Je me trompe, tu te trompes, elle se trompe …

October 7, 2009

I got a lot of my early support and guidance in this experiment from the parenting website Mumsnet and am still a regular on there. 

I was contributing to a thread on bilingualism there last night and remembered an incident from much earlier in the year, before I gave my whole life over to the service of this blog. Like last night’s blog, it revolves around a misunderstanding, so it’s mildly entertaining, and I thought it might be worth sharing on here too.

The thread I was responding to was basically asking if other parents spoke the majority language as a concession to their children’s friends and/or strangers in the park?

Absolutely not, I replied. (And it’s true, I don’t. What sort of message would that give to your child and to others? That your shared language is shameful, inconvenient, secret, “less than”? I’m speaking French, not shaking hands with a mason.) 

But I understand that mother’s question. After all, you don’t want to alienate other children either or, even worse, mark your own child out as odd or awkward.

To suggest a possible solution, and to illustrate how seriously I take this whole question, I related how, when we were still living in Peckham, we took a bus into Brixton one day. Piaf was okay on buses (just as well) unless and until she got bored.

On this occasion, my way of distracting her and keeping her calm was to read her a book. For this reason, even now, I never, ever take her anywhere without taking a book along too. 

As I was reading, I noticed the little girl in the pram wedged next to hers (busy bus) had started taking an interest too. What should I do? I had heard the girl’s father say a few words in English, so it was unlikely that she would follow the French; but if I read it in English, I would be letting me and Piaf down, and maybe confusing and upsetting into the bargain – which, obviously, was the antithesis of the goal of reading to her in the first place. 

What I ended up doing – there, on the 37 from Peckham to Brixton – was reading the page in French, then translating it into English for the other little girl. And I did this for the whole book. Both girls seemed to enjoy it, and neither one got upset or bored or started crying.

Then the other girl and her dad got off one stop before us, and I realised that they were Portuguese.

Like this? Try these. 

J’habille, tu habilles, elle habille … 

Je change, tu changes, elle change …

Je babille, tu babilles, elle babille … 

Je confesse, tu confesses, elle confesse …


7 Responses to “Je me trompe, tu te trompes, elle se trompe …”

  1. Portuguais ? S’il t’avait serré la main pour te remercier d’avoir lu à sa fille, tu aurais parlé français ET serré la main d’un maçon…Yeah alright, it’s not very funny. But still.

    • papaetpiaf said

      I’ve just got that.

      V good.

      Unfortunately, it will normally get blank looks in Britain because most Portuguese are not builders – that’s a Polish industry.

      Especially in Lambeth (largest Portuguese community outside of Portugal) a lot of them are restaurateurs.


  2. kate said

    I’ve just borrowed this book (see link in website field) from our library, DD loves it!

    • papaetpiaf said

      Yes, seen that before and liked it.

      Piaf was less keen when I showed it to her – but may be worth another go?

      Thanks for feedback – hope you like the blog!

      • kate said

        Oh yes, love the blog, forgot to mention that!

        The book is almost certainly worth another go! DD is 22 months and she loves it, although we pretend the french is Dutch…

      • papaetpiaf said

        Because you speak Dutch to her or because you don’t speak French to her?

        It’s so liberating when they can’t read, isn’t it?

  3. kate said

    I speak English to her and DP Dutch. Unfortunately I don’t speak French to any decent standard…

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