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 …


Having a toasted sandwich lunch yesterday at this place …

I noticed this English children’s magazine on sale (you can find out more here , apparently) …

which put me in mind of this French children’s magazine

which we buy and Piaf likes.

That’s it, really.