Before kids, conversations between my husband and I were mostly English, sprinkled with some French here and there, or, after a trip to France, a healthy dose of French with a sprinkle of English. Sometimes we spoke more French deliberately – so I could practice, or so we could have “secret” conversations when out on a date (so scandalous of us, that randy young couple! In truth, we were more likely talking about something mundane like work, or gossiping about our waiter). Sometimes we’d do it so we could make fun of each country’s accents: I’d don a thick, affected French accent, complete with a nose in the air and a French shrug, and my husband would try to emulate a New Yorker or a Texan. Sometimes we bounced back and forth between languages without it consciously registering, until we noticed someone staring.
Now, as our kids (age 3 ½ and 19 months) progress in this bilingual environment, we see that in our house, we all speak Franglais.
My daughter, the oldest, had the opportunity to attend a French Immersion school last year, so her French comprehension is great, but she prefers to answer in English. We’re bribing her with her favorite foods to get her to respond to us in French: “You want another chip? Il faut parler en français !” (Another mommy fail – I once declared I’d never bribe my kids with food.)
If she doesn’t know a word in French, she’ll say the word in English with a thick French accent: for example, “soccer ball” becomes “sew-care bowl.” This, despite neither of us ever pronouncing English words in this way. I love it. Sometimes, she’ll babble nonsensical words, but the sounds are distinctly French, and she’ll tell me that she’s speaking in French when I ask her what language she’s using. The other day, she said the character in the book we were reading was “Rose-ing the lawn.” (The French word for “to water” is “arroser.”) She’s gotten used to hearing from her Papa, “Fait pas de bêtises,” (don’t goof around), so the other day she told me, with a mischievous grin, “Mommy, I’m bêtise-ing.”
In the summer, when mosquitoes abound, I tend to say, “I’m getting MANGED!” (Manger – “to eat” in French) instead of the more common, “I’m getting eaten alive,” or, “I’m getting attacked by mosquitoes.” I suppose this isn’t helping anyone in the house learn French.
Then there’s the word “doudou,” (sounds like “doo-doo”) which is the French word for “lovey,” or stuffed animal. It’s one of my son’s first French words, and one that my daughter uses commonly. As in, “Where is my doudou?” Or, “I love my doudou,” and, in response to Mall Santa’s question, “What do you want for Christmas?” “A Mickey doudou and a Minnie doudou.” That earned me a stern look from Santa, and required a lot of explaining to my confused, but ready-to-milk-it-for-all-it-was-worth, brother.
My son’s language is starting to take off, so I therefore poo-pah all the nay-sayers who claim bilingual kiddos will be behind in their language development during their first few years of life. Both of my kids understand French and English without difficulty, and are well beyond the “normal” expectations of spoken language ability for their ages. His first French words have been: “coucou” (hello, familiar), “doudou,” “l’eau” (water), and, my favorite, “Pi-pah-po” for “papillon” (butterfly).
My favorite misused word in English: “Happies.” When my daughter was first learning to speak, she had a set of pajamas that said, “Happy” across the chest. So, we would point and say, “Happy,” every time she wore them. Thus, pajamas became “Happies,” and we all put on our happies each night before bed. I can’t think of a better word to describe the most comfortable of clothes and the relaxation one feels when finally getting to slip into them at the end of a long day.
I don’t believe that my kids are confused. My daughter knows very well which words are French and which ones are English, despite sometimes using them in sentences together. I know, because I ask her – is that a French word or an English one you just said? As for my son, chances are he’s mélange-ing the two (see, there I go again) without realizing it. I have no fear that both kids will eventually sort the two languages out in their own brains; research shows that bilingual children eventually do. In the meantime, their prefrontal cortexes are getting an excellent workout.
I’m okay with a little Franglais. It’s one of my favorite languages, and one we’re all fluent in, chez nous.