How language affects transition

The whole family speaks French, which is a relief. Such a relief. Honestly, I can’t imagine how foreigners do life in France without speaking French. That said, we all speak French to varying degrees, and each family member feels the strain of transition to the degree that he speaks French.

My French is pretty solid, near native. I understand most subtleties and nuances of Molière’s language. You’d probably not pin me down as a foreigner if you heard me make a call to the insurance company. But to me, my language feels painfully rusty. It feels like a vintage locomotive, squeaking along for the weekend tourist outing. The confidence I’ve lost by being away for nine years will come back, but meanwhile I feel like such a dummy when having deeper conversations. It’s like I’m speaking with a hairball stuck down my throat. Yesterday, I was chatting with my new soccer mom friend. I was trying to explain In Pursuit of Silence, the latest film the hubs is working on and how cool it is that the theatrical release will take place the next few weeks in Paris and London. I couldn’t for the life of me explain the film distribution process to her. I stuttered all over the football field. I felt like a right dunce as my new friend patiently waited for me to clear out my hairball.

Speaking of feeling like a dunce, Tall Mountain is feeling all the duncy feelings. He collected his car from the mechanic’s and was greeted with the familiar and ever so humbling squint. It’s the “I think you’re speaking my language, but I am having to concentrate real hard here to understand!” look. TM usually returns home, using a foreigner’s accent in English to imagine what his rudimentary French must sound like: “Me come collect car! Where pick up?”. It’s so painful for the master communicator, man of perfection and excellence he is in English, to feel like a baby all over again.

Yesterday, I recklessly put his name down as our daughter’s preschool class volunteer. The kids were making a pear-chocolate Charlotte cake, a chocolate mousse, and a classic yogurt cake to celebrate the October birthdays. I thought he would get all the warm fuzzies of being a hero in Délice’s cooking class. Instead, he lost a night of sleep, tossing and turning over the stress of how handicapped he feels by his level of French. Immersion is the best way to learn, but boy, it’s so uncomfortable and so humbling.

In contrast to his papa, our eldest son Ayo isn’t feeling much discomfort at all. Since going to school, his “r” sounds are becoming so beautiful and pure. And he is even raising eyebrows and adopting all the other quirky French mannerisms. He loves playing with the language. I hear him talking to himself saying “bon, ben voilà quoi” or “bon, euh, hein?“, those awesome phrases meaning everything but mostly nothing at all. A teacher in the school called our neighbor (gotta love small town life) to tell her how phenomenal Ayo’s French vocabulary and syntax are. That he speaks a more correct French than his monolingual peers. Of course, that was really honoring for me to hear as a not quite native mama. And, since we’ve been learning French in a bubble until this summer.

Middle child Délice understands everything perfectly too, but she is still responding to me mostly in English. However, her English is now riddled with French interference. She’ll say: That’s at me! Instead of: that’s mine! Or, I want the toy blue! My girl is a genius code-switcher and speaks perfect FRENGLISH using the most efficient word in the language of her choice, not really caring who she speaks to. She’s not a performer, which we love about her, and so she will only switch languages when you really don’t understand.

Our kids still use English together on the playground, however, they both assured me last week that “French is way easier, maman!”.


This post was part of the #Write31Days challenge, on the topic: Our family in global transition.
You can read the other posts written this month, by clicking on the links below!

1 – French Preschool
2 – Making friends in a new land
3 – ‘Yes’ people in a ‘No’ culture
4 – How language affects transition
5 – Not all French people are foodies
6 – The apple juice party
7 – I’m the third-born
8 – French-Mex ridiculous
9 – Busted by the Swiss police
10 – Educational field trip
11 – Visitors: the good and the bad
12 – Christmas in October
13 – A good place to get sick
14 – C’est les vacances!
15 – Playdate anguish
16 – The five year plan
17 – The Q&A edition!
18 – Holidays are for world-schooling
19 – The Granny I want to be.


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