Blog entry by Jamie Earnshaw
Anyone in the world
In this response to Astrid Dinneen’s letter style blog published here in February, bilingual baby daughter Elise shares her experiences of being raised in two languages. Bonus material – find Elise’s top resources in her post scriptum.
I really wanted to write to you in response
to your letter to me where you discussed your first steps as a bilingual mum.
I’ve definitely noticed you and Daddy don’t
always speak to me and others in the same language. From what I’ve observed Daddy
always speaks in English and when you and I are alone you speak to me in
French. When Daddy is around you speak in English or sometimes a mixture of
both French and English. When we leave the house you continue to speak to me in
French but then speak in English with most people we bump into or meet - mind
you sometimes it’s hard to make out what language you’re speaking when you wear
a mask that covers your mouth. You do speak French with other people than me
I’ve noticed. For example, you have regular conversations with Mamie* over
WhatsApp. I’ve also heard you speak French with a couple of mums we met through
our baby group. As for neighbours, friends and family – they stood in the front
garden and waved through the window but I’m sure you and Daddy both spoke to them in English. I wonder if
we’ll ever have French-speaking visitors one day and if they’ll be allowed to
come in and play with me.
One mum asked how I was coping with both my
languages. I suppose it might all sound confusing to some but it’s in fact all
normal to me. I’ve never known life in one language only and I see you’re
constantly navigating between both French and English so it must be quite
normal for you too. Is this why you frowned when you completed this year’s
census? ‘What is your main language?’ they asked. ‘This is the language you use
most naturally. For example it could be the language you use at home' they
explained. The choices were ‘English’ or ‘Other’. You and I don’t have a main single
language, do we? From what I’ve gathered it’s perfectly possible for someone to
use more than one language naturally depending on who they speak to, where and
for what purpose. If I grow up to become a statistician one day, I’ll suggest
the survey allows you to check both English and Other.
Unlike the census, I sense people around us
recognise both our main languages as being equally important. For example in
the beginning Daddy didn’t use any French but I’m increasingly noticing his
attempts to use words and phrases linked to our routine and he knows a
surprisingly wide range of animal names including the word for my seahorse bath
toy (hippocampe). I guess repetition and active listening are helping babies and
grownups alike. Some mums also show an interest and say hello to me in French.
Mamie is learning English in her spare time and my cousins are learning French
at school. Your friend from work also lent us French board books from the
resources centre at EMTAS after she read your letter to me. This all makes me
feel very good because it shows me that both my languages are highly valued by my
important people as well as by other, friendly people. It would mean a lot to
me if everyone around me continued to be so supportive because I think it will
help me feel confident to be a bilingual baby.
Lately I heard you talk about returning to
work and going to nursery. I have a feeling I’ll be the one going to nursery
and you’ll be the one going to work, meaning we’ll probably no longer be spending
all of our time together. As I write this letter, we haven’t yet been allowed
to visit the nursery or meet anyone in person because of the virus so I’ve no
idea if my bilingual experience will continue when you and I are apart. If
everyone at nursery speaks English all the time like I suspect they will, how
will this impact my language
development in French? Might it mean that English will end up being my ‘main
language' after all, due to reduced input in French? Is there any way you could
spend time with me during the week so I don’t have to wait for evenings and
weekends to hear you speak French?
Anyway, I’m off to listen to my bilingual playlist
of nursery rhymes you and Daddy have put together for me. I love how all the
animals get into mischief no matter what language you sing!
Astrid carefully considered Elise’s compelling
case and will return to work at the beginning of July for four days a week –
Wednesday being her day off.
We look forward to welcoming Astrid back on Thursday, 8th July.
PS: Elise’s top resources
In no particular order:
@minibilingue on Twitter – Conversations avec my bilingual son - love these snapshots of a bilingual little boy translanguaging in French and English. An example: ‘Pousse ta chaise away s’il te plaît !’
Crisfield, E (2021) Bilingual families,
A Practical Language Planning Guide Multilingual Matters, Bristol – a handy
book for mums and dads to consider their babies’ language goals and how to
KIDIDOC (2011) Mon imagier de la ferme NATHAN,
Paris – a book where I learnt French ducks go ‘coin coin' whereas English ducks
go ‘quack quack'. What a world!
Donaldson, J & Scheffler, A (2015) Rabbit’s
nap Macmillan, London – an epic story I equally enjoy when my Daddy reads it
in English and when Maman retells it in French. Ce lapin est fatigué.
Amazon Music – 80 comptines pour enfants
et bébés – a playlist which showed me some animal names are conveniently the
same in both French and English, just pronounced differently e.g. elephant,
Gründ (2019) Mes premières chansons du
Nord Éditions Gründ, Paris – an interactive book of songs from Northern France,
a region very dear to my French family by the sound of things even though they
live in the Pyrénées. Could it be that your sense of identity and belonging is more
a regional than a national notion? Something to explore in another blog if I’m
allowed to hijack it again in the future!
[ Modified: Wednesday, 7 July 2021, 11:22 AM ]