Puppets as Linguistic Catalysts

What to do when your child won’t speak their minority language.

A word before we start. This post was written for the upcoming Raising Multilingual Children Carnival hosted by  The Piri-Piri Lexicon.  The fact that my last post was also for the carnival indicates that I am nothing if not consistent with failing miserably to post more often. The Carnival comes out the last Monday of each month. Please check it out!

When Pea started pre-K nursery in French, she understood every word but had  seldom spoken anything other than English. Within a few months, she was chattering away and I was over the moon – especially given the large chunk of money I’d handed over to enroll her.

—break for a personal gripe:

Expat schools make the assumption that everyone has a company with deep pockets paying tuition fees so they demand ridiculous sign-up sums. We paid THB100,000 or nearly USD3,500  just to enroll her and when a few months later, we thought we had to leave the country, we were told no portion would be refundable, which proved a great incentive to find work in Thailand.

–End gripe.

Pea joined Petite Section (1st year pre-K) at the end of February and only had a few months of class before they determined she could move into the bilingual pre-K the following year. I was a little apprehensive since they had previously insisted she would need to stay in the purely French track. But if the professionals thought she had progressed enough, then I would go with the flow.

I’d also heard a rumor that, ironically, the bilingual English/French class had an overall better French level than the full French class due to the number of Franco-Thai children whose maternal language was Thai.

One month into Moyenne Section (The second year of Pre-K) and Pea no longer wanted to speak any French at home. I felt like her language was receding and began to regret my decision. Instead of speaking French all the time at home, I compromised. We agreed to alternate days as she followed at school. She still wanted to respond to me in only in English. At first I lost my temper and insisted she repeat everything in French ’til I got great advice from her teachers. They told me to lay off and try not to stress about it as Pea would pick up on my frustration and it would only be detrimental in the end. Instead, I was to persist with my own  French and she would eventually respond as well.

They were right. So you should be wondering what do Puppets have to do with any of this?

Well it turns out puppets act as great catalysts. You see your child likely knows that you can in fact speak or at least understand another language. Alternatively, perhaps they are just being spiteful little creatures —I’m hoping on the former but not discounting entirely the latter. The truth is, a really awesome cuddly puppet who ONLY speaks the minority language works wonders. Now I am not talking about those lame-o sock puppets -Lambchop except you sweetie you are the most awesome sock puppet in the world.

lambchop via blog.koldcast.tv

Lamb Chop, forever in my heart.

We are talking about unbelievably cute and lifelike —in a stuffed animal kind of way— creatures that even manage to ignite my own maternal feelings.

The Germans already know this and frequently use them in kindergarten for language teaching.  My daughter’s amazing English teacher knew about this and brought back two puppets to Bangkok for Pea’s bilingual class.

Please meet Gloria – the fire-red English speaking dragon and wait for it… Jeanette, the apple-green frog. How much do I love that they chose a Frog for the french class!

Gloria with friends

Jeanette

Pea’s teachers decided to try out having the kids foster the puppets over the weekend. It was and remains a huge success – so successful in fact that they sign up sheet was filled up within the first day and they had to extend the program. This is when I discovered that I could get Pea to speak French constantly. My sweet girl didn’t want to leave Jeanette out.

Now that French is gaining momentum again in our household and armed with this new information, I am determined to find a puppet who only speaks Spanish. Here’s to hoping they have a nice stuffed Chihuahua…

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