Monday, July 12, 2010

an (accidental) vacation from French

Nine days in Wisconsin, a laid-back, friendly, midwestern state that offers myriad lakes, green plants everywhere you look, and lots of beer, dairy products, and deep-fried food. And lots of extended family members--my parents, several aunts and uncles, and cousins and second cousins galore--most of whom were quickly enchanted by Griffin's two-year-old antics.

(No wonder--this is the same boy who made complete strangers smile indulgently at 1:30 am on the train between concourses at Denver International Airport when he exclaimed "Wheeeee!" as the train started, continued with several "chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga choo choo"s, and then remarked with a grin "we going fast!")

Our trip to Green Bay, Three Lakes, and Madison was very relaxing in that lots of people offered to help keep an eye on Griffin. So I read and read, told and listened to stories, played games, exercised, helped cook, made my increasingly-popular white sangria, and even took a four-hour-nap one afternoon.

What I didn't do was make sure Griffin heard lots of French! Outside of our routine, away from most of our books and CDs, with less one-on-one contact with me, and surrounded by anglophones, he spoke more and more and more English, even when I made a point of carefully phrasing my questions and comments to him so that he could reply easily using a lot of the same vocabulary and grammar. (For example, to my "Est-ce que le bateau est grand ou petit?" he would respond, "That's a big boat" instead of "Le bateau est grand" or even simply "grand.")

I'm not worried that we've fallen down a slippery slope and it'll take weeks for him to start doing more French with me--but his increase in English is definitely noticeable, if temporary.

On the other hand, my mother has studied French, and we could see Griffin's surprise when he discovered that Grammy could read him the French books just as well as Maman could! That was fun.

And then in Madison, we visited with three other Francophile friends who have kids just a little younger than Griffin: Arielle, who is bilingual because her mom is French and who is using French with their son (while her husband understands very little, just like mine); and Molly and Bob, who met twenty years ago at French camp (and got married three years ago), who sing French songs to their daughter and speak French to each other when they don't want her to understand.

However, we spent much of our time with them at a very noisy bar-restaurant where the kids had fun dropping pool balls in holes and watching them roll, so I don't think Griffin even realized that most of the other adults were using French here and there.

But maybe in a couple of years we'll meet up again, and their kids and mine will sing French songs together! Now I've just got to work on my cousins....


  1. "who sing French songs to their daughter and speak French to each other when they don't want her to understand."

    They ruining the latter by doing the former. Which is good, of course, I think ;-)

  2. 2 years old?

    Come on, you've got plenty of time, you could start teaching him French when he's 5 and he'd be fluent by the time he hit middle school!

    The real key is consistency over the long term, as long as you're doing that you can lighten up and have fun with it, it's not something that HAS to be done every single day no matter what, you can have little blips and lapses here and there with no ill effect :)

    If there's anything I've learned over the past couple of years of teaching myself languages, it's that consistency counts for more than anything--you can have a few laxes and days off here and there as long as you keep making progress, however slowly, over time.

    If you spend 30 minutes a day working on a language, at the end of a month you'll likely be disappointed, but after a year you'll be astonished at how much you've achieved.


  3. Well, I am definitely consistent--the only times I speak English to Griffin is in swimming class when we sing songs or I repeat the teacher's exact words, and when we attend a storytime and the parents are supposed to chime in for the rhymes, songs, and stories.

    Equally important, I believe, is providing him with varied types of language input, so that he also hears French from people other than me (a non-native speaker) and in different modalities (books, video, in-person, etc.). That's something we're lacking right now.

    But yes, it's also crucial that I not stress about these times when he seems to prefer English!

  4. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip! ALways great to see family. When we made the trip back to the States, Beli was mainly speaking Croatian as it was the majority language spoken around her but then when my parents and family would speak Spanish she didn't understand, well I can tell you that after a month we returned and she was speaking more spanish than Croatian, so I think it's because of their atmosphere, what they hear around them. I'm sure it will be more difficult as in my case when we move back to Colorado and the only person Beli will hear speaking croatian is hubby. With this in mind I would like to put her in Croatian school (when she is old enough of course).

  5. Yes, that will certainly be a challenge (as will finding a Croatian school in Colorado--do you know of any?). Maybe a Croatian-speaking babysitter or nanny?

    Where in Colorado do you anticipate moving to? Where did you live before you moved away from here? I live right beside Boulder.