French

I’ve read, or heard, that when immersed in a new language children absorb it amazingly quickly. By the time the girls had been in school for a month I was expecting to hear the odd French word pop out.

Rien.

I cajoled them. Some of the French children were practicing their English on my girls, for heaven’s sake, but would my girls try a ‘salut’ or ‘ça va’? Heck no.

I felt frustrated and a bit cross.  And guilty. I should be helping them more, tutoring them, speaking nothing but French at home. No doubt I should. But then part of me felt for them, arriving home after a long day immersed in French they wanted a break – of course they did.

And it’s not as if I was fluent anyway…

The other matter was that long school day.  The got out at 4.30 and we often weren’t home before 5.30.  Then I’d walk through the door and start on dinner. I dunno, maybe some 7 and 9 year olds just put themselves to bed, but ours need, at the very least, a stream of constant reminders. Plus bed time is meant to be 7.30 and 8pm. If someone has a vaguely human routine whereby one can arrive home at 5.30 to 6pm, cook a dinner, eat a civilised family dinner, get said children clean and ready for bed, teethed & bedded by 7.30 AND fit in some study, I’d love to hear it.

Actually writing that it really sound like fitting in homework should be easy. Clearly I’m going wrong somewhere or I’m just a useless parent…

Soz – feeling a tad ranty about the evening routine and all the cooking…. Over.

Image of girl on laptop in front of a blackboard with Hello, Hola, Hallo, Bonjour and Olå written on it

As time went on, though, I started to feel somewhat ashamed of my kids for not piping up. Then I felt bad for feeling that way – it wasn’t as if they’d chosen to be chucked in a French school. Plus there was the annoying English faction making it way too easy for them to avoid speaking French. How those annoying English get about…

Less annoying was the reassuring talk, from some English adults, telling me how long it had taken their children to pipe up in French (generally a good deal more than my expected three months). I’d managed to start to make friends with a French mum who also counselled patience – how often does nagging make someone do something, she basically said!  I listened.  I tried to swap cajoling for encouraging, sitting down with bits of homework (when they were given any, which didn’t actually seem very often and I wondered whether the teachers weren’t bothering to give it, thinking the girls wouldn’t understand it…)  I prised the odd word out of them and praised them. When a spontaneous ‘oui’ popped out now and again I cheered.

After a couple of months Daisy admitted she could understand quite a bit. Isla insisted she understood nothing. The month wore on. Daisy was engaging more with her Duo Lingo and doing amazingly. Still not speaking unless asked to, but understanding – often bits that I didn’t get. She even started correcting my pronounciation. Cheeky monkey!

Fast forward to June (this blog probably isn’t going to be in exactly chronological order – my brain does chronology then flips into categorising by subjects. It’s like metric and imperial battling for the same ground…). The eldest is definitely understanding a lot. A huge lot in fact.  I caught her translating a film the girls were watching in French for her sister (“Stop that please- it might seem helpful but it’s not.”).  The other one casually admitted she did understand quite a bit at school… And started sometimes working on her French at home of her own volition.

Miss 9 has spent a week in Paris, which is enough to make anyone feel sophisticated. She apparently spoke more French than ever before while there. On her return I noted her chucking French about with her friends without seeming at all self-conscious.

And Miss 7 was doing the same.

Given a few more months in their French school I think they’d be sweetly fluent.

If only. Cos what are we doing?

Only moving them to Barcelona and chucking them in a Catalan school (albeit while we wait for places at the French schools…)

In case you’re wondering, that’s a bit like taking your child to the UK to learn English and putting them in a Welsh speaking school.

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Packing up & picking up languages as we move around the world!

Ho hum – they’ll pick everything up eventually.  At the moment my feeling is (so I don’t melt down, which I could, as it’s a bit mental, but that wouldn’t get me anywhere now, would it?  Where’s the wine….?), anyway, my feeling is that if they get put down a year in school because they don’t understand anything right now, and end up graduating from secondary a year later but with four or five languages under their belt – is that a bad, or a good thing?

I think we all know the answer to that!

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild

Suddenly it was May and very nearly the end of the ski season and it felt like we’d barely arrived. I hadn’t ski’d enough. Or eaten enough patisserie – the shop was going to shut soon…
Plus we were heading towards the start of our third month and the girls weren’t speaking French, much to my frustration. I felt we should be doing more to help and I bought paper and wrote up lists with little pictures to try to encourage them.

Photo of a father at a laptop in a dining table, a young girl at the other end facing away. On the panelled wall are papers with French words.

Our small apartment now also a school room!


I thought back to the Spanish children who’d arrived at the girls’ school back in the UK with barely any English.  They had seemed to be speaking English pretty quickly.  What was wrong with my girls?  Then I realised that as far as I knew no one in the UK school spoke Spanish to those children. Here in our resort town the English kids – a small minority but a significant one – gravitated towards each other. There were English teachers at the school, and others who spoke English willingly. My kids weren’t being forced to understand or speak French, and were getting away with it. If only we’d picked a remote village out of the way of these pesky Brits and their annoying language!

Meanwhile, with the approach of spring people started mentioning how they’d spent the day at a play park in a settlement a little down the mountain, which sounded like a lovely change of scenery.  The snow had started to melt more down there, apparently.  I discovered that to get there we needed to take two buses and then a chair lift down. Adventure!

So (slightly randomly moving into the present tense so you can properly join us on our sunny day out…) one Sunday when the husband is away we pack a picnic and venture down the mountain.

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Down to fully fledged Spring!


It’s glorious! The chair lift down is a lovely ride in itself, and we arrive in warm spring. From the chair we spy a couple gathering something-or-other on the hillside and the moment we ‘land’ Daisy is pestering me to go and find out what it is.

 

‘Dents de lion’ the lady tells me, and shows me the little shoots she’s collecting in a muslin bag. Daisy quickly becomes expert at spotting clumps of the small green shoots, and when I can eventually persuade her away toward the play park and picnic tables it’s with the promise that we’ll collect some for ourselves as soon as we’ve had lunch and emptied a container.  Thankfully I’m in French practical mode and am carrying my Swiss Army Knifeso I’m ready to forage (I know it should be an Opinel, but I don’t own one of my very own just yet – though as a family we do have a couple).

 

Daisy’s eagerness over the foraging is all part of her and Isla’s plans to live in ‘The Wild’. This is a plan that’s been around for a good year or two and is a regular feature in their conversations.  It’s all being gradually planned out. They will have clans, with strict hierarchy and rules and special names. Daisy’s in charge, obvs.  Discussions are usually around who will do what, the things they will need and how they will get them, plants they will grow and enterprises for getting money, power etc. I’m allowed to visit – as long as I help out!  At one point I suggested they might charge people to come and stay – so they can get money for other things they might need. The price seems to be going up each time it’s mentioned…   Since arriving in the Alps some scoping has been done for areas suitable to set up camp. And now skills are being gathered so they will be able to eat. It runs deep, I think, this plan…

 

After a long picnic and play, I draw them away towards a path on the other side of the babbling river to explore. Before setting off we look for dents-de-lion in a sunny meadow. There are lots. I promise we’ll gather some before catching the chairlift back up.

 

Such an easy way to occupy children – a walk. We just meander along at no great pace. They make up stuff about what we are seeing and take turns to be ‘the guide’. I get told off if I overtake the leader of the moment, so I keep my rank! There are little waterfalls, hidden icicles in still-cold nooks, birds and leaves and stones. We feel refreshed. The girls are in heaven. Any niggles about school and missing friends disappear and they are just in their element.

 


On our return we collect our dents-de-lion. We aren’t actually a hundred per cent sure what we’re doing and whether we’re aiming for the root or the leaves, or both. We go for shoots with a bit of root attached, which is what I think the French couple were doing. Then it’s a last play and up and away on the chair lift (which is fairly steep and a lovely way to travel –  quite exciting even, when you have the advantage of childhood).

The next day I cook the Dents-de-Lion after a bit of Googling.  Silly me  – of course, they are Dandelion shoots.  D’oh!  The lady had mentioned having them with eggs and there are all sorts of recipes on line. As I wash them I end up removing most of the earthy root and decide that next time I’ll go for more shoot than root.  For my recipe I go free range with a packet of lardons I find hiding in the ‘fridge, along with cream, butter and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. Bingo – it’s delicious!

Contrary to my expectations the girls enjoy them too. ‘When we live in The Wild,’ they say, ‘we will have dents-de-lion and….’
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Dents-de-lion. Our first French foraging mission