Pinning My Linguistic Hopes on More Travel.

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.

By i.g.granados & pinched from fab site 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.


I Did Not Screw Up My Child Today.

Many of you have kindly followed me through my language neuroses and in particular, Pea’s ‘will she, won’t she’ speak French. We made the decision to bleed ourselves and send her to the Lycée Français International de Bangkok, or LFIB, for a few reasons: the fact that she wasn’t speaking French (though she understood it), my lack of self-confidence in homeschooling—especially in French—and no other affordable schooling options.

Choosing the LFIB was only the first step as the Lycée now offers a bilingual Franco-English program. Yet another decision I could spend hours debating—am I the only one developing a serious phobia of too many choices? We discussed our language profile with the head of the elementary school and, after hearing my grammatical errors, observing hubby’s near lack of French and being told that Pea was currently in an English/Mandarin nursery in Singapore, he was adamant that she be put in the monolingual section. He also begged us to stick to OPOL (One Parent One Language) as, from his experience, this worked best with consolidating languages for the kids under his care.

After Pea completed her first week, her teacher kindly wrote me an email reassuring me that she seemed to be settling in very well. She also queried Pea’s language skills as she had been told Pea spoke French but none was forthcoming and no matter the situation, Pea insisted on responding in English. Her teacher, like the director, emphasized the importance of my using French around her and ask that I encourage her to speak it.

Nearly three months have passed since Pea’s first day at the French Lycée, and school will be wrapping up shortly. I’ve quietly envied the French parents who will be putting their children in the bilingual section next year as I’ve increasingly come across articles extolling the virtues of bilingual immersion programs. In a way, I’ve enjoyed knowing she was getting so much French as it meant I no longer felt as guilty when I would pull out The Gruffalo or another English language story.

I resigned myself to the situation when an game-changer makes its way into my inbox.

The admission criteria for the application in the bilingual section have been voted in the School Council on 2nd April 2009. According to these criteria, the cycle 1 teacher’s council has announced the admission of your child in bilingual Moyenne Section for the next school year starting on September 3rd. In order to validate this decision, it is necessary to send your answer (before june 14th) to let us know whether you accept your child’s admission in the bilingual section.

I read the mail. I read it again. And one more time for good measure. I think this must be some sort of mistake, probably something they sent out to all parents. I walked away from my computer. I walked back. My stream of consciousness as I sat down in front of the screen:

hmm maybe they really think Pea should be in the bilingual program…who are you kidding, she still reverts to English constantly. Generic email. This is a generic email. They charge more for bilingual program and they just want to increase funds in the coffers. But maybe…maybe I should put her in the bilingual program. I have read all these articles talking about how wonderful immersion programs are for kids. And what if I can’t afford to send her to the Lycée one day? What if I have to put her in an English-speaking school? She would be better off if she’d had some tuition in English…

My head spins

I am ruining her. She won’t ever speak proper French or English because of me. Look at all those cute, sophisticated, snarky and/or surprising quotes everyone’s kids are making. Damn you Facebook for driving home the fact that I suck as a parent and I’ve ruined my kid….I need more warm chocolate cake and chocolate sauce to help me forget what a failure I am.

I gave myself a much-needed figurative smack to jolt me before I spiralled out of control. I told myself I should rule out the bilingual option definitively by checking with the Director directly.  I drop him a quick note confirming the email was sent by mistake and, given her French, could he please confirm that we should be enrolling Pea in the monolingual section.

Yesterday my computer chimes. I’ve got mail. [Remind myself to figure out how to turn off annoying notifications.]

In my inbox was an email from Pea’s teacher. In short she said the following:

  • Pea tested extremely well in her French assessment (54/57), much higher than many kids who would be kept in the monolingual section to help them consolidate their French.
  • Pea has made enormous progress, now speaking in full sentences with a good working vocabulary.
  • We feel Pea has the right profile for the bilingual section and that it would be an optimal environment in which she will flourish.

‘Holy Crap’ I thought to myself. ‘I must not be reading this correctly.’ Then I realized I was, and for a moment, about 19.5 hours to be exact, I felt a joyous combination of pride, excitement, relief and a belief that I wasn’t screwing up my child.


Thrown in at the Deep End: P’s First Week at the Lycee Francais de Bangkok.

Having just celebrated her first anniversary at Kids Space, a fantastic little local pre-school on Pasir Panjang in Singapore, we moved our family 13 degrees north to Bangkok. Still tropical, still roughly the same number of daylight hours and still a minority,  P would now have radically different schooling experience.

She went from being accompanied to a small traditional Singaporean black and white house with a total of 25-35 students splitting their days between English and Mandarin to taking a school bus alone to a ‘campus’ housing hundreds of students complete with pool, track and other amenities. But these pale in comparison to the biggest change, that her days would now be entirely in French.

To any newcomers to the blog, P definitely understands everything I say in French but has for the most part been extremely resistant —read she always answers in English— to speaking French to me with a brief exception during month we spent alone together upon our arrival to Singapore.  She had only really just started speaking and our entire condo was empty. This left me as her sole companion and quickly translated in to her switching from English to French. Seven weeks later, our English-speaking helper started and it has been English-only ever since with only the odd word or expression thrown in here and there to tease me.

Getting my parenting neuroses out-of-the-way: I was extremely worried she would feel isolated, confused, frustrated and turn to independent play vs. mingling with other kids as I’ve witnessed so many times in the past.

Apparently I don’t know my kid at all! Week one came to a close and I received an email from her teacher which among other things said:

“La semaine a été encourageante pour Pacifique qui se montre très motivée en classe, participe beaucoup et s’applique dans son travail! Elle s’est très bien intégrée aux autres et s’est déjà fait des copains.”

Roughly translated: Great week, P is very motivated, participates and works hard. She is integrating well and has already made friends.

I nearly cried, mostly of relief but with a splash of pride. So why haven’t I cracked open the Champagne? Despite coming home uttering new french words here and there like calling me ‘la cuisiniere’ or ‘the cook’ – a word I’ve NEVER used, she is so far refusing to answer in French to anyone.

Holding my glass half full, I am not too worried. I  already feel that she is using more french and willing to repeat more french words in passing in just one week and it is only a matter of time before my little girl will start frogging it with the rest of them.

Now my glass half empty thinks that short of some major intervention, she is never going to make the switch. So far all her experience has shown her time and again that every ‘french speaker’ around her understands english so she doesn’t need to make the effort and that I should start refusing to respond to her unless her requests are in French.

Just to be clear, there is no way I could do this for a number of reasons, so I am holding tight and hoping for the best.

Let’s see what week 2 brings!