Benefits of Raising Bilingual Children: Correcting My Grammar

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I’ve long been resigned (though secretly thrilled) that my six-year-old daughter corrects my French, but I didn’t expect my three-year-old son to start just yet. But a couple of days ago, when I was offering him some raisins verts (green grapes), he indignantly stated, “Raisins blancs!” (white grapes), which I suppose must be the correct translation he has heard at school. Since then he has joined his sister in earnest with the corrections—a gender here, a grammatical correction there. So is he lancé into the francophone world? Can I leave him to his own devices? Have I taught him everything he knows? Probably the answer is yes, but the trouble is as soon as I switch to English it immediately becomes his dominant language, to the point that he stops speaking it so much at school. So for now I am ploughing on, despite being firmly put in my place linguistically on a regular basis.

I can’t complain too much though, because while I long to share more with the children by speaking with them in my mother tongue, after six years French has definitely become our language and I know I will miss speaking it when we do stop. In a way, this is a gradual fading out. I am already speaking mainly in English with Schmoo, especially when her brother is not around (it’s more for his benefit now). Today, for example, she had the day off from school for an appointment and we simply spoke English all day. I have to admit, it was very relaxing!

 

Saying that, one of the things I love best about our continuing language journey is how every language is like a window into the world of its country. So teaching your children another language goes hand in hand with learning about other cultures. For example, in French there is a festival called ‘La Galette des Rois,’ which involves eating a yummy cake and discovering a feve within (a bit like the coin in the Christmas pud). The finder becomes King or Queen for the day and gets to wear a crown. The children celebrate it every year at their French schools, and it’s a celebration that brings lots of new vocabulary. Meanwhile, in Twi, there is an expression, ‘fem fem’, which describes the sensation of nails scraping down a blackboard, something this culture clearly wanted to give a name to. To say ‘I’m angry,’ you can say ‘me beafu,’ which literally means ‘I’ve got hairs on my chest,’ or ‘me ni abre’, which means ‘My eyes are red’, both nice and evocative of the emotion.

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