Monday, March 03, 2008

Qui parle avec Carl?

(Translation: Who's speaking with Carl?)

My parents recently spent a week and a half with us to help out with Griffin. I was also eager to introduce my mom to my nephew Carl, since she speaks French and he's now two years old and speaking some French himself!

Their meeting didn't go as well as I had anticipated--Carl isn't used to having anyone other than me and occasionally his mom address him in French. But even after he warmed up to her and tolerated her questions, he didn't always know how to respond, because the words she employed were often different from the ones he had heard from me! For example, there are two terms in French for the color brown: marron and brun. I tend to use the former, but she the latter, so he couldn't tell her if his toy car is rouge or brun. I imagine Carl stayed silent because he knew it wasn't rouge but wasn't sure what brun meant. Another time she asked him if the glass was vide (empty) or plein (full), and I realized that those were opposites I had not yet exposed him to. And then I started thinking about all the other opposites--and then ALL the other words--he has yet to master, and I started feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.

I wish I could bring Carl together with other French speakers, adults or kids, because it'll be a while before his cousin Griffin can converse with him, and because he needs to hear the language from as many people as possible! I need to start working on meeting local francophiles with young children so we can establish a francophone playgroup!

I'm also worried that Carl will make less progress, or even forget some of his French, now that I'm not watching him regularly. (Taking care of Griffin makes it hard for me to take care of myself, much less an active toddler!)


  1. There is also "marrant" which sounds like "marron" - but means funny/comical. Isn't French confusing? ;-)

  2. I think what you are doing with Carl is fantastic, don't worry about that mountain you have to will get there even if it's just one step a week. How about dvds, books, music, cartoons in French?

  3. I have the same wish for my children, and even here in Toronto it's hard to find groups of francophones for my children to associate with. But keep up the great work. You're my inspiration. It says so on my blog :-)

    I've wondered that about French. Is there an explanation for the brun/marron thing? We've also experienced that with balle/ballon and chausseur and another word I've heard but don't know. Same thing with manteau and [?]

  4. Thanks for the encouragement!

    The problems with using DVDs for us right now are: a) that Carl has been too young to watch them and Griffin will be too young for two more years (according to the AAP guidelines, at least), b) they're pricier than books and CDs (and harder to find used), c) without recommendations, it's hard to pick ones that are any good, and d) many are geared towards older kids, not toddlers and preschoolers. I'm hoping to do a post on the DVDs in French I've found so far, though--stay tuned!

    Griffin just started hollering--I'll be back later to comment on those pesky homophones in French!

  5. I wouldn't worry about Carl not speaking with your mom. Many 2 1/2year olds won't talk to strangers in any language!

    For French DVDs, can't you just put the regular ones on French?

  6. French vocab notes:

    "Marron" is probably used more often than "brun." It literally means "chestnut" (as a masculine noun) and "chestnut-colored" (as an adjective). Brown eyes are always "marron," while brown hair is always "brun."

    As for balls, a "ballon" (masculine) is a large ball like those used for soccer, while a "balle" (feminine) is smaller. "Ballon" can also be a balloon.

    Any native speakers want to weigh in?

    Jeanne--yes, I suppose we could, even though they wouldn't be culturally authentic!

  7. Jeanne raises a good point. Many two-year olds simply don't respond to people whom they don't know well.

    But your post raises another interesting question: to what extent bilingual kids grow up learning a language that is really limited to certain terms (usually related to the household). I imagine phenomenon must be common to North American families whose parents are immigrants from other countries. The kids go back to the "home country" to visit only to discover that there are all these words that they don't know!

    It is for this reason that I am really keen to get my daughter exposed to other kids and adults native speakers - anyone other than grandma and me. But it's not easy finding them.

    Regarding DVDs, I would stick to the AAP recommendations. Studies show that they are not nearly as effective as a real person when it comes to learning a language...

  8. We supply Joseph with French DVDs from the library. Most Disneys and some others like Magic School Bus series have French audio. But you're right, these are for older kids *Jo began to watch Disney at 3 yo*. Some Baby Einsteins also have French audio.