Thursday, 24 July 2008

Split Personality

The American brain asks for "malamelon"

The French brain needs wine

It’s pretty funny when your little girl (no longer a baby) starts to express herself. And even funnier when it’s in two different languages. My old fears of her not speaking English are completely gone and I can’t believe how much time I wasted worrying if she’d get enough English or not since she’s clearly extremely intelligent (come on, doting mother obliges).

Sometimes I wonder what goes on in her brain and how it actually functions, how all her little neurons and synapses are developing and connecting. And it all seems rather strange to think, based on the theory I studied in university, that her language brain is split in half. And somewhere in her head, it all is organized and “normal” to be speaking two languages.

She’s made the leap from baby to little girl so quickly, sometimes it seems like she even changes overnight. She goes to sleep at night babbling in Suzanneisms and wake up in the morning and speaking full sentences. She’s taking more risks, climbing (but luckily still hasn’t figured out how to get out of her crib!), exploring and talking non-stop. I wake up most mornings to her singing or talking to her animals.

I was scared that our two week vacation mostly spent with her great grandparents, would mean her not getting enough English. But my linguistic gymnastics (speaking to everyone except Suzanne in French) actually seemed to reinforce the Mommy’s language is different from everyone else’s. . I’m pretty sure she realized that we have our own, secret (?) language just for the two of us. She even makes the phonetic distinction between Mommy (me) and Mamie (her great grandmother).

So, at 26 months, Suzanne has a French and English vocabulary that’s far too long to list on this little blog. She seems to have a fairly balanced vocabulary in French and English, and even tries to find replacement words when she doesn’t know the one in the correct language (ex she called the ice cream cone “stick”) but surprisingly, she makes more sentences in English than French.

And on Saturday, she began her career in simultaneous translation. As we were having breakfast with Bryony (Suz’s special person), Jerome was speaking in French; Suzanne turned to Bryony and translated it into English for her. Is that not cool or what?

She’s putting words to her feelings, which is nice when your little girl walks around all day saying “happy Suzanne” or “I love you too”.

She’s also begun mastering numbers up to 8 but for some reason always skips 5 and 6, which is surprising since she used to count to “high five”. Besides the actual integers she’s recognizing quantities like “a little more” (cookie), “another” (ponytail) and “enough” (milk), “I don’t like”(cheese) and hurts (or fait mal). And did I mention that she can recognize a half dozen letters? As my mother says (not biased at all), she comes from good stock.

She’s doing some language mixing like "manger outside" which she loves doing. And she’s constantly asking questions like “What doing Mommy?” “Where go Papa?” which both reflect a French grammar structure but are clearly English.

She definitely knows what she wants like “Suzanne wake up” (when it’s time for bed) or “Suzanne stay bath a little more”.

And the best part is that she’s got a sense of humor. When I asked what she wanted for dinner, she replied “eat food Mommy.” Well of course, a mother has a lot to learn, huh?

She’s still negating her sentences with the French pas (Pas like it) but who cares about the language mixing when her split brain is so clearly functioning on a much higher level than her two parents’!


Elisabeth said...

"Language mixing" is called "code switching" by linguists, and I love that expression. It is very common aong bilingual kids. Seems like Suzanne's linguistic development is moving along very nicely.

The Late Bloomer said...

Oh my GOSH, I love both those photos of Suzanne! How adorable... The watermelon shot is precious.

So great to read about her language skills -- I hope our Little Bean will learn both languages just as well, and that I will stick to speaking to her/him in English!! It's my goal, but it sounds to me like you've been SO great about it. I have SO MUCH to learn...

Reb said...

Elisabeth, I also like that term. I remember it from my studies.

Late bloomer, glad to have news from you! It's all about being consistent from what I can tell. It's hard work for the first couple months, keeping with a "system" but it pays off!

Sarah said...

Suzanne's nascent bilingualism blows me away! I love the examples of her speech. I hope she appreciates these detailed records and reflexions when she's older--this blog is a lovely tribute and gift to her.

Sarah said...

Hi again--just wanted to let you know that I've written yet another post on my blog about Suzanne because her progress is so inspiring to me!

Seine Judeet said...

Hi:) I surfed on over to your blog from Walt's (WCS-Another American In France). I think it's so great how well your little girl is picking up both languages. I was just talking about this with a Japanese woman (in the U.S.) who is married to an American, and she speaks only Japanese to her son... he's still too young to really vocalize, but I told her that I thought her strategy would work... I have an American friend (married to an American and living in the U.S.!) who speaks French, who, from day one, has only spoken French to her son... he's now in his 20s, and speaks perfectly in both languages. She also had him going to French "colonies de vacances" and surrounded by other French friends throughout his life.

I've read only a little about this kind of thing, but what I've read does say that, while they're learning, these children being brought up in a bilingual home will often, while they're learning, use the language that is simplest to express something... like using "pas" instead of "I'm not...".

As a language teacher in the U.S., I often see bilingual students who only know how to speak and understand Spanish, but not how to read it, write it, or use grammar correctly... do you have plans for teaching those skills somehow as Suzanne grows up? My Japanese friend wants to send her son to Japanese classes once he is old enough, but her husband is reluctant (because of transportation logistics), but I think that it's a very important part in the development of a bilingual child's language development.

In any case, I enjoy your blog and your little girl is cute as a button:)


Reb said...

Judy, thanks for your comment. In a former life, I was supposed to be an ESL and French teacher. I have put a lot of thought into the bilingual thing since I would really like Suzanne (and any future children) to be balanced bilinguals, ie reading, writing and speaking with equal ease in both languages. I know it will be a lot of extra work (and frustration) for me but it's worth it.

I've seen first hand how tough it is, especially when it comes to reading, so I really plan on putting a lot of effort into teaching Suz to read and write in English. And, luckily, English is not a rare language. There is what they call a European high school in Lille where some subjects are taught in English. Granted, it's often by French teachers who don't speak perfect English, but that will be a boost in addition to getting summer homework from Mommy. Gosh, she's gonna resent me!

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