In the Spy vs Spy world of bilingualism in our house, maman has just upped the stakes by buying a Peppa Pig Christmas DVD.

Until now, DVDs (apart from Baby Einstein, which were nothing to do with me and which I wanted to hide whenever we had visitors) have been in French and, while hopefully fun for Piaf, they have been purchased primarily to provide alternative verbal “models” of French in the house. Some have been more popular with Piaf, some less so; some have been more tolerable to maman, some less so (Bonne nuit les enfants still mildly terrifies her, though Piaf doesn’t mind it at all); some I have seen so many times I could quote them for you. But the “golden thread”, as we say in the public sector when we want a break from thinking, has been about seeing French as a widespread phenomenon and a gateway to pleasant experiences. 

Peppa Pig, of course, is in English.

I hope it goes without saying (especially if maman is reading this instead of working) that I want my child to be bilingual in French and English, rather than monolingual in French; and that, even more than that, I want her to be happy. Nor, having watched it, can I criticise Peppa. It is witty, intelligent and attractive and Piaf clearly loves it.

Hence my dilemma – because she loves it so much that she asks to watch it even when maman is not there, i.e. at previously Francophone moments. And, hard though it is to confess, I lie. 

I have no problem at all with lying to my child per se. If she takes a notion to play with a favourite doll (or car, or felt-tipped pens, or paper bag) just before bedtime, I will, without hesitation, tell her “no.” If she asks why, I will, equally without hesitation, tell her that, as it is bedtime, the doll (or car, or felt-tipped pens, or paper bag) is tired. If I want her to watch DVD x rather than DVD y (typically because I have seen DVD y many times in the recent past and it is doing my head in) then DVD y will turn out to be “missing” and DVD x presented as a fait accompli.

But I can argue that I make these choices for the “good” of those concerned, be it my daughter’s physical health or my own mental health. What “good” am I defending when Peppa Pig is “lost” until Trotro is in the machine? Peppa is no worse than Trotro, and is definitely better than some of her other DVDs; and, if she is to be bilingual, then how can I honestly object to exposure to her other native language, especially when her mother has often grinned and borne it through interminable episodes of Bumba or Léo et Popi?

And yet lie I do and I still manage to sleep at night. I lie because, though English is important, she already gets vastly more exposure to English language, culture and mores. Though she knows many French words, she will often start by using the English word and need to be prompted with “que dit papa?” before producing the French equivalent. Of the 96 weeks she has been with us to date, give or take, perhaps two in total have been spent in wholly Francophone surroundings. She has all the time in the world to watch Peppa Pig; Petit Ours Brun can’t wait.

All is fair in love and bilingualism.

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.

We do a lot of watching, which probably makes me a bad parent. Soit.

It started as a way of filling a void. I was initially shy around Piaf. I didn’t really feel equipped for this parenting lark and, though it sounded silly to me even then, I didn’t know what to say to her. She had very few reference points; she saw little of the outside world and was often asleep; and she could not even tell me what interested her.

 And, all this time, I was very conscious that, if I didn’t speak French to her, no one else would. Her mother had been very good about this big leap into the linguistic unknown, but the message was clear – you’re on your own here. French is a luxury and, if you can’t provide it, we’ll manage just fine without it.

 The TV was a partial answer. We received TV5 as part of our Sky package. Here was a constant source of surround stimulation, in native French, and, if much of the content was worthy to the point of boring, there was some good stuff and a children’s hour on Saturday mornings, and at least it was not likely to upset an infant. It also provided something to talk about – I could begin one of our funny little bonsai conversations with “Regarde!” then describe what was on the screen and finish with the sort of question I hoped would one day evoke a response such as “c’est marrant, hein?” All right, so there was a risk of Piaf developing a Canadian, Belgian, Swiss or even Marseillais accent, but so what? We weren’t proud.

But it can be hard persuading even a naive and good-natured child that she wants to watch a camp garden makeover show or the football round-up (especially when you support SM Caen). Manu, as ever, came good with the advice.

 Get some DVDs, he said. Get Trotro. Someone on Amazon.fr suggested Léo et Popi. A friend in the same boat from Mumsnet.com had heard good things about Bumba.

A word about this latter. Beware of Bumba. He is crack cocaine to the under-twos. He is a little clown from Belgium and the reason I am not posting a link is because on YouTube you can only find him with the Flemish soundtrack turned on. He fascinated Piaf, which was the goal, of course – but what price my sanity? After a week or so of back-to-back Bumba I started to find perfectly reasonable the idea that a snail’s shell would lift up as if on hinges to reveal a police car. “Une salade … rouge?” asked the voice-over. “Nôôôn!” I cried.

 Léo et Popi are just now coming into their own, soporific and reassuring tales about a toddler and his toy monkey and their non-adventures. Piaf is a big fan, but previously she could take them or leave them – I don’t think there was enough action on the screen in the days when the words were just noise to her.

 Through it all, Trotro has been a guaranteed hit. Although he is an anthropomorphic donkey, he is about four in human years and gets about a bit. He is affectionate, but not docile; good-natured, but far from faultless. Significantly, all the speech is dialogue – no saccharine narration to add a moral to the story. Piaf laps it up. I bought a second disc recently – not because she was bored of the first one, but because I was. In the world of children’s TV, a change is not as good as a rest, but sometimes it’s the nearest permitted alternative.

http://www.video-enfant.fr/Trotro.htm