Friday, 17 December 2010


It broke my heart when Suzanne started crying. she was crying because I didn't understand what she said. When I picked her up from school early yesterday, I had a special moment in mind: get a gift for papa and then go get some hot chocolate together at the café (just the big girls since she's been feeling a little jealous lately with her brother's chicken pox and various other winter viruses).

So I asked her how school was and she said, "Lor(garbled named) has already cinq ans". I asked her to repeat. So she said it again. This time I understand that someone turned 5 in her class. so I asked who. She repeated the name and I still didn't understand so I said it's someone I don't know. She then broke down in tears and said, "LORETTE!" After I managed to calm her down, I got down on my knees to look her in the eye and explained something that I think she doesn't quite realize nor understand: I don't speak French like her. I explained to my 4 and a half year old that when I was growing up in NJ, we didn't speak French. I learned some French at school but that's all. I told her that I usually understand when she speaks French but sometimes I don't so she needs to be patient with me. That's why we speak English together.

I had a brief moment of panic when I realized that this could be the first step towards the moment I dread: Suzanne's rejection of speaking English to me. If it frustrates her so much, is it worth it? Will it be more of a negative than a positive experience for her? I know that she will not necessarily reject English, and if she does, she does. But it's heartbreaking to any parent to see their kid crying...for any reason.


TN said...

awww...this made me sad :-(

I am fearful about this too. That at some point my son will speak to me and I won't understand as well. I am trying really hard to learn French but my 31 year old mind is kaput now!

Hang in there I think once they are older they will understand the difference in Languages. But yes that sounds truly frustrating.

My son is 18 months and at first he was saying more English words but the French words have recently caught up. He is about even. But he understands more than he can say of course (same for me as well with the French). But what you are describing is my worst fear!

Please keep it up you are my role model of how to make this bilingual thing work :-)

Bonne Fete!

Reb said...

aw, TN. that makes me want to cry I'm so touched. I don't intend to give up and I don't really think Suzanne will give up either, but I'm still scared she will (especially when her brother starts to really speak). I spoke to a bilingual friend this morning and she said that, yes, she hated her parents correcting her all the time when she was younger but she thanks them for it now. Hopefully they won't spend too much time in therapy because of this...

Reb said...

I should add that Suzanne knows I speak French fluently so she may just decide, f this. I'm not making the effort anymore.

Anonymous said...

Meilleurs voeux!

My kids (almost 6 and almost 4) speak to me in English, all the time. I get terribly muddled in public sometimes because my French is bad but I speak it enthusiastically and my kids constantly interrupt me in English. Sometimes they play together in French and this makes me nervous.

I know I don't always understand my kids when they are upset and not speaking clearly, in either language. And my kids get frustrated with me when I don't understand them straightaway.

I also worry about the kids rejecting English -- as a child, I had close friends who were the children of immigrants and they wouldn't speak their mother's language. But those languages didn't have the same value in society as English has in France.

It is heartbreaking when they are crying. I hope you had a lovely holiday and Suzanne is looking forward to school next week.


Reb said...

Meilleurs Voeux to you too Rachael. And thank you for your comment. I'm always glad to see that the frustrations and fears I have with the bilingualism are the same for all parents. In the end, I'm sure they'll all work out fine and be happy. I too grew up with children of immigrants who rejected their parents' language which is the only model I have. Since my French is good, I'm scared my kids will realize it one day and just stop speaking English. I mean, why should they make the effort if I obviously understand everything they are saying (the same could be said about my husband whose English is excellent). We will see!

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