Friday, October 16, 2009

Maman wants the "week" of the little red corvette too!

While Griffin seems to understand and speak French and English fairly equally, he has a definite preference for songs in English. One of his favorite activities is to grab a songbook in English, climb into Daddy's lap, and say "More week! More week!" ("Week" is his rendering of "musique," pronounced "moo-seek" in French.)

Daddy, who makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in vocal chops, then valiantly attempts to sing folk songs ("Polly Wolly Doodle"), children's songs ("Old McDonald"), Sunday school songs ("He's Got the Whole World"), and so forth to his adoring son. However, he often has to make up the tune, as these are songs that he doesn't remember or never heard as a child (and certainly not as an adult).

This situation, by the way, can lead to some very amusing performances, like when Daddy's "Little Red Caboose" sounds a lot like Prince's "Little Red Corvette."

I'm torn: I know a lot of these songs by heart and have happy childhood memories of singing them in the car, playing them on the piano, enduring my mother invent her own lyrics for existing tunes (I still cringe at the memory of "Camp Pretty Pond/Camp Pretty Pond/Hiking to the far beyond/At Camp Pretty Pond/See the leaders/See the girls/See the skeeters/See the squirrels/At Camp Pretty Pond/Camp Pretty Pond....").

So when I heard my husband struggling through "Oh Susannah," I yearned to join in and pluck the imaginary banjo on my knee too. But for months I held back, reminding myself that I was only going to speak French with Griffin. Seulement francais. Only. French.

For months, when Griffin brought me his songbooks, I would page through them, describing the pictures to him and telling him in French what each English song was about. He'd sit and listen, not protesting at the lack of "week," but not bouncing up and down and crying "yay!" and "more!" like he did with Daddy.

For months, I taught myself more children's songs in French. I realized that I had built up a substantial repertoire when during an hour-long drive, I sang to Griffin the whole way without repeating a song once. (Keep in mind that children's songs tend to be quite short!)

And finally, I decided to relax my rules: I don't have to feel like a bad bilingual mother if I let an English word or song slip in now and then. I like calling Griffin "darlin'." I like singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in a round with my hubby. I like teaching songs dear to my heart to both my boys. And I loved attending baby storytime--in English, of course--at the library!

Besides, thinking back to my childhood, I never felt confused that my mom sang an occasional song in another language to me. Griffin isn't going to object to Daddy joining in on "Alouette" or "Frere Jacques" (which begs to be sung as a round), so why would it be wrong for me to "Twinkle Twinkle" too?

While I still hardly ever sing an entire song in English to Griffin by myself, I no longer have a problem singing in English with other people around him. And now I too get the "yay!"s and the "more week!"s from him, every time. I have also Frenchified the lyrics to folk songs like "Clementine" and "Sweetly Sings the Donkey" and "The Wheels on the Bus" so that I can sing them to Griffin with abandon!


  1. I am bringing up my daughter and son trilingual. My husband speaks to them in 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English, and I speak to them 50/50 in French and English. My two year old does speak a bit more English than the other two languages, but is still speaking the other two languages. (My son is still an infant) Do not be afraid to sing English songs or read English books (there are some awesome ones in English you just have to read him in English) or even speak some English to him. You will not confuse him, although the research likes to say you would. They hear the different intonation in our voices when we speak the different languages and know. You can check out our blog at

    I am so glad I found your blog as I have found it hard to find French resources online. Do you have any stellar ones you recommend?

  2. We spend so much time with our kids doing things we (or they) don't like to do. I'm slowly learning it's important to find the activities that you both like and just DO them. Surely the closeness that comes of shared activities is more important than any "Mommy should".

  3. What a dilemma! I think that sometimes we take language separation to the extreme and in the long run it won't hurt their bilingualism if we engage in a little play with English as you noted. Good luck!

  4. @girl--I know what you mean about the draw of English books. Some of the classics from my childhood just don't resonate when translated. "Good Night Moon," for example, is prosaic and pedestrian in French.

    Are you looking for any French resources in particular? The ones I like best are in my blogroll, but I've since come across more that I need to add to the list.

    Thanks for sharing the link to your blog--you seem like one very very busy mama! I like your art ideas and plan on reading through your archived posts soon. And I'm especially interested in hearing more about the mix of three languages in your home--maybe you could fill out a profile to be featured on my blog?

    @Elizabeth--Yes, especially while they're still small enough that they genuinely want to spend time with their parents! But I still want my sharing time closeness with Griffin to be in French almost all the time.

    @Multilingualmania--You used a key word in your comment: "play." For me, the joy playing with language is not being constrained in my choice and use of languages. I do want to teach Griffin how to pun, invent, combine disparate elements. So I should be modeling this by doing some language play in both French and English around him!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, by the way--I like having the perspective of a teacher trainer/administrator! I'll be reading your archives too.

    @Elizabeth--Uh-oh, there goes another "should"!

  5. Hi Sarah, So happy to see your blog back! I LOVE singing Wheels on the Bus to Ronan with Daddy, and also Ring around the Rosy, as it's a new favorite he picked up at daycare. But, we BOTH love Coucou Hibou, Au Pas Au Pas, etc., and Daddy chimes in in French for those, too. In the last several months, Ronan has really picked up on code-switching and only ever speaks to me in French and Jarod in English, doing flashcards in French when I ask him "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" and English when anyone else asks him "What is it?" So, that leads me to believe that the Wheels on the Bus and Ring around the Rosy are okay! And I'm sure Griffin thinks the same:) I wish we could get our boys together! Yay Bringing up Baby Bilingual!!

  6. Wow, Dory! Ronan's language has exploded! How amazing that he has already figured out who speaks which language.

    The other day, Griffin's swimming teacher said "Bonjour" to him instead of "Hello," and he looked at her very suspiciously. But he has no issue with Ed throwing in French words when he talks to him (ie "Griffin, let's go change your couche" or "time for dodo!" or "do you want an oeuf or a waffle?"

    Yes, we'll definitely have to get our rugrats (our rats de tapis?) together. (And won't it be cool when your second one is also learning both languages?!) When will you be back out in Colo? We'll come to Portland sometime--love the area, have other friends there too.

  7. I just have a minute on the computer but I wanted to say "Hola" or "Bonjour." ;0 We are a bilingual family as well. I will be back to chat with you more.