Thursday, August 26, 2010

canard confusion

Lots of people ask me how my husband, Ed, is handling being the only non-francophone in the house, and I have to say, he's a great sport. He is so supportive of my efforts to raise Griffin bilingually, even though it means doubling the number of children's books we have to find room for and putting up with Tickle Me Elmo in French umpteen times a day ("Oh là là, ça chatouille!").

As he has listened to me talking and reading and singing to Griffin for 2.5 years now, Ed has also picked up quite a few words and phrases in French, which he sprinkles into his English when speaking to us. ("Time for do-do, Griffin," or "Are you ready? On y va!") And the fact that I have done a lot of parentese (the PC term for baby talk these days), repetition, exaggeration, all within the context of taking care of a baby or toddler, means that Ed understands a lot more than he did before Griffin was born. At least, when it comes to words connected to children.

But every now and then, Ed gets words in French confused. Please indulge me and allow me to share my new favorite anecdote!

The other day, Griffin was playing with his stuffed duck (a “canard”), and it inevitably ended up behind the couch (the “canapé”), so he begged his father to retrieve it. Ed bent his 6’3 self over the back of the couch trying to locate the errant bird, but just couldn’t find it. “Griffin, I’m sorry, I just don’t see your canapé,” he told his confused son. “I’ve looked and looked for your canapé, but there’s just no canapé here. I don’t see a canapé anywhere!” he concluded as he unfolded himself and sat down on the canapé.

Oh well. I think it's charmant that he tries to use French with Griffin in the first place!

How about the rest of you with partners who don't speak the language you use with your children? Do they end up learning a lot anyway? What funny things do they inadvertently say?


  1. Hubby is doing really well at picking up some French, considering that he never learnt any other languages at school. He makes a few clangers, but the best one ever was ironically while DD was "in utero" *lol*

    We were on our honeymoon (2.5 years after we married!) in Spain, and one night - when hubby decided that he would brave the bar by himself - he somehow managed to turn a request for beer into 2 further nights of accommodation. We were due to leave the next morning XD

    My Spanish isn't that good tbh, but I still giggle at that memory!

  2. Hello Sarah! I'm Alessandra and I found your blog at the links list of another one, it is the first time I read yours and I think I will enjoy it very much!
    I am brazilian and live in Madrid, Spain. My husband is spanish and I am pregnant! Our baby will born in 3 months and is very important to me teach portuguese to him, my husband tottally agree about it and he always says it will be a good oportunity tolearn portuguese as well. I think I will testimony lots of moments like that you told about your husband and the canape! It is very easy to get confused when you are spanish speaker and learns portuguese because both languages have lots in common. Best wishes from Spain!

  3. My all-time favorite ever is gringos' typical way of saying that they're embarrassed:

    Ohhh how entertaining it is for all present when some middle-aged white guy says "¡Oy! Estoy tan embarazado!" :D

    "Embarazado?!! Really? Is that so? Congratulations!"


  4. mostly, my husband listens, but kind of ignores the fact that I speak to my daughter in another language. I do however sing to her a lot as well and he can't sing, although he does and it is never the correct or acceptable words of the actual songs so I have told him he is no longer allowed to sing to her. I do not want her picking up this ability, this skill of her father's to turn every song into innuendo. So now he just adds noises. I am sinning to her and every once in a while he will suddenly add 'miaau miaau kitty njar njar'. Really! It makes no sense! But he does this all the time when I least expect it. And I can't say anything because I am singing to her so I just glare at him and he laughs and runs away.


  5. Sarah,
    This is a fun post, thanks for sharing!
    My husband, Geoff, is doing an impressive job, as well, going along as a non-German speaker...he's learning along with Kaya and says he understands nearly everything I say to her. When he doesn't, he seems to ask. We go back and forth between helping him more actively acquire the language (with sit down lessons and rosetta stone), but all in all, we've both agreed that there's not much reason for him to be able to SPEAK the language (though understanding would be HUGE!).

    But there are a few things that he loves to say in German to "auf dem Boden" (on the floor) and "Kopf" (head). Admittedly, I find myself cringing when he says these things, not because of his accent (which is impressively cute), but because I want him to stick with English. I know, I know, what are a few words here and there gonna hurt...I know that. But instincts are slow to learn, dangit!

    Anyway, kudos to those patient husbands and partners out there supporting this process like champions!!


  6. Thanks for sharing your anecdotes, everyone!

    @Sophie--I'm glad to hear that your hubby's French is coming along. Note to self: don't ask Ed to order booze or arrange lodging in the wee hours of the morning in a foreign country. BTW, what are your plans for your blog?

    @Alessandra--Welcome and thanks for stopping by! Congrats on your pregnancy. Good luck to you and your husband as you embark on raising your son bilingually. Let us know how it goes!

    @Andrew--The dangers of that word should be taught first thing in Spanish 101! Or maybe seems like a rite of passage for Anglophones to inadvertently announce a pregnancy in Spanish-speaking countries.

    @Keda--Your husband sounds adorable! I love hearing men sing to babies even when they can't carry a tune. But it sounds like yours takes it a little far if he turns the lyrics into something inappropriate. Your daughter will be able to pick up on that and embarrass you both later on!

    @Tamara--I know what you mean. Ed also throws in a French word or expression here and there, which kind of breaks our "rules." But it is also a way of supporting my efforts with French, so I don't mind!

    How cool that Geoff has been formally studying German, even though he knows he won't really ever have to speak it. He's got a good Kopf on his shoulders!

  7. Oh, here is another one I just have to share. My mom speaks some French (and understands much more) and has been diligently working to improve it now that she's got a bilingual grandson.

    We're visiting her and my dad right now. Griffin looked up on the wall to where a snowman decoration hung during the holidays and asked, "Ou est le bonhomme de neige?" (Where is the snowman?)

    Well, my mom got her question words confused and thought he had asked "What" is a snowman. So she embarked on this tortuous explanation in French about how to roll snow into big balls, place the balls on top of one another, and decorate them to resemble a gentleman. The process was further complicated by Griffin's acting like a two-year-old, i.e., asking "pourquoi?" (why) every 30 seconds or so. My poor mother! She's such a good sport!

  8. My husband and his family are making an effort to teach our son Serbian as well as English (my only language). My husband and I have been together for over ten years, and he's been promising to help me learn Serbian that entire time. I even took Serbian classes in college, with the understanding that he would help tutor me. He did not.

    I'm learning more Serbian now than I did in 10 years! It's very hard for me, because there are a lot of sounds in Serbian that I can not distinguish from each other (there's a soft and hard ch sound, for example), and I'm very slightly deaf in one ear. When we start teaching Niko to read, I will probably pick up a lot more.

  9. Hey, I started a post on this at some point and abonded it (temporarily) as things got too busy and I got to go on vacation - but here's a short version until I have time to elaborate :)

    My husband 'puts up' with a lot of German, too and has picked up quite a few kid-related words and sentences, along with some songs (or parts thereof). When in the mood, he tries to use his German with the kids, which led to confusion and laughter there first few times, but has come to be accepted by them. He also took a German class, one that unfortunately turned out the be rather useless in helping him speak more, but has probably led him to understand more.

    So yes, let's hear it for the monolinugal partners! I'm pretty sure we'd have given up a long time ago were he not so supportive and involved with the kids' bilingualism!

  10. @Brigid--Thanks for sharing the perspective of the spouse who doesn't speak the second language! Hey, I'm impressed that you attended a college where you could take Serbian classes, but I'm not suprised that you're learning so much more with Niko in the picture. You're hearing genuine language use in a meaningful context and your motivation is even higher now!

    @Smashedpea--I think it's great that your husband took a German class (even though it turned out to be lame) and has picked up bits annd pieces of German from being around you and the kids. Maybe he should get together with Tamara's hubby! As long as he doesn't start singing your German songs with obscene lyrics (a la Keda's husband), you're good. :)