Getting Back on the OPOL Wagon

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As I wrote about in Part I of this article, “Falling off the OPOL Wagon,” I didn’t realize I had fallen off the one parent one language (OPOL) wagon until I found myself face down on the ground with a chipped tooth and a mouthful of dirt.

The real question is how did I get back on the wagon? I credit reading about other multilingual children’s progress on various blogs with flipping the switch for me. I knew I had to try to get back on track. It was a lot like giving up smoking—I should know as I’ve done that numerous times. What set me up for success (now smoke free for eight years) was the realization that just because I caved here and there and had a smoke didn’t mean I was a smoker again, even if my digression was a night out smoking a pack, waking up sounding like Bea Arthur. I just started the morning again as a non-smoker, forgiving my lapse and telling myself I would do better next time. I also created situations where I wasn’t tempted or more likely to smoke.

Translating that to language use, I’ve stopped berating myself every time I realize I’ve switched to English and just revert back to French. For my situational successes, I also made a point to pick actual French books at night instead of translating on the fly, which is tiring and frustrating when you end up with unknown words. I have also arranged more outings with other French people. I even called up some old French friends to get back into the flow of adult French conversation.

One of the really baffling things with language learning and kids is that you can never be entirely sure why something is working. Even if you take two distinct approaches with two different kids, every kid is different and every parent is different. A few weeks can also be a time of key developmental changes in your child that would have happened irrespective of any other language changes made. You may suspect something is working but you can’t ever categorically say for sure whether it is. Sometimes you just need to do your best and trust in the universe, or better yet trust your kid.

My three-year-old, Pacifique, was in her bath and started asking for her little seahorse. Much to my surprise, I actually knew where this one tiny piece of yellow plastic was located. I know some greater power laughs as I can’t locate my wallet or keys but can uncover a one-inch toy in a stack of 1000 others. I retrieved the toy and brought it to her in the bath. She turned to me with a big smile and said, “Yay hippocampe,” which is also one of the first words I looked up when I started reading or more accurately real-time translating books for her in French. I am pretty sure I never actually knew that word before having her. In our house, book follows bath and once changed in her room, I asked her as I always do to choose her bedtime story.

Normally, I would be met with either complete silence indicating an imminent bedtime battle or more often, “Yes Mama” or “Ok Mama.” Tonight I got an emphatic, “D’accord Maman!” Literally I am in agreement with you. I would have fallen off the chair but it is a tiny blue toddler chair so my bum was fortunately well wedged in there.

Now if only my bum could stay wedged put in the OPOL wagon! The truth is that it’s a work in progress and taking this theme one step too far, I just continually remind myself to keep getting back up on that horse.

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