Smarter Than We Realize
As I have stated before, I have self-taught myself to an intermediate level in French. Though I struggle the most with comprehension and I know my grammar is far from parfaite, I can get by if people don’t rattle off at lightning speed.
Yet, I found myself resorting mostly to English when talking to my son about anything that wasn’t simple phrases unless we were specifically doing a French activity. Why? Because I had convinced myself that my competences weren’t good enough. That my faulty grammar skills would be detrimental to his learning. That I would embarrass myself in front of my husband. I had reasoned that it was better for him to hear very little French from me than imperfect French. Thus, essentially teaching him that it wasn’t okay to make mistakes in the learning process.
The voice in my head whined about how fatiguées we were and stomped like a tired two-year-old at the thought of more work. Every night before bed, I resolved that I would speak more the next day. Heck, that I would speak only in French! Then, I would wake up with fuzzy mom brain after a choppy night of rest and go back to what was comfortable.
I didn’t drink a magic potion, chant a magic spell or find a cure for the exhaustion of parenting (I’d be très riche if that were the case!) I was just sitting outside with a glass of red wine after he went to bed one night thinking about how his journey started as an extension to my own. That we wanted to learn together, yet there were so many opportunities we were missing. What was I so darn afraid of? That he would see that maman wasn’t the héros he looked up to because I am not as good in French as he thought? That he would end up speaking French like Joey from Friends? That things would get too complicated grammar wise?
When I really got to thinking, I kind of laughed to myself. Over the summer, I had discussed the right the bear arms with my French conversation partner. I had given relationship advice to my French friend. I had taught French vocabulary to my son’s classmates last year. It wasn’t perfect, but I think it is safe to say that none of their SAT scores will be lower now from having talked to me. Sure, sometimes I have to talk like a caveman or I string a sentence together and it is COMPLETELY out of order, but I am understood. Which is the point of learning another language. To communicate.
The truth is, his pronunciation and grammar will work themselves out over time. While being exposed to other people and different medias, he will naturally begin to correct errors. People have different accents and even natives make mistakes. Considering that I only have him half the time, I began to realize the benefit of encouraging him to begin speaking to me in French by default.
It is not easy. I get frustrated and stutter and he protests when he comes upon an obstacle. Which gives me a great opportunity for teaching a lesson even greater than the language itself: what do we do when things become difficult? Do we quit and turn to what is easy, or do we persevere and work through the struggle?
His accent is still better than mine and now, a mere four days later, he has already switched to asking permission or asking for things in French. When we need to express more complicated things, I am still lenient about it being in English. For example, the other night, he did something rather troublesome where making sure that he was clearly aware of the gravity of his actions was more important than the language. Or when he is struggling intensely with an emotion and needs to talk about it freely, I let him resort to our native tongue. Otherwise, when he says something in English, I will have him repeat in in French if I believe he knows it or I will do my best to translate it and have him repeat it back.
Sure, I simplify sentences. Yeah, I look up words. Heck, sometimes I have to use four sentences to describe something I don’t know in French. However, making mistakes together and not being afraid to show weakness will get us both a lot further than avoiding speaking entirely out of fear and self-doubt.