petite anglaise

November 4, 2004

speak my language

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:18 am

At the In Laws’ house last weekend I made a discovery: the Tadpole speaks French.

When I say speaks, I mean mostly disconnected words, like she uses in English. Her favourite party trick at the moment consists of pointing at ears, mouth, nose etc.and naming them each in turn. ‘Eye’ is rather hazardous and for once I’m relieved to wear protective glasses. I wasn’t too surprised to discover that she can also do this in French. I was astonished however to hear her say, in the correct contexts, ‘parti papa’ and ‘assieds-toi!’

It is all to be expected, given she spends ten hours a day with a French speaking childminder and two French toddlers, but I had never before been confronted with quite so much evidence of her abilities. And, as we were sleeping in the same room as her, I heard her talking in French in her sleep.

You may be wondering how it is that I don’t hear Tadpole speak more French at home. Her daddy is a Frog after all. Well, if the truth be told he only really sees her for any length of time at weekends, as she is in bed by the time he gets home from work, and he is uncommunicative, to say the least, in the mornings. But the main reason is that the Frog being a man, he doesn’t specialise in giving a running commentary about everything he is doing, the things he can see out of the car window or what Tadpole can see from her pushchair. Men just don’t do that as much as women, in my experience. So although Frog and Tadpole do spend time together playing, there is less actual talking going on than when Tadpole is with me, or with MIL last weekend.

Faced with a French speaking Tadpole/tétard, I got my first taste of what it is going to be like bringing up a bilingual child.

Whenever she used a word in French that she also knows in English, I was pleased to see that she had taken on board two words for that object or concept and rather proud of her progress.

However, when she came out with a word in French (case in point maison) that I hadn’t yet taught her in English, I felt a bizarre stab of jealousy that she had learnt it in French first and not in English. I couldn’t restrain myself from taking immediate remedial action by saying ‘yes, that’s right, but mummy says house.’

I think Mr Frog must feel something similar, because he has started saying ‘oui, mais papa dit…’ It’s starting to feel like a competition to see who can teach her the most words in their own language.

I have always known that living here means that French will be Tadpole’s mother tongue, regardless of the fact that I’m her mother and my tongue is English. But I think this fact is only just starting to sink in…


  1. The Tadpole is so lucky to be learning both languages. If her mother had been French and her father English, then it would be less likely that she would pick up English. Thanks to you, she is going to speak perfect English and French. And she is going to make people like me, who can barely speak one language, very jealous. My partner grew up in the States with a French mother who only spoke French to her children. Therefore, he speaks fluent French with a perfect accent (even though the French can still tell he did not grow up here).

    Comment by Jason Stone — November 4, 2004 @ 12:30 pm

  2. She is very lucky. I studied French for 10 years before I achieved real fluency.

    A guy I know is Spanish and married to an English woman – they live in England. I was most surprised that his daughter doesn’t speak any Spanish at all. It’s a shame, all he had to do was talk to her in Spanish when she was young. The older you get, the harder it becomes to learn a language…

    It must be weird for you to know that your daughter’s mother tongue is not her mother’s mother tongue!

    Comment by witho — November 4, 2004 @ 12:46 pm

  3. oh~but french is such a beautiful language. i love hearing people speak it. i can’t speak it myself though~i need to find myself a frenchman to teach me…heh~

    Comment by saRah shiReen — November 4, 2004 @ 4:15 pm

  4. Hi Petite
    Just come accross your blog and had a good laugh at some of your writings. You may not have a radiant relationship with your in-laws but you certainly have a sense of humour…
    I’ve spent 12 yrs in the UK and came back to France with my Rosbif earlier this year (I am French) and I was soooo “home”sick for England… still am a bit but getting better. We are trying for a little “filet mignon” and I was interested to read how your Tadpole is learning both languages. Anyway keep on blogging to keep us entertained.


    Comment by Froog — November 4, 2004 @ 5:15 pm

  5. oohh

    who’s going to be visitor n° 10k? I may have to rustle up a prize… petite anglaise thong anyone?

    Comment by petite — November 4, 2004 @ 5:58 pm

  6. Damn.


    Comment by JonnyB — November 4, 2004 @ 6:08 pm

  7. as a linguist who studied that kind of situation in depth, i can tell you that it’s wonderful your Tadpole is exposed to two languages. and also that even if she DOES end up speaking better french than english, her mother tongue will ALWAYS be english, because that’s what she heard first :) plus the way the world is going, in 20 years everyone will speak english outside of the home (work, school, etc) and your kid will be grateful for your efforts!

    Comment by miss lulu — November 4, 2004 @ 7:07 pm

  8. I find this so fascinating. I have a degree in French but have never become fluent because I have yet to make it to anywhere French-speaking. But I live in an area where a lot of families come from Mexico and I love to watch their little kids as they mingle Spanish and English together. I always wonder why they choose to say some things in Spanish and others in English. The parents, too… why do they switch back and forth? What makes them decide to start off speaking to their child in one language and then throw in phrases from, or completely switch to, the other language?

    I wish I had become more fluent. Lucky, lucky Tadpole. And you, too!

    Comment by Diana — November 4, 2004 @ 7:07 pm

  9. Visitor n° 10,000 was an unknown surfer on who visited at 6.41pm today.

    If you think it was you, comment here. If the IP numbers match, you will be the proud owner of your very own petite thong

    Diana – how frustrating to learn the language and not see the country. I cannot imagine that. Or even contemplate moving back to the UK because I love living my life in French every day…

    Comment by petite — November 4, 2004 @ 8:36 pm

  10. Can I not pretend it was me?

    Just stick the thong in with the case of mince pies.

    Comment by Watski — November 5, 2004 @ 12:02 am

  11. petite, great blog. I had 2 years of french in junior high, and have retained little of it except for a silly little song I now sing to make my 3 year old giggle. Tadpole is lucky.

    Comment by Nancy — November 5, 2004 @ 12:48 am

  12. I have a friend who’s parents are bilingual. The mother was english and they were brought up in the central east of france. He could speak both languages fluently, but french had become his dominant language because he lived and stayed there. It’s difficult to say whether or not his english is better or worse for it because he speaks that quite perfectly as well. But, I think, when one uses a language with a variety of native speakers, they are much more likely to have a flexibility in that language.

    Your child is indeed lucky to have such an environment, though I think it will be less rare than we imagine.

    Comment by nardac — November 5, 2004 @ 1:45 am

  13. Perhapps Tadders is a genius… try her with a bit if German too.

    (Can I have one of your thongs too please?)

    Comment by backroads — November 5, 2004 @ 8:09 am

  14. Nothing like a quick holiday to the UK, to put you in the lead with English words…:twisted:

    Comment by Valkyrie — November 5, 2004 @ 9:13 am

  15. …must resist…resist giving advice…resist…

    Nope, here it comes.[Never had much willpower anyway.]

    Don’t ever think of it as a competition, kids pick up on that and it impairs the natural learning process. Avoid the “mummy says…”, use “in english…”. Listen to English radio, get some English video tapes.
    I come from a long line of bilinguals. My own kids are perfectly fluent in both English and French. If you do it right, Tadpole will have two mother tongues, not one.

    …*sigh*…now I hate myself…people giving advice to mothers is my pet peeve.

    Comment by Pasfolle — November 5, 2004 @ 10:08 am

  16. I don’t know, I’ve been away from England for a while but I didn’t know things had changed so much. When did all the men start wearing g-strings? :shock:

    pasfolle: I agree. I am trying hard not to let it get competitive. It’s not easy. I thought given she is only 17 months old, and very young children don’t understand very well what English or French is, just when they should use them and with whom, the ‘mummy says..’ approach was ok; but maybe I’ll try a change of tack. It’s true that that already sounds far less like a competition in those terms.

    Comment by petite — November 5, 2004 @ 10:45 am

  17. ‘parti papa’? Are they those little explosive things that shoot tiny ribbons out?

    Comment by Raised By Chaffinches — November 5, 2004 @ 11:08 am

  18. with my two, (five and three) we all speak english at home all the time, even their pa, have mostly english tv, films and radio in the house and mostly english books. They get loads of exposure to Portuguese at nursery school and with their grandparents and cousins and they now speak each language equally well, though they are a little bit more natural with the english. I have a friend in more or less the same situation, but only she speak english with hers at home, and they hardly have any tv or radio… the difference in the kids’ english is enormous. I’m very keen that in which ever country they decide to settle they never feel like an outsider.

    Comment by vitriolica — November 5, 2004 @ 11:26 am

  19. English men wearing g-strings?

    It’s not me and anyone who says so is lying.

    I heard it was Backroads.

    Comment by Watski — November 5, 2004 @ 11:39 am

  20. Vit – I have all english books and English teletubbies etc. We tried speaking only English at home but the Frog said it felt wierd for him.

    birdman – Silly! It means ‘daddy’s gone’ which is rather sad isn’t it. She also knows ‘work’ and ‘office’ in relation to daddy. Because he’s always there…

    Comment by petite — November 5, 2004 @ 12:50 pm

  21. “She also knows ‘work’ and ‘office’ in relation to daddy. Because he’s always there… ”
    I can take a hint baby. A bientot…:twisted:

    Comment by birdman — November 5, 2004 @ 2:47 pm

  22. Salut Petite,

    Je suis Anglaise but moved to France when I was three and to Holland when I was 11. It is great to be fluent in 3,5 (the half is German) languages and to learn cultures of different countries but I’ve got to admit that it did absolutely nothing for us from an educational point of view as we moved from Holland to Brussels when I was 14 (crucial year and completely different educational system). Tadpole will have a great time showing off her fluent French and English, specially to the Brits who mostly speak no other languages whatsoever! Bonne continuation!

    Comment by Nicky — November 5, 2004 @ 5:21 pm

  23. Oi Watski! There’s nothing wrong with manly thong.

    Comment by backroads — November 6, 2004 @ 5:09 am

  24. everyone is right – your tadpole IS lucky.

    i can see that you and the frog may need to come up with a peaceful resolution on how to handle the language competition. but i gues that the tadpole will only benefit from two parents who are madly trying to teach her more and more words. :wink:

    also, manly thong? contradiction in terms, my friend.

    Comment by Sarcomical — November 6, 2004 @ 7:11 pm

  25. I can understand the linguistic jealousy factor. Look on the bright side, I bet you’ll win in the excitement stakes in the long run. When she goes to school in France her English half will be the exotic side that she can boast about at school.

    Comment by Claire — November 7, 2004 @ 11:44 pm

  26. You’re actually quite lucky, girl. I’m in a similar situation…4 year old daughter living in Hungary with a Hungarian mother who doesn’t speak English so her only contact with the English language is me. Half an hour at night and Sundays, even for a linguistician like myself, is hardly enough and as with you, it’s only just starting to sink in that we will not share a mother tongue and may never be able to really communicate in English. She understands a lot but she always answers me in Hungarian…oh, well…senki nem mondta azt nekem, hogy kőnnyu lesz az élet!:???:

    Comment by Simon — November 8, 2004 @ 12:14 am

  27. And admit it petite, when Tadpole says something in English that the in-laws don’t understand, you’re secretly chuffed to bits with her! (This is why I use words like ‘manky’ or ‘slapper’around my kids- non native English speakers would probably have a hard time figuring them out!!) Or maybe it’s just me who’s a malicious cow :twisted:

    Comment by Suziboo — November 16, 2004 @ 1:00 pm

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