I Don't Know What I Just Said

Sam's Class: Gauthier, Sam (center), and Valerie. Click to enlarge
Seven months ago we agreed to this home exchange because we hoped doing so would enable the kids to learn how to speak another language properly. And by properly I mean not the way Dave speaks. We figured it probably wouldn't happen unless the children had no choice: Learn to speak or don't make friends. Learn to talk or you can't ask for what you want. It was a leap of faith but the logic made sense. We weren't sure it would happen, we just hoped.

But when we arrived in Mougins three months ago we heard a lot of complaining and crying. The below comments were repeated endlessly:
  • What did he say Mom?
  • I can't understand those people.
  • He's not like me. He doesn't speak English.
  • No I don't want to talk to them. I can't understand what they say anyway.
  • Where are all the people that speak English?
  • I want to go back to Arizona.
All three of the older kids would say that stuff, but Sam - our five year-old - was the worst offender. He wasn't having any of this French people stuff. It made for some tough days sometimes. But, slowly, surely, they are all coming around and it's amazing to watch. It's happening right before our eyes.

The complaints have almost completely disappeared in the last month, replaced by phrases picked up at school, like:
  • Est ce que tu veux jouer avec moi? (Do you want to play with me?)
  • Je veux mange ça (I want to eat that)
  • J'ai fait un dessin pour toi (I drew a picture for you)
And the coup de grace for all the kids: calling each other Monsieur/Madame Fesses Face (Mr./Mrs. Buttface). They say it and immediately start howling with laughter. I never thought I'd be so happy to hear my kids call each other Buttface.

It's incredible how kids adapt. Now, at least once a day, one of them will say to Dave, "Dad, that's not how you say that word. You say it like this..." They've heard it at school and can tell that he's pronouncing it differently. At least for the moment both Dave and I still know more words than the kids, so even though they often correct our pronunciation, they still have to ask how to say this or that. It makes for some funny situations.

Like this, today:
Last night Sam drew a picture for his classmate and friend, Gauthier (pronounced "GO tee a"). When I picked the kids up for lunch today I said, "Sam did you give the picture to Gauthier?"
He shook his head. "I asked Valerie to give it to him" he said (Valerie is the teacher's aid and Sam thinks she's great).
"Did you ask her in English or French," I asked?
"In French," he responded. "Valerie doesn't speak English."
"What exactly did you say to her?" I pushed him.
"Tiens pour Gauthier (give this to Gauthier)," he responded, with perfect pronunciation.
"Excellent Sam! I'm so proud of you!" I was beaming.
"Mom," he asked. "What does Tiens pour Gauthier mean?"

At this point in our adventure, progress is apparently measured by our children saying what they want to say, but without even knowing what it means. We'll take it!

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Anonymous Mom said...

I love this post. Sam is so cute. I hope they will be able to speak English when they come home. :)


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