Je joue, tu joues, elle joue …

August 10, 2009

One of the things I have been missing recently is Saturday playgroup, now closed until la rentrée. We have attended since Piaf was eight months old. I don’t know what benefit she derives from it (some, I hope) but for me it has been a life-saver.

To be clear, this is NOT language classes. No one present teaches anything. It is a weekend playgroup for children up to three. It just happens to be conducted exclusively in French.

It is very good of them to have people like us and I’d hyperlink them if only they had a website. When I still thought I might get flexitime from work, I contacted an outfit that meets in Blackheath on Thursdays. The strong undercurrent of the conversation (conducted entirely in French which, as far as I am aware, was faultless) was that, if they deigned to accept an English family, they would be doing me a massive favour. The fact that I communicated exclusively in French with my daughter (which a lot of native French parents in mixed marriages don’t do) apparently cut no ice. I do see their point in some ways – I bet they get lots of calls from English parents who don’t speak French themselves but want their children to learn the language on the cheap – but it was a powerful reminder that chauvinism was named after a Frenchman. Anyway, I decided to muddle through without them.

Les Bambins, the group we go to now, is much friendlier and more accepting, as well as being on Saturday mornings, meaning flexitime doesn’t matter. (Some of the mums also attend Cadet Rousselle on Monday morning but, again, the toad, work stops me from joining them.) On Saturdays, we sing songs – which helps me acquire the culture too – have story time, and attempt crafts.

It should come as no surprise that, until very recently, Piaf has shown almost zero interest in the latter (though she likes banging musical instruments), has proved easily distracted during the stories (though she loves being read to at home) and loves the songs, but sees them mainly as “me and her” time – it’s as if the other children don’t exist. It goes with her age and is changing now.

But even prior to now these sessions have been invaluable. Not only is Piaf absorbing the implication that French is not just a game her dad plays with her, but a valid means of communication for children and adults alike; I get my language refreshed and invigorated in conversation with, and from observing, other native and near-native speakers. And because Saturday is also my morning not to lie in (…) I get a sustained period of speaking to my girl (and watching the ever-present Bumba and Trotro over breakfast) with no interference from her other language.

This was originally going to be a post about a boy-king, a sea monster and a tiger mask, but that will have to wait till next time. Intrigued? I just knew it.

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