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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bonjour Inglos (the Fish!)

Inglos the Fish

So of course, almost immediately after reflecting on all the progress we've made, I've been struggling again this week to get Zach to speak to me in French. I think it is part of a more general lack of vitality I’ve been feeling, sort of a sense of being on autopilot -- which I've learned tends to happen to me every few months. And while adult ruts are bad enough, I am painfully aware of what a waste of developmental time it is for a four-year old when all these windows for learning-- like between 0-3 years when the brain grows something like 1000% (I have no idea what the real number is)-- are concentrated during this early childhood period. I tend to stress out over this and when I realize that our daily routines--while comforting--are not necessarily stimulating his brain the way I think I am responsible for doing, I go into a state of panic-motivation-frenzy in my attempt to push us through to a more mentally active (which usually means happier for both of us) place. This usually ends up bringing in some fresh new activity in our lives (i.e. more trips to new places, soccer classes, painting on the windows...). That makes me feel like a halfway decent mother for another few weeks.

This is a long way to explain the existence of our new housemate, Inglos the Fish. The idea came about as we were sitting and having lunch at Subway today.

[That in itself was also a bit of a shakeup from the home-and-lunch or park-and-picnic routine. I've found somehow that eating out--and also not worrying about where the food will go once we're finished, using someone else's utensils, et cetera, allows me to focus on talking to Zach in a way that I don't do at home, where also I can never time the food so that everyone begins eating at the same time, and by the time I sit down to eat with him he's off to some other corner of the house -- usually computer or TV (another topic and source of recurring anxiety).

Anyway, we were brainstorming about ideas for his Baba’s birthday present. I found his first suggestion -- a computer that has Internet when there is no Internet -- brilliant, and a testament to his incredible creativity and sensitivity. This is indeed something that caused chaos in the house this past weekend when we lost Verizon DSL service and usually rational, upbeat Baba became exasperated while on the phone with customer service.

And the next suggestion -- a magic fish that turns into an airplane -- was pure genius. Since the pet store happened to be next door, I thought, "why not?" and off we went on our mission. Having settled on a tiny fish (the plain swimming kind) and getting him home and into his new micro-aquarium (maybe 1 foot square, poor thing), I decided to try capitalizing on the fun by suggesting that possibly the fish was French, and why don't we name him François? Zach nipped my efforts in the bud, telling me that no, his name is Inglos. Guess which language he speaks.

So after introducing Inglos to his new surroundings, I resorted to my old but reliable method of putting the timer on and announcing that in ten minutes it would be French time. The good news is he cooperated without grumbling and we had fun reading about "les outils" (perceuse - drill; vis et clous - screws and nails; escabeau - ladder; marteau - hammer; scie - saw) and watched some Trotro videos and Alouette as performed by Alain le Lait with musical animations.

I suppose I am learning that there is no real separation for me between being a good mother in English or in French. Either way, when I put in the effort to be fun, present, and experience life to the fullest along with him -- it pays off in a happier child (and me). And if I need the help of a fish to do that, it doesn't really matter what language we speak to him in. Maybe we'll upgrade to a bird someday and I’ll try to name him Alain l’Alouette.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bonjour Zach!

I can't believe it's been two years since my last post (which was like, the second one ever, anyway.) But here I am - for no specific reason other than I am not caught in the Hulu trap. Those commercials with Alec Baldwin where he was introducing it like aliens invading our minds was a little too accurate -- I am ashamed to say how many hours I have spent watching pretty much everything suggested to me!

And I am also wanting to recognize how far we -- my now 4-year old and I -- have come in our French!

"We" comes as a surprise to me...I don't think I realized how much I would improve along with him. It was never my goal to get better at French - in fact, I had pretty much given up on that ages ago when I couldn't remember vocabulary words from one day to the next, despite reading it quite regularly.

I think what I didn't realize was how little exposure I had actually been getting to the language. Exposure which I am now getting regularly because of my efforts to make Zach a French speaker, I have had to keep up with him! Which on a daily basis is pretty much some combination of: watching Flash Mcqueen (Disney's French "Lightning") then acting out scenes from the movie, going on playmates with other French-speaking moms and kids, acting out "La Chèvre de Monsieur Seguin" with French-speaking Dad, and reading endless silly - and occasionally disgusting -- stories from the French children's section at the local library. Outside the bathroom, he is only allowed to say "pipi" and "caca" - not the English versions! When possible, with dictionary or word reference.com close at hand to look up words I inevitably don't know, i.e. derapages (skidding, as in off the race track).

And for all the effort after 4 years (wow) of mostly battling -- as nicely as possible, but still -- to get him to say anything in French, let alone a full sentence....he is now speaking in 10+ word sentences on a regular basis. At some magical point we shifted from "getting French done" to actually communicating and having fun in the language. It never happens for more than an hour or two per day - which is actually less than optimum according to the research I read (two hours minimum to ensure fluency?) and I still often hear "I want to speak zero French Mommy!" but you know what, I am thankful for what we can do and that, for the most part, once we start going, he seems to enjoy it. It probably also has to do with the fact that I think I am more fun in French. I think I put in that extra effort to play on a higher level than when I am playing with him in English. And I actually feel more fun in French. Since the beginning, switching languages gives me a breath of fresh air after however many hours of reading, playing, talking, and watching videos becomes monotonous in one language. Then...voilà!  Maman becomes très drôle again!

Latest bag of tricks/tools:

DVD: La Famille Berenstein (yes, the Berenstein Bears in French!) Found it at a Toys R Us bin of $4.99 videos which I occasionally rifle -through for anything with a French track (too hard to find!). This is actually a little advanced for him -- sophisticated sentences that I don't always understand - but very good and is pushing my French to a higher level - how sad that I have to aspire to vocabulary a native six year old has already mastered. But it is shaking things up a bit for both of us so Bravo Berensteins!

Book: La Souris et le Voleur by Jihad Darwice -- this has been a magic wand in switching to French reading. Here is why: lots of references to "caca" -- a 4 year old's favorite topic and giggle-inducer. The really quick plot summary: the mouse is robbed of half of his meat in the night- he goes to the town judge for advice for how to fend off the thief when he next attacks. The judge proposes replacing the meat (which is a brown lump) with an alternative (you guessed it), wait for the thief to swipe his hand in it and also plans various other tricks in store for the unlucky "voleur". This is hands down the most fun French children's book we've read. Thank you Bethesda library!