Monday, 27 September 2010

Selective hearing

I'm always so busy focusing on how my kids' language aquisition is going that I forget to think about my own. I seem to forget that I too am strugling with the languages around me - both my native American English, my non-native French and the various other bits and pieces of languages I could once speak (Hebrew and Spanish) or have learned recently but don't quite speak (Dutch and German) and all the other bits I have archived in the back of my head. And that's not even mentioning the European gobblydygook I speak at work.

So when Jérôme mentioned a while back that Suzanne's English interfered with her French - and not only the other way around - I of course said that was inconceivable (see scene from the Princess Bride). Of course, my husband was he was about Max understanding more English than French.

Suzanne's French is obviously her stronger language. I previously mentioned certain cases where she uses English grammar and syntax in her French. But, what amazed me, was when Jérôme pointed out a couple of cases where her American accent actually influences her French. I, of course, did not even hear it until he pointed it out because I suppose I've grown immune to her accent in the same way I have grown used to the mistakes my non-native English speaking co-workers' make.

Even at home, my brain is overcompensating for my ears. Jerome hears Max saying "tiens" and I hear "here". But we can't both be right since Max said it while we were both in the same room. You might say I have selective hearing.

Some examples of Suzanne's American accented French:

The French word for parent is pronounced pah-ren. In my American accent, I say pair-ent. But Suzanne says pair-en, taking the first syllable of the English and the second of the French.

Another example is the word question. Suzanne says kwestion which once again takes the first syllable of the English and the second of the French (ke-stion).

There are many examples of where Suzanne transposes her French grammar to her English as in the following sentences:

I all eat my plate (a translation of the French sentence, j'ai mangé toute mon assiette)

What do you have? anything...(not nothing) because the word for nothing and anything is the same in French. rien.

She is also struggling with some past participles at the moment, but as far as I can tell, this is normal when dealing with irregular verbs: I sawed; I bringed.

Suzanne is also using French structure for complex sentences as in the following:
After eating, I want that we make make cookies (as in the French sentence, après manger, je veux qu'on fasse des cookies).

Until recently, I wasn't making her repeat correctly. I would repeat her sentence with the correct grammar and hope it sank in. But last week, I decided to be more proactive in making her actually say, and not just hear, the correct form. It seems to have worked.

Max's vocabulary is steadily improving. As with Suzanne, it's looking more and more like he's be a "late" walker but an "early" speaker (not as early as his sister though!). But I for one am rather happy that he is speaking but not so worried about his walking. If he continues to scooth himself along on one leg and one arm for another 3 months, I couldn't care less. I know he'll walk; there's no doubt in my mind. But will he speak English and French.

It was reassuring to see that, after 4 days without us (we went to Madrid and left the kids with their French grandparents), both kids went back into bilingual mode. Yes, even Max's 2 words (car and ball) still sound English to me...or maybe it's my selective hearing again.


L said...

I forgot to comment on your last post that I grew up with my teacher parents correcting my grammar all the time. I definitely don't think making mistakes is due to learning two languages at a time. As long as corrections are neutral (not angry) I think they are important. I have one bad memory of my dad yelling at me for a grammar mistake! And I hear you on the Euro-speak. At my old office I got so used to bad English I started listening to BBC every day and reading 'classics' so I could still identify correct English.

TN said...

I am also married to a Frenchman and have a 15 month year old and we live in France. We know a couple (American Husband/French Wife) their 4 year old can understand English but refuses to speak it (he will respond in French only). They have been here for 10 years (and speak both English and French in the home but I think more French than English). It is important that you keep speaking English with your children and correct their English Grammarintriz. They will get enough French in school (and will be taught grammar just like every other French child is). Your husband should speak French only and correct their grammar. My French Prof in the US recommended this to us (she is French from the Sorbonne). It's called one parent one language. I'm sure you have read all about this. But I believe it is a good balance. Esp when it comes to pronunciation. We (Americans) don't really have the EAR for French. Sure we can become fluent but it is very difficult for us to hear the differences. Your children are very young. Watch when they are grown they will be fluent in both languages AND they will not have an accent at all!

Reb said...

L, thanks for the support on the grammar issue. I'm trying not to be an evil grammar monger, but I think it's important.

TN, we follow the OPOL rigidly with both our children. Suzanne is very bilingual but the input she actually gets in English is very limited since I am a working mom. Luckily for her (and for me!) I have quite a few English speaking friends. I've never been worried about her FRench since she will get it at school and everywhere else for that matter. But I do believe that I need to be strict with her (and Max's) English since I am the main source.

TN said...

Great! That's what we are doing too...well since I am not fluent in French yet...I don't have the choice. My DH is fluent in both. I agree you should correct their English Grammar (it's important - like I mentioned before with the Franco/American couple we know...It was an eye opener for us...we don't want our son to be in the same boat in 3 years). Keep it will stick! Being bilingual at an early age turns on a piece of their brain that they will NEVER lose.

Speaking of English Grammar Corrections - I can remember my mother correcting my use of "TO BE". It must have taken me forever to get it right (because if I can remember must have been when I was 8 or 9 haha!).

When your children are older you can also put her in an English class/tutoring. I think when my little one is old enough for school I will do the same. As Grammar is difficult to teach (and understand) even if it is your mother tongue. I wouldn't know where to begin besides conversation.

Good luck and keep blogging about it! It's good information for those who are trying to raise their children Bilingual as well!

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