Tuesday, 25 March 2014

My mother's tongue

Two months....has it really been that long? I have been forsaking this blog, although I do think about it often. But my brain power goes to many other activities at the moment like baking, teaching and generally trying to stay sane...

That said, here's a little update on my Franco-American adventures.

Suzanne (almost 8!)  has a space in the bilingual section of the public school. At first, we were worried that it wouldn't happen, that she wouldn't want to go, that the level of English wouldn't be good. But, although it's an experimental programme, we are convinced. Last week, Suzanne and I sat in on a class and she came away smiling (albeit nervous and scared too!). She is both excited at the thought of learning more in English, being with other bilingual kids, and going to a new school. But she's also nervous about leaving her friends and starting a new school. One great thing is that she already has a friend who will be in the same class as her. As the minority language parent, I came away from last week's meeting at the school with a big smile on my face and the rare feeling that parents get when you KNOW you have made a good parenting decision. Not only will it be good for Suzanne to learn to read and write English (at the moment she is teaching herself), but it will be good for her to be around other bilingual kids so she can be proud (she is already but she's also different) and it will help her self-confidence which is pretty low at times. As for the school, I am happy that the kids are all mixed together and the bilinguals are taken out 3 hours a week. So it's the best of the public school education with a twist. And, as a non-French person constantly grappling and fighting with the rigid French structure, I find it an added bonus that the school will be less "French" and more open. The thing that has perturbed me the most since my kids started school is how rigid and strict it is. The classe bilingue provides a different point of view and way of educating the kids because they share experiences with schools in England. Yay! She's come a long way since the word lists I used to post on this blog 7 years ago....for more information on the bilingual french-English class in Lille, you can leave a message. 

Max (4 1/2) is all boy, is into superheros, star wars and collecting sticks. He is now solidly bilingual, which was a main issue for his first 18 months. He continues to mix up his grammar between French and English equally. In some way it's reassuring that his French is speckled with English because it means the English is ingrained in his head. Max always preferred French whereas Suzanne preferred English. At the moment, he is having trouble with "jusqu'à" for example - I'm getting taller. I am jusqu'à your chest.  And he does similar things in French using English structure like Ou est-ce qu'on va à? Literally, where are we going to? My husband and I are often too immune to these slip ups that we have to remind each other to make the correction in the other's language. Max continues to express himself in an extremely precise way, in black and white terms with no shades of grey. The fact that he is bilingual seems to help him because he gets frustrated quickly. His two languages allow him to express his frustration and relieve some of the tension that builds up in his brain.

So after almost 8 years of strict OPOL child rearing, what are my thoughts? Recently, I had an interesting discussion with a Slovak friend who was impressed with how bilingual my kids are. And I really attribute it to how strict I was for the first couple of years. The kids continue to only speak English to me and I find that I have to remind them to speak French in front of their French since speaking French to me is just so unnatural (and vice versa).

All in all, I'm really proud of their progress and proud of how my husband and I persisted. I see other people who weren't so strict and the results are glaringly different. There is also another factor that I'm considering more and more : I see that male friends who speak the minority language don't have as much success as female friends. It's not called a mother tongue for nothing.

1 comment:

Judith said...

I'm sure Suzanne will adapt to the French-English class in Lille. It's a good thing she will be with other bilingual kids who are "like her".

I find it promising (and also very cute) when bilingual kids mix words of one language with the grammar of the other language and say things like "Ou est-ce qu'on va a ?". I think you're right, it proves that Max understands how the English language works!

Consistency and patience are keys to raising multilingual children successfully: "bravo" for persisting and sticking to your OPOL strategy!

And I find your conclusion interesting, I've never taken this factor into account before. Do you think it's because moms are sometimes more patient? Speak/read/sing more? Would love to have your thoughts on the subject!

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