Maman And Loulou

Encouragement for parents who want to give their child a gift of another language

Most people struggle the most taking the first few steps of a new journey. That is not the case for me. I will jump in with absolutely no hesitation, brimming with enthusiasm, typically with absolutely no plan whatsoever (ask my husband about the time I decided that I was going to drive alone to meet the Backstreet Boys… Mexico City.) It is the hurdles that present themselves along the way that send me into a spiral of self-loathing panic.

When I decided to take up French in early 2017, I figured that I could use this little language learning app a couple of times a week and be fluent by the end of the year. Yes, this was actually my expectation. No, I am not huffing glue. Other than picking up some vocabulary (woohoo! I could say butterfly and count to ten!) this obviously got me nowhere other than frustrated and disappointed.

Eventually, I found more successful avenues and began setting aside a reasonable amount of time every single day (even on my wedding day and my vacations) for practice. Voila! I am far from fluent. If we are being honest, I probably have the skills of a decently-educated grade schooler. However, I have built a respectable vocabulary, can interact with natives if they don’t speak like an auctioneer and aren’t looking to debate philosophical concepts, and successfully finished the first Harry Potter book and six of the eight films en francais. Do I understand every word? No. Do I use proper grammar at all times? Dans mes rêves. But I can mostly understand and be understood.

I digress. It is not my journey that is the interesting one here. There are countless experiences of adult language learners online, and if you (like some of those before you) have interest in the avenues that I use, you can check out the FAQ. But this is the tale of Bryston, my totally adorable (albeit extremely stubborn) seven-year-old son. While, of course, some of my own frustrations and experiences will play into his adventure, this is his story.

The more passionate that I became, the more and more I wanted to share the culture with him. I found a french kids show and some videos on YouTube aimed at teaching kids the basics. I fantasized about us eating pastries and joking to each other in french. You would think that I had learned the first time, but nope. Everyone always goes on and on about how “children are sponges” and it is so easy for them to just pick up languages, so of course I assumed that within a few months at most, we would be having long french talks together before bed.  In reality, I couldn’t even get the kid to friggin say bonjour.

Then, I decided that maybe I should try to make the home as immersive as possible since everyone and their Aunt Rosie’s second cousin told me that it was the only real way to learn a language. Well, there are two problems with that. The first being that his father and I are separated and live in different homes, and there was absolutely no way that I was going to be able to convince him to participate in my hair-brained scheme. So, at best, I could immerse 50% of the time. The second being that I am not a native, nor are my skills fine-tuned enough to say everything that needed to be said on a day to day basis. Thus, that idea went straight out the window.

Since I had no other ideas, I turned to the all-knowing sage of our generation: Google. I figured that this had to be a common question. I was wrong. Anything that I found required him to practically be a newborn baby or that I be fluent. There was nothing for a parent in my shoes: someone who wanted to take the journey with her child.

I wanted to cry. Who am I kidding? I cried. A lot. I felt like a failure in my own journey because I couldn’t even interact with the seven-year-old, and I felt like I was failing him because I had really wanted to give him this great gift and I had no clue how to accomplish it.

It got to the point that all either of us felt around language learning was stress and dread. I recently let him give up violin because I just couldn’t take his hooch fits anymore that came about every. single. time that he was supposed to practice. I didn’t want to send the message that he could always just quit. Sometimes, you have to suck it up through the rough parts.

It has been probably four months since I really started trying to push him. It took me some time, but I did finally crack the ice and get him to at least get down the basics: counting one to twenty, the alphabet, and a couple of basic phrases. It’s a start, right? Now let’s see where we have to go from here to raise a petit monsieur.



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