Sixteen weeks ago, I became an aunt for the first time. From the very beginning, Carl was squirmy and smart: if he wasn't wiggling or looking at something new, he'd holler. "I'm bored!" he seemed to say. "Give me something to do! Tell me a story! Oh, okay, you can change my diaper first. And you want to feed me? That's good too. Yum yum yum. But I'm bored now! Can you sing me a song? Can I kick you?"
His parents, Elizabeth and Steve, recognized early on that he needed lots of stimulation and loved being the center of attention. Elizabeth is a chemist and Steve a computer programmer, but they are both bibliophiles, have studied other languages, and have lived or worked in other countries (Elizabeth as an adult in Germany, Steve as a pre-teen in Japan). Steve, in fact, majored in classics. They decided, therefore, that they didn't want a monolingual baby. While they would talk and read to him in English, they needed someone fluent in another language who could share that language with him from an early age. As I'm a French teacher--and live nearby and would be watching him one day a week while they work--they asked me to speak only French with Carl.
This thrilled me: I want to raise my future children bilingually, so working with Carl will be good practice. I'll be able to observe the language acquisition process for both English (his "L1," first language) and French (his "L2," second language). While a lot of research has been done on raising bilingual children(where each parent brings a different L1 into the family) and educating children at bilingual schools, less has been published about exposing a child to an L2 from birth via someone who is not the primary caretaker. I want to see what we can accomplish in one day a week and occasional shorter visits, plus CDs of French songs and stories and eventually videos in French that he listens to or watches on his own.
But it won't be easy. First of all, it will take months before Carl can say anything but "gurgle gurgle gurgle." Second, neither his parents, grandparents, nor uncle (my husband) speak French, a situation which has caused problems for some bilingual families. Moreover, we all live in northern Colorado, where there are few opportunities--or reasons--to speak French. And finally, I've never taught anyone younger than high school age! While I did lots of babysitting as a teen and have made friends with my friends' toddlers and school-aged children, I haven't spent much time with infants. Even worse, while I have two masters degrees in languages (one in French, one in Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language), none of my coursework addressed how to teach languages to children. (However, I am a volunteer tutor with elementary and middle school students; although I help them primarily with math, this experience has shown me that what works with college students definitely doesn't work with, say, eight-year-olds!)
I also need to learn "baby vocabulary" in French--I still don't know how to say "What a squirmy little wiggleworm you are!", although I can tell Carl that his diaper's dirty ("Beaucoup de caca!") or that it's time to go nighty-night ("Fais do-do!").
This blog, therefore, will track what I do and don't do with my future francophone nephew and eventually my own kids. I also plan to use it as an informal annotated bibliography of relevant books, articles, and weblinks with recommendations for other bilingual caretakers. (This will force me to do some reading that will inform my choices, instead of just making it up as I go along.) And as I have a handful of friends and co-workers who have raised or are raising their kids bilingually, I'll share ideas that I glean from them. In time, hopefully, other parents and teachers will see this blog and join in the discussion via the "comments" feature at the end of each post. I look forward to hearing your suggestions, ideas, and questions!
Caca (n.m.): "number two" (baby talk)
Faire do-do (v.): to go to sleep (baby talk); from "dormir" (v.), to sleep; also "un fais do-do" (n.m.), a traditional cajun dance party in Louisiana where the participants bring their kids who typically fall asleep to the accordeon music while their parents do the two-step
Tatie (n.f.): auntie; from "tante" (n.f.), aunt