Monday, 9 December 2013

Saturday with Maria and Tony - an American tale

When I was a kid, my sister and I would visit our grandparents in Florida where we loved catching chameleons (among other things like going to the pool and eating Mallomars). One time, my sister decided to bring some back. She named them Tony and Maria.

That has absolutely nothing to do with this post except that last Saturday, I took Suzanne to see West Side Story (in English!) in Roubaix, France. I've seen the movie dozens of times - I grew up, practically drowning in show tunes and Broadway musicals ! - but I don't think I've ever seen the stage production of it. And I was not disappointed.

The reason I bought the tickets was one day last year, Suzanne came home from school humming a song she'd learned in English class. It was a song from a "TV show with two bandes in NY".  It wasn't until one of her friends started singing ,"I want to be in American" that I realized what it was....So when the tickets went on sale last spring, I got them.

What was interesting on Saturday was not so much the show - because it was good - but was the discussion we had on the way to the show. A friend of Suzanne's was going so his parents drove us to the theater. On the way, we had a conversation with he mother who is a child psychiatrist. She was talking about how many of her maghrébin patients don't speak any language because the parents speak a mix of French and Arabic and the kids mirror the mixed up language they hear at home. She was asking my friend B - Suzanne's fairy God mother, who is a bilingual French-English wonder - how she grew up with no accent. And the answer was : her parents were strict. And as B was talking about her experiences growing up bilingually, I realized I was sympathizing with her parents because raising a child in such a strict way is incredibly hard. It takes incredible will, strength and a lot of auto-derision to be able to speak a foreign language to a baby in the middle of a horde of French people.

And then the absolute hardest part of it all, seeing that your child is different in part because the language helps develop the kid's thinking pattern. So obviously, a bilingual child's language and thinking pattern will cross-fertilize both (or all) languages : the way they form sentences, their word choice and the way they interpret certain words are all influenced by their languages.

So just a shout out to all you OPOL parents who may possibly read this to keep it up! It's hard but even the child psychiatrist friend said it was the way to go.


Jan Exner said...

For those Maghrébins, I wonder whether it has to do with the language or rather with culture and integration.

Our kids speak very good English even though we don't at home. We often get disbelieving reactions from other expats, e.g. from Pakistan, who think speaking (broken) English with their kids will help.

But the crucial thing is that our kids have been playing with English kids since they were very young, and that's where they picked it up.

Reb said...

Thanks Jan. I totally agree with you that there is also the social aspect (and the socio-economic aspect) and I did not mean to ignore it. what the pschiatrist was saying is exactly what you said - it would be better to speak one language well than to speak two incomplete languages.

cmoi said...

Thanks for the video clip!! West Side Story is one of the all time BEST musicals, it is great that your daughter's class got a taste of it, and that you got to see it live! I am going to get out my old DVD and see how I can work a song into my CP & CE1 English lessons I give at the local school. Thanks!

Reb said...

When the teacher showed them the scene last year in CP, the kids loved it! All the kids came home singing it...have fun !

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