Writing: The Painting of the Voice
“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” — E.L. Doctorow
As I said before, I had this wild dream of speaking flawless French in under a year, then subsequently (despite my experience to the contrary) thought that my son would pick it up even faster.
This isn’t outside of the realm of my personality. It isn’t rare for me to fail horribly when it comes to regulating expectations. It can be a blessing and a curse. I aim high, which often leads to the great successes that I do experience, but it also leads to crippling disappointment when I fail, which consequently also happens more often.
I’m not sure if immersion schools throw all the balls at you at once with reading, writing and speaking. I assume so since traditional schools do, but I have zero experience to speak from. However, with a few words under his belt that he can speak and understand, I thought it was probably prudent to mix it up a little so that the skills stay at least somewhat balanced. Especially since this is something that I feel that I did wrong. I dedicated a lot of time to reading and writing, both of which I have a reasonable level with, but because I stayed in that comfort zone, my listening and speaking remain weak.
I had tried to have him write sentences. That was a bust. I tried to draw pictures and have him write simple sentences to accompany them. Also a bust. I tried to have him copy sentences from pretty animated images that I either made or found online. I briefly felt like I was cycling through the Labors of Hercules. Specifically, I was beginning to feel like I was stuck on the hydra, slashing off heads only for more to appear. This was a fair summary of my personal French journey as well.
My biggest trial had to be verbs. I hated the dozen conjugations that existed for every single damn word. I really loathed that extra letters or accents would be added or removed randomly to the same freaking verb. It made my brain hurt and it sapped the fun right out of everything in the same way that a Dementor sucks out your joy from its mere presence, your soul if you get too close. I dread the day that I have to figure out how to teach these little nuggets to Bryston. I suppose that’s quite a ways away and I should be focusing on the basics, but it still hangs over me.
I tried doing the online quizzes and the verb drills, and I came very close to burning every French thing that I owned from boredom and frustration. Then, recently, for my birthday, my friend (who has been endlessly supportive of me, even learning some basics on his own and attending French movies with me despite his demanding job) got me a book in an attempt to chip away at the anxiety that these pesky little grammar demons induced. At first, I skipped delightfully through the first section. Then, I only touched it again during a couple of flights. I was internally doing exactly what my son was externalizing. Throwing a giant hooch fit every time things became difficult. I grumbled, whined to myself, trying to make excuses. Then finally, I added another challenge to my daily list of goals: do three exercises each day from the book (probably about a 10-15 minute task.) Petit à petit, it is sinking in just a little bit more. It also helped to improve my writing skills so that I wasn’t spelling every other verb incorrectly.
Obviously, my son isn’t going to be conjugating nettoyer anytime soon. But maybe he is like me and would more enjoy a tangible challenge as opposed to me telling him what to do. So I visited our local used book store (though Amazon has options too) and lucked out in finding a kid’s activity book. It had stickers and pictures and, though it was missing the disc that was supposed to accompany it, it had a good number of activities that didn’t require it. Besides, my focus for the moment was writing.
Excitedly, I brought it home to him. To my surprise, he was fairly excited to receive it. Until he saw that it involved “school work.” He grumbled and groaned and started to protest until I showed him the stickers that were involved in many of the activities. No idea why that was the selling point, but I’m not going to complain.
This is where those aforementioned unchecked expectations come into play. I thought that I could leave him alone with the book during his quiet time and he would come proudly show me his work. Nope. Well then, I would read the instructions or questions and he would write the answers. Nope. I gave up and put him to bed. It took me four days to return to that book with him. The only thing that I could think to do was to read the questions, give him the answers (or give him options to choose between) and walk him through every letter and accent mark of writing it out.
I don’t expect you to decipher the cryptic code that is a child’s handwriting, but as his maman, I have been the expert on the babble that he spoke when he was learning to talk and the chicken scratch that he communicates with now. This is a pretty solid start. His new words were étudiant (student) and garçon (boy.) Otherwise, he was familiar with the words and was simply learning to write them. So, this is the approach that I will focus on for the time being until he can get the knack for writing words on his own.