Thursday, August 16, 2007

Frog's Out of the Box

Recently, our little lad – notre p’tit gars – said “grenouille”. Both Mom and Dad reveled in this new acquisition, as excited as if he had brought home a tadpole sheltered in inquisitively cupped hands. Grenouille – frog in English – is a bit of a tongue twister so we’re happy that he’s added it to his ever expanding French and English word palette.

Both Mom and Dad are bilingual and words are the currency of our professions – translation and public affairs. We have always known that French and English would be the only way to go with our kids. As parents of a young toddler learning two languages, we’ve embarked on an exciting learning journey and we wonder about the impact this is having on him.

Until we poked around a bit, we shared the popular belief that learning two languages simultaneously would result in some delay in language development. We were pleased to learn that studies indicate there is no such correlation and that a number of other common misconceptions have no basis in fact.

We’re at the 23-month mark and it’s been a mini-explosion of individual words and two and three word phrases for the last few weeks. Everyday there is something new in French and English. It’s hard to keep pace.

Our young guy now regularly speaks about 100 words from each language in his daily comings and goings. Frequently, his words describe immediate needs and desires – “up”, “milk”, “en bas”. Concepts that embrace a wider world are also beginning to emerge. While “kiki” is his word for “collé” – a hug, or snuggle in French, it is impregnated with so much more meaning – it’s touch me, hold me, comfort and love me, a world wrapped up in a word.

For our first 18 months we practiced the one parent one language model. Maman spoke in French only, Dad in English. While Mom was at home this was a very practical approach to ensure a solid grounding in the minority language.

On Mom’s return to work we were very fortunate to find an excellent caregiver to look after our lad in our own home. She is Japanese with an excellent command of English but no knowledge of French. After a couple of months, we felt a need to increase exposure to French.

One parent, one language has been deep-sixed for the time being. We are now speaking primarily in French and have noted an accelerated rate of new vocabulary over the past few weeks. We’re in a smileful, chattery, mimic mode now, a juggling of sounds, words, intonation and gesture, a playful poetic place where laughter and wonder are the norms.

Using our lad’s own words, it might go something like this:

ben oui maman
ben oui papa
kicky ball
gros gros gros drapeau
boat papa boat boat
go go go
maman en bas en bas en bas
un deux quatre
milk milk milk
kiki maman kiki
tam-tam tam-tam tam-tam boom boom
saute saute saute grenouille

Some resources that we’ve found to be fun and useful:
  • The Québec public television series Passe-Partout available on DVD;
  • ABCs for young children great for hours of learning and entertainment;
  • A French ABCs illustrated with children’s drawings;

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