Friday, 24 April 2009

Bilingual brain

In celebration of my little girl's 3rd birthday tomorrow, I am finally posting again! This is a post I started forever ago. (Thanks to everyone who's come by over the past month depsite my absence.) My parents always said that everything happened to me when I was 3 so I'm not surprised that, at 3 years minus 1 day, Suzanne is a real functioning person...yes, she's even (almost) out of diapers...happy birthday to my little bear! I wish you as happy a third year of life as mine was (except when my bell teddy* ran away...)

I'd like to thank L for sending me the link to this article in the Economist on a recent study on pre-verbal bilinguals. I think anyone who has come to my blog knows first hand the benefits of bilingualism and that their little bilingual babbler is smart (smarter than other kids).

The part of the article that really hits home is the fact that the bilinguals were more easily able to ignore the nonesense words they were taught and find an alternative solution when the rules were changed. The bilinguals were able to code switch but the monolinguals were not. I saw this happen to Suzanne during the Passover seder we attended with our American friends in Paris. Most of the seder was in English with a smattering of Hebrew (and Aramaic). When an Israeli guest got up and spoke in Hebrew, we could all see Suzanne's brain trying to sort through the sounds and figure out what was being said. After a couple of seconds, you could see that she'd decided it wasn't English or French, so it must be something else so just go with it. By the end of the evening, Suzanne was attempting to sing along in Hebrew. It really was amazing to see her little brain in action. And I am so proud of her and pleased with the success my husband and I have had with her bilingualism.

With baby 2 on the way, and a boy to boot!, and Suzanne starting French school in September, I am beginning to wonder if 1) Suzanne will continue to speak English with me, 2) she will speak English to her brother, 3) if I will be able to impose English time of the 2 siblings. So far Suzanne has shown no reluctance to speaking English with me, even when in a purely French environment. But this could change...and they do say that boys and girls are different when it comes to learning languages.

For the sake of posterity, here are a couple of Suzanne's recent bilingual phenomena:

  • In French, rester means to stay and is a false cognate with the English to rest. I've noticed in French that she says "Je suis fatiguée, je vais rester un peu" but she uses the word rest correctly in English.
  • Suzanne is now using English grammar with French words to say things like My nose is couling instead of running (j'ai le nez qui coule in French) or I'm glissing instead of slipping ( je glisse in French)
  • she is still creating some words like danelaisy which is a mix of both of her favorite flowers at the moment = dandelion+daisy
  • she is constantly asking how to say certain words in one language or the other, using the correct language to the correct parents. This proves that she has totally grasped the fact that words are not the same in both languages and that each parent is a reference for a specific language. It's a little tougher for me since my brain doesn't code switch as easily as hers.
  • she has begun saying things like, "Papa says voiture but you don't"
  • she recognizes when non-native English speakers try to speak English to her and it makes her giggle in a kind of mean way...
* belly teddy and I were inseperable. And one day, he just disapeared. I still have a couple theories : 1) I left him on the swing set and he was eaten by a neighbor's dog, 2) my sister hid him under the steps to our house and he since rotted 3) he smelled so bad, my parents threw him away...the mystery will never be solved.


Grandma said...

Possibly one or two for Bell Teddy's disappearance. Definitely not #3. After all, I still have Honey the Bunny hidden away.


English Rider said...

There's a "nou-n'ourse Eileen" lost out there somewhere too. Maybe they are together.

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