A Place to Start
Since realizing that immersion was not really realistic for our situation, I had to figure out what I could start with that was relevant and useful to Bryston’s growth, but stayed within my own competences. Most of the programs and apps will begin by teaching you things like animals and random objects. In fact, there is actually a hilarious comedy sketch about it (it involves a bit of French, but nothing really advanced.) Don’t get me wrong, all vocabulary is useful. Anything that gets you speaking and practicing how to roll that darn R (I will post a blog on that later) is a positive step in the right direction. However, it isn’t functional. Knowing how to say horse (cheval) might make you feel cool, but you will pretty much be able to point and awkwardly shout your newly learned word. Probably with a wretched accent.
Not going to lie, I did this a few times with dog (chien) when I went to Paris in 2015. Every time I saw a dog, I would nudge my (now) husband with a grin and show off my awesome french skills. I could also say Avez-vous des plats végétariens, Une table pour deux s’il vous plaît, and quite possibly bonjour. All with an accent that would probably now make me cringe. That was it. Thank you, Rosetta Stone. The few hours we had dawdled on you had obviously gotten us nowhere. But man did I feel like a sophisticated mademoiselle.
Fast forward to 2018. After some thought, I decided that the imperative mood made a lot of sense for our beginning. I could start giving short commands, which would introduce him to a lot of verbs and a bit of vocabulary without being completely overwhelming. Plus, it didn’t force me to try to create complicated sentence structures. So, I started asking him to do things in French. Low and behold, after a few days, as we were getting ready to go to the grocery, he runs downstairs and cries out allons-y! (let’s go!) Voilà! Success! Another little victory!
With this approach, while (like most of us learning a new language) he hates to speak it and I struggle to get him to talk to me, he can now understand phrases that I use a lot!
Ferme la porte. Close the door
Ramasse tes jouets. Pick up your toys.
Porte tes chaussures. Put on your shoes
Viens ici. Come here
Ècoute-moi bien. Listen to me well.
You get the picture. Though it isn’t as frequent as I had dreamed of, he is slowly starting to use the words too. Regarde is his favorite. So, to build on that, I have been trying to encourage him, mostly while we are in the car and I have his attention, to form small sentences.
Nous conduisons. We are driving.
Il y a un avion. There is a plane.
Le camion est rouge. The truck is red.
Il fait chaud. It’s hot.
Well, the sweet little cherub decided to make his own sentence with no prompting from maman, which is a huge milestone. Le chien est mort. Are you freaking kidding me?! The first sentence you choose is: The dog is dead. The worse part about it is, my dog was killed two weeks ago, which he of course is well aware of! I took a deep breath, bit my tongue, and replied: Oui, et il me manque. Je suis triste. “Yes, and I miss him. I am sad.” I couldn’t be mad, because that would only shut down his effort, which I certainly didn’t want to do. Having the courage to speak in your target language is a big deal. But man, my first instinct was to either cry or yell.
I will be the first to say that I have never been a patient person. I very much live in our instant gratification society. I don’t like to be uncomfortable and I expect things quickly. Having a child and learning a language have challenged my limits, repeatedly rearranging the boundaries of my comfort zone. I could have fallen apart. I could have yelled at my kid. The old me probably would have done both simultaneously. But, hey. He did exactly what I wanted him to do: he made his first french sentence. Even if it wasn’t what I had been hoping for. I am proud of his accomplishment!