Regular readers can probably guess what this is about just from the title. Yes, I hold my hands up – I have bought a Peppa Pig DVD in French. Peppa is still called Peppa Pig, incidentally (not Colette Cochon, for example) which you might think would cause problems for young ears, as it means there are three characters called Peppa Pig, Papa Pig and Papi Pig. But not a bit of it.

However, in other respects, it has not been entirely trouble-free. We arrived home to find it waiting for us one evening and, in response to Piaf’s strident cries of “Peppa Pick! Peppa Pick!” I triumphantly put it in the DVD player, skipped through the trailers and sat back.

Piaf watched half the first episode, then … “Peppa Pick! Peppa Pick!” Already, for her, Peppa spoke English. It therefore followed that this Francophone sow could not be her. 

I tried to reason with her. Pointing one by one to the characters on the screen, we established that, yes, that was Peppa; that was George; and there were Mummy and Daddy Pigs. Yet she was still not entirely convinced and we ended up compromising and watching Casimir for the rest of the evening.

The next day, however, she had fully accepted that Peppa, like her, was bilingual, and watched her in French with no complaints.

Here’s hoping she likes the Dim Dam Doum DVD she’s getting in her stocking and that the pig-love is just a blip.

Talking of stockings – or, perhaps, souliers – Piaf met le Père Noël for the first time recently in Balham – and he spoke French! She was a bit disconcerted to see him in the flesh rather than just in a picture and was probably a bit young but, with a February birthday, next Christmas seems so long to wait – she’ll be nearly three by then, practically an adult! French Chistmas songs were also the order of the day, including five full verses of Douce nuit – I don’t know that many verses in English …

I found myself feeling slightly snooty to hear other parents speaking to each other in English. Typical, I thought – let les rosbifs in and they take over …

Today’s treat is a suitably festive number from Johnny who, I was glad to hear recently, is well on the mend. Joyeuses fêtes, Monsieur Smet!


The French will claim to have invented all sorts of things if you let them. A Frenchman may or may not have invented the motor car. They lay claim to football and cricket (yes – cricket! is nothing sacred?) During a drunken conversation, a French student once went so far as to tell me that the French had invented bread. Surely that got a mention in the Bible, I ventured? Didn’t that suggest that the staff of life predated modern France? Or had a Frenchman written that too?

One thing that the French definitely were pretty much responsible for was the pop video. In the 1960s, when Hamburg, London and all points west were an unquenchable market for live bands, France fell in love with the Scopitone, a sort of video juke box found in cafes. At the same time as your record played, a film, normally of the artist “performing” or “interpreting” his or her hit, was shown on a small, built-in screen. 

Knowing and admiring your love of French popular culture, I have unearthed, on, Sylive Vartan performing La Locomotion, the French version of Little Eva’s hit.

As this charming little “clip” makes clear, the French may have been world leaders in film-making and music video technology, but in the art of lip-synching they still had some way to go …

Like this? Try these. 

Je grimace, tu grimaces, elle grimace … 

Je présente, tu présentes, elle présente … 

J’écoute, tu écoutes, elle écoute …

A classically understated performance by the young Johnny Halliday. It really is amazing, isn’t it, that the Americans beat the French to the punch when it came to inventing soul music?

For Papa and Piaf, Saturday morning is play time.

 For Piaf, of course, every morning is play time. That’s her job, that’s what she does. But for us as parents, weekday mornings are usually keep-her-safe-and-occupied-while-we-get-ready-for-work time. In spite of the impression I may have given yesterday , weekends in our house are low-key affairs. On Saturday and Sunday we take it in turns to lie in and the one who is not in bed has to make sure Piaf is sufficiently entertained that she will not unduly miss the parent who is.

 Saturday is my day.

 Keeping her entertained is all very well and not too hard after 18 months’ practice, but it is compounded by a moral obligation not to take the easy way out. After all, I sense she would happily watch back-to-back episodes of Trotro or Bumba, pausing only to say “gain” or “acor” when the DVD goes back to the start menu; but, sentimental fool that I am, I worry she will subconsciously feel this is unfair and reproach me for not interacting with her more (in fact, it is all I can do to get her attention for long enough to ask her to move more than six inches from the screen.)

 I also think that this is a golden opportunity for us to get several solid hours of Frenchness together (especially as we will often be going to French playgroup.)

 Here, then, is what I believe is called a negotiated agenda for this morning (all items to be confirmed according to mere whimsy and to whether I can turn the DVD off without promoting a tantrum.)

 6.30am – Wake up. Piaf is actually getting quite good at sleeping to a reasonable time during the week. It seems to go out of the window at weekends, especially on my mornings. Some days I like her less than others …

 6.31am – Milk. Nothing happens until the first milk feed of the day is provided.


 6.45am – Dressing. Key phrases – “Ouf! Elle est lourde, cette couche!” “Baisse tes jambes.” “S’il te plaît, baisse tes jambes.” “Baisse tes jambes, merde!” “Un bras, deux bras, abra-, cadabra!” And, after what seems an age, because it is, “Que tu es jolie!”

 7.00am – Pouring all the Duplo blocks over the floor.

 7.30am – When the Duplo is definitively finished with and Papa has put it all back in the box but not yet put the lid on, pouring all the Duplo blocks over the floor.

 7.40am – Pouring all the wooden blocks over the floor.

 8.00am – Reading and dancing. Piaf genuinely likes reading and playing with books in both languages. Once very fickle, often changing books or even wandering off part-way through a story, she is currently at the other extreme and will demand the same story again the second it is finished. Latest coup de cœurQuand la forêt s’endort (she likes doing her owl impersonation which is very cute indeed.) In the background a DVD, asked for and then forgotten, may well be playing though, for the reasons above, I try not to do this at the weekend. If not, some execrable pop as previously confessed to will be playing – I am trying to teach her to twist but she is just not willing to put the work in.

 8.20am (and earlier, and later) – Pushing doll around in £5 toy buggy from Argos and saying “baby”. Fairly self-explanatory. Spin-offs include covering said doll with makeshift blankets.

 9.00am – Breakfast. Piaf likes cereals but she is very stubborn at the moment about feeding herself and does not really have the competence to do so with cereals. We will probably go to the café, therefore, where she can sit in a highchair, eat croissants and pannetone and ogle other babies. Might do some more reading, too, if the mood takes us.

 10.30am – Charity shops and library. The public library is excellent near us, and has plenty of space for children to run around without bothering anyone except their parents. There are bean bags to lie on, toys to play with, books to pull of the shelf while saying “book!” over and over … Piaf loves it. However, within ten minutes of arriving she will probably unleash a large and foul-smelling poo and we will have to cut short our visit so we can go home and change her. (Of course, 15 minutes earlier and I could have changed her in the café, but why plan ahead?)

 When we get home, maman is up, as well rested as a working parent can be and overjoyed to see her beautiful (if far from fragrant) little girl. Once changed (see 6.45am – Dressing above, adding the phrase, “ça schlingue!” as appropriate) she will want to go to slide and the day en famille begins in earnest.

 Reading back over that, I can see that, to the untrained eye, I might appear not to be entirely serious in places.

Honestly. You’d think I enjoyed it …

I’ve hinted before how important music is in my relationship with Piaf and in our household in general. In fact, a big – I won’t call it a worry, but before I started putting The Plan into action it was definitely a negative – was that, by only speaking French to my daughter, I wouldn’t be able to share my love of soul music with her (although Johnny did do a very famous French cover of Stevie Wonder’s Uptight and Cloclo even went to the Motown studios to record C’est La Même Chanson).

I worry less about that now – one day at a time, as we say at the aforementioned after-school club – but it’s fair to say that music is my knee-jerk answer to everything. Need to get Piaf to sleep? Sing to her. Need to distract her when she’s crying without good reason? Put a CD on 

Everything we listen to is in French and it has to be unthreatening and generally pleasing to under-two ears. That’s my excuse. 

Here’s a sort of Top Twenty of songs she appears not to object to. To maximise my meagre chances of a positive reception, I have limited it to one song per artist and put them in alphabetical order so you can make up your own mind about which one is least bad. However, I have to say that to describe my taste in French pop as “catholic but poor” would be harsh but fair – it was shaped by lonely, lazy afternoons in Normandy listening to Nostalgie (“just the music and me,” as the jingle has it.)

Vous voilà prévenus.

  1. Les Ailes D’Un Ange              Robert Charlebois
  2. Boum!                                     Charles Trénet
  3. C’est La Même Chanson         Claude François
  4. C’est Ma Fête                          Richard Anthony
  5. Les Copains D’Abord              Georges Brassens
  6. Les Coups                               Johnny Hallyday
  7. La Danse De Mardi Gras       Balfa Brothers
  8. L’École Est Finie                    Sheila
  9. L’Équipe À Jojo                      Joe Dassin
  10. Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi            Jacques Dutronc
  11. Il A Le Truc                             Les Gam’s
  12. Mes Souliers Sont Rouges       MSSR
  13. Mon Manège À Moi                Edith Piaf
  14. Pour Faire Une Jam               Charles Aznavour
  15. Pourvu Que Ça Dure              Patrick Sébastien
  16. Quand Je Te Vois                    Les Chaussettes Noires
  17. Québécois De Souche             Les Cowboys Fringants
  18. Repenti                                    Renan Luce
  19. Tomber La Chemise                Zebda
  20. Tous Les Garçons                   Françoise Hardy

At this point I was going to be really swish and embed the appropriate sound files. I even bought a space upgrade. But the copyright killjoys say no-go.  Bugger.

In the end I gave in and linked it all to Youtube – I’ve changed a couple of the songs because I couldn’t find the videos I needed but this is still very representative and this way you’ll get to laugh at the haircuts at the same time.

Bilingualism is very rewarding, but it has led me into behaviour that really isn’t “me”. Here is a list of my top ten secrets that I wouldn’t necessarily share with a stranger at a dinner party …

1. Just for laugh, I sometimes use a Midi accent on certain words – “tu veux du peng, hein?” I also use reasonably “earthy” slang with her, again for no defensible reason except to amuse myself. “Vas-y mollo – tu vas te faire mal!” “Oh, la vache, pas mal de flics ici ce matin – ça craint un peu!” Or rather, “ça creng.”

2. She has several electronic “speaking” toys which obviously speak English. When she is not looking, these often “accidentally” get switched off, just to give French a fighting chance. I am happy to say that, fickle young thing that she is, they soon get forgotten and we move on to something else.

3. All her toys have French names as well as English names – Freddy the Frog, for example, is Gréta la Grenouille when Daddy is in charge.

4. If she asks me to read her an English book, I stall and pretend to be incapable of doing so and then suggest a French book instead. If she insists, I read the English book in French, translating as I go.

5. On the subject of books, before I had a routine for getting hold of French books for her, I would write my own translations of English ones. One of the most shameful items in our house is an ex-library copy, with a hideously ripped cover, of The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round . It is a bilingual edition – but, unfortunately, it is bilingual English and Spanish. For consistency’s sake, I have written my own translation in with a biro. How cheap is that? Piaf loved it though. Easily pleased, obviously.

6. I have made her a series of CDs of 1960s French pop interspersed with Cajun stomps and the hits of the massively-haired Charlebois. Even I cringe at some of the stuff on there. Luckily, she appears to take after her father in being wholly lacking in discernment or good taste. Dos à dos!

7. I make her help me get dressed in the mornings so that she will not be unsupervised. “Piaf, passe-moi une paire de chausettes et un mouchoir, s’il te plaît.” She has started to attempt to put on a tie if I leave one lying around …

8. The torture continues when we leave the house, as I play games with her on the way to nursery. We count the people we overtake (sometimes breaking into a jog to beat one before he turns the corner); we look for things of a given colour (cars are off-limits, otherwise it’s too easy); we look out for animals, or pictures thereof, and then I ask her to make the appropriate noise. I say, “we play” – as you can imagine, the overall effect to the untrained eye is of a man in a suit, apparently in sole charge of an infant, talking to himself in French about colours and animals and occasionally celebrating overtaking a fellow pedestrian.

9. I accidentally knocked her over one day in the park and she cut her lip. I felt dreadful and worried. Nevertheless, in spite of myself, I felt the tiniest of thrills when she responded appropriately to “ouvre la bouche, chérie” as I assessed the damage.

10. Since Piaf was born, I have started speaking to our cats, Keith and Barry, in French, so that her experience of hearing the language spoken to “people” other than her is broader. This is, perhaps, me at my lowest ebb.

If you have any similar – or, preferably, worse – confessions to make, it would cheer me immensely. Please feel free to post them in the comments box.

One of my first worries about speaking French to Piaf was that I would make mistakes. The very fact that I was such an influential language model for her and from so early on meant, I decided, that any faulty pronunciation, any wrong gender, any mistranslation, would become lodged in her as yet unformed mind, never to be shifted.

 What I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to was how much knowledge was quite simply lacking.

 The main area – ironically but utterly predictably – was language for the parent-child bond. As I had never been a child in France and had not had French parents myself, with a few rare exceptions I simply didn’t know what nursery rhymes parents sang, what games they played, how I would discipline Piaf when the time came, non-swearwords for use in the presence of minors, the vocab of nappies, wipes and changing mats, affectionate names for animals, for parts of the body, for milk, bedtime, love. I had a lot to learn and it couldn’t really wait.

 A lot I picked up from books I read to Piaf (right from the beginning, I have read to her every day and suspect I would have done the same in English) though sometimes I would guess or talk round a difficult word and then look it up after bedtime, ready for tomorrow. My friend and former student Manu, not only a “Français de souche” but a hands-on father himself, helped out whenever I asked.

But what I couldn’t do without was music. To me, it was unthinkable to have a baby and not to sing to it, just as my priority in the first car I ever bought was that it had a cassette deck. We might struggle for words here and there, but there was no way we were going to go short of songs.

I downloaded nursery rhymes on iTunes. I bought CDs in Grant & Cutler. And I improvised.

I improvised by singing songs to her that I had always liked, 60s and 70s kitsch with a good time feel to it, songs that reminded me of sitting in someone’s garden in Normandy with no more pressing worry than who was going to drive into town for smokes. They felt like the sort of songs parents should be singing to babies, whatever their language. I sang them at bedtime; I sang them to distract her when she cried without really being sad; I put together play lists and danced her round the kitchen in my arms.

With this in mind, I want to share with you two of Piaf’s favourites, one by the evergreen Johnny, and one by the late, great Joe Dassin. I hope you like them – but, if you don’t, it may well be that you have better taste than me. Or just that you’re not 18 months old. Amusez-vous bien.