My youngest daughter has had difficulty with speech. When she was born she had a lot of medical needs and couldn’t even drink milk regularly. As a result the muscles that develop in the mouth from sucking were weak; at ten months we were wrapping muslins round her little neck and she’d have about half of the the milk in an 8oz bottle, the rest ending up in the muslin. As she hadn’t been drinking regularly it took a long time to also diagnose her with reflux, so for her consuming nourishment was associated with pain.
When children are delayed for whatever reason in their eating milestones the subsequent lack of muscle formation also effects their speech. We worried about this moving to France as, having been a teacher and read about the common three month delay on children with a second language, it concerned us that she would again face another stumbling block. However we knew too that she evidently understood language and was communicating to us using signs so we thought the risk was limited.
Once living in France she was naturally taking in lots of new information and the few sounds she’d had in the U.K. seemed to disappear. For example she can say hello quite clearly (“ewow”) and had started to say a “b” sound for goodbye, but the b sound went, although we often heard the hello. Although I’d joked to my mum that if she’d started speaking French I may not recognise the words, as time went on I grew more concerned.
Then one day we were in the supermarket and we were about to leave she was waving wildly and making a “awaw” sound. She’d done the same thing the day before waving goodbye to my mum and I’d been reminded of her step back from the b of bye bye sound, so had been a little saddened by it. However the cashier looked delighted, saying back to her “au revoir”. This time though something about the cashiers reaction and La Petites intent whilst saying it made something click as I observed; it was au revoir. Her first French word! My humorous observation was accurate; when you are unused to a language you don’t pick up the similarity.
I immediately phoned Le Marie to tell him as well as my mum. Then over the weeks I started to doubt what I thought was happening was actually happening. Was it just wishful thinking? But over time a ‘v’ sound has been added to her “awaw”. On the day she first started to use this new, more precise, pronunciation there was obvious surprise and delight on French people’s faces as they recognised their tongue from the mouth of an English woman’s infant, so it became clear that it wasn’t just me, she was saying a French word.
In the last few weeks her ability to verbally communicate has developed significantly. She can now say about 20 recognisable words and is starting to add 2 or 3 words together. It finally looks like the second language gap is closing!
Our next stage is to organise a crèche for her, but that’s a story for another post as developing social networks for our toddler is proving far more complicated than I thought.
With our second move last year just before Christmas I got behind on my things to do list, namely arrange the baptism for La Jolie Fille. Originally we had wanted to have it done in our nearby cathedral, but as a more permanent move was on the cards we thought that it would be better to do it when we were involved more in a community.
Since our arrival in this corner of La Manche we’ve been going to our nearest church for mass and the congregation have been incredibly welcoming. It’s funny, but it’s the same parish that my husband and I visited over a decade ago and, as we where stood there, said how we’d like to live in France.
Each week the parish priest calls all the youngesters up to say The Our Father in the mass and he gets one of the older children to read a part of the liturgy. One of the first weeks we were there Le Marie was away and I was on my own with Les Petites. Trying to concentrate on mass in a second language, whilst trying not to kill your kids for being naughty, is no mean feat (only joking about the killing part, they’re adorable 😕) and I suddenly realised when I heard the word ‘poussette’ that the priest was talking to us.
The next week it seemed like their was a bit of an organised ‘get the poor strangers involved’ thing going on as one of the older men came up and offered to take La Belle up to the alter. It was so lovely to be invited in like that.
So today off I went to speak with the priest about the baptism and we have Easter Sunday booked with two other children being baptised in mass on the same day! That makes it even more lovely.
The priest (whose name I still don’t know, because I couldn’t quite make out the pronunciation) seemed intrigued to have English people as part of the congregation; there was no mention of any other English, so I presume we’re the only English in the village as Little Britain would say. He kept randomly stopping people in the parish office and asking “Do you speak any English?” and then having a little chuckle to himself.
He also said how the baptism service would be in French and asked if that was ok; so that’s me looking up the service to translate now then.
Le Marie and I have spent the last few days, with the help of friends, moving all of our things into our new French home. If the utilities are connected we think we’ll spend our first night in our new home tomorrow – I’m so excited. In the meantime I thought I’d take some time to tell you how La Belle Fille is doing in school.
When we first started to talk about moving out of our friends gite into our new home she was very apprehensive – she seemed to just stop talking French in school! It’s understandable considering she’s just five and her experience of moving has been to a different country.
Gradually, as we’ve talked more and more about the process and I’ve driven her to and from the house to her school to demonstrate its not that far she’s coming to understand that this time not everything will change. She’ll be able to stay close to her friends, in her school, near her grandparents – the world will not shift again!
As she’s realised this her speaking in French has increased once more. The other day she brought home a little note to say she’s spoken 50 French words in one day. Then I spoke with her teacher and had a really pleasant surprise.
I had started to teach La Belle Fille to read when she was about 2 1/2 years old. I used lots of Alphablocks episodes so she could identify how to spell basic cvc (consanant, vowel, consanant) words. However when we started to read together it became obvious that a good number of the most frequently used words are irregularly sounded and this can make it difficult to read a story unless you have a book written with that in mind. However, when you have those kind of book there is the additional problem that the restriction of such words means that there isn’t a real story, so for La Belle they held little interest.
So from the base of phonetics I moved onto the see and say method; remember Peter and Jane books? That’s see and say. It’s the repetition over and over of the most frequently used words so that they’re learnt by site. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, personally I think it’s best to use both as far as they’re successful and then swap to the other when ea hot loses their utility.
By the time we moved here La Belle had very good reading skills. By that I mean she reads word dense books with intonation, sounding out new words until she has them right. As a result I’d started to teach her to read in French whilst Le Marie continued to read in English. My accent isn’t great, but I’m not too bad at pronunciation and I think that it’s best to do something rather than nothing because it’s not perfect.
This seems to have payed off! When I dropped La Belle off at school the other day Madame La Professeure asked me if she could move her up a reading group – La Belle’s class is composed of two age groups, hers and the year above. So she now reads with the year above!
When I asked Madame if this was just for English she said that no, this was for her reading in French. I was thrilled. I’d noticed more and more that she had started to read to her self in the French, but as she’s tends to hide what she’s doing until she’s confident in it I had been unable to ascertain just where she was.
She’s also started to imitate her French peers – her accent is perfect! “Oh maman, ce n’est pas juste” she’ll declare. I know that by the end of this academic year she’ll be correcting me left, right and centre!
We went yesterday to visit our friends who have offered us a place to live for a year in their gite. It was an opportunity to see it with La Belle Fille, so she could see where we where going to live. The house has a wonderfully big sitting room with a large wood burner and a country kitchen with a dresser and kitchen table. This is all set in the French countryside – a little piece of heaven on earth!
They’ve very kindly had the stairs removed as they were constructed with just the steps, nothing in between. Obviously not good for little children. The man who’s constructing the new stairs had already removed the old ones and now our eldest is fascinated by the upstairs that she can’t reach!
The house has a long lawn and our eldest scared us when she ran to the bottom, ignoring my calls to her, and into a stream! Obviously we’ll be putting in fencing for peace of mind!
I can’t believe how excited I am!
The last few days I’ve been trying to encourage La Belle Fille to use the French she has, to no avail. Until we used the ultimate bribe for children that is – stickers! I’ve bought 100 heart stickers and each time she says something in French she gets one. When she has 100 she gets a game of boules. She’s now saying bonjour and au revoir in each shop as well as merci. As we go on I’m going to encourage her with s’il te plaît and other phrases.
In fact we’re walking to the local boulangerie tomorrow to give her an opportunity to speak some more.