Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Carl, le crâne, et le grand dictionnaire

Typical recent conversation with Carl (age 19 months):

Carl is playing with a ceramic skull Halloween decoration.

Carl, touching skull: Tête (head)!

Tatie Sarah: Oui, c'est une tête! C'est l'intérieur d'une tête. C'est un crâne. (Yes, it's a head! It's the inside of a head. It's a skull.)

Tatie, thinking to herself: Or is it "une crâne"? I don't remember if it's masculine or feminine. The term "skull" comes up so rarely when teaching college students or conversing with would-be bilingual toddlers!

Carl puts a baseball cap on the skull.

Carl: Chapeau on tête (Hat on head)!

Tatie laughs and reaches for a French dictionary.

Carl: Funny!

Tatie: Je vais chercher le mot "crâne" dans le dictionnaire pour voir si c'est masculin ou féminin. (I'm going to look up the word "skull" in the dictionary to see if it's masculine or feminine.)

Carl puts down skull, walks to bookcase, removes the German dictionary, sits down, and opens it.

Carl: Carl reading.

Tatie: Tu lis, Carl? (You're reading?)

Carl: Yeah.

Tatie: Tu lis le grand dictionnaire? (You're reading the big dictionary?)

Carl: Carl reading grand dictionnaire.

Tatie: Tu lis le grand dictionnaire, même s'il n'y a pas d'images? C'est un livre pour adultes! (You're reading the dictionary, even though there aren't any pictures? It's a book for grown-ups!)

Carl: Carl reading grand dictionnaire no pictures.

And he continues flipping through the pages of the dense German dictionnaire for another five minutes while Tatie refreshes her knowledge of other Halloween-themed vocabulary in French. The end.

PS: "Crâne" is indeed masculine--and takes a circumflex over the A!


  1. See, he really wants to learn German! BTW, my twins love my language diccionaires!

  2. Hmmm...his parents know some German! That might be his next language!

    Do all toddlers like to "read" big grown-up books, then, or are Carl and your twins just precocious?

  3. You know what, I found responding in the target language *against the majority language* the best way to put Joseph back on track. My husband like to say: "Dit a francaise, Joseph" *pardon my grammar and spelling, please :D* to encourage Joseph to find the words in French, but Joseph usually keeps repeating in English (or Indonesian) or even worse, he sometimes feels vulnerable and just changes the subject.
    Thanks for sharing, I love reading Carl's progress!

  4. Santi, I'm confused! So you recommend asking the child to rephrase in the target/minority language when he responds with the majority language, even though he might feel bad about it?

    Carl's still so young that I'm just happy when he reponds appropriately to a question in French, whether he uses English, French, body language, or gestures! But I know a point will come when I'll want him to reply in French, and I don't know how to find the balance between encouraging him to speak French and being domineering about it.

    Any ideas, anyone?

  5. I think that they think they are being like grownups reading the books. I have a little bright yellow pocket sized german dictionary too and whenever I try to look something up in it and they are there, they take it from me!

    I just observed a Spanish class, and when a student said something in English, the teacher would do something like say, "¿Cómo?". So you could always pretend you didn't hear him and maybe he would catch on and say it in French.

    My twins are finally starting to talk more and they do say some German words! I will have to write an update on my blog!

  6. My sister- and brother-in-law have made a point of letting Carl see them reading books by themselves--this insures that they get some silent reading/grown-up time and also models the behavior, showing that it's normal to sit and read quietly. So Carl's probably just imitating what he's seen his parents do, just like Jeanne says!

    I'll probably start the "comment?" trick with Carl a bit later--I already have to use it now and then when I genuinely don't understand what he's saying!

    How cool that Jeanne's twins are already speaking some German--can't wait for the update on your blog! By the way, her blog is "Books and Brownies"--check it out at, y'all.

  7. Once again, I'm a bit late... but I just wanted to say that it's great to hear that Carl is indeed picking up French! Sophie continues to understand everything in German, but pretty much refuses to speak it.... The latest is that she says "But it's German!!!" when she says something no one understands :)

  8. When my children were Carl's age, I just repeated what they were saying (in the majority language) in the desired minority language, to model the sentence for them. Sometimes they would repeat it after me, and sometimes not. That didn't matter. I still do this, even though they are older and can understand if I were to say that I didn't understand, or want them to say it in X language.