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!

3 thoughts on “Translating toddler”

  1. I find this so fascinating! I really need to start researching all of this. We were basically just planning on doing one parent, one language – at least in the very beginning, but I’m open to anything. Please keep on sharing things like this!

    1. Do whatever works for your family! And most importantly – you’re allowed to change! It’s not like because you do something for the first year that you have to do it forever. For example, once Monkey starts school, we’ll see how his French does and adjust accordingly. Getting bébé into books very early helps a lot, because that will be a big motivator for him/her to keep learning the language! We have read to him every night since he could sit up in my lap!

      1. I have a bad habit of mixing languages every once and awhile (especially lately with pregnancy brain). My one goal is to not do that. We will definitely be reading to him/her. My mom will either be bringing over/sending books I saved from my childhood, so I’m excited for that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *