petite anglaise

October 13, 2005

slippery slope

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:00 am

Tadpole is having her bath. I am seated next to her, on the toilet, as there is really no where else to sit in our two and a half square metre bathroom.

“Mummy mummy mummy!” shouts Tadpole, excitedly. “Look mummy!”

I lower my copy of Heat and give her my full attention.

“What do you want to show me?” I enquire, feigning interest.

“Mummy. Regarde! Le bateau, il a chaviré!

Oh. My. God.

Just twenty eight months old and she is now using French words which I can only understand with the help of a dictionary.


  1. I can’t believe how fast kids learn. But you must be so proud of your little Tadpole.

    BTW, I imagine since you are doing the single parent thing that you are speaking English to her these days, am I correct? She surely has a vocabulry that would make a native French speaking English professor green with envy.

    Comment by Sammy — October 14, 2005 @ 10:19 am

  2. Don’t worry Petite, I also needed to look that word up in the dictionary (and this, I’m embarrassed to say, is after 15 years of French courses!)

    Comment by Just Dazzle — October 14, 2005 @ 10:46 am

  3. Fabulous! When mine did this I used to feel most put out that they weren’t exercising her linguistic talents in *my* language. So I’d feel the urge to say things like “that’s right, darling, the boat has *capsized*. Can you say that? Capsized?”. Which with hindsight makes me sound like the kind of pushy ambitious mum I detest, so I’ll stop now and get on with my work.

    Comment by Susan — October 14, 2005 @ 10:54 am

  4. Susan – that’s exactly what I do. It involves repeating endlessly about half of what she says in English. Exhausting.

    But worth it.

    Comment by petite — October 14, 2005 @ 11:06 am

  5. Just wait until she starts school and you have to do homework, that’s when the real fun starts…

    Comment by P in France — October 14, 2005 @ 11:23 am

  6. Eek! Although I’m definitely noting putting that verb in the mental file. Because lord knows if I don’t, I will come across it in some translation exam heh.

    Comment by kim — October 14, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

  7. I’m so glad you do it too. So is it okay to admit that I still do it with my girls, now aged 5 & 8, without sounding like a missionary from some kind of linguistic superiority sect?

    My girls often use French words in English sentences, out of laziness “I can’t find my cahier de correspondence!” / “it’s in your cartable” or come home from school with a new word for which they don’t know the English equivalent.

    So if anyone knows the English for “pépité” with reference to marbles, I’d be most grateful.

    Comment by Susan — October 14, 2005 @ 12:35 pm

  8. So if anyone knows the English for “pépité” with reference to marbles, I’d be most grateful.

    I bet there are about ten different answers, because marbles is one of those areas where everyone has a different name for the same object. It’s a bit like bread – a flûte is not the same thing in Paris as it is in the Haute-Loire region…

    Comment by Iain — October 14, 2005 @ 12:45 pm

  9. Pépité in English means cratered!! (well in reference to the marbles anyway). I’m a French kid whose native tongue is English, and I also speak “franglais” sometimes, but have no fear parents dear, your child’s English won’t “chavire”! (Sorry for the lame joke)

    Comment by Deana — October 14, 2005 @ 1:25 pm

  10. Aha, Iain has let me into a little secret, the word has come from a nursery rhyme, and not a very cheerful one either, as the boat capsizes and all the children fall into the water…

    Bateau sur l’eau
    Bateau, sur l’eau, La rivière, la rivière,
    Bateau, sur l’eau
    La rivière au bord de l’eau.
    Le bateau a chaviré
    Tous les enfants sont tombés
    Dans l’eau

    Comment by petite — October 14, 2005 @ 2:19 pm

  11. I always have to get the dictionary out to check the little french phrases you put on here….,

    Comment by Anne — October 14, 2005 @ 2:43 pm

  12. wait till she hits CM1 … my son is on megawords… the dictionary has taken up permanent residence on his desk as I need it more than he does…

    Comment by magillicuddy — October 14, 2005 @ 2:58 pm

  13. Ring around a rosie,
    a pocket full of posies.
    Ashes, ashes,
    we all fall down.

    Our nursery rhymes in English don’t necessarily speak of more cheerful subjects.

    Comment by Sammy — October 14, 2005 @ 3:03 pm

  14. And we learn different versions.(Following on from Sammy)
    For example I learnt it as:
    Ring o ring o roses
    A pocket full of posies.
    Atishoo, atishoo
    We all fall down.
    Someone also told me it dated from the age of the plague. The ring of roses was the rash, the pocket full of posies the things one kept to smell to avoid breathing in the illness. The sneezes were the cold symptoms and there’s no need to translate the last line!

    Comment by Sandy Bootman — October 14, 2005 @ 3:22 pm

  15. I do the repeat in english thing too. It is exhausting, but worth it, for them, I hope.
    The worst?
    My 8 year old in CE2, had a “poesie” to learn last week, and I didn’t understand the references. I cried. The contrast of being 43 years old, university educated, seemingly intelligent person, while living in the US, vs. not being able to fully comprehend the homework of a third grade child living in Paris is demoralizing at times.

    Comment by alisa — October 14, 2005 @ 3:44 pm

  16. Cheer up Alisa, poetry is by far the hardest medium to understand in a foreign language. I bet half the French parents didn’t get it either. My daughter (also in CE2) has had some of the most ridiculously abstract poems to learn and I have heard other (French) parents complaining to the teacher about them, so you may well not be alone!

    Comment by Susan — October 14, 2005 @ 3:57 pm

  17. Can anyone enlighten me: does the word “Attishoo” come from the French à tes souhaits?

    Comment by Iain — October 14, 2005 @ 4:06 pm

  18. Silly Iain, it’s the sound you make when sneezing.

    Comment by Sammy — October 14, 2005 @ 4:10 pm

  19. Oh thank you, Petite! — My little one sings that nursery rhyme all. The. Time. (I’m printing it out and tacking it to the wall.) Combine her garbled toddler-speak with my barely passable French and I’m lost at about the halfway point. To make matters worse, her father has no memory for the songs of his childhood. I am terrified at the prospect of not being able to understand my own daughter.

    Comment by Isabella — October 14, 2005 @ 4:33 pm

  20. Pensez-donc un peu à une pauvre petite française qui essaie de lire et comprendre tous ces textes ! Et qui n’a appris l’anglais (très imparfaitement) qu’à l’école !
    Moi aussi j’ai dû chercher au dictionnaire la traduction de “Tadpole” par exemple !
    Quelle chance elle aura, cette petite fille, d’être aussi à l’aise dans l’une ou l’autre langue !
    Sorry for not having translated my comment…

    Comment by catherine — October 14, 2005 @ 6:23 pm

  21. After living in France for only 16 months, my 2 sons, aged 5 and 8, are now fluent in French (and they arrived with not one word) and I am now at the stage of constantly saying..”Speak to me in English…” because I don’t understand half of what they say and also because I don’t want them to lose their English…and CE1 homework does my head in! But admittedly, I’m certainly improving my grammar as I learn along with my son.

    Comment by Wendy — October 14, 2005 @ 8:29 pm

  22. I don’t have any kids of my own, but when I lived in Nice and babysat some kids, I had to help the little boy with his homework. He usually had to memorize a poem or something but when going over it with him, I’d have him explain to me all the words I didn’t know. He’d even act out the verbs I didn’t know. We had fun and it not only helped him with his memorization but me with my vocabulary.

    Comment by juliana — October 14, 2005 @ 11:02 pm

  23. Please thank Tadpole for me. I can now go to my weekly French lesson and tell the class the new word I learned – and then sheepishly admit that I learned it from a toddler. Her vocab is clearly head and shoulders above my own!

    Comment by Lisa — October 15, 2005 @ 12:01 am

  24. When I lived in France during the 1990’s, I met several people (in their teens or 20’s) whose parents had flitted between France and England, and without exception, those sons/daughters had acquired the enviable trait of being naturally fluent in both languages. So I would say, do not worry in the slightest. If anything, you’re setting your daughter up with a great advantage for her future. I suppose one could worry, and ask oneself questions like “will she have an identity crisis?” or suchlike. Naaah, not a bit of it, in my opinion. The sons and daughters of those who are “expats” are in a very lucky position, in many ways.

    Comment by Tom — October 15, 2005 @ 5:59 am

  25. It will get worse.

    In some years she will be correcting your pronounciation something my children do with me. Lovely.

    Comment by Laura — October 15, 2005 @ 6:45 am

  26. Susan – The problem it’s that you learn words that you don’t know in the other language (especially for example in a job) and also that you cannot always translate. I recently read a very good example about ;temperatures in English and French

    Laura – indeed… but the fun is when the daughter of some French friends who is 7 and has lived in London since she was 2 started to correct my Scottish girlfriend last time about her pronunciation of “eight” ;-) .

    Comment by vonric — October 15, 2005 @ 2:15 pm

  27. Sorry I scrambled the blog with my link. The correct is:

    Comment by vonric — October 15, 2005 @ 2:17 pm

  28. Iain – not silly at all, I firmly believe that ‘attishoo’ comes from a-tes-souhaits. The French equivalent of attishoo is, however, ‘atchoum’! The phrase “Daddy, I’ve done ‘atchoum'” from my younger daughter were words to turn the blood of strong men to icewater.

    Don’t forget the petit navire, who n’avait jam-jam-jamais navigué. Fear of chaviring, I soupconne.

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — October 15, 2005 @ 2:59 pm

  29. For those (maybe all of you actually – as I might have a “cache” problem) who cannot see my previous message befor 25-, I was replying to Susan and Laura saying:

    Susan>The problem it’s that you learn words that you don’t know in the other language (especially for example in a job) and also that you cannot always translate. I recently read a very good example about temperatures in English and French

    Laura>indeed… but the fun is when the daughter of some French friends who is 7 and has lived in London since she was 2 started to correct my Scottish girlfriend last time about her pronunciation of “eight” ;-)

    Comment by vonric — October 15, 2005 @ 4:54 pm

  30. I remember my first trip to France without my fokls and being mercilessly teased for sneezing like an english. My correspondante thought it was HILARIOUS that I said atishoo instead of atchoum.

    Comment by EasyJetsetter — October 16, 2005 @ 12:45 am

  31. I wish I could distinguish what it is I say/snort/combust when I sneeze; I want to know if I’ve a proper French sneeze yet.

    Comment by ludivine — October 16, 2005 @ 1:52 am

  32. Do the Americans say, “Ah-choo?” I didn’t realize there was a difference between English, American, and French sneezes! LOL

    What do the French say after a sneeze?

    Comment by Elle — October 16, 2005 @ 3:41 am

  33. Whilst we’re on the subject, not only do we sneeze differently in french and english but animals don’t make the same noices either…
    french cockerels say “cokoriko” and not “cockadoodledoo” their cows say “meuh” (which is just moo with an accent really)and chickens say “cot cot cot” rather than “cluck cluck cluck”…
    so all in all, even if you take your child for a walk around the farm in France thinking you’re safe you won’t even understand the animals…

    Comment by croque madame — October 16, 2005 @ 1:05 pm

  34. Hi Petite,
    I’m French student and I’m working on your blog, analysing and commenting it. I just want to tell you that you have an interesting way of seing french people because behing critic I see a lot of respect.
    Elle :when the French sneeze they say “Pardon” (excuse me)and when somebody sneeze we say “a vos souhaits” ( whishes)

    Comment by Sébastien — October 16, 2005 @ 1:35 pm

  35. Bless you.

    What can I say–after teaching at a Catholic school for 6 years, it’s like a reflex.

    As if Satan were really going to jump up your nose in that split second!

    Comment by Ronica — October 16, 2005 @ 6:18 pm

  36. Fascinating, croque madame! You have articulated something I sensed for years and cleared the mist from my eyes and the gunge from my ears. But can you tell more? Can you distinguish animal languages as distint from regional dialects? Would an arctic polar bear be able to talk to an antarctic polar bear, an african parrot to an amazon parrot? I’m sure that Tadpole will demand the answer to this question (and lots of others) before too long!

    Comment by fella — October 17, 2005 @ 12:28 am

  37. She is so clever this darling Tadpole! I hope my baby will be like that, drawing like a Picasso and very very literate in both languages ;-)

    Comment by Maurine au bout du monde — October 17, 2005 @ 1:35 am

  38. My 3-year-old repeats to me in French words said in English but that I didn’t understand at first. Bi-lingual kids are fascinating.

    Comment by Frog in Oz — October 17, 2005 @ 2:41 am

  39. Oiy!! I’m so jealous of you, livingin Paris!! How are you doing with your non-french speaking? or do you speak french? i’d love to livein Paris… what brought you there!

    Comment by jen — October 17, 2005 @ 4:31 am

  40. Hello!
    My name is Barbara, I’m student in Grenoble. It’s the first time I go to a blog and I find it very interesting. It was hard to understand at the beginning but now it’s ok.
    Is this blog the way to keep in relationship whith english people or to meet people who experienced the same things or something else??
    I think I will spend more time on web, it’s a good way to realise that we are all differents and also the same at the same time!

    Comment by barbara — October 17, 2005 @ 8:24 am

  41. Thing that surprised me is that ‘ow’ isn’t universal…i thought it was a sort of natural instinctive pain-related noise, but no – our dear French cousins say ‘aie’. Not nearly the same effect.
    When at home our kids say ‘ow’. When outside they say ‘aie’…

    Comment by Lucy-Jane in Rennes — October 17, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

  42. In response to Fella :

    I’ll have to leave you to do the research on that one, there are no polar bears or parrots in my daughters french version of Old Macdonald I’m afraid…

    Comment by croque madame — October 17, 2005 @ 3:59 pm

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