Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Good-bye, "Goodnight Moon"

As Ed and I put the finishing touches on Croissant's room, waiting for the kitchen timer to go off so we can take him out of the oven (he's supposed to be done baking today, but at Colorado's high altitude, you never know), I'm realizing what I may be giving up by giving him the gift of a second language from birth: the intimacy of sharing my native language with my child.

I was lining his books up on the shelf--old and new favorites--and couldn't help rereading the classic Goodnight Moon, one that my mother loved to read to me. It's so charming with its rhymes, its depiction of a quiet nursery as baby goes to sleep, its whimsy in saying "good night" to inanimate objects. Unfortunately, the French version of this beloved tome is leaden. It relies on word-for-word translation, losing the rhythm and the rhyme. It's simply not a classic in French, would never be a favorite in French.

Now, at nearly two years old, Carl doesn't seem to mind; he'll even ask for Bonsoir Lune by name over Goodnight Moon sometimes. Maybe this is a bigger deal to me than it ever will be to my son.

But I ache at the thought of never reading Goodnight Moon in English to my children. Will I really be able to handle speaking only French with them?


  1. Ah ya ..Goodnight Moon is beautiful .. read it to baby Joseph in English, didn't do it to Louise so far.

    I admire your motivation. One reason I don't speak English or Dutch to my kids are because I cannot stand not speaking Indonesian *even I inserted many Indonesian phrases while talking to Nico before our kids arrived*.

    You might have read it also ... in the latest edition of BFN, there is a story about a German mom raising her kids in English *her husband is British*. All four kids (now they are between 18-24 yo) are able to write and speak fluently in English. I think such story will keep you motivated.

  2. BTW ... good luck with your delivery ... or is croissant in your arms already????

  3. Sarah,
    I think you're allowed to "cheat" from time to time... I don't know. I tell Ronan "I love you, Je t'aime" just because the French alone doesn't carry weight in my heart the way English does.
    I had a question for you regarding nursery rhymes, classics and such: are you planning to take Croissant to "Book Babies"? That's what our libraries here call it, and it's a great baby activity once they can stay awake long enough for it! I've felt myself get all tongue-tied, though, as the other parents/caregivers are singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to their babies and I'm staring at my baby wondering what I should do! I've thought of having Grandma and Dad take him to such activities instead of me, but I feel a little sad not being able to share rhymes like this that I loved so much as a child. Plus, there's no "book babies" in French (there is, however, in Spanish:)).
    Anyway, not sure what you're planning on doing but I'd love to know once you get there.
    And another thing: I'm "Mommy" instead of "Maman" to Ronan... I've just always wanted to be a mommy:)
    Good luck with the delivery- I hope everything goes according to your wishes. If not, a happy healthy baby is what counts!

  4. (((Sarah)))

    This is why I am unable to only speak German to my children.

  5. I wanted to add a bit more-

    I think it's interesting that in bilingual forums you have 2 kinds of parents. One kind is doing what comes most naturally - speaking their language with their children. The other kind is doing what is very unnatural - speaking another language with their children. It would, I think, be easier to go live in a place that speaks another language so the environment would teach them that language and I could just speak English!

  6. There is a French song I sing to Suzanne when she asks for it. I think you can do some English with your baby - it's all about setting the rules from the start. And Goodnight Moon is not only a classic, but Bonsoir Lune really is totally lame.

  7. Thanks, everyone. When I started researching what it would be like to raise a child with more than one language, I realized that it might feel unnatural to speak a non-native language with the children. But with my nephew Carl, it hasn't bothered me at all so far. The prospect of not sharing my native language with my own child, though, feels very different. I'm going to have to figure out how strict I'm going to be with myself. It's good to hear that many of you "cheat"--do you find that it detracts at all? I think I'll try to be extremely consistent: English when Daddy comes home from work, set up certain blankets on the floor that are "French" and "English" spaces, etc.

    I have heard from some parents that once their kids realized that the parent spoke the majority language, they shut down and refused to use (or even want to listen to) the minority language. That worries me--I don't want to pour all this effort into teaching French to Carl and Croissant and then have them categorically reject it in a few years.

    I agree with Jeanne that this might be an easier process in another country--but then look at Reb, who has been despairing of late that her toddler is speaking almost exclusively French in France and not as much English as her American mother would hope for! On the other hand, it sounds like the trilingual approach is working for Santi's family.

    Dory, our library doesn't have a baby storytime yet, but it's actually in the works as we gear up to do even more to help Lafayette kids develop pre-literacy skills (like recognizing that books tell stories, knowing how to hold a book, etc.). I wonder if Portland has enough francophones that you could suggest a French baby/toddler storytime? If you offered to help organize it, you'd meet all sorts of other francophile families and be able to take Ronan their yourself and do fingerplays and "comptines" with him and the other kids!

  8. Hi, me again! I was just at the bookstore today and saw the Spanish version of Good Night, Moon. You are right! There are some things that just don't work in translation!!!!!

  9. I just wanted to say that, while you do lose out on some wonderful books in your majority language, there are so many to discover in the minority language! French children's books are particularly special, with gorgeous design and lovely stories. We are reading the Emilie series with my daughter and she also loves Barbar and Tintin. And 'Droles de petites Betes' are all big favourites - I would really miss these if I was talking in English!

  10. Thanks, Omma--that's encouraging to hear. Tintin will have to wait till Griffin's older, but I look forward to sharing Babar with him. (And some of the stories are available as animated cartoons on DVD here, so when Griffin's older we'll watch those together.) And I actually know some of the Emilie books--my mom found them for me at a yard sale a few years ago! They're covered in someone else's kids' scribbles, but they're definitely simple enough to start reading to him (unlike Tintin). I'll have to look for "Droles des petites betes"--sounds like fun!

    What I would really like to find is a French equivalent of Sandra Boynton's whimsical, rhyming board books. I actually don't have any rhyming children's books in French, and yet I think it's so important for language development for kids to hear rhymes to help understand sound patterns and prepare them for reading later on. Any other recommendations?

  11. It's not Sandra Boynton but it feels pretty close to me :
    "Le livre des bruits" by Soledad Bravi.

    I love the design and I think this book could be a French vocabulary goldmine for Griffin.

    Here's a little taste of the book :

    "L'âne il fait hihan.
    Le tambour il fait ratataplanplan.
    L'abeille elle fait bzz bzz.
    La maman elle fait bise bise.
    Le cheval il fait hiiiihiiiiii.
    L'escargot il ne fait rien mais, il bouge élégamment ses antennes.
    Le bébé il fait ouin ouin.
    Le papa il fait chuuut.
    Le bisou il fait smack."

    Le livre des bruits is published by l'école des loisirs (loulou et Cie)

  12. Hi Sarah,

    I'm a new reader. As a new mom trying to speak to her son in her second (or perhaps third) language, French, I was thrilled to find your blog. In particular, this post expresses the biggest hurdle I've come to so far. I know that I'll miss reading my favorite English books with my son. Nursery rhymes, songs, and silly expressions (rub a dub dub, anyone?) feel rather awkward so far, too. Speaking French with the baby is becoming easier each day, but it still feels a little artificial at times.

    I do have one recommendation in regard to rhyming French children's books. I found Petit Chat et Son Dodo at the local library, and we love it. My only complaint is that it is not a board book or even hard cover. The images are simple and colorful. Each page has a sentence across the top that sets the scene. Then Petit Chat tells a little 4-line rhyme. Here's an example (I'm going by memory here, so let's hope I don't mess it up too badly):

    "Aujourd'hui Petit Chat est malade. Son papa n'est pas alle travailler.

    J'ai trop chaud et puis j'ai trop froid.
    Je m'ennuie de rester couche,
    Mais j'ai papa tout seule pour moi.
    Miam, miam! Ca sent bon ta puree!"

    This book is apparently one of a series by Benoit Marchot. We'll try Petit Tigre et Son Camion next.

    Thank you for your many suggestions. I've found a lot of encouragement in your blog.


  13. My daughter Grace Is almost five and we speak English in our house but decided since our family is French decent we would teach our daughter French since at this age they are a sponges when it come to learning. I am having a hard time trying to speak French to our daughter and my husband spoke French in school but Grace is already picking it up quickly and can say a few words in French better then me or my husband ever could.
    Karen LaBarre

  14. Felicitations, Karen! Thanks for sharing your success story. They are indeed little sponges right now, aren't they?

    @Elise and Pam--Just now saw these comments--I appreciate your suggestions! I'll look for the Bravi book and some others by Marchot. Would you believe that a friend in Canada just sent Griffin some books by the latter? And he does love them!