Is he trying to tell me something? A focus on my lack of bilingual parenting confidence:

I have been absent from this blog. I have been ashamed. I have been doubtful. I have been lazy. I have felt conflicted.

It’s a new year, however, and while I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, I do see this as a nice time to determine a new approach. I just spoke at length with a colleague who is raising her daughter to speak her native language, Mandarin.  Her daughter is now attending a preschool where English is the only language, and she is adapting to what both my colleague and I have experienced as culture shock, or even more specifically, language shock. The difference is that we both experienced this as adults and she is experiencing it at 3. The similarity is that her daughter is asking how to say practical things first, such as, “I need a tissue” because she has a runny nose, or “may I go in here?” She desperately wants to not feel shy to ask the other kids to play, but she is taking care of the other things first. I find this fascinating because any time I am immersed in a language with which I am unfamiliar, I also wonder how I will find the bathroom, take a cab, conduct transactions, etc. before I worry about knowing how to invite someone to dinner or ask about their family. Runny noses and bathroom breaks come first at any age, I suppose.

When our conversation concluded, I came back to my desk and mentally addressed what exactly is keeping me from going fully into French mode with my toddler 100% of the time.  I came up with the following:

  1. I seem to have internalized so many of the doubts people have about bilingual education rather than focusing on the benefits.  My confidence in the process is flagging.
  2. I have been so excited when A. says, “dog,” or “sock,” that I want to encourage him by saying in English, “yes, brilliant boy! That is a dog!” I want to use those English words in other English sentences to give him the confidence to continue using them. I am uncertain how to reward him for growing his English vocabulary and simultaneously reinforce the French.
  3. I can’t find French toddlers in my community. I just don’t think there are any. At some point, he needs peers to encourage him.
  4. I don’t have the support I need for maintaining and further developing my own French. I need French friends. See #3 above.
  5. Finally, I am immersed in Spanish classes throughout the semester, and that is what I am using all the time. I have friends with whom I can practice the language. There are plenty of Spanish speakers in the community; however, I am not comfortable enough yet with Spanish to feel I can confidently teach it to A. Spanish is not yet as instinctual as French, and yet I find French fading quickly for me. I wonder if I am going to miss my window for sharing the second language with him in the process of gaining my third language.

My approach is going to be using French as much as possible, but allowing myself to not feel the pressure of all or nothing.  Just last night, as A. was sluggishly trying to play while battling a fever, he was more cuddly than normal because he didn’t feel well. He kept bringing me a book that is in French called, “Pou-poule” about a chicken who runs away with a fox. He loves when I read this book (I like to use silly voices for the chickens talking). I realized that some of the books that he loves the most and wants to hear the most are the ones that are in French. Maybe I should stop worrying about how much and how often, and just live a bilingual (multilingual) life as a model. Hopefully he will grow up thinking this is normal, and I will have given him enough French (and maybe one day Spanish) to give him an edge if he decides to continue them. If, in the process, I begin using more French, so be it. It does have to be fun or neither of us will keep it up.

Tonight, as his father is out of town, it makes perfect sense to have an all French night and just see how it goes. If dogs and socks come into the conversation, they are welcome too!