Getting back to normal

It’s been a week since we got back from France, and things are finally getting back to normal, Monkey’s sleep schedule being the most important, of course. While we really just bought the cheapest tickets we could find, the flight times worked out so that he was really tired in both directions, so there wasn’t an issue falling asleep when we got there, and when we got home. While we were there, he was on a 10pm-8:30am schedule, instead of his normal 7:30pm-6am schedule, which I think helped make the switch back a bit easier.

He still woke up before 5 two days this week, and before 6 all but Friday. This morning we managed our usual Saturday routine: sleeping “in” until 6:30, all three of us going to the Y, and then an “outing,” today we headed to a local farm to pick up some seedlings for our garden.

He’s been getting more TV this week than he usually does, however, simply because we are all so tired, and waking up before 5 meant by 6pm he was DONE and just screaming about everything. And my husband came back to a huge project at work, which meant I was on my own a lot more in the evenings. The less-than-stellar weather has been hard too, since he can’t go outside and play to let off some of that frustration. This week should be better, as we are all much better rested than we were last Saturday.

I’ll do a few other posts about the trip (Sweden especially), but I did want to capture a few language things about Monkey I noticed.

He didn’t seem to pick up as much vocabulary as I thought he would, but a few new key phrases are “Pourquoi?” and “Je sais pas.” He obviously got the second one from asking the first too much! We also taught him to count from one to ten in German and Japanese, which he proudly showed off to everyone in the family. He seemed resistant to Italian, however, which I found interesting. Maybe it’s too close to French and Spanish (which he hears at daycare). He seems to prefer imitating “funny” sounds – when we got back from our side trip to Sweden, he was all too eager to repeat the few words we’d picked up while there.

Another new phrase is “pas manger les possions,” (no eating the fish) which I am assuming he learned from his mamie when she took him to the aquarium. I find it particularly hilarious. I’m pretty sure it’s because he likes to be a monster and “eat” people/things/the cat, so she must have scolded him about putting his face on the glass to “eat” the fish! Overall, he seems to be making longer phrases now, which he’s been doing for awhile in English. So the trip was definitely a good boost for his French.

I have a lot of other thoughts and stories from the trip, not all of the positive, but I thought I’d save those for another day. This drizzly May weather is depressing enough without trying to remember all the stress from France!

Translating toddler

I’ve noticed an interesting translating habit of Monkey recently that I keep meaning to research more, but so far have only had the time to document it a bit.

We follow a minority language at home (mL@H) approach, however, most of what he watches is in English. He has tons of books in French, but we don’t have any French channels for the moment. He only likes Sesame Street right now, so French channels would go unwatched anyway. I am thrilled about his love of Cookie Monster (despite the less-than-ideal grammar example he sets), since anyone who’s ever watched it knows the show does a lot with letters and numbers. (And emotions, and friendship, and all sorts of other good stuff.)

There was a short on the alphabet, “A for Apple” “B for Bear” etc. and he started saying “A pour pomme,” using the French pronunciation of the letter A. He did this for other letters too “K pour chat” (they showed a kitten), before I explained to him “this part is in English, it’s okay to do it in English.” And when there was another short that was just the alphabet with silly drawings, he would repeat the letters back in French, like he was “translating” them.

So it seems as though he has 100% got the message that at home, we speak in French. Which feels great! And I am not too concerned about this impacting his eventual reading skills, because he is only two and a half. However, I do think he might be ready sooner rather than later to start to actually learn to read. He likes the “A pour X” game, and was saying at lunch today “P pour pomme, M pour maman, L pour Lily” (a girl in his daycare class). He can spell Elmo with the fridge letter magnets, which is kind of cool. I know most of his “reading” books is just from memory, but he’ll say the letters to a word and then say the word, so the skills and desire seem to definitely be there. And, interestingly, if it’s an English book, he’ll spell the word with the French pronunciation of the letters, then say the word in English.

One final translating thing recently happened while reading a (what else?) Sesame Street book. We were naming the characters, and when I pointed out Baby Bear, he said back “bébé ours.” Other things like this have happened, so despite reading quite a fair number of books in English, he seems to be fine “discussing” them in French, once again reassuring me that he understands home = French.

At daycare pickup/dropoff, he’ll switch to French with me as soon as we’re out of the room, but in the room he doesn’t want me to speak French; so it’s like, only parents around = French. Other people around = English. Except when it’s the Spanish-speaking teacher, and then he’ll say little words like “gracias” (but never “merci,” even when she asks for it in French). There’s actually someone in the office there who speaks French, but he doesn’t seem to want to speak it with her, so it seems to be a “family” thing for now.

I feel like someone reading this 30 years ago would be freaking out about his “mixing” languages. But we know now this is totally normal for bilingual kids, so I am not stressed at all. Quite the opposite – I think it’s insanely cool! And what I want to read more about is ways to show him French isn’t just for the family. French channels will probably help. But I think our trip to France next month will help even more! And we’ll definitely have to plan a Canada trip too later this year. He can be our little translator while we’re there!

Au revoir Mamie

We dropped off my husband’s mother and sister at the airport Saturday afternoon, after a great week spent at the beach and hanging around Boston. To have bébé spend so much time with them was really great, and it gave us a nice little break too. We even managed to get to a Red Sox game while Mamie babysat.  Seeing their bond grow was super special, and she got to see firsthand that we’re really dedicated to making sure he speaks French and can have a strong relationship with his family in France, even if we live far away.

Everything you read about raising bilingual children says that visiting the country or having visitors helps immensely. Even in this very early stage of his bilingualism, I could see it. At the end of two weeks he’s now making three word sentences in French, and has added a bunch of more casual words/phrases like “ça va?” (which he said so much one day at daycare they asked me what it meant) “à tout de suite” (which comes out most of the time like “à tweet tweet”) and “y’en a plus!” (which is part of a whole monologue he does that goes “Y’en a plus! Tout mangé! Gourmand!” – There’s no more! Ate everything! Big eater! – Yeah, we ate A LOT during this visit…)

The first week he was switching up the syllables in his aunt’s name, I think by accident the first time, but since we laughed so much, he kept doing it on purpose. He could say “Tata” (auntie) and “Maddie” (not her real name) but when you told him to say “Tata Maddie” he would say “Tata Damie”. Everyone has a story of doing something like this as a kid, and it’s just insanely cute to see it happening. Even if by the end of the second week, he said it correctly, hopefully it’ll hang around as a nickname.

One very cool thing he started doing this week with a little prompting was saying things like “In English, cow, en français, vache.” I’ve been telling him for a few months now during the ride to/from daycare if he says something in one language that “in English we say X, en français on dit X.” Or when he asks for a song in English that we also sing in French, I ask him what language he wants it in (“Do you want itsy bitsy spider or la petite araignée?”). And apparently it’s starting to make sense to him! He won’t understand what a language “is” for another year or two, but it’s just more reinforcement that he is making all the connections he should be. We joked to Mamie that for her next visit, he could be her little walking dictionary!

She actually did really well in English whenever she was on her own. I think having me and her son around made her more nervous about using the little English she has, so it was good for her to do a few things solo to build a bit of confidence. My mom (a math teacher) is taking French classes as her continuing education requirement, so it’s nice that bébé has been a motivator for these women who wouldn’t have otherwise made an effort to learn another language at their age.

Overall, it was a great visit, and now we can’t wait to plan our visit to see the whole family in France next year!

Bébé’s adaptation to the States

So I’ve talked a bit about our adjustment to our jobs, and a new routine, but what about bébé? I’ve mentioned how much he likes daycare, but there are other things I started noticing almost as soon as we arrived in January that I wanted to be sure to get down before I forget. While I know so much of this is just related to his age (the 18-24 month period is full of new milestones), it’s hard for me to disassociate all the progress from the move. I know he would have done all of the same things in France, but I’ve convinced myself he is doing them sooner/better because the environment in the States is “better” somehow (just rereading that made me think “You’re crazy” but at least I know that I am!)

-When we were living with my parents, he was so great with my dad. He’s retired, and not that active, but bébé managed to get him up and running around (well, ambling quickly) every day. I’m pretty sure bébé thought he was a bear, because of his size, and it was amazing to see a connection develop so quickly. Bébé also enjoyed stealing grandaddy’s food, so that was a good way to get both of them to eat more vegetables.

-Speaking of food, baby food is very different here. I guess I thought since diapers were the same, food would be. The big thing I’ve noticed is the applesauce. There are tons of flavors of natural, sugar-free applesauce in France, but here it seems like everything designed for kids has sugar in it. It’s making me a little crazy. And there seem to be less brands of baby food and less “meal” options in general. Like his favorite had been couscous, but definitely not able to find that here. People said not to waste suitcase space on bringing his favorite things, but the first week I really regretted not bringing at least a few!

One difference that is nice are the squeeze packs of  fruit that include veggies. He gobbled those up at first, so at least he was getting some veggies.  Now of course he will only eat certain colors, and insists on using a spoon for everything, and only eating from my plate, so the struggle begins again. He is a very American kid and likes macaroni and cheese, but only sometimes chicken nuggets. He prefers sweet potato fries to normal fries, which I consider a huge mom-win.

I did bring enough formula for one week, thinking we’d buy more here. Also surprised to discover it’s very different here! So the switch to whole milk (probably a bit overdue anyway) was made, and frankly, he didn’t seem to notice a difference. I’ve been putting in almond milk too now, to see if we can stop buying milk altogether, and he also likes that. So hurray for his non-pickiness in certain areas!

-The past few weeks in particular he has been going through a language explosion. This is the area I try to remind myself would have happened anywhere in the world at this age. But it’s still so incredibly cool to witness.

Since we speak only French at home, and mamie recently sent him tons of French books, some things he says in French only, like colors, and body parts. I can see him working out certain things like green/gris(grey), but that’s production. Comprehension is fine in both languages.

He’s well into his mimic phase, and will repeat random things we say or that he sees in videos. Animal sounds are obviously the cutest. And he’s got some food words like “ju” which works in both languages, though he still says “lait” and “l’eau” in French. He also started saying “yucky” the other day (daycare thought he was saying “lucky”), and he knows the names of the other kids at daycare. Well, he says “Ana” which, since he also loves Frozen, he was already saying before he started.

-He is interacting more with other kids outside of daycare as well. And he seems to be getting over his wariness of men and has stopped hiding his face from strangers on the street. He’s been giving high fives (or “ha fah” as he says) and spent 10 minutes on the bus last week playing high five with a young guy sitting behind us.

The playground near our house has a basketball court as well, so there’s always people there. Last week there was a man with his two sons, one was about 8, and the other the exact same size as bébé (though when I asked, he was actually 5 months younger, so either he was big, or bébé is small!). They were tossing around a football, and of course bébé wanted to play with theirs, rather than the one we had brought. They were so nice about it, and the older one was obviously used to playing with his little brother, and was very gentle about passing it and chasing him. Bébé does seem to be more interested in older kids, and it’s nice to have so many things so close where he can interact with kids of all ages, which is definitely really helping his development.

 

In less than 2 months he will be 2, which is insane. He’s right on track with everything (even the tiny bit of language “delay” that I notice is totally normal for bilingual children) , and this is definitely a super cute age, when he’s starting to seek out cuddles and kisses, and interact with us and the world in totally new and interesting ways.

Bilingual baby babbling

This is the first of what will definitely be many posts on bébé’s language skills. He’s moved on from the “making noise” stage and there is some serious bilingual baby babbling happening. The past few weeks especially seem to have been very interesting (though maybe I’ve just been paying more attention?).

With most of his progress in reaching various milestones (sitting up, crawling, walking), I’m always surprised at how gradual it really is. I think when you don’t spend a lot of time around babies, you imagine these things as big jumps that happen overnight. And while sometimes it can be like that (just today, he stacked 4 blocks by himself, after weeks of simply watching me do it), for many things it’s much slower. I thought walking would be all of a sudden, he just stands up and off he goes! Maybe there are some babies who do it like that, but ours took his time, holding onto furniture, then holding our hands, then pushing up from downward dog (babies are the ultimate yoga masters!) into standing, then alternating walking and crawling, and finally, walking and standing consistently. And there was no real definitive “first steps” hallmark moment. There was the first time I saw him do it, the first time his father saw him, the first time his mamie saw him, etc.

For the moment, language is more gradual than I expected. I think it’s my parents’ fault, telling me about my first word. They said I walked around a family dinner with a book saying “buh buh buh” and then finally “book! book! book!” So I had this idea that bébé would just go from making sounds to making fully-formed words.

That’s not really what he’s doing, but what is actually happening is pretty cool. It’s a mixture of sounds and gestures and syllables. It’s more about communication than words. So when people ask if he’s speaking yet, I say “sort of” because it’s speech that only parents would recognize as such!

Some of his “words” include:

  • “Mo”: food/more. This is kind of my “fault” because I did a little sign language with him starting with solid foods, to see if that would help him tell us what he wanted. The only one I did consistently was “more” and I’m pretty sure he thinks it just means “food.” So I’ve been trying to respond with things like “more milk? more applesauce?” to show him the difference.
  • “Gah”: gâteau. There is very little doubt about this one! His mamie is a typical grandparent and gives him quite a few treats while he’s with her twice a week.
  • “Shah”: cat! He uses the “sh” sound more frequently than the “ka” for cat, and I’m not sure why, since I’m pretty sure he hears us say it in English more. However, he also really likes “The very hungry caterpillar” and he tends to use “ka” for the book, so I know he can make the sound.
  • “Nah”: thank you? I am less sure about this one, but when he asks for a “gah” and I give it to him, he says “nah”, so I have to assume his mamie is also teaching him good manners!
  • “Aga”: again. I first noticed him saying this after singing “The itsy bitsy spider” which ends with the word “again.” Now he says it for books, songs and toys too, helped along by me asking him “again?” usually in an exasperated tone, as he never wants something “aga” only once, usually about five times.
  • “Mmmm”: delicious! This is another one his mamie taught him. It’s not so much a word as the sound along with rubbing his belly. Seriously the cutest thing ever. I would say this helps us figure out what foods he likes, but he doesn’t do it for every food he eats, and when he doesn’t like something, he just spits it out, lol.
  • “Sa”: pretty sure this is for the French nursery rhyme “Savez vous planter les choux,” since he also points his finger down and taps at the same time.

As is typical for this age, he understands more than he can say, and if we ask him to get certain books, he can. His mamie taught him to open and close his mouth like a fish when she asks “Comment il fait le poisson?” and he won’t do it if I ask in English (What does the fish do?). So it seems like he’s already associating certain languages with certain people/situations. We don’t do one parent/one language, but rather a “home” language (English) and a “community” language (French). This will obviously switch when we move to the States, so it’s more a “minority language at home” method, and so far it seems to be working for our family. He makes both Englishy and Frenchy sounds, likes and remembers nursery rhymes in both languages, and doesn’t seem phased when either is spoken to him. The bits of German and Italian he’s getting is another story . . .

Accidentally swearing in French

When you first start learning a language, it’s always a good idea to learn the bad words. This ensures that even if you can’t speak very well, you’ll know if someone is insulting you or not. Since swearing in French was not something I learned from the teachers in my immersion school, my friends and I first had to learn the bad words in English. Then, naturally, we would look them up in our dictionaries to see how to say them in French. However, this was a fairly unreliable method, since even if the dictionary had the word you want, it didn’t always tell you how to use it (our dictionaries were actual books back then, no Wordreference for us!).

Also, in general, there seem to be less truly bad words in French, since so many of the translations of things that would never be heard on American television or radio are perfectly acceptable here. Not that every other word is “merde” or anything, but the French have a relationship with words, and a way of playing with them, that is very different than in English. There are less words in French than in English, so they are very creative in the way they use their words. I am always particularly proud when I can figure out a pun without someone explaining it, and have even made one or two myself over the years.

There are also other ways of being rude than swearing. For example, my husband was telling me that he got so angry at the post office the other day, he left without saying goodbye. More than any bad words he could have said, this showed the person how upset he really was.

In my years in France, I’ve picked up a good number of foul expressions and slang that I use much more liberally than I do their English equivalents. Somehow it just doesn’t have the same weight as in English. I think it’s also still a lingering habit from childhood of using the French word so my parents couldn’t understand what I was saying (this being the main reason for spending all that time looking things up in dictionaries, of course). I thought I knew most of the worst ones, but I accidentally stumbled onto a few more this week. And while at work, of all places!

The first was while talking about the name “Fiona” and I said it was Irish, and I said something like “all ‘Fion’ names are usually Irish,” which made my colleague burst out laughing. I asked her what I’d said, and she whispered that “fion” was a very bad word. The internet translated it as “ass,” which doesn’t seem that bad, but it’s apparently quite vulgar.

For the second, we were discussing hair color (names and hair color are always hot topics in an HR department), and my mangled pronunciation of auburn turned into “aux burnes” which has to do boy bits . . . Later that day, my husband helpfully taught me the phrase “casser les burnes” which means to annoy someone, but I am under strict instructions to not use this in front of his mother, which means it’s definitely pretty bad.

So of all the ways to learn new bad words, what happened this past week was probably the funniest way. If I’d said similar things at a family event, everyone would have been too polite to say anything, though they may have snickered a bit. Even if I generally dislike situations at work where I make mistakes in French, sometimes it can be (unintentionally) hilarious, and I got to learn a few new things as well (though not really things I can use on a regular basis!).

Almost homophones in French

For some reason, lately I’ve been having trouble with almost homophones in French. Not every time the words came up, but often enough that I was worried the pregnancy is affecting my language. Googling only brings up all the ways my actions during pregnancy can impact bébé’s language development (like I didn’t have enough to worry about already), so I have concluded that it’s probably just because I am very tired and I have eight thousand other things to think about besides perfect pronunciation. And maybe since the words are similar they’re stored in the same place in my brain so the right one doesn’t always get accessed immediately. Or maybe they’re Freudian slips, though why I’d have suppressed feelings about ostriches is uncertain . . .

Autriche/Autruche – one is a European country, one is a flightless bird. The country comes up in conversation more often than the bird, but you don’t want to accidentally book a vacation to an ostrich farm instead of Vienna. Also, I heard the expression “politique de l’autruche” the other day, and asked my husband what was so special about Austria’s politics.

Ouragan/Origan – the first is a violent storm, the second a mild Italian seasoning. While contextually the difference should be clear (you don’t look usually for hurricanes in your kitchen cabinets), out of context phrases that start with “I need/I want/Where is/Have you seen/Is there any” aren’t always immediately clear.

Jeun/Jaune – to be “à jeun” means to have an empty stomach, something that has definitely been happening a lot the past few months with all the different tests I’ve had to do. Though the nice lab techs didn’t even bat an eye when I mistakenly confirmed that I was “yellow” (jaune).

Somnifère/Sonisphere – my husband has been sleeping poorly lately and the doctor gave him some sleeping pills. My husband has also been talking about what other heavy metal concerts he wants to go to this summer, since the Sonisphere has been cancelled. I’m sure my mother-in-law was relieved but also slightly confused when I told her the other day “I have been sleeping poorly as well, but I’m not allowed to have any heavy metal concerts.”

Péridurale – this is not a homophone with anything, and the mistake is really just because I have been lazy about learning pregnancy vocabulary (reasoning: I am only pregnant a little while, and words related to babies/kids will be more important in the long run), but I keep saying “épidurale” instead. My mouth just refuses to say the French word. I’m sure this won’t cause too much confusion at the hospital, but who knows how many other mistakes I’ll make that day (having never given birth, I don’t know how exactly I’ll respond to the pain).

 

I’ve definitely mixed-up other words over the years, especially the first few years here, but I try not to get too discouraged. Even in English, things don’t always come out right 100% of the time! I just try to pay extra attention in important situations, and laugh off my worst gaffes with friends.

How to say “I’m pregnant” in French

Oui ! Though I’ve been doing it for the past few months, it still sounds crazy when I say I’m pregnant in French (or in English!). It’ll keep happening until July, when I’ll have to switch to saying I’m a mother, which is like a whole other level of crazy, so I’m just focusing on the pregnancy part for now.

With each person or group that we’ve told, we’ve tried to find a new way to do it. A package of Grandmère coffee for my mother-in-law, a Skype date with my parents and a well-timed email, a surprise toast with the family at Christmas, funny ecards for Facebook . . .

someecards.com - We're, or more specifically, I'm pregnant

Quick meme

 

So for the blog, I thought I’d naturally take a more literary approach. I’m not sure how much I’ll write about my pregnancy, since there are many other people that do a very good job of discussing the ins and outs of being a pregnant foreigner in France. And for the moment, there’s really not much to write about anyway, besides boring stuff like “My pants don’t fit anymore” and “Today I got another blood test and am really tired.” I know I’ll have more to say as things progress, but I’ll try to avoid posting exclusively about the topic, since I know not everyone that reads my blog can relate to the subject, and I do still hope to maintain my other interests despite this big change. (That’s possible, right moms?? I’ll still have other interests, right??)

When announcing the news, I know all of the American expressions and how to change them around to meet my needs (a bun in the oven –> a French fry baking, bwahaha). I decided look up a few fun French expressions as well, since we still have some people left to tell, and it gets boring saying the same thing over and over.

“Avoir un polichinelle dans le tiroir”  – To have a marionnette in the drawer. A “polichinelle” is a type of marionnette with a big belly.

“En cloque” – Equivalent to knocked up, it’s also how they translate the movie with that title. A “cloque” is a blister, which is just a charming image, non?

“Avoir un poulet au four” – To have a chicken in the oven. According to my colleagues, this is said more in Luxembourg. There’s also the more French expression to have a brioche in the oven. It’s interesting to know both languages seem to agree that making a baby involves baking . . .

“Tomber enceinte” – To fall pregnant. It seems strange to me to talk about “falling” pregnant, though you also say you fall sick or in love. Still, doesn’t it make it sound like you tripped on the sidewalk and fell into a baby puddle and when you got up, you were suddenly pregnant?

“Elle est mère de son arrondissement” – I don’t know if people actually say this, but I thought it was hilarious. It’s a play on the words “maire” (mayor) and mère (mother), as well as between the more administrative meaning of “arrondissement” as a city district, and the action of rounding or “arrondir” something.

 

This is obviously not intended to be anything like a complete list of all the fabulous expressions that exist to say “I’m pregnant” in French, these are just the ones that stuck out to me. So if you know any other funny ones, let me know!

My frequently misspelled words in French (and English!)

Sometimes, French and English can be horribly similar. Sometimes it can be nice, like when you’re expecting a super weird expression or phrase that will be impossible to remember and it turns out to be easy (without remorse = sans remords).

Other times, it gets in the way of writing either language correctly. Misspelling is a big pet peeve of mine (their vs. there anyone?) but I’ve noticed that since I’ve started working in Luxembourg, I’ve gotten so much worse, not just in French, but in English as well. I spent most of middle school misspelling common words thanks to my French elementary school, so this seems to be a recurring theme in my life that I doubt will ever work itself out completely.

Part of it is the general mix of languages in Luxembourg, in ads, in conversations overheard on the street, in the newspapers. Part of it is switching back and forth between French and English so frequently, sometimes within a single sentence. While I work 90% in French orally, a lot of our written communication is in English (translated by moi, bien sûr), and you can only misspell words when you write, not when you speak!

When I get mixed up on Facebook or in emails to friends or family, it’s not a big deal. But in a profession setting, it annoys me how much I need to spellcheck. In English!!

There are the single letter changes that I usually catch on my own, like dance/danse, future/futur, chocolate/chocolat.

Then there are the really tricky ones, that no matter how many times I run spellcheck, I’m still convinced it’s wrong. The words that will never look right in either language ever again.

Is it adresse or address or addresse or adress? Apartment or appartement or appartment  or apartement? Envelope or enveloppe? Development or developpement or developpment?

So far German hasn’t been too much of an added confusion, but I don’t use it very often for the moment, and it has fairly straightforward spelling. I’m signed up for classes this Spring, so we’ll see if it gets worse the more I write it!

What are your frequently misspelled words in French? Any other languages mixing things up for you even more?