Je suis, tu suis, elle suit …

August 4, 2009

A Saunders day today.

Saunders – George Saunders, in full – is the man who convinced me I could do this. He is not someone I have ever met; he is (was?) an Australian university lecturer in German with a Joy of Sex beard whose oldest child is probably the same age as me.

What makes Saunders interesting is that he did what I am attempting to do. A native speaker of Australian English, he nevertheless raised three children to be bilingual in English and German – and, what’s more, he did it in Australia (i.e. a bloody long way from Germany) in the 1970s and 1980s; before DVDs, before satellite TV, before internet, before cheap flights. In doing so, he somehow found time to record his experiences in great detail and get two books out of it, one of which I was reading today. Not only does he give sound practical advice on how to make bilingualism happen and know before you do all the things that will make you tempted to give up but shouldn’t; I draw hope from thinking that if George could do it in those circumstances, then I should be able to in mine. My resolve thus strengthened, I press on.

Which should tell you that I am going through a low period at the moment. Most (though not all) of Piaf’s active vocab is in English; French Saturday morning playgroup has broken up till the rentrée; work is tiring and Piaf is waking later, putting pressure on the length of time I get to see her; and she is temporarily (I hope) off books, preferring to push her dolls around in a bright pink pushchair and build things out of Duplo instead. My own French feels rusty and hesitant, full of faults; hers seems, not just to be losing out to English, but giving up without a fight.

George makes me feel positive again. Isn’t it true that her passive knowledge appears to be equal in both languages, with some words that she knows in only French? Isn’t her favourite DVD – even with her mother – the francophone Trotro (“l’âne Trotro, l’âne Trotro, trop, trop rigolo!”)? Isn’t this all exactly how George said it would be?

I calm down, get a bit of distance, accentuate the positives, eliminate the negatives, and look forward to tomorrow being better. The man is a saint.

A saint with a Joy of Sex beard.


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