accent), Max sounds a little French, a little Germanic and a little American. None of that seems to keep him from speaking. He's been called a piplette (a nice way to say he never stops talking) by many.
Suzanne, now 8 years old, continues to speak to him mostly in English except when they've spent time together in an all French environment like school or at the grandparents'. English continues to be more present in the house than French and we still do not stray from OPOL.
Reading though has become less and less present which is a weakness. Suzanne's vocabulary and syntax were great because I read to her so much. But with the past couple years being rather nuts (with my cookie business, my english classes and my steady job), reading has become less important. On the other hand, we still have an English speaking babysitter once a week which helps reinforce that English isn't only limited to Mom and her family and friends.
Recent Max-isms include he and his sister fighting over whether it's called mozzarella or mozzarelle. He also recently invented a new French word: bicyclable, a fairly obvious term in French to mean the bike lanes (ie piste cyclable).
My kids' bilingualism continues to astound me. But even if they weren't bilingual, they'd still be these amazingly smart, intelligent and sensitive little people whom I love with all my heart.
Happy birthday Max !
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
In an effort to avoid writing this post, I left comments for other bloggers whose blogs I haven't visited in a long time. This blog used to be my lifeline...but now it's been over 2 months since my last post ! I'm starting to think that maybe it means I'm finally settling into my expat life, mother of 2 bilingual children, etc etc.
Lots has happened in two months. I'll try to go through it little by little in a logical way...and maybe I'll even save some for a separate post.
The school year came to an end with the most wonderful experience I've ever had in the French school system. I got a thank you. An actual, meaningful and wholehearted thank you and a beautiful bouquet. Since my kids started school, I've gone into their classes every year to do English. Last year's teacher didn't even say a simple merci so I was understandably peeved. It's not for the glory that I do it but still...so this year's experience was much better. The kids and teacher were great. That was in November. At the kids' end of year performance (the most amazing kids' performance I've ever seen - the kids did synchronized swimming in the school's gym. it was hysterical!), the teacher said she wanted to thank a few people and I was one of them. I was so touched. Madame D restored my faith (and hope) in the teachers my children will face in the future.
Then in July, I celebrated 17 years in France. That's almost half my life and a very long time for someone who first came to spend 3 months here. I realize that the longer I stay here, the more American I feel but the less American I become. what I mean is that I cling to certain things and to my American identity, yet I'm so detached from American society that I can no longer relate to all things American. Do you know what I mean? And I think it's the American part of me that's kept me afloat this year because it's been a tough one (or two).
I didn't talk about it at all on the blog, but I've been fighting depression the past couple years (more life a mid-life crystallization than a mid-life crisis) and this year I finally got my head above water and I was swimming really hard! In fact, I overdid it this year. My goal this year is strike a balance between family, school, friends, work, volunteering, teaching, exercising...oh wait, I think I already lost.
And on that note, I'll end this post. I actually want to give an update on my bilingual children. But if I do that now, I may not post for another 2 months.
Tuesday, 3 June 2014
It's been a while...a long while. The time that used to go into inspiration for this blog is now pouring into creating interesting classes for little kids and baking cookies. And more cookies. And more cookies. And although I'm happy to have the outlet and passion and creative energy flowing, I do miss my blog.
Posted by Reb at 23:27
Tuesday, 25 March 2014
Two months....has it really been that long? I have been forsaking this blog, although I do think about it often. But my brain power goes to many other activities at the moment like baking, teaching and generally trying to stay sane...
That said, here's a little update on my Franco-American adventures.
Suzanne (almost 8!) has a space in the bilingual section of the public school. At first, we were worried that it wouldn't happen, that she wouldn't want to go, that the level of English wouldn't be good. But, although it's an experimental programme, we are convinced. Last week, Suzanne and I sat in on a class and she came away smiling (albeit nervous and scared too!). She is both excited at the thought of learning more in English, being with other bilingual kids, and going to a new school. But she's also nervous about leaving her friends and starting a new school. One great thing is that she already has a friend who will be in the same class as her. As the minority language parent, I came away from last week's meeting at the school with a big smile on my face and the rare feeling that parents get when you KNOW you have made a good parenting decision. Not only will it be good for Suzanne to learn to read and write English (at the moment she is teaching herself), but it will be good for her to be around other bilingual kids so she can be proud (she is already but she's also different) and it will help her self-confidence which is pretty low at times. As for the school, I am happy that the kids are all mixed together and the bilinguals are taken out 3 hours a week. So it's the best of the public school education with a twist. And, as a non-French person constantly grappling and fighting with the rigid French structure, I find it an added bonus that the school will be less "French" and more open. The thing that has perturbed me the most since my kids started school is how rigid and strict it is. The classe bilingue provides a different point of view and way of educating the kids because they share experiences with schools in England. Yay! She's come a long way since the word lists I used to post on this blog 7 years ago....for more information on the bilingual french-English class in Lille, you can leave a message.
Max (4 1/2) is all boy, is into superheros, star wars and collecting sticks. He is now solidly bilingual, which was a main issue for his first 18 months. He continues to mix up his grammar between French and English equally. In some way it's reassuring that his French is speckled with English because it means the English is ingrained in his head. Max always preferred French whereas Suzanne preferred English. At the moment, he is having trouble with "jusqu'à" for example - I'm getting taller. I am jusqu'à your chest. And he does similar things in French using English structure like Ou est-ce qu'on va à? Literally, where are we going to? My husband and I are often too immune to these slip ups that we have to remind each other to make the correction in the other's language. Max continues to express himself in an extremely precise way, in black and white terms with no shades of grey. The fact that he is bilingual seems to help him because he gets frustrated quickly. His two languages allow him to express his frustration and relieve some of the tension that builds up in his brain.
So after almost 8 years of strict OPOL child rearing, what are my thoughts? Recently, I had an interesting discussion with a Slovak friend who was impressed with how bilingual my kids are. And I really attribute it to how strict I was for the first couple of years. The kids continue to only speak English to me and I find that I have to remind them to speak French in front of their French since speaking French to me is just so unnatural (and vice versa).
All in all, I'm really proud of their progress and proud of how my husband and I persisted. I see other people who weren't so strict and the results are glaringly different. There is also another factor that I'm considering more and more : I see that male friends who speak the minority language don't have as much success as female friends. It's not called a mother tongue for nothing.
Tuesday, 28 January 2014
I think about this blog often, I really do. But I just don't get those early morning flashes of inspiration I used to get. Those flashes now go to my new venture which I will write more about some other time.
That said, I have a lot to report about my bilingual babies who are no longer babies, but are real people now! They are sometimes annoying people, sometimes funny people, but they are always my favorite people.
The bilingual barriers are breaking down while other ones are built up. It's still a constant battle, but an enjoyable one that I no longer worry about losing. I'm not ready to say yet that I won, but I can definitely say that I am on the winner's team :)
Suzanne is now 7 1/2 years old and full of surprises. When she opens her mouth to speak English, she sounds like a small version of me, New Jersey drawl and all. Although her English speaking has never been a problem, she was very daunted by reading in French so I didn't try to teach her to read of write in English. But now, she has taught herself. Much of it is based on French phonetics, but she's doing it and we owe a lot of thanks to the magazine, I love English for Kids which we started getting at the public library. She loves reading the magazine while listening to the CDs at the same time.
Max is 4 1/2. His Germanic accent in both of his languages has evolved. He now speaks with a perfect little French accent in both French and English. My husband and I have various theories about why this is : maybe he's copying his father (who doesn't have a French accent in English), maybe he's lazy, maybe he doesn't have good ears, or maybe he's more focused on the precision of the word choice than on the actual pronunciation.
The hardest part at the moment is making the time to read to them in English. Nightly reading in English has always been a keystone for me and the kids. But with homework, later working hours, and the kids growing up, it's getting harder and harder to find the time. This is more of a weak point in Max's English education than Suzanne's since she got a solid 5 years of it while Max only had 3.
Another point that is becoming increasingly difficult for me is homework. I struggle about how to do homework with Suzanne : English or French? I am a real OPOL purist and speaking French to my kids just seems wrong. But I've had to adapt. For example, when Suzanne has math homework, I can't very well say "eighty-five + thirty = one hundred and fifteen" when she's still trying to figure out the difference between "quatre-vingt-cinq" and "quatre-vingt quinze" (85 and 95, respectively). BUT (and there's always a but), when I do her homework with her, she comments on my accent which she finds very amusing. So it's hard to keep your concentration and authority in a foreign language when your 7 year old is making fun of you...