J’élève, tu élèves, elle élève …

August 26, 2009

A late posting today – the knock-on effect of being up till all hours last night trying to coax my mother into the 20th century (the 21st will have to wait its turn) by teaching her, over the phone, how to use the internet. This exercise was every bit as successful and fruitful as you can imagine, though it did culminate in getting her to reach this page around one in the morning and see her son and her only grandchild on the computer, i.e. practically on TV.

This meant I was even more than half asleep when maman (i.e. Piaf’s mother, not mine, natch) told me the momentous news this morning, almost without realising it. 

Piaf has started answering “wh-” questions. 

Now that I’ve written that down, I understand it doesn’t really look like momentous news. But it does have much more than purely linguistic interest.

Previously, she seemed only to understand (and certainly to be able to respond to) questions that could be answered “yes” or “no” (she uses the English words whichever language the question is couched in.) Questions like “qu’est-ce que tu as fait aujourd’hui?” were wasted. Even questions which give a clear choice – “tu veux que je te lise ce livre-ci ou ce livre-là?” elicited a “yeah” which, while not an incorrect answer as such, was as confusing as it was practically useless. 

Some time this week, without me really noticing it, she dealt with that particular problem by acquiring the word “dat”. But now, her mother tells me, Piaf can go one better and the question, “who did you see today?” elicits names.

This opens up whole worlds of potential conversation that were hitherto closed to us. Even if she limits herself to one-word answers for some time to come, it is much easier to generate follow-up questions to, for example, a child’s name (“tu as joué avec lui? A quoi avez-vous joué ensemble? Où avez-vous fait ça? Vous vous êtes bien amusés?”) than to “no(n)!” Every day, my daughter becomes more of a social animal (“animo”).

 The other sign that this is taking place is that, alongside her growing vocabulary of nouns, she has acquired “please” and “thank you”.

Or, rather, “blee” and “murtee”. 

Bilingual, and sweet beyond words.

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8 Responses to “J’élève, tu élèves, elle élève …”

  1. Claire said

    Answering “wh” questions is a huge step. It’s one of the markers of comprehension. The next part will be answering “Why” questions with a because answer, in French of course!

    • papaetpiaf said

      Bien sur! Though so far, passively at least, her French has more than kept up with her English so, even if production lags a bit, I will try not to worry for the next 6 months or so …

      Look at us, talking about “wh-” questions and “markers of comprehension” like grown-ups!

  2. Claire said

    How old is she now? You need to also think about understanding in both languages. I’m sure you appreciate it isn’t just about vocabulary.

    • papaetpiaf said

      18 months.

      Like I say, her understanding is currently pretty much equal in the two. It’s only productively that English is stronger.

      • Claire said

        A difference between expressive and receptive language is to be expected at this stage, bilingual or not. It’s interesting for me to read about language development in a second language as it gives a real insight into my pupils and how they acquire English skills.

      • papaetpiaf said

        I am many things to many people, Claire. In Russia I am Ivan – in England I am John.

        Seriously, glad it’s interesting to you. Works both ways and I’m really glad the comments section is taking off now – I actually get useful immediate feedback on the content of my writing that helps me to screw up less while parenting.

  3. scattyjan said

    it’s a lovely stage to be at 🙂

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