Tuesday, 12 April 2016

What a difference a year makes.

Holy  moly! It's been almost a year...I've been thinking about posting but never got around to it. Something to do with lack of time...

A lot has happened this year in the life of my bilingual children.

Suzanne will be turning 10 in 6 weeks. When I began this blog, she was barely speaking. And now, she's a fully bilingual young lady. She's thriving in the environment of the bilingual class at school. I can't say enough for positive reinforcement, of which there is not enough in the French school system. Her English teacher this year is amazing and I've told her as much. She's positive, full of energy and since Suzanne's English is better than the other kids in her class, she uses Suzanne as a helper. So that positive energy is really giving Suzanne confidence, something all little girls could use a little more of. (As a reminder, Suzanne is in the international section of a public school so she has 3 hours of English a week. This doesn't seem like much, but is so much more than she'd get at a traditional public school). The main issue right now is hormones and social issues. I've spent so long telling Suzanne that difference is good that she actually believe it. Yes! And now she's starting to learn to stand up for herself. I'm proud of the person she is becoming. But I'm not looking forward to the bumpy road ahead ie puberty.

Max has been more of a challenge. My little boy is turning 7 this summer. He's always been a bit anxious. But it turns out he's what the French call précoce, which in English is gifted. We've been doing a lot of reading up on what that means and basically he's wired differently than other people so his brain goes at light speed ALL THE TIME. That's why he's had issues in school in the past; that's also why he's always been sensitive (physically and emotionally) and that also why he was bored at school. As soon as we got the results, we went to speak to his teacher along with the principal of the school. His teacher was also Suzanne's 1st grade teacher whom, you may remember, was not the most skilled in dealing with child psychology. So when the principal offered to take Max into her triple level class we said YES! I'm happy to report that he is now thriving at school. There are still many social challenges, mostly because he prefers to be one on one and because he gets so emotional that some friends just don't want to deal with him. But he seems to be feeling fairly good with himself. He even read 2 chapters of a book in English. For the past year and a half, he's resisted reading, claiming he doesn't know how. But I know he does. And then the other night, I read a chapter of Little Bear and told him it was time for bed. So he asked if he could read alone. He spent the next 10 minutes alone in his bed reading out loud in English. I was amazed.  I hope that we can keep up his self-confidence because it's going to be a rough road ahead. The French school system doesn't adapt to difference...I realized last week that there are no handicapped kids in either of the kids' schools. So where are they all ????

In other news, I got my wallet stolen on a business trip to Germany. And I've spent the last month trying to deal with the frustrations of French administration. A good example is when the city hall called me to say the Préfecture needed a certain document to process my ID card; but the Préfecture didn't even ask for said document when they took my driver's licence request. Some things never change....

I will try to be more diligent with my blog. I'm working on a new cookbook at the moment. I think the old one wore me out. And the last year has been full of introspection, including a bilan de compétences , which was actually fairly emotionally exhausting. As I tell my kids, I won't promise but I'll try to get back here more often.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Presenting: Let's Cook! with the Zazoo

This is my book!!!

It's the book I wrote with the people from Little Bilingues. For those who have stumbled on this very dormant blog (and for those who know me), a lot of this blog has been about exploring my children's budding bilingualism. Using my kids as guinea pigs, along with the kids I have in my cooking workshops here in Lille, I developed a bunch of kid friendly recipes. The cookbook, Let's Cook with the Zazoo! is a fun way to help kids learn English through cooking. The book is geared towards parents and their kids as well as teachers, schools...pretty much anyone who wants their kids to learn English in a different way. It's real hands on learning.

If you don't know Little Bilingues, take a look. There are cute books and lots of activities, all of them aimed at helping kids learn French or English, depending on your need.

If you would like to know more about the cookbook, you can leave a post here or contact Little Bilingues directly. Say I sent you :)

Monday, 26 January 2015

OPOL still lives

November...has it been THAT long since my last post? Oh my...

I love this blog and want to keep it up, but my brain can only do so many things at once. And right now it's working on a cookbook for kids. I'm working with LittleBilingues, publishers of bilingual books for kids, to make an English cookbook to help kids learn English. It's so much fun! and a lot of work! and requires a lot of brain power...

But back to what I love about this blog...documenting my kids' bilingual adventures, both for posterity but also for anyone who may be raising their kids bilingual and needs some advice or a push or some inspiration...

Suzanne is turning 9 in May. NINE! She has entered the second half of her first year in Section Internationale. She loves Thursdays most because she learns in French, Dutch (30 minutes a week) and English (3 hours a week). The older she gets, the more I realize that English as Suzanne's first language was not a fluke. She has always preferred English, even though I am working and the majority of her time has always been in French. But as she gets older, socializes almost only in French and starts to appreciate reading more and more (she's always loved books. In fact, book was one of her first words!), I realize that the girl is just really good in languages. Her English capacity is beyond my wildest dreams. I never imagined that she'd be so fluent without spending more time in an English speaking environment, needless to say I never imagined she'd  teach her self to read in English! At any given time, she's working on at least 3 books...mostly in English! I think changing schools and integrating the section internationale was good for her self confidence for many reasons. But mostly, she realized that she speaks English really well and it's not bad for a kids to be the best at something! (to see stories on Suzanne's linguistic progress over the years, click here).

Max is 5 1/2 already...and he continues to be all boy. In the past year, he has discovered legos. And just as legos require a certain amount of structure and analysis, he applies the same logic to reading. Max can read better than Suzanne did at the same age because he likes systems. He's a very intelligent little boy with a lot of energy. Personally, I think he's bored in school...he's punished a lot because he likes to talk...A LOT. Max likes to understand things. And then he likes to explain the things he's understood to anyone who will listen to him. He knows everything you could possibly want to know about super heroes and is very proud to know all their names in both French and English.  You may remember that Max's English was a struggle for a while. But now it's solid. He continues to have a cute little accent, but like his sister, he speaks only English to me. And he uses such precise language in both French and English, which is part and parcel of his personality. The other day, he said, "Mom, I managed to ...something something." and that's exactly what he meant. He managed to do it. He didn't just do it.

This post from 2012 documented how each of the kids deals with bilingualism, fitting it into their own personal rules and order. And looking back at it, it all still holds true! I had some cool insight back then (when I had time to think about all this more!)

Some general observations I'd like to share, after all these years of strict OPOL:

  • the hard work continues to pay off! The system is so ingrained in their minds, that they have trouble speaking French to me when their friends are there
  • I am no longer scared of them speaking French to me because I know it's not a permanent thing.
  • authenticity is important to the kids. When they tell me what happened during the day, and what so and so said, they tell me in French because that's what the kid said! For them, it would be artificial to translate from French to English. 
  •  correcting them is frustrating. I was always so scared of them not speaking correctly, that I got in the habit of correcting them mid-sentence. This is a huge point of frustration for my daughter. I'm trying to stop it, and just let her go on, and correct after, but old habits die hard...
  • homework is challenging. At first, I did my daughter's homework in English. But I'm finding that sometimes, when it's a stressful topic like math, then I have to switch into French. And it's ok! It doesn't impinge on our English speaking at all. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014


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! 

The streets are different; the stores are different; the people are different. I no longer need to "worry" about running into people from high school. I'll no longer see my friends' parents because most of them moved away. And I'll no longer see my old school teachers because they're all retired. 

It's taken almost 18 years for home to no longer be home. But is france home? It doesn't feel like it most of the time. I feel foreign and different. But, that's how I feel at home...

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Happy on the inside

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

Max at 5

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

two months later....

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.

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