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by Jamie Earnshaw - Tuesday, 6 July 2021, 3:10 PM
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.

Elise


Chère Maman,


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!


Bisous,


Elise
 


*Grandma
 


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.


 
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PS: Elise’s top resources


In no particular order:

Bilingual Families

@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 achieve them.


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, crocodile, etc.


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 ]
 
Picture of Jamie Earnshaw
by Jamie Earnshaw - Monday, 22 February 2021, 11:27 AM
Anyone in the world

In this letter to her new born daughter, native speaker of French and Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Astrid Dinneen reflects on her first steps as a parent raising her baby bilingually.

For Elise

Ma chère Elise,

Did you notice the different patterns and music of the languages spoken at home when you were still tucked into my tummy? Perhaps you recognised they were from different classes of language a couple of days after you were born. You see, your daddy speaks to you in English and I mostly speak to you in French, switching to English or a mixture of French and English when your daddy is within earshot in order to include him in our chitchat.

Long before you were born we always knew we would raise you bilingually – not quite strictly using the ‘one parent, one language’ (OPOL) approach where I would solely use French and your father English when around you. This method simply wouldn’t suit our family unit where - so far - I’m the only speaker of French and where English is the only language that everyone has in common. Instead we’ll use our own flexible approach where you’ll see me dip in and out of French and English and perform a lot of translanguaging.

Mixing languages didn’t use to be recommended as it was understood it confused children however advice is changing around this practice which is pretty common in multilingual households. So, rather than being brought up by two seemingly monolingual parents, you will grow up witnessing bilingualism in action in a dynamic, dual language environment where either French, English or sometimes a mixture of both will be spoken, read and written depending on context and audience – something I hope will help model how you too can use the whole repertoire both your languages have to offer.

This is all nice and well however you should know I suffer from a mild case of language attrition. You see, when you’ve lived in a country other than your own for as long as I have and speaking your first language only occasionally you become a little rusty – the words fail to roll off your tongue, you stumble and you fall mid sentence in a mess of grammatical approximations and incomplete idioms. This isn’t helped by the fact there is no cohesive local French speaking community that I know of hence the opportunities to regularly chat with compatriots are somewhat lacking, especially during a pandemic when even your French family is unable to travel and see us. This is definitely a concern when you think about how much input in French you’ll need to even have a chance to acquire it. But what a beautiful opportunity you’ve given me – the chance to reconnect with a language, identity and culture I am determined to pass on to you.

Talking to you in French all the time offers me much needed practice and reassuringly the words eventually come to me naturally even though false friends occasionally trip me up in my sleep deprived state. For example, the term bib in English is very close to the French word for baby bottle (biberon or bibi for short) hence why you often hear me use these words interchangeably! I’m sure you’ll soon join your daddy in making fun of my slipups but these will make superb opportunities for unpicking quirks and comparing our languages – a process which will soon become familiar to you as your metalinguistic awareness develops (that’s grownup for your awareness of how languages work).

Singing to you in French is a lot of fun and is great for repetition, rhyme and rhythm and you particularly love my rendition of Alouette. I’m rediscovering long forgotten songs and nursery rhymes. I’m discovering new ones too including translations of popular English classics such as The wheels on the bus. Interestingly, in French, the mums on the bus don’t chat, they say chut (shush) straight after the line where the babies cry. Can you guess why the translator made this choice? Have you also noticed how the body parts in Heads, shoulders, knees and toes are in a different order in French so it still rhymes? I’m sure translation will soon become another subject of conversation in our home and you’ll soon discover the skilful way we sometimes have to manipulate language and adapt text to suit our purposes (the metalinguistic awareness I’ve already mentioned will help you do just that).

Practitioners in pre school and school settings may consider you as EAL when they eventually get to work with you. This is such a big umbrella term however and children with EAL have varying experiences which lie on a wide spectrum. You will definitely receive a language diet that is different from your peers raised only in English. However, your exposure to French won’t be comparable to that of children born in an exclusively French speaking household either as their input in French will naturally be greater than yours. You will no doubt sit somewhere in the middle with skills and qualities developed through your exposure to two identities, ways of thinking and speaking.

Will you have a preferred language when interacting with us at home or outside the house? Will this change when you start school? Will you tap into both languages to express yourself in the same utterance? Will you be happy to use French in front of non French speakers? Will you enjoy talking about how our languages work? Will translation interest you? Your development of language will be truly unique and one no one can really predict. One thing is for sure though – it’s how grateful I am ma chère Elise for putting French back into my life in addition to being the best thing that’s happened in 2020.

Bisous,

Maman


NB: Astrid is still on maternity leave. 


References:

Babies, First words – Netflix, April 2020

What is translanguaging? – EAL Journal https://ealjournal.org/2016/07/26/what-is-translanguaging/amp/

How to plan for a bilingual baby? [English edition] – Kletsheads, a podcast with Eowyn Crisfield  https://kletsheadspodcast.nl/2020/06/30/how-to-plan-for-a-bilingual-baby-english-edition/

Advice for parents and carers in our guidance library https://emtas.hias.hants.gov.uk/course/view.php?id=64 


Visit the Hampshire EMTAS website

Subscribe to our Blog Digest (select EMTAS)

[ Modified: Monday, 22 February 2021, 4:27 PM ]