Wednesday, July 23, 2014

bring a straightedge, not a long skirt

three months later
Look at that Américaine sitting in the second row: twenty years old, wearing an elegant blouse and flowy skirt because everyone said the French are très chic, holding her new stylo plume (so different from the ballpoints she's accustomed to) expectantly above her new loose-leaf paper with a dizzying multitude of blue lines, eager to absorb the nuances of how to write literary analyses.

After all, back home, she is double majoring in creative writing and French!

The other students surrounding her are 90% female, all dressed in jeans and sweaters with lank ponytails looped and pinned to the back of their heads with barrettes.  Sloppy.

She's confused about a lot of things this first week at the French university.  Especially about how she can be attending a literature class in a lecture hall--no required reading, no class discussion, no office hours to drop by and talk with the professor, no campus bookstore, even.  (She's also shocked--shocked!--to learn that the school cafeteria sells beer.)

This young woman has just taken her first overseas plane flight, is living in her first apartment, is hearing native speakers of French all day long for the first time in her life (up until now, all of her teachers have been anglophones), and is slowly panicking as she realizes that she doesn't belong here. 

Only about half of what the professor intones makes sense.  No one else talks.  No one spoke to her when she sat down, either.  She is excruciatingly aware of how out of place she looks.  She's the only student in the row who doesn't have a little plastic ruler sitting beside a pencil case so that she can underline key points in a different color pen.  

plaisir d'écrire?
Who in the world takes the time to use a straightedge while taking notes during a lecture?  Everyone in France, apparently.

She's so tired, so scared, so clueless.  Her eyes well up and drip onto her paper, blurring the half-hearted monochromatic notes from her unnecessarily complicated stylo plume.  Her French isn't good enough to survive this class, this school, this year away from home.

And then she gathers her materials into the only backpack in the room (her fellow students carry shoulder-strapped leather satchels), gets up, and walks out before the end of the class for the first time in her life.


Yep, that eager, hapless, mystified girl was me.  My junior year abroad.  Of course, there's a happy ending to this story; I did end up taking literature and translation and linguistic classes (enjoying them so much that I went on to teach English to French speakers and then earn a masters degree in French).   I stopped washing my hair every day and started wearing jeans to class.  I became friends with French students with whom I am still in touch two decades later!  Learned to make a vinaigrette from scratch, to ski in the Alps, to understand French slang, to enjoy a glass of wine with my cafeteria lunch.  

And when my children travel to a francophone country to study, they will have a much better idea of what to expect than I did. (And I'll tell them to bring a straightedge just in case!)


This post was written for the July edition of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival; our host, Cordelia at Multilingual Mama, asked us to share "the biggest linguistic challenge you've faced and how you overcame it."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

you're taking your family to France!

Don’t think about the money--five overseas plane tickets!  Gulp.   (Plus twelve nights’ lodging!  The rental car, the trains, the restaurant meals, the unavoidable souvenirs!)  Don’t stress about how to juggle two children, two car seats, a monolingual husband, a smart and feisty but hard-of-hearing and hard-of-walking grandmother, and all your luggage (which will, you admit to yourself, probably double after you visit a couple of used bookstores).

Instead, revel in the fact that you are returning to France for the first time in nine years.  Nine years!  Nine years in which you have kept speaking French whenever you can, even after you left your teaching job to raise your family.  Six and a half years of speaking French to your baby boy--who is now, astonishingly, a first grader--and your baby girl, growing up so fast and so slowly at the same time.  Nine years of a tiny Francophone bubble in your home in the big American world.

All those years of only speaking French, your hard-won non-native tongue, with your dear ones, even though English would have been so. much. simpler.

Now you can finally immerse your family in the language!  Your children will see that more people than maman, their playgroup friends, and T’choupi speak and play and cajole and question and explain and argue and whine in French.  You will sit on a bench in the Jardin de Luxembourg and eavesdrop as they play tag with their new pals, and your mother will sigh contentedly and laugh at their antics, and your husband will tell you he’s proud of you for teaching your children another language.

And then your children will ask you for a few more euros so they can take another ride on the carousel, and your husband will suggest that you stop by that fromagerie on the way back to the apartment, and your mom will greet every passerby with a big American “Bonjour!” as she writes postcards to her friends back in the midwest.

And you will know that the expense is worth it, and that you won’t wait nine years to come back again.

Besides, Griffin and Gwyneth already have a natural affinity for frogs.

Monday, June 30, 2014

moms like me at the carnival

Maria of Trilingual Mama is hosting the June edition of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, and her theme is monolingual or non-native parents and their bilingual kids!  Drop by for a visit.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

caca, communication, conundrum

"Oh.  No.  The baby just had a diaper blow-out all over his onesie in the bouncy chair."

"Damn you, colic."

"Hey, don't play with that flange for my breast pump!  I just sterilized it!"

"Young man, we do not put our fingers in our noses.  We do not remove the boogers and wave them in the air.  And we certainly do not plunge our mucousy digits into our mouths to partake of their slimy saltiness."

"Nor do we eat our eye boogers."

"No, sweetie, those aren't your panties.  Those are the bloomers that match your dress and go over your panties so you don't flash passers-by while you do somersaults and climb on the jungle gym.  Isn't it great that you don't need to wear pull-ups any more?"

"Griffin, when you hit kids in your class, they won't want to be
your friends.  I know you're so smart and caring, but when you act like a bully, the other kids won't like you, and that breaks my heart."

"Sweetheart, Grandpa left us.  He was so sick that he just couldn't get better.  No, you can't sing '76 Trombones' to him over the phone to make him smile, and he can't hold you on his lap and read to you any more, and it breaks my heart, and I don't know how to answer your questions about what happens next.  Even in English.  All I can do is hold you and tell you je t'aime, je t'aime, je t'aime."

Holding someone does help.
These are just a few of the things I never learned how to say in French class but that I have had to express while raising my children in my non-native language!   (No high school or college foreign language curriculum covers vocabulary for convincing a toddler to go caca in the potty.)

As host of the June edition of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, trilingual mom Maria has asked us to write about our experiences raising children in our non-native language.  I feel like I expressed it best in this post after my daughter was born: "Second Language, Second Child."

Three years later not much has changed, except that I have a better grasp of the salient vocabulary and I panic less about things like colic and caca!

What I can say for certain after six years of parenting in my non-native language is that speaking French to my children forces me to pay attention to what I say to them, always.  Having to pause, even just a half-second, to find the right word or to put an indirect object pronoun in front of the verb where it belongs, means that my communication with them is purposeful, deliberate, heartfelt.  Speaking French in an English world means that I am constantly choosing to be present, alert, connecting with my children.

This challenge gift also means that my children and I share an intimacy, a linguistic complicity, that they don't have with anyone else.  It's special and precious (and it reinforces that old saying that French is the language of love!).

As Griffin grows older, his mind moving a million miles a minute, it's harder and harder to have conversations where I can fully and accurately express exactly what I want to say to him--why he needs to be compassionate, what's worth fighting for, how to put away his neatly folded clean clothes without wadding them all up into one drawer and losing socks along the way.

At some point, probably sooner that I'd like, I will be faced with a difficult decision: stubbornly staying in French no matter what--even if this entails losing nuance and muddying meaning and speaking haltingly--or resigning myself to the fact that I need to speak English with him because I am articulate and precise and funny and interesting in English, less so in French--thus sending the message that English is easier, more useful, and more important.  And maybe betraying myself and my blog.

What would you do?  What have you already done?

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

votez pour moi, svp!

I am honored to be in the 2014 edition of Lexiophiles' Top 100 Language Learning Blogs!

Each year, the website editors gather nominations for blogs, Twitterers, Facebook pages, and now YouTube channels about language learning and teaching.  Readers and visitors can then explore the top 100 nominees in each category and vote for their favorites.  The top vote-getters are then dubbed winners of the 2014 Language Lovers Awards.  (And there are some very strong contenders out there--it's an honor to be considered alongside them.  Heartfelt congratulations to all my fellow nominees.)

It would tickle me pink if you'd vote for me, please!  (The deadline to vote is June 9.)

Thanks for growing along with us.
PS: I like to think that my Pinterest account linked to Bringing up Baby Bilingual helps this blog stand out and stay helpful: even though I haven't been posting regularly lately, I keep adding lots of relevant links with my own comments and annotations about languages, reading instruction, French resources, apps, culture, and more on my Pinterest boards.

PPS: May 23 was Bringing up Baby Bilingual's eighth birthday!

Monday, May 26, 2014

getting technical with the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival

This month our hostess, Rita, collected and annotated blog posts about the elements of technology that we use most while using with more than one language with our kids.  Check out the favorites--and some caveats--at the May edition of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival on Rita's blog, Multilingual Families Raising Bilingual Children!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

converting a roomful of non-believers?

Guess who was the guest speaker at our local hospital's "New Moms' Network" class?  Moi!  The facilitator invited me to come talk to 25 mothers and their babies about why and how to raise their children with more than one language.
"Hooray for bilingualism!" (my baby girl, almost three years ago)
I was flattered, but skeptical.  I mean, I know how valuable this group is--my fellow new moms kept me sane after Griffin was born--but I also know how sleep-deprived, stressed, and screamed-at these ladies can be!  And the last thing a new mom needs is another list of "should"s.  Until your child is sleeping through the night and you're no longer regularly covered in layers of leaking milk, baby snot, and diaper seepage, you don't want to have to worry about how to teach your kid, say, Mandarin.

We started with introductions; I asked the moms to let us know if they spoke another language and/or if they were planning on using or teaching another language to their children.  Only a handful were--one woman from eastern Europe, another mom who speaks seven (seven!) languages herself, one whose husband is a native Spanish speaker.  Another couple said that they had lived abroad or studied a language in college, but that they felt they were too rusty now to share it with their kids.

"Bilingual and proud of it!" (my baby boy, six years ago)
To my surprise, though, all of the moms listened to my (very brief) overview of the research, my story about French with my nephew and then my own children, and my suggestions of how to introduce bilingualism to their family, even if they themselves are not fluent in another language.  And then some of them said they had never thought about it before but are now intrigued enough to pursue it.

Now I want to go to every hospital and school in the area and tell all the parents that they should try it too!

Oh, crap, there's another "should." Rather, I want to tell them that it is indeed possible--and fun and rewarding!

See how happy we look?  That's bilingualism at work.
Yep, that's what I need to do.  I really should.

Monday, April 28, 2014

writing about reading in the April carnival

Adriana is the gracious host of this month's Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival over at Homeschool Ways.  She gathered a collection of blog posts about teaching reading to the children we are raising with more than one language.  Thanks, Adriana, for the anthology and annotations!

For more info on how to get involved with this monthly carnival, visit our founder Annabelle's blog, The Piri-Piri Lexicon.

Friday, April 25, 2014

homework from his Spanish teacher: practice writing in French!

At the urging of his teacher at his Spanish immersion school, my on-his-way-to-trilingual six-year-old son Griffin is now doing homework in French!

The teacher had issued a challenge to the kids at the beginning of the school year: to read 100 books in Spanish and write a couple of sentences responding to them in a sort of reading journal.  She even provided prompts to help the young writers get started--"my favorite part was...", "something new I learned was...", and so forth.

When Griffin brought her his completed journal a couple of weeks ago, she seemed a little surprised that he had finished the 100 books already.  She thanked him, took it from him, and said that she would keep it until she had collected the other students' journals.  

Just as she turned to go and Griffin started to dance with glee about having finished all his homework for the rest of the school year, I realized that not being required to read or write in Spanish at home until August was a bad idea.  I mean, he's a smart kid who loves to read, but he wants to read what he chooses and nothing else.  And as soon as he finishes a book, he's off and running to the next one--he's not going to take the time to write about it unless we bribe or threaten (or both).

And there's always a next one waiting.
Desperately, I asked his teacher if she had a new challenge for the students who finished their 100 books, like maybe to try to read another 100 before the new school year begins in August.  Griffin groaned; I winced.

But his teacher, wonderful lady, suggested that this time, instead of doing the 100 books in Spanish, he alternate among books in Spanish, English, and French!  So now, for the first time in his young life, he is starting to read and write in French.  And I get to watch it happen!

Actually, what I'm mostly doing is trying not to interfere.  He picks the text--one of his sister's board books, an easy reader from the Bidule series (downloaded to my iPad), an illustrated article from Youpi magazine--reads it aloud with my help, and then scribbles and scratches a sentence about it (while complaining that writing in French is harder than writing in English and Spanish).

An article from Youpi about a Frenchman who circumnavigated the globe in a sailboat decades ago
I know, I know.  Developing fluency in your third language is such a chore.

(But what a great problem to have, kid!)

While Griffin writes, rendering what he hears when he speaks French into consonants and vowels and the occasional feisty accent mark, creations that vaguely resemble French words, I sit on my hands or keep a mug of hot tea in front of my mouth so as to avoid telling him how to spell things or that he should add a transition word or just give me the pencil so that I can write what I want him to say!

And when he's done, and when I've found something to praise about the content of his sentence, and only then, do I pick out something to explicitly teach him about.  Tonight, for example, he asked how to spell "canoe" in French.  So I told him about the tréma, the two dots over the second letter in a pair of vowels that indicates that the second vowel gets pronounced separately, as in Noël, thus giving him canoë.
Griffin's writing journal entry about the Youpi article "Seul autour du monde": "Ma conexion est que je suis alle den une canoe avec ma maman.  et je vu un lacke."
And while where-to-put-two-dots is perhaps one of the least important rules to bother teaching someone who is learning to read and write in French, it's relevant to what he was trying to describe; he understood right away (comparing it to bilinguë in Spanish); and now he has an "Accents en français" page in his writing journal.  I hope that the next time we read together in French, we'll come across other words with that same diacritical mark, and he can add them to the list.

So I anticipate continuing this way for the next month or so--reading to him in French every day as usual, encouraging him to read to me more, and insisting that he write a sentence about it in his reading journal two or three times a week.  Each time, I'll find one thing to point out about grammar or syntax or spelling.  When appropriate, I'll make a new page of hints and examples and lists for his journal that we can add to.  (For example, "The Gazillion Ways to Spell the Sound 'Ay' in French," or "Consonants  at the End of a Word Which We Actually Pronounce, At Least Most of the Time," or "Hey, Look at That, What's That Adjective Doing in Front of That Noun?")

My notes for him about je vs. j'ai vs. jeu vs. G, which are all pronounced similarly but mean entirely different things
Over the summer, once he's out of school, I will try to increase gradually the amount and frequency that he reads and writes in French.  And the more we read and write together, the more I can point out how my previous teaching points appear in the texts.  And eventually--ideally--it will be Griffin who notices them and pays attention and incorporates them into his own writing.

So, no dictation.  No memorizing lists of irregular past participles.  No expecting perfection (or even coherence, in these early days).  Read what he wants to read, write what he wants to write, talk about it together, and hopefully develop in French the confidence and ease that he has in English and Spanish.  He's just a kid, an on-his-way-to-trilingual kid, and I want him to enjoy the journey.