French Resistance: Raising a Bilingual Daughter
I don't know if being a quarter French has anything do with it, but for some reason, from the moment she was born, I wanted my daughter to speak French. I had no idea how I could make this happen, because despite my ancestry, I only had a rusty smattering of the language from my schooldays.
I'd read somewhere that young children pick up languages effortlessly, so if this was going to work, I'd have to start straightaway. I acquired shelf loads of colourful French storybooks. I played French nursery songs in the car. I'd sing in French when I bathed her, and developed a repertoire of words and phrases for use around the house. Nothing worked. She wouldn't so much as whisper a single French word; neither would she even hum a French tune.
Then I discovered Muzzy, a fabulous language course for children designed by the BBC in video format. She loved it. As a toddler, she would glue herself to the TV for hours. Often, I'd watch with her, all the while prompting and encouraging. My own French leapt ahead. On her part, however, she gave me no clue as to whether any of it was sinking in.
A Glimmer of Progress?
When she started school, there was the first hint of progress when one evening at a parent's meeting, the bewildered French teacher said, "She seems to know words that I haven't taught her." My heart soared.
At home though, despite my efforts to get her to interact with me in French, there was still no feedback. In the face of la Résistance, I had no choice but to retreat. In my mind, I'd done all I could. At least I'd given her a start, a foundation to build on if she chose to use it. Instead, I used Muzzy to work on my own pitifully basic language skills. Although it was a course designed for children, it really helped me.
One evening, my husband came home fed up from work and suggested that we sell our over-priced little dwelling in the UK and buy our dream home in France. Our older children were on the point of flying the nest. My youngest, the daughter in question, had not yet started her important secondary education. If we were going to do it, now was the right time. And she was still only eight years old. She was still young enough to pick up the language.
In early 2001, we left the UK to settle in South West France. Starting school in France was traumatic for her and for us. To be thrown head first into a class of non-English speaking children can't have been easy, and it was a worrying time. Nevertheless, she bravely weathered it, and to my delight, at last started to speak French... at school that is. As a matter of principle, she still resolutely refused to speak it at home within my earshot.
Time went on and she got to the point where she could communicate well with her classmates. She had now reached the rebellious teenage years. It seemed her sole raison d'être at this time was to advertise her British origins to the world. Her collection of 'Brit' T-shirts testified to this, and she'd go to school with 'England' undiplomatically emblazoned across her chest, and doodle Union Jacks all over her school books.
Of course, we often asked ourselves as parents whether we'd done the right thing. Perhaps we should have stayed in the UK. Had I been too pushy in imposing French and France on her? I was riddled with feelings of guilt.
Music To My Ears
When I look at her today, however, I feel vindicated. At 18 years of age, she is verbally bilingual and has excellent written skills in both languages. The confidence and self-esteem that this has brought her, not to mention the prestige she enjoys amongst her peers, has enabled her finally to comprehend the value of what she has achieved. She no longer rebels against all things French. On the contrary, she is now riding on the crest of a wave, fiercely proud of her English origins, yet happily immersing herself in a foreign culture in which she feels totally at home.
The Last Word
Finally I can say that to my absolute delight, she now speaks French without inhibition in front of me, her family, and the world. What's more, it's with an ease and style that exceeds anything I could ever have dreamed of. The speed and quality of her delivery is awesome. It is simply music to my ears. No other mother on Earth could be more proud.
Winter in France: being Prepared
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