I am afraid to answer the phone in my own home. I let it ring for at least four rings in the hope that hubby will answer first. I’m not worried about debt collectors or threatening calls… No. Noting like that. I’m just scared because people might speak French at me.
There was obviously a reason why Mrs Lewis came storming across the quad towards me at school that day back in 1996. She was a teacher on a mission, enraged that I hadn’t chosen to study French at A-Level; indignant that I wasn’t contributing to her course quota. I can still remember her steely blue eyes, far too close for comfort, imploring me to take her subject. Thankfully she was speaking in English so I received every word loud and clear. And that afternoon I buckled and swapped from my last-minute choice of Geography back to my original flirtation with French.
In the end, after two years of struggling and studying I didn’t do as well as I probably would have done in Geography but I attained a reputable French Grade C and felt considerably fluent, at least with my course mates when suggesting going to get our lunch in Tesco anyway.
Cut to 17 years later and I am thankful for the tenacity of Mrs Lewis. When my husband and I first met he hadn’t been in the country for very long and couldn’t speak English at all. Our first conversation (way before the dating years) consisted of sign language and a lot of polite smiling and nodding. 10 years on and he’s pretty much fluent – his English learnt completely from the university of life, from full submersion in Scotland and now throwing in a few ochs, wees and ayes for good measure.
And now it’s my turn for some submersion in French. We’re trying to make our home and especially the girls as bilingual as possible so I’m dredging up all my French and trying to apply it to as many scenarios as possible. The girls are dredging too. When the eldest first started primary school, French was the only language she spoke and she needed a classroom interpreter to help her adapt to English. Now it all seems to have melted away. She can’t (or rather won’t) speak a word of the French and English, complete with Scottish accent, is most definitely her principal way of communicating – that and text speak. But I think she understands more French than she lets on. As for her little sister, she gives us a blank look when we roll out the ooh la-las.
And now that we’re expecting a new addition to the family in May, we’ve reinforced the serious decision that Daddy will only speak French and I will only speak English in the house so the little one, hopefully, will grow up bi-lingual and hopefully her big sisters will be able to catch up too. As for my French, the listening and understanding should improve but as for the speaking… maybe I’ll have to leave that for pillow-talk time or maybe even if I become brave enough to answer the phone.
If you want to know more about the techniques for successfully raising a bi-lingual child, I found this site really helpful…