My former colleagues from CSU--many of whom are also close friends and/or mentors--threw me a baby shower yesterday. It was great fun and felt so warm and affectionate and supportive. As people asked about my intentions to raise Croissant bilingually, I inevitably ended up telling stories about my experiences with my nephew Carl.
For example, I described how just a few days ago, he counted from one to fifteen in French--but then continued with "eighteen, nineteen, twelve"!
His progress in French has been on my mind even more of late as I hear his fluency in English continue to increase. It's occurred to me, though, that he hasn't made amazing new breakthroughs in French in the past few months--yes, he can say four-word sentences in French, but not any more frequently than he did over the summer, and his sentences don't get any longer than that (unless he's repeating something I say more or less word-for-word). He's added a few new words to his French vocabulary, but not dozens. He seems to understand a lot of my speech, but usually responds in English to my questions. Accurately, appropriately, yes (thus convincing me that he really does know what I'm saying), but not in French. He doesn't sing/recite songs in French the way he does in English (like "B-I-N-G-O" during snack last week, dropping his crackers to clap in the right places, or "Happy Birthday to Book" while reading the dictionary).
Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not disappointed or discouraged, because I recognize that one afternoon a week of another language isn't enough to for a child to develop fluency, and I'm so proud of what he can already do. And I know that no one acquires language at a steady pace--there are fits and starts, regressions, fossilizations, jumps.
But talking with French prof Dr. Mary Vogl yesterday (that's her in the pink shirt in the above photo) really opened my eyes and reminded me of how remarkable his linguistic abilities already are. Mary and her husband are raising their two children (ages 3 and 5) trilingually: English, French, and Arabic (perhaps you saw my article about them earlier this year in Multilingual Living Magazine?). And now Latifah has started kindergarten at a bilingual (Spanish-English) immersion school. This family is such an inspiration to me!
Anyway, Mary was listening to me go on and on about my brilliant nephew, nodding, expressing admiration at the fact that he counts to 15 and has been making four-word sentences for four months or so now. "That's great," she said. "He's what? Three years old now?"
"Twenty-two months," I responded smugly.
Her jaw dropped. "He was saying four-word sentences in French as early as 18 months?"
Oui! Carlicot, you impressed a French professor (and one who knows what goes into raising children with more than one language). And that reinforced my belief that we've got a good thing going.