|« Trial and error|
Hi. My blog name is Lalou and I am a full-time mum. I am also a Languages Teacher by trade. BC, or before Children, I taught students at primary and secondary school. Teaching languages is fun. Small classes, particularly in the senior years, mean that you get to know your students very well. There are plenty of other bonuses. The magic of speaking another language enables you to pretend you are someone else for a while. You can ‘travel’ without leaving the comfort of you own home or school, and communicating in a foreign tongue opens your mind to the perspective of others.
Anyway, now that I’m a mum, I’d like to give the gift of languages to my kids. Languages are a part of me, and I want them to be a part of my kids lives too. Also, my mother is Swiss and speaks both French and German, so European languages and culture are their heritage. At first I thought it was going to be too difficult. In the early days of this multilingual parenting journey, I did not see myself as trilingual, or even bilingual. My experience of German and French was first of all in the classroom, so I had very little knowledge of how French and German mums speak to their children at home. So setting the bar high at fluency level, I thought speaking French or German was just too difficult to maintain at home. I have since changed my mind. After reading some very helpful books, including ‘7Steps to raising a Bilingual Child’ by Naomi Steiner M.D., I have rethought my definition of bilingualism. Bilingualism means different things to different people and attaining native-like fluency in more than one language is very rare. This realisation released me to celebrate my strengths in French and German: I have an ear for languages and speak with a good accent and can quite easily pick up terms and phrases from hearing people speak. It also let me acknowledge my weaknesses. I am not always across all grammar points (but then who is- even native speakers!) and I always forget the gender of nouns. Is it der, die or das or le or la? It made me able to focus my attention on areas that need work rather than thinking that I will never attain fluency level and so I should just give up now. (In my darker moments I have often thought of just throwing the whole language game away)
I should also point out that becoming a mother has been an enormous experience for me. I found giving birth and being responsible for little beings an amazingly creative, spiritual and empowering experience. Having kids is like going back to the start. You can rebuild yourself from the ground up. It is incredible how the tyranny of routine and ‘baby comes first’ changes you and focuses you on what you want to be important in you and your children’s’ lives Having said that, it was enough in the early days working out how to be a good mum to my boys, without having the pressure of speaking a foreign language to them.
So when my eldest was three and a bit, I decided to it was time to kick off the language thing. Although I’d love our kids to speak English to their Dad and German/French to me, I just didn’t know how I was going to sustain it. How would I carve up the time between French and German? And why teach the boys both French and German? I originally thought I could only do one language really well. But as I could advance equally good arguments for speaking either language, I eventually decided to do both. I hit upon the idea of speaking/reading German in the morning around morning tea time (input session) because that’s when we were all sitting down around a table and it distracted the boys enough to eat their food and stopped me from getting stressed if they weren’t eating the stuff I wanted them to eat. And then I would do the same with French in the afternoon. That worked well, but as they started getting older and we started being out of the house a lot more, morning tea and afternoon tea became a bit more fluid and so opportunities to speak French and German were lost if, say, we had morning tea at the shops one day. So I decided to combine the idea of German in the mornings, French in the afternoons with an idea I had received from my elder son’s speech pathologist. She suggested wearing something like a funny hat so that the boys would associate that clothing item with speaking a particular language and thus not get confused between the 3 languages. I thought that was brilliant- except I didn’t really want to wear a funny hat. I tried to think about what would really speak (haha) to my kids. And I hit upon a spectacular idea. My boys were rapt by my husband’s security pass and in particular the lanyard that nearly every worker wears these days as part of their work uniform. Multicoloured and with various symbols and logos- they were an endless source of fascination. So I devised that I would wear my Swiss lanyard (courtesy of my Swiss godfather) when I spoke German and a blue Adi Limited lanyard when I was speaking French. (after the French national footy team who are affectionately know as ‘Les Bleus’) This worked really well. The boys accepted that when I was wearing these magic lanyards I could only speak French or German (and were quick to point out when I forgot) and their eyes grew big as they watched me put in over my head with a theatrical flourish. After doing so I would greet them with a ‘Bonjour!’ or a ‘Hallo’. This also led to them trying to imitate me or repeat words that I said in German or French as the magic somehow extended to them. It was funny to watch my eldest put the lanyard over his head and then say a sentence in English and end it with ‘papa’ or ‘maman’ and feel like he was speaking another language. He also used to ask me in a tentative voice if I was going to wear ‘that red thing’ if we had spent the morning speaking German and were due to go out. It really raised his awareness about different languages and the fact that we speak English most of the time. He was able to differentiate between the different languages of the books that were lying around the house and he took some control and brought me different books- ‘you read that in English please mummy’. The lanyards became a shared agreement between us so I felt it took the pressure of me enforcing that the kids speak French or German to me when I wanted. With the time and physical reminder, it just became accepted.
Just recently I took a break from the language gig as I have been working through my desire to be a writer. This has needed some creative energy and I didn’t want the whole languages thing hanging over my head. To be frank, this conflict has been an ongoing dichotomy running through my life: writing or languages? But you know what? I had a Eureka moment while I took that break. I went to hear some writers give a seminar about writing feature articles and I came away with the tip, ‘carve out your territory and stick to it’. Well, guess what? Languages are my territory! I’ve decided that by combining my two passions plus adding my third passion of parenting to the mix, I can offer something unique. Hence this blog. 'Lalou' is a name I chose from the 'T'choupi' book series. She is a cute cartoon character with pigtails. LAH stands for Languages At Home. This blog epiphany has opened up all sorts of new avenues in my mind of how to approach my writing and where I want to go with it. I look forward to sharing with you how I develop these ideas!
Thank you for visiting my blog,