The day I learned I was pregnant, I decided to give my son the gift of a second language from birth. Little did I know how difficult that would be for a non-native speaker of French.
I started out earnestly enough, trying to use both English and French. I read at least one book in English and one in French to him every day. I would sing along with French nursery rhyme CDs. I split my time speaking both languages with him. About a month ago I made the decision to go OPOL. For those of you not in bilingual parenting circles, that is one parent, one language. In our case, my husband would speak to him only in English, and I would speak to him only in French. And we kept it up. For about a week or two. Then my native English would creep in because I was in a hurry, or tired, or we were around family that didn’t speak French, or any other host of excuses that are eerily similar to my reasons for not running again yet post-pregnancy. It turns out that I am lazy. Or busy. Or both. Either way, OPOL has not been happening. He still gets the books and the songs, but the consistent, French only from mommy has been hit and miss.
I set my next goal that when we got back from California this week, I would restart, but for real this time. It is difficult. French is no longer the knee-jerk language that it was at one time in my life. I have to start incorporating it into my life again through movies, online news, music, books, etc. I have to somehow conceptualize that my son=French. I need to imagine that he only speaks French. I understand this approach will only work as long as he is not speaking English. By that time, I hope to have created a habit.
Another challenge in our home is regarding family communication. My husband is a monolingual with a strong willingness to learn French and/or Spanish. I have read plenty of research that shows this is not a problem. I have read anecdotes on many websites where families have shared their experiences in just this type of situation, and they all seem cheery and well-adjusted. We are our own unique unit, however, and we have to figure out how to navigate this communication in our household so that nobody feels left out. We can be encouraged by research, but we are individuals, and can’t assume that what works for some will work for us. It will be a learning and growing experience along the way, and I am happy to share that in this blog if anyone is considering this path for their own child.
Finally, the challenge that I encounter in seamless conversation with my baby is my lack of baby-related French vocabulary. My French classes in high school and college assumed that this was not needed right away, and I never needed that vocabulary later in life with any of my French friends. I realized a month ago during the failed OPOL decree that I had no idea how to say diaper, wipes, pacifier, teddy bear, baby bottle, breastfeeding, crawling, or spitting up. Some of those are easier than others to mime in polite company, and I knew that if I am to teach my son French rather than sign language, I needed to learn these phrases tout de suite (right away)!
Now, to the present: I have been speaking only French to my son since Monday, but no celebrations just yet-my husband has been out of town since Monday and returns tonight. My inspiration to keep up OPOL is that the moment I switched to French only with my son, his eyes lit up in a very different way, almost as if to say, “there’s that French!” For those of you who know his smile that lights up a room, you already know the magical powers this child has. Since Monday, there has been an extra sparkle, and I would like to think my French put that spark there!
Word of the day: couche de bébé= diaper