I stay away from resolutions like the plague. Basically as soon as I resolve to do something, I am pretty much guaranteed that I won’t get it done.
So I want to be clear: This year, I will speak less French with my children and I will most definitely not be fluent in Spanish after my epic two month trip to Mexico.
I will speak less French because when we needed to move to Asia for work, which conveniently put us in a country where neither my husband or I would now have to clean the toilet –a move I am quite certain ensured the success of our marriage– it never dawned on me that I would end up switching to English so our terrific helper Cherry wouldn’t feel excluded.
It was one of those things; I stumbled at first, managing to speak French to the girls and then translating to English for Cherry’s sake. Then my stumble turned to a slow roll down the hill. I would only speak English when Cherry was around and switch to French if we were out of the house. Before you knew it, I was rolling down the hill at full velocity, bulldozing everything in my way. When I managed to peel myself off the ground at the bottom, I was unable to recall the last time I spoke any French at all.
Bam, damage done. But I had a great relationship with my helper, who ended up as Cinderella and now lives in a palatial house in Austin. Woohoo (Hi Cherry!)
I have been paying for the mistake I made in trying to be inclusive. This happened when my eldest P was two and a half. She is now rapidly approaching 6. I need to stop and breath deeply here as that thought brings me to the precipice of a full on anxiety attack. I’ve been slowly clawing my way back but her French suffered tremendously. As a result, her sister’s is even worse, especially since she didn’t have the benefit of spending a few months in a French-speaking school.
Now that I am homeschooling, I’ve repeatedly failed to adequately prepare lessons to allow me to seamlessly talk about stuff in French. When it comes to math and other scientific stuff, I don’t even bother trying as I just handle complexity much better in English. Have you seen French conjugations? There’s just no way I can swing the uncertainty of science and getting the right ending for irregular verbs.
I’ve had to shell out some serious dosh to increase the time the girls hear quality French. They both go for an hour, twice a week to my friend Amelie’s house for French activities and conversations. This January, I also decided to send P, my eldest –little C won’t be of age until September this year– twice a week to the Acacia Language club to reinforce her French. It’s working but crickey, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and money if I’d just been a bit less worried about others for once.
Now on to Spanish. I should speak it fluently. Really. I have no excuse. My mother speaks it. One of my brothers speaks it. I took it at school –until I forged my mother’s signature at the start of year two and switched to Italian. My father claims to speak it along with any other number of languages but in his own words, he is full of bullsh**. He is in fact the perfect example of what I don’t want to become linguistically. Here’s an example:
Excerpt from my childhood.
Setting: living room, after dinner, saturday night.
People: Father, mother, brothers and me.
Conversation in French between mother and children:
Shall we go to the beach tomorrow? Why yes I’d love to…Oh not me, I can’t because of this… sure you can you can just change that….wait but is there a concert at the beach? No I don’t think there is a concert at the beach. But how would we get there? Oh well your father would rent his taxi but take a few hours off and drive us there. Hmmm that could be good, the beach is so lovely at this time of year. Oh yes, I love it when the seagulls swoop down and steal my sandwich – And how the lifeguards like to perv when you take your bikini top off – must you do that? Mom I am french of course I must. Ok so it’s settled: all in favor of going to the beach say Moi. Moi, Moi, grumpy brother… oh alright, moi too. It’s decided we are going to the beach!
A nano second of silence. My father opens his mouth:
So would anyone like to go to the beach tomorrow?
Ya Pop, the day you speak French is the day Putin decides to run Russia democratically.
So, you see, I really need to speak Spanish. I had a Spanish boss for a number of years. He employed his Spanish wife and sister, both of whom spoke little English. I had spanish assistants and spanish customers. I met and married a Mexican –a real one, not a Chicano–and lived in New York City. I’ve signed up and taken a number of Spanish classes. I was always the best student in class and then something gets in the way, I don’t sign up for level two and my Spanish get stuck like an old vinyl record, me forever speaking in the present. This is truly unacceptable.
I can get by in Spanish. I have to. My Suegra only knows the following English: It’s your mother, I just called to say I love you and it’s been so long since we had an answering machine, I am not even sure if she remembers that. I don’t know how she understands me. I can only speak in the present but I am always talking about the past and future. I was once left by my husband on my own to explain to his mother –the catholic woman I hoped would like me enough to encourage her son to marry me– that I had actually already been married and was finalizing a divorce. To this day, I am not sure what I actually managed to tell her.
Similarly, I can only capture a small portion of what she says because you see my Suegrita is way cool and she uses a lot of slang. The kind of slang my numerous books on tapes don’t cover. Sometimes, it’s not even slang. She is linguistically creative my Suegrita, which is fabulous, unless I actually need to know what she is saying to me.
Suegra: Javi…. spanish spanish spanish… some word I don’t recognize… spanish, spanish.
Me to J: What was that word? J: I am not sure. Me: What do you mean you are not sure?! J: My mother makes up words. Me: I am screwed aren’t I. J: Pretty much, yes.
So this year, I will most definitely not be rocking Mexican Slang nor chock full of neologisms from my Suegra. Now where is my lanita as I seriously need a couple of caguamas.
This post was written for the fabulous Raising Multilingual Children Carnival hosted this month by Open Hearts, Open Mind. I’ll update the link once it’s up. Please check it out!