Friday, January 28, 2011

on second languages and second babies

Dear readers, I'm pregnant! Fourteen weeks in.

And admidst my worries about taking care of an infant while parenting a three-year-old, I remind myself of this: the one thing that I know I won't struggle with is immersing this new baby in French. Unlike during my pregnancy with Griffin, I speak French every day while "Unicorn" grows in my belly. Unicorn hears the cadences of both languages in utero.

When Unicorn arrives, I won't have to scramble to learn a new lexicon that encompasses diaper blow-outs, onesies, pack-n-plays, bassinets, and bouncy chairs.

I won't have to force myself to carry on yet another unnatural-feeling monologue in French wherein I narrate everything I do for an uncomprehending baby who only cries in response, because I'll be holding meaningful conversations in French with a preschooler about what's going on around us, a preschooler who understands most of what I tell him (even if he chooses to ignore some of the directions).

I won't be trolling the Internet during middle-of-the-night nursing sessions--okay, so I probably will, but this time it won't be to buy French books and toys and CDs and DVDs on eBay, because we've got a substantial collection already. Unicorn will have several shelves of French books awaiting his/her arrival in his/her room. (Assuming, of course, I can manage to transfer all the stuff from my home office into the basement and transform the office into a nursery by July, that is.)

On Monday mornings, I'll take Unicorn and Griffin to French playgroup, and every other Friday we'll attend French storytime, so they'll both grow up knowing other kids ages 0-5 who speak French.

Griffin and I know and love dozens and dozens of songs and comptines that we will sing to Unicorn--I won't have to worry about expanding my repertoire because I get bored with the same ten songs, like I did with baby Griffin and baby Carl (my nephew).

I haven't been to France since 2005, when I supervised a group of US students taking classes in Grenoble for a month, or to a Francophone country since 2007, when my husband and I spent a few days on the small Caribbean island of St. Martin (on the French side, though almost everyone we met spoke English). We haven't had the time or the energy or a compelling reason to take a trip to a French-speaking country with Griffin. However, I'm really jonesing to be surrounded by French speakers and a different culture, so it's conceivable that Unicorn will have accompanied us to some Francophone place somewhere by the time he/she is Griffin's age!

So, while the idea of bringing another baby into this world makes me very anxious for a lot of reasons, I'm not nervous about being a non-native speaker bringing up baby bilingual: it worked for Griffin and me when I was starting from scratch, so it'll work for Unicorn, Griffin, and me.

Right? Right??? Please tell me j'ai raison!


  1. Sarah! Congratulations! And I love Unicorn as the official fetal nickname :)

  2. Congratulations! What about a French au-pair? Wouldn't it be a good help for you and your French-speaking children?

  3. Hello Sarah, Congratulations!!! I love his/her nickname. I'm sure you will be a terrific non-native speaker mother of 2 kids who are totally bilingual. Such a great achievement! I hope you enjoy the pregnancy. Big hug, Clarisse

  4. So happy for you and your family! Félicitations! I love your outlook on this and think you are absolutely correct. This new baby will be off to a quick start and likely Griffin will learn even more; helping to teach his new sibling! KD

  5. Congratulations! I love the confidence, and knowing that you've succeeded in raising a bilingual child gives me hope for my own plans. I'm sure you'll be just as great with Unicorn!

    JRD (

  6. Whey, congratulations! Of course you're right! I second the suggestion with the au pair - wish I'd had one when my second was born. We HAVE had one since the third one was born, and we've insisted on having someone who was happy to speak German to our kids even though we live in France and most au pairs want to come to France to speak French. It's done wonders for our kids' German, which until then was the weakest of their three languages.
    Anyway, whatever you decide to do, more power to you!

  7. Congratulations! I hope that you have a healthy and happy baby Unicorn! I'm sure your family is both thrilled and terrified and very, very anxious!

    Take great care of yourself while carrying the little calf! :). I look forward to the day when I will be

  8. Thank you all for this outpouring of support!

    @Tara--I didn't even know you read my blog--awwwww. Thanks.

    Re the "fetal nickname"--Well, we wanted another mytical beast and "Gorgon" had too many negative connotations.

    @Marta and Jen--I love the idea of an au pair, but my husband doesn't. Besides, it's hard to justify that expense when I only work part-time and we like our current daycare situation.

    @Clarisse--I haven't had a chance to congratulate *you* on the birth of Nicholas! I hope the four of you are doing very well. I remember that your pregnancy was rough and hope it got better eventually.

  9. How awesome!

    I know it's too early, but I can't wait to see how you'll get the two enfants to speak French to each other (one of my obsessions, if you must know) :)

    Congratulations, and here's to a smooth pregnanct and birth!

  10. Congratulations! That's so exciting!

  11. Hey do you think you could get some video of you and Griffin speaking and living in French online? Sil Vous Plait?!

  12. Rhoooo, quelle bonne nouvelle ! Toutes mes féliciations, Sarah ! Très bonne grossesse. J'ai hâte de pouvoir suivre vos aventures bilingues à 3.
    --Une autre Sarah :)

  13. Félicitations !!! Happy and healthy 9 months to you!!!!

    I just discovered your blog a couple of days ago - we live in France with our almost 7 month old, but I Spanish and English are my mother languages so we're trying to see how we can work the three languages out. :) Hope to learn a lot from your experiences!

    Congrats again!

  14. Thanks y'all!

    @smashedpea--Me too--can't wait! I wish that Carl and Griffin spoke French together. Oh well--maybe Griffin and Unicorn "parling francais" together will inspire Carl and Ellie to join in. Especially if they don't want most of the rest of the family to know what they're talking about!

    Anonymous video fan--Sorry, unlikely! I can barely keep up with digital photos, much less figure out how to get the video off the camera and onto YouTube. I admire the bloggers who post video of their brilliant bilingual children!

    New anonymous reader--Bienvenue! Your baby will grow up trilingual--magnifique! Keep us posted.

  15. Congrats Sarah! Wonderful news. You really need to know how amazing you are. AMAZINGLY amazing. The inutero stuff is so exciting and to be able to look back and see what skills and resources you have amassed over the time spent with Carl and Griffin is incredible. What a sense of achievement!Do you feel more French and less American? Or are you travelling towards the mythical third place: being fully absorbed/alive in both cultures?

  16. it only gets better when other tots come along! i've got three trilingual babes ages 9, 7 and 4 and it is so much fun to see their different progress. they all speak french to each other, but they encourage each other to say in the target language with mom. i'm also teaching spanish and english to two toddlers that i have been caring for since they were newborns! it's pretty exciting to see their progress as well! good luck to you!

  17. @Lalou--Thanks for your outpouring of confidence! No, I definitely don't feel French (just Francophile) since I haven't spent enough time over there (just four semesters). But that doesn't diminish my enthusiam for the language!

    @Busy Bee--Oh good! That is exactly what I wanted to hear.

  18. Only just discovered your blog - congratulations! Yes, you are right. My second is 4 months and it doesn't feel odd speaking German to her. Even her big sister knows she needs to speak German to her, it's all much more natural.

  19. Have come to your post via the Blogging Carnival on bilingualism and it's lovely to share in your good news - congratulations/félicitations!

  20. You should write a post about Ellie's exposure to French!

  21. Congratulations! The thing to remember about the second child is that they have an advantage in that they get language input from the older child too! It's an advantage that the first child didn't get.

  22. wonderful and congratulations! Speaking as a first child I can absolutely tell you that you are right that it will most definitely be an easier ride in some instances with the 2nd one. Speaking as an observer of no-first-children, the real difficulty lies in making the subsequent children feel special as well, while reminding the first one that they are no less loved.

    It will be a journey. Rest assured though that many others have done this, some successful, some creating new lessons for their kids to learn. What I mean to say it the outcome is all up to you, but don't stress about it too much. you are already on your way to success but realising how wondrous it will be.

    Just keep on remembering that this little soul chose this moment and you for its arrival. It has a goal. Everything will work out exactly as it needs to.

    Failing all else, you can never go wrong with love.

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  24. P.S. Sarah, if you aren't already doing so or didn't do so with your first pregnancy, I would suggest joining at least one French or French-Canadian pregnancy and parenting forum (Les Maternelles,,, Nos bébés arrivent, there are so many). There are thematic discussions and birth boards by DPA (date prévue d'accouchement) for "Avrilettes, Muguettes, Juinettes" etc. Be prepared for atrocious spelling, lots of acronyms and surprising differences in medical care and cultural attitudes, but it can be a valuable source of authentic, current vocab. I don't know how I would have navigated pregnancy and childbirth in France without it.

  25. @Cartside--Congrats to you on your new baby! I hope all is well.

    @Marjorie--Thank you! I have just been reading through the Paper Tigers blog and the children's library employee in me is thrilled to learn about the books and ideas you describe there.

    @Reb--Ah yes, thank you for pointing that out! Griffin talks a lot (at home at least), so he'll be providing lots of comprehensible input to Unicorn.

    @Jeanne--Eventually--right now there's not much to report. I take care of her (and Carl and Griffin) every two weeks for two hours, and she's usually snoozing.

    @Keda--Thank you. Yes, it will be a challenge and a journey for all four of us.

    @Sarah--Fantastic idea! Yes, I'll sign up for one or two right away. I have been feeling so miserable in this pregnancy that I haven't even re-read any of those books that tell you what's going on each week of gestation. So maybe I can tolerate it if I think of it as a language-learning exercise!

    When Griffin was an infant, I did read (and take copious notes from) a "how to raise your children" guidebook in French--it gave me a ton of French vocab about what I was experiencing. Now it's time for a refresher!

    One of the most interesting parts of attending French playgroup right now is talking with the non-American moms about preganancy, birth, and child care in their home countries. There are some big cultural differences and it's fascinating to get their take on American medical care and raising children!

  26. Dear Sarah, it's really motivating to read your blog. I'm Italiana but I'm also bilingual in English as I spent 5 years in the UK and got a British degree. I am starting my own business, which is going to be a cultural association where we teach languages in a practical way, especially to children aged from 2 to 12 with playgroups and fun activities as well as teenagers and grown ups.
    I am also planning to have a family kind of soon and I would love to have two kids. I am also worried about managing to bring them up bilingual or trilingual (as I would teach English, German and Spanish, so they could also join the playgroups!), because my fiance only speaks Italian and a bit of English and all my relatives and the people in my surrounding are Italian speaking, so I would feel I'm the only one... But I will try my best and I think it will be a rewarding experience. Any suggestions and pieces of advice from you are more than welcome. Enjoy your pregnancy. Good luck, ciao from Annalisa