This post was written for June’s Raising Multilingual Children Carnival hosted this month by All Done Monkey. This month’s theme is Multilingualism and Travel. If you would like to participate, host or simply learn more about the carnival, please visit Piri -Piri Lexicon’s Carnival Page.
I haven’t been home in two years. Wait, that’s wrong. I haven’t been home in three years but I am not sure anymore what home really is. I haven’t seen my parents in two years. The last time we saw each other, they flew from New York, the city where I was born and raised, to meet us in France, where I grew up spending my summers. Two years ago, they met our second daughter for the first time. She was 10 months old.
Prior to the trip, I was brimming with anticipation as I was sure, once immersed in the language, that my daughter Pea would flick a switch and start speaking French fluently. I felt like I’d read about this a thousand times, children who understood a language simply needing some time in the country to make the linguistic leap to actually speaking.
I was so very disappointed when it didn’t happen. Truth is we weren’t there long enough. We were also surrounded by people who understood and could speak English and who were all too keen to do so despite my begging them not to. I was reminded once again that there are no quick fixes when it comes to multilingualism. I did console myself with the idea that she had been immersed in lots of lovely French culture and, in a bid to try and view the glass half full, wrote a post on the topic here.
One of the reasons we chose to move to the other side of the world was the idea that we could afford to send our kids to a French school. I knew from friends’ experiences that spots in French/English immersion programs at public schools in New York were nearly impossible to come by, and private schools in the US are utterly unaffordable for us mere mortals. At the time, my daughter was attending a local Singaporean school but, after that trip, I was more determined than ever to get both our girls into French or bilingual schools and our upcoming move from Singapore to Bangkok was going to make that a reality with a more affordable French Lycée and an amazing little French/English bilingual nursery called Acacia conveniently near our new digs.
The first year was pretty much everything that I’d hoped for despite some major bumps in the road that caused me no end of neuroses -oh how I need to learn to think long term and not panic at every short term setback. But I digress… English is still the dominant language in our house but the girls’ French is fluent and I know progress has been made when, despite being an ‘English day’ at school, Pea comes home and choses to speak to me in French. My wee one, little plum already happily switches back and forth. They both love their schools and it’s all been a great success.
So why am I pulling them out?
A year in and I’ve realized the choice is really between private schools or tickets home to see family so in the end, I am opting for the latter. I’ve often preached about sticking to your heritage languages but what exactly is the point of my kids speaking French and Spanish if they then can’t go see their Mexican and French extended family? And really, since el Jeffe works all the time and all our funds go to the French school, Spanish is barely hanging on in our household.
What I will lose in giving up their formal French education I hope to gain with the ability to take more trips to France and Mexico in order to deepen their cultural connection and truly live their languages. Right now the girls don’t really get why Spanish is important but I know once they spend a few months with Abuelita and meet their cousins, they will want to actively add this language to their linguistic arsenal, as will I.
And let’s face it, I really miss good tortillas and ceviche.