Category Archives: foreign language

The Art of Double Talk

My plan had always been to raise my son bilingual–French and English. I was going to handle the French (along with my mom, Mimi) and dad and everyone else would take care of the English. What I never factored in was an equal parts adorable and fantastic Salvadoran nanny.

After I pulled the trigger on hiring our nanny, one of her big initial questions was whether it was okay if she spoke Spanish to our son. I am very open to other cultures and super supportive of anything that would enrich my son in that respect, so I don’t think she even finished her sentence without saying, “Yes!” Selfishly, I also figured it would be a decent way for me to dust some of the cobwebs off of my high school Spanish.

I have zero regrets about my decision, but the results (so far) have been surprising to say the very least. Surprising is a lame word to use, but it’s hard to find a word that can capture the full range of amazement, excitement, joy, and even a little heartbreak that I’ve felt as our son has started to develop his language skills in earnest.

Baby’s first word–other than mom-mom-mom, which I don’t attribute to any specific language–was gato. Yup, Spanish for cat. There are a couple of weird things about that. First, I had thought for sure his first word would’ve been in French. After all, baby spends about three afternoons a week on average with the nanny and the rest of the time he’s parler-ing with me. Second, our cats don’t really hang out with us. Mostly because of the large dog we have added to our family. Most of the time they like to hang out in their lair in the basement, choosing to be little more than an occasional meow from the stairwell. So, how gato came out of his little mouth, I don’t know.

It made me a little sad. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy, too. Baby’s first words are baby’s first words! But somehow it felt a little like I had failed–and we hadn’t even really started yet. As stupid as it sounds, I wondered if my child loved his nanny more, if he had more fun with her, and if she was a better teacher than I was turning out to be.

Fortunately I was redeemed (and the dog, too) not too long afterward when the wee one decided that his second word would be chien. I felt like we were back in the game.

It’s a silly way to look at it. I’m just happy that our kid is learning. And I’m thrilled that he’s truly becoming multilingual. True, he’s likely going to be totally confused for awhile. And I might be, too. I’m hearing the French and the Spanish, but if he’s trying to say something in English, I’m not hearing it. I thought for a minute the other day he was trying to say “thank you,” but it wasn’t clear enough to be sure. So who knows when the English will kick in.

So, as our son rounds the corner to the 18-month mark, here’s a tally of his first words:

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Filed under bilingual baby, child development, daily life, foreign language

Match Dot Mom

Back in my swingin’ single days, I used to spend all week waiting for the weekend to kick off with Friday night happy hour. Although I think it really should be called happy hours since many weeks I found myself still lugging my work bag around town at 1am on a Friday night. As a mommy now, obviously things have changed. But I still look forward to Fridays, but mostly because that’s the day I meet with my French mommy group. It’s a far cry from the happy hours I used to have, but it still is one of my happiest hour and a halfs every week.

But finding the right mommy group is hardly easy, as many of my mommy friends can attest. In fact, when I think about it, it’s kind of like dating all over again.

The ideal is to find a group of educated women who have laid-back personalities and a sense of humor, varied but complementary interests,  keep to a similar schedule, live relatively close to you, and, of course, have (at least) a kid around the same age as yours. It’s a tall order by any standards. I’m not sure I had as many requirements when looking for my last boyfriend. (Thank god my husband found me first.)

But where do mommies go to meet other mommies? The options are somewhat finite:

But let’s get real… chances are you’re looking for a mommy group because you don’t work at the moment, don’t go to church (or at least aren’t active in the community), don’t get to the gym as often as you’d like to admit, don’t have time for volunteer activities, and don’t want to shell out anywhere near $70/month for a membership to a baby club. And if you had friends with babies who lived in your neighborhood, you’d already be hanging out with them.

I lucked out and found a mommy group on the Internet, through http://www.meetup.com. (I totally get why people Internet date now and would admittedly be going down that road if I was single, as it’s an efficient and economical way to meet people.) I had to give on some of the said requirements–I drive roughly 40 minutes (although it’s probably less than 10 miles from my house) to get there–but the French connection outweighed the distance.

I think I lucked out, too, in that I’m sort of an inaugural member of the group. I found out about the group and was able to show up for the first meeting, and that likely made all the difference. It’s so much easier to try something new when everyone is new at it. I definitely think it would be much harder to jump into a very established group.

With that said, I always look forward to seeing if there are any new people at our weekly meetings and even if it’s a bit awkward and forced, I feel like my group’s organizers really try to make everyone feel welcome. But I can tell almost immediately who is never going to come back. In our group’s case, it’s usually someone who realizes the second she walks into the room that her French language skills maybe aren’t as good as she remembered them being in college.

But even as one of the regulars, more or less, I still find myself trying way harder than usual to have these women like me. I literally get up a half hour early, so I can spend extra time on my hair and make-up. I also spend an abnormally long time (for me) deciding what I’m going to wear; I always feel like I want to look fresh and chic and not the strung out and underdone that I usually am. I even stress a little over what baby is going to wear.

That’s when I know this is so like dating. Only minus the drinks and the free dinner.

And perhaps that’s why I find mommy groups, at least the one I’m in, a little awkward. Basically we sit around and watch each others’ kids play and make small talk about breastfeeding, nap schedules, and our husbands’ jobs. We don’t even have coffee or donuts, which makes me think that maybe I should bring some next time. Then again, everyone is currently thin, so maybe that wouldn’t go over so well, if it became a regular thing.

Maybe this whole blind-date, first-date feeling lasts for so long when getting to know other mommies because everyone sort of knows that they either (a) would never have crossed paths or (b) never become friends, if there weren’t babies in the picture. That fact is just sort of the Barney in the room. No wonder so many of my mommy friends who have tried some mommy groups have never gone back to them; that’s kind of a hard thing to get over if the chemistry just isn’t right. And seriously, when you have an infant, who has time to make an effort to spend time with women they don’t necessarily like?

But for as awkward as it can be during some of our meetings, I’m so glad that I’ve stuck with the group. Of course, I love getting the chance to practice my French, but every week, I get to know the women, at least the regulars, a little better and I like them not just a little but a lot more every week.

I just hope they feel the same way about me. I don’t want to have to try to pick up another mommy group any time soon.

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Filed under babies, bilingual baby, child development, daily life, foreign language, infants, mom style, mommy care, moms, parenting, play time

Building a Bilingual Baby

I may not be first (or even second generation) American, but I grew up in a bilingual family.

Well, to be more specific, my mom, a high school French teacher and Francophile through and through, had the harebrained idea that even though we weren’t one bit French she would teach me French by only speaking to me in French as a child. Of course, this plan only went into effect with me, so no one else in my family spoke French but me and my mom. So maybe “family” is a bit of an exaggeration.

The problem with this whole idea was that she spoke to me in French, and while I understood it, I was completely embarrassed by it for one reason or another and always responded to her in English. Why she never forced me to respond in French I have no idea, but I really wish she would have.

So, now I’m the mommy in this scenario and I’ve got a baby that I desperately want to not only speak French as well as I do (or even grandma) but better. But how do I turn that dream into reality? So far I’ve come up with a four-prong plan:

First, I only speak to him in French. From the first “Bonjour, Bébé” in the morning to the last “Bonne nuit, Bébé” at night, we’re speaking frog or we’re not speaking at all.

Second, I joined this mommy group that a friend forwarded me through MeetUp.com called Bonjour, Les Amis. The group is for mommies with infants (<5 yrs old) who want their babies to learn French. Although I was totally mortified by the fact that I had to find friends via the Internet,  I love this group. I don’t know everyone yet, as they meet several times a week and I’m lucky if I can squeeze in one rendezvous, but the Friday regulars are fantastic. I think what I really like is that everyone’s kids are close in age and that the mommies’ language skills are all about the same, so you can get into some good conversation. Of course, at this point, this playgroup is all about the mommies wanting to speak French, but the more the wee ones hear other people speaking it as well, I think the higher the chances that they will not do what I did and refuse to speak French because it’s different than what their friends at school speak.

Third, I aim to take to baby to France (or other French-speaking countries) as much as possible, which I hope is at least once a year.

Fourth, I support his oral development in French by reading to him in French as well as English. This means having lots and lots of books in French and reading some of them to him every night. Sounds simple enough, but it’s a challenge to get good quality books in French here in the States. The Canadian portal to amazon.com offers some selection, but I now consider it a travel perk to spend a half hour in a foreign bookstore picking out French children’s books.

Take my latest trip to Chamonix, for example. Besides the scarves I brought home as gifts for my mother-in-law, nanny, and cleaning lady (and me!), the only other souvenirs I brought home were some baby clothes and baby books, the latter which made my suitcase very heavy on the way back, incidentally. But I couldn’t resist. Why?

First, I’ve always been a sucker for books. My grandmother used to take me on shopping sprees–to the bookstore. There she would buy me as many books as I could carry. (I loved that.) Second, I don’t want baby’s entire library to just be filled with translations of English books. (Although I really love that I have Goodnight Moon and Guess How Much I Love You in both English and French.)

And third, how can I say no to books that are absolutely adorable? Take for example, this one called Poux by Stephanie Blake. It’s the story of Simon who loves Lou, who in turn loves Mamadou. That is until Lou catches lice–poux–and Mamadou says he’s through but Simon’s love shines true. And that gives you an idea of how the book is written–completely in these beautiful, little, sing-song-y rhymes about Lou and her lice.

But for as much as I love the love story, I’m infatuated with Pomelo et les contraires by Ramona Badescu and Bejamin Chaud. It’s a simple book, all about opposites, with an adorable elephant as the main character. The book covers all the basics–high, low; left, right; near, far; open, shut–but the illustrations are what totally make the book. The illustrator definitely had a sense of humor because some of the interpretations of these opposite pairs are hilarious. Point in case, this one about “inside” and “outside”:

Très amusant

 

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Filed under bilingual baby, childrens books, foreign language, reading