Monday, 30 April 2012

OPOL: when your 6 year old sounds like an adolescent

"Papa? pendant que tu es debout, peux-tu me prendre un verre d'eau?" My husband and I looked at each other when this came out of our almost 6 year old's mouth. Isn't that a complete franglais translation of the English sentence : while you're up, can you get me a glass of water? My husband said that no, in fact it was correct but not something you'd expect to hear out of the mouth of your almost 6 year old daughter.

This is a regular occurrence in our house, both the transfer of English grammar to French sentences, and the adult-sounding sentences coming out of the mouths of babes.

I've mentioned many (many!) times, that we are strict followers of OPOL. My husband sometimes speaks English to the kids (like 5 sentences a month) but I NEVER speak directly to my kids in French and rarely engage in French activities (like watching French movies) with them. Both kids know the difference between French and English and are both fully bilingual. So, after almost 6 years as a parent, I can finally let down my guard a little. My kids laugh hysterically when my French husband, who is as bilingual as I am, speaks English to the kids. My son even reprimands his father for speaking English because it's not his language: "Papa tu parles pas anglais!" But when I speak French in front of my kids, they look at me like deers in headlights as if they can't even process what I'm saying to them.

The funny thing about being the sole source of the minority language is that kids pick up all your idiosyncrasies and language ticks. And they end up sounding exactly like you, but smaller. My kids interact with other bilingual kids, themselves products of OPOL homes. When we get them together, we hear a mini Michigander, Floridian, Ohioan, Londonian and New Jerseyite playing barbie using big words and long sentences.

My husband and I don't use baby words with our kids, which can bring about some VERY uncomfortable situations. Like the time my daughter mentioned her vagina to her pre-school teacher. The teacher was so shocked by the actual word vagin coming out of a 3 year old's mouth, that she couldn't even discuss the issue (it was nothing).  So with our son currently being potty trained, I've decided to use the French baby word zizi and zézette instead of the technical terms I would usually use. This will hopefully save us and him - very boisterous and loud as he is - from some highly embarrassing situations. Back to the point of this post...

My kids will be spending 2 months in the US this summer. With Max starting French schooling and Suzanne entering French 1st grade in the fall, it seems like the perfect time to solidify their English while playing with real, monolingual American kids! Suzanne will be going to day camp - you know the kind where they load them into the yellow school bus at 8am, bring them to a local lake, they do dream catchers and drink boxes of milk, and bring them back dirty and exhausted at 4pm. She'll be with my best friend's little girl which is an added bonus. Max will be doing 2 weeks at a local nursery school where he'll be able to practice his bullying skills in English.

And I will, hopefully, be working on my new project while absorbing some much needed New Jersey air.

I haven't found the solution so my kids actually sound like kids in English, but I guess it's not really a problem since one day they will be bilingual adults.


Nathali said...

Please don't stop writing!!

I'm a franco-brésilienne mom who is totally inspired by you and by your experience. I have a almost-threee-year-ol-girl with whom I speak only portuguese. Sometimes I fell like it's just too hard to speak portuguese-only to her, but when I read your success with your kids, and when I hear my daughter speak portuguese to me (with my accent) and turn to her french friends and speak french, I fell that it's worth it!

Thank you for sharing your experience!

Reb said...

Hi Nathali. Thanks for your comment! I hope my experiences can help you. Now that my kids are getting older, I'm realizing how successful the bilingual experiment has been. It's only taken 6 years (haha!) but I can finally stop worrying about it. Keep up the good work! said...


I've been reading your blog, and I like very much the way you share your experience in raising bilingual/bicultural kids. I would like to invite you to visit my online store based in South France. I have educational games and puzzles, books, and music to learn or reinforce languages. You can also visit the accounts on Facebook (, Twitter (@Linguatoys), and Pinterest (
Feel free to contact me to have further information about me, the store or the products.
Have a nice day,

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