I was at a loss for words as I pondered what to write for the Bilingual Carnival hosted this month by Gato and Canard. I decided to join the corporate ranks and experiment in the art of outsourcing —read I contacted our host to ask her if there was anything in particular she would be interested in. She responded that she would like a post on WORDS. Yes I found this funny given I had none in my mind but then something happened. I remembered a post I’ve wanted to write for the last eight months but have never been able to get around to, until now.
When we visited some of my family in France last summer, I had huge hopes and perhaps even expectations —always a dangerous thing— of how my oldest daughter’s spoken French would emerge. Despite only spending just under 3 weeks and having her Spanish-speaking father and English-speaking Grandfather around, I felt confident that given her understanding of French, the words would suddenly come spilling out.
I can assure you this did not happen. Fortunately the disappointment was lessened by my enjoyment of a particularly cold summer —we live in the tropics so this is good news to me— coupled with other family dramas that moved language acquisition right to the bottom of my list of worries. But before my attention was absorbed with more pressing matters, I did manage to jot down one of my favorite linguistic anecdotes to date.
Towards the end of our drive from Paris Charles de Gaulle to southern Normandy where we were initially staying, we passed a number of wheat fields. Having lived in New York City, Singapore and traveled to Mexico where the only fields my eldest had seen were brown, of shopping malls and a blue-green one of agave. I was excited to point out the fields of wheat and explain what they were. My relationship with nature and particularly my understanding of where food comes from had nearly always originated during my summer holidays in France as a child; I looked forward to sharing this with P.
Me: “Regarde le champ de Blé!” [Look at the wheat field!]
P: “du lait?” [milk?]
Me: “Non, du BLÉ” [No, wheat]
P: “oui LAIT!” [ yes milk]
Me “Non, B-B-B + lé. BLÉ” [No + attempt to sound out wheat in French]
P: “Oui, B-B-B + lait”
Me, now ecstatic: “OUI! BLÉ!”
P: “OUI! B-B-B- MILK!”
Ok, I can see how that would make sense to her.
Word construction is a funny thing. Most of us don’t think about it much except perhaps during SATs, in the US anyway and maybe when our children start speaking. But there is a whole other level of fun that happens with many multilingual kids as they work to tease out sounds, words and separate languages.
I hope you will share your favorite creative word or sentence construction!
My daughter used to say: zut a tout a l’heure instead of zut alors (which I use as a mild expletive in front of her).
Aw, that’s adorable! Some of us do this in only one language of course, I’m terrible at mishearing song lyrics.
Me too! I once heard an episode -I think it was this American life- and it was examples of people who misheard and hence missing songs for Wes before they realized they ha got tot wrong. I’ll try to dig it up for you. Very funny!