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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Not stressing over little language "holidays"

We recently came back after spending a week at my Mom’s house.  Zach and I usually take a “holiday” from French when we visit because in order to get him to speak to me, I first need his attention, which is next to impossible at “Granny’s” house. There, I become virtually invisible: he sees only his doting grandmother who indulges his every whim from morning till night. They are inseparable, and even though she speaks a tiny bit of French (and helps me on occasion by asking him to teach her words), he is all about English on visits to Granny.

Until very recently, I would stress out over this, thinking that if I let more than a day or two go by without speaking French he would lose it all. Then at some point in the past year, I gave up trying to be their third wheel -- let alone in French -- and for the first time, just let it go altogether while we were there. When we returned to our daily French routines at home, I noticed the gaps in speaking didn’t seem to have been detrimental to Zach’s French, or at least not irrevocably.  He was a little rusty on a few words here and there, but overall retained what he knew despite not having spoken for several days.  In fact, I think we both felt more positive about French time for having had the rest.  

I suppose I’m learning that my work of bilingual parenting is ongoing, day after day, week after week, year after year.   I still try to maintain “discipline” while spending time with family members who do not speak the language, but I am also trying to remember to let us both relax and enjoy our time with them.   Because taking a break -- especially to spend low-stress time with people we love – doesn’t seem to hurt our language learning process. In fact, it helps us start fresh when we get back to our “regular” bilingual life. 

This visit drove that point home to me precisely because of how much more French we spoke than usual. My mom dislocated her shoulder in a horrible fall after the power (and heat) went out because of Hurricane Sandy. Already suffering from various health issues, my normally vibrant, funny, mother was so debilitated with pain that she really couldn’t engage with Zach. I spent much more time alone with him than usual, and we spoke more French. But I would have easily traded the language practice for an all-English visit with a healthy Granny!  Even if it meant it would set him back, which as I already learned, isn’t the case. 

Thankfully, my Mom is on the mend. But I am grateful for this humbling reminder not to sweat these gaps in language practice, especially when I’m tempted to interrupt quality time with family because we haven’t filled our quota of French for the day.