Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bringing up "Bi" babies

Bilingual, that is.  The other day my Canadian friend came over for a playdate with her two kids.  I met this family less than a year ago in the park when I heard them speaking English.  The kids' Sesame Street rain slickers showed me once again that they weren't from around here.  The first time her little girl came over, Remi and I gushed at how she sunk her plump little hands into Catki's fur and said "fluffy!" in her pipsqueak voice.  Juliette spoke English already of course, but it was funny to hear another little tike on our balcony saying things that were so typical of my language. 

But this time when the nearly five and three and a half year-olds stopped by to see Juliette, they tended to communicate in... French?!  The Canadian mom and I kept saying, "You guys, you all speak English, ya know?  You can speak English together!"  They eventually went back and forth, lingusitically speaking, playing hide and seek and saying "Ready or not, here I come!"  But this pre-school crowd spent a lot of time as if they were on their school recess playground, saying, "T'es vilain, toi!" (you're naughty!).

Afterwards I realized with a pinch of sadness that for our kids the opportunity to speak in English with other native speakers (or bilingual kids) wasn't the priority it was for the moms.  Whereas I will sometimes stalk other English speakers in the grocery store or watch mediocre TV just because I can get it in English, Juliette doesn't necessarily have the same burning desire.  And I am reminded that even though she can communicate perfectly with me in English and sometimes prefers her cartoons in English, she has TWO languages and TWO cultures.  Why should I imagine she will favor mine?

Our old pediatrician did say English would always hold a special place in her heart, as it is literally her mother tongue.  And the other day when I told her she had two languages, she said spontaneously she was only going to speak English.  Even at school, I asked?  Well, maybe a little French in school, she replied.  

The other day I read her  a book called J'ai deux pays dans mon coeur  ("I have two countries in my heart").  I said this was her case, with America and France.  She replied pragmatically that she had three countries in her tummy, Playmobil, Horsies and something else I can't remember.  I was too busy stifling my laughs. 

So I must once again accept that my little girl is her own person, with her own experiences which will shape her view of the world.  I will always be proud to have taught her English but I can't force anything on her.  And that's a lesson any mom, bilingual or not, can tell you.


Lindle said...

I think this is one of your most touching posts. It is truly amazing how Juliette is so seamlessly learning her two languages, and sometimes comically so.

Crystal said...

I agree with Lindle - this was a memorable post that talks about the real internal struggle that expat moms must face. It really touched me.

And you have a new Canadian friend?? Have I been replaced? ;)

Deidre said...

Juliette is a lucky girl to be able to have those two cultures, but as a mom I can see how hard it would be.

Den nation said...

I love watching the the videos of Juliette speaking in English (and dancing).

You have a wonderful gift to share with her. I wish my parents had been so forthcoming with the Italian language when I was growing up. I did grow up hearing Italian, but there were no books, 1 visit to Italy and no encouragement to speak Italian.

Juliette is very lucky.