We're still in France and I have ten minutes Internet time, so I thought I'd quickly post about something which has been eating away at me for a while.
My children are crap at French.
Now that may sound harsh coming from their own Mother, especially one, who entering a room full of French people will navigate towards the tiny spattering of English she can hear in the corner, rather than bravely confront the realities of her rusty second language. But then I'm not French, at least not if we don't count the 16 percent handed down to me from a long-dead great-great grandfather.
But my daughters are half French. Fifty-fifty. Neither one thing nor the other. Both things together. Except to listen to them speaking French you'd be forgiven for thinking that they may once have spent the weekend there. Once, a very long time ago.
When I first met my husband and we decided to get married, I couldn't help but be secretly pleased that, amongst other benefits of marrying a French man, my children would be bilingual. They'd be beautiful, sun-kissed, curly-haired, cherub-faced French speakers who would automatically be top-of-the-class in one subject without actually having to work at it. I was thrilled.
Ha. Who was I trying to kid? They speak about as much French as I do Thai, and probably not even as much as that, because at least I know how to say "I'm completely drunk already" and "I have small tits but a big penis". Although on second thoughts I'm glad my children haven't reached this level of expertise in French, but you get my gist.
Once, when I was a student, I shared a house with a boy called Jean-Michel Wu. Now given that name you can probably guess his ancestry, but I'll make it easy for you anyway. He was half-French and half-Chinese. But did he speak either of those languages? Abbsolutely not. The only language he spoke was English and that was with cockney variations. But Jean-Michel Wu's linguistic capabilities were nothing to do with me. What I do remember thinking, though, is what a wasted opportunity it was and how his parents should have made more of an effort with him as a child and if I were ever to marry a non-English speaker, I would never make that mistake. You see, even all those years ago, I had my sights set on someone other than an English man. Poor hubby never stood a chance.
So where has it all gone wrong? Why aren't my two children telling each other to "ferme ta gueule" whilst sipping their citron pressés and munching their croissants?
Well, first thing's first (and this is where I hand over the blame) - I think it helps if it comes from the Mother. If it was I who was French rather than my husband, then they might have stood more of a fighting chance. When Renée was a baby, I did try to speak to her in French, singing nursery rhymes and teaching her parts of the body, but it all became a bit much when I'd call after her in the playground.
"Renée, doucement. Viens ici", only for the proper French mothers (and there were some) to see me as a fraud and for the English mothers to see me as pretentious.
It wasn't that I gave up or even gave two hoots about what the other mothers truly thought. It's just that after speaking to various people about the best way to bring up bilingual children, it was generally agreed that the most successful cases were when one parent spoke exclusively one language and the other parent exclusively the second language. Given this, it was obvious that it should be my husband speaking French and not me.
So he did. For a while. Until he had to go away for a job which would sometimes last three weeks. And in those early days of learning languages, three weeks was a long time. Long enough to forget what had been learnt and to frustrate Papa when he came home.
It wasn't easy.
So apart from reading bedtime stories in French, I also decided to invest in French lessons for Renée once a week. But aside from learning to count up to 20, being proficient with her colours and animals and knowing the words to 'Frère Jacques', she is still far from being bilingual.
My husband insists that they'll pick it up, simply because they're half-French and it's in their blood. But that didn't help Jean-Michel Wu did it?
For the sake of my daughters, I haven't and won't give up on their French. Edie will be starting her weekly lessons in the Autumn and as I sit here typing this I can hear them watching a French cartoon in the next room and it lifts my spirits;
"Papa...the film is fini".
It seems all is not lost.
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