Thursday, 16 November 2017

6 months later....

I didn't mean for 6 months to go by, but that's what happened. This blog started as a way for me to document my kids' voyage through bilingualism and by not writing, I'm missing out on so much and I don't want to forget.

So here goes.

Suzanne (aka Suz aka bear) is 11 1/2. Suzanne was an early talker; speaking English and French before she could even walk. She started collège in the international section in a public school here in Lille. She's amazing. And totally annoying. But mostly amazing. I think the annoying part if par for the course. We're lucky to have the international section in the Lille school system. Her experience in grammar school was amazing. The English teacher there challenged her, often using her as an assistant to valorize her bilingual-ness. And it worked. Suzanne has gone through the first semester of collège with flying colors. The problem is that the English is too easy - and this is where we come up against the wall of French education. The literature teacher doesn't get what being bilingual means and rather than teaching up to the kids, she teaches down. I know that not all of the kids are bilingual, but they all had to take a test to get into the international section. Therefore, they all have a certain ability. So the teacher could be offering them short books rather than focusing on the Gruffalo - a wonderful book, for a 6 year old. But I digress. Collège remains frightening for me. Imagine an American middle school experience - awkwardness and hormones and all - but without any of the fun. That's French school. And it kind of sucks. But since she doesn't know anything different, it's all good. And, she's made an American friend. She's had lots of English speaking friends in the best, but it's her first American friend. And she's loving it...they talk about pop tarts, Halloween and Costco. Suzanne is an artist, she's intelligent, kind and creative. If she doesn't have a pencil in her hand, or a book by her night table, she's lost. Unless there's a cat...then she drops everything to cuddle with the cat.

On the way to school one morning - she has to be there at 7:55 most days so we bring her to make sure she actually gets there - I asked her if she wanted me to leave her on the corner so the other kids wouldn't see me. She said, "mom, why would I be embarrassed of you? you're my mother...". Then she added something that made me so proud to be her mother, "those other kids should be embarrassed because their parents aren't as cool as mine." Let's hope those awful hormone surges don't overtake the sweetness.

Max (aka beastie aka monkey) is 8. I struggled with Max to speak English, but when he finally started, he came up with complicated words. He continues to be structured and complicated. He also changed schools this year, starting the international section of the public grammar school. Max is one of those "smart kids" so sometimes it's a little hard for him. But something clicked last year and he decided that he didn't have time for kids who weren't nice to him, mocked him for crying, and didn't understand his lego and pokemon obsession. So my little boy went out and got himself new friends who accept him for who he is (it was borderline harassment for a while there...). At his new school, it's like he's always been there. He came home the first day with a few friends, including 2 bilingual English kids. Max is a mega reader now. It started out slowly, he knew how to read but refused for a while (that's also how he learned to speak). Max has a slightly obsessive personality and over the summer he started reading series of books. I handed him a Magi Tree House one day, but he wasn't interested. Once we got started, he read it alone in English and he was off. He read 30+ Magic Tree House over the summer but had to stop because we couldn't find #44. When we were in the car over the summer, I explained the Civil War to the kids in light of what happened in Charlottesville. And Max piped up in the back seat, "I know about the Civil War from Magic Tree House number....".

So there you have it, my bilingual experiment is on going.
As for me, the kids and I still only speak English together. I try to help Suzanne with her homework in French but she finds it hard and lapses into English which is funny. And they both correct me now which is humbling...

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Readers !

Oh dear, as my daughter would say with a fake British accent....it's been 6 months since my last post!

But I just had to share my joy ! What joy and pride the mother of a bilingual child feels when they catch not one but BOTH children reading in the minority language!

Reading for both kids has been a challenge.

For Max, almost 8, it's been more of a laziness thing. He's known how to read since he was 5. He taught himself to read in English at the same time. But he just simply refused to acknowledge that he actually knew how to read. Until about 6 months ago when he got hooked on a series of French books, Les Mystérieuses Cité d'Or. Max is an organized little dude and likes to know the next step. So I think he finds it reassuring to read series. I finish book 1 and then there's book 2. So I was surprised when he kept resisting the Magic Tree House...but then I began reading him one a couple days ago. He finished alone in bed last night and this morning went to the book case, took out the next 5 books in the series, and brought 2 to school "just in case I get bored".

So after finding Max in his bed reading in English alone, I went down to see Suzanne (now 11) who was reading Percy Jackson in ENGLISH on her kindle. I was like, WHAAAAT???? And I had to high five myself  and then high five my husband.

Suzanne is not a "reader". She loves books, but doesn't have the patience or the confidence. I think she believes she isn't a good reader because that's what they tell her at school. But I remember being that same kid. I was in the lower level reading group because I was a slow reader. The message that sends to you is "you don't read well" so you end up not wanting to read.

When we gave Suzanne a kindle for her birthday, the purpose was twofold. First, she wanted to be able to play her music in her room which meant an internet connection but we didn't want to give her an ipod or other. Second, we thought hey she can download books. So my husband found her Percy Jackson in English. This past year at school, she studied and loved Greek mythology. And now she can't put Percy down! She doesn't understand all the words, but I tell my kids that that's ok. For instance, she asked me what a "card came" is. It turns out she didn't understand "report card came". So there are cultural limits but who cares! My kids are readers. In French. In English!

Next year, Max will begin at Sophie Germain in the international section where Suzanne has been the past 3 years. Suzanne will be starting collège, French middle school, which I am extremely traumatized about (but that's for another post). She'll be in the section britanique doing 3 extra hours of English a week. I am really pleased with the system so far, considering it's public school. But I petrified...



Monday, 23 January 2017

Key lime pie

While my daughter and I were marching through the streets of Paris for women's rights, we (and the cat) were on Les Carnets de Julie, presenting my no bake key lime pie.  The kids were amazing, so was the cat. And the pie is delicious. If you're interested in the recipe, please send me a message. It's inspired by the no bake pie in my cookbook. And don't forget that my cookbook, Let's Cook with the Zazoo! is a fun way to learn English while having fun !  

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

bilingual ado ramblings

Suzanne just turned 10 but has long entered the tween years. I used this blog to document her  bilingual development - from waleau  (water + eau) to assit (assis+sit) - so I should also start to document what a bilingual tween/ado.

Suzanne is a artist. She's constantly doodling and drawing so her desk is a disaster piled high with papers, crayons, markers, pens and an easel that's always about to topple over. On Sunday, I began helping her clean her room (only fair because I'd just helped Max put his legos away). As I came across paper upon paper, I started to complain.

Me: Suzanne, your room is a mess. You know, I love your drawings, but you don't have to keep every single piece of paper.
Suzanne: Mom, you're not helping me.
Me: Ok, fine I'll stop helping you clean your room.
Suzanne: I didn't ask you to help me...et puis, tu peux arrêter de malement complimenter mes choses.
Me: I don't understand what you mean...(pondering malement and wondering if I should be angry because she's got attitude or smile because she's being verbally creative)
Suzanne: Tu comprendras quand tu comprendras mieux le français (You'll understand when you understand French better).

Bam! And so it begins...

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

What a difference a year makes.

Holy  moly! It's been almost a year...I've been thinking about posting but never got around to it. Something to do with lack of time...

A lot has happened this year in the life of my bilingual children.

Suzanne will be turning 10 in 6 weeks. When I began this blog, she was barely speaking. And now, she's a fully bilingual young lady. She's thriving in the environment of the bilingual class at school. I can't say enough for positive reinforcement, of which there is not enough in the French school system. Her English teacher this year is amazing and I've told her as much. She's positive, full of energy and since Suzanne's English is better than the other kids in her class, she uses Suzanne as a helper. So that positive energy is really giving Suzanne confidence, something all little girls could use a little more of. (As a reminder, Suzanne is in the international section of a public school so she has 3 hours of English a week. This doesn't seem like much, but is so much more than she'd get at a traditional public school). The main issue right now is hormones and social issues. I've spent so long telling Suzanne that difference is good that she actually believe it. Yes! And now she's starting to learn to stand up for herself. I'm proud of the person she is becoming. But I'm not looking forward to the bumpy road ahead ie puberty.

Max has been more of a challenge. My little boy is turning 7 this summer. He's always been a bit anxious. But it turns out he's what the French call précoce, which in English is gifted. We've been doing a lot of reading up on what that means and basically he's wired differently than other people so his brain goes at light speed ALL THE TIME. That's why he's had issues in school in the past; that's also why he's always been sensitive (physically and emotionally) and that also why he was bored at school. As soon as we got the results, we went to speak to his teacher along with the principal of the school. His teacher was also Suzanne's 1st grade teacher whom, you may remember, was not the most skilled in dealing with child psychology. So when the principal offered to take Max into her triple level class we said YES! I'm happy to report that he is now thriving at school. There are still many social challenges, mostly because he prefers to be one on one and because he gets so emotional that some friends just don't want to deal with him. But he seems to be feeling fairly good with himself. He even read 2 chapters of a book in English. For the past year and a half, he's resisted reading, claiming he doesn't know how. But I know he does. And then the other night, I read a chapter of Little Bear and told him it was time for bed. So he asked if he could read alone. He spent the next 10 minutes alone in his bed reading out loud in English. I was amazed.  I hope that we can keep up his self-confidence because it's going to be a rough road ahead. The French school system doesn't adapt to difference...I realized last week that there are no handicapped kids in either of the kids' schools. So where are they all ????

In other news, I got my wallet stolen on a business trip to Germany. And I've spent the last month trying to deal with the frustrations of French administration. A good example is when the city hall called me to say the Préfecture needed a certain document to process my ID card; but the Préfecture didn't even ask for said document when they took my driver's licence request. Some things never change....

I will try to be more diligent with my blog. I'm working on a new cookbook at the moment. I think the old one wore me out. And the last year has been full of introspection, including a bilan de compétences , which was actually fairly emotionally exhausting. As I tell my kids, I won't promise but I'll try to get back here more often.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Presenting: Let's Cook! with the Zazoo

This is my book!!!



It's the book I wrote with the people from Little Bilingues. For those who have stumbled on this very dormant blog (and for those who know me), a lot of this blog has been about exploring my children's budding bilingualism. Using my kids as guinea pigs, along with the kids I have in my cooking workshops here in Lille, I developed a bunch of kid friendly recipes. The cookbook, Let's Cook with the Zazoo! is a fun way to help kids learn English through cooking. The book is geared towards parents and their kids as well as teachers, schools...pretty much anyone who wants their kids to learn English in a different way. It's real hands on learning.

If you don't know Little Bilingues, take a look. There are cute books and lots of activities, all of them aimed at helping kids learn French or English, depending on your need.

If you would like to know more about the cookbook, you can leave a post here or contact Little Bilingues directly. Say I sent you :)

Monday, 26 January 2015

OPOL still lives

November...has it been THAT long since my last post? Oh my...

I love this blog and want to keep it up, but my brain can only do so many things at once. And right now it's working on a cookbook for kids. I'm working with LittleBilingues, publishers of bilingual books for kids, to make an English cookbook to help kids learn English. It's so much fun! and a lot of work! and requires a lot of brain power...

But back to what I love about this blog...documenting my kids' bilingual adventures, both for posterity but also for anyone who may be raising their kids bilingual and needs some advice or a push or some inspiration...

Suzanne is turning 9 in May. NINE! She has entered the second half of her first year in Section Internationale. She loves Thursdays most because she learns in French, Dutch (30 minutes a week) and English (3 hours a week). The older she gets, the more I realize that English as Suzanne's first language was not a fluke. She has always preferred English, even though I am working and the majority of her time has always been in French. But as she gets older, socializes almost only in French and starts to appreciate reading more and more (she's always loved books. In fact, book was one of her first words!), I realize that the girl is just really good in languages. Her English capacity is beyond my wildest dreams. I never imagined that she'd be so fluent without spending more time in an English speaking environment, needless to say I never imagined she'd  teach her self to read in English! At any given time, she's working on at least 3 books...mostly in English! I think changing schools and integrating the section internationale was good for her self confidence for many reasons. But mostly, she realized that she speaks English really well and it's not bad for a kids to be the best at something! (to see stories on Suzanne's linguistic progress over the years, click here).

Max is 5 1/2 already...and he continues to be all boy. In the past year, he has discovered legos. And just as legos require a certain amount of structure and analysis, he applies the same logic to reading. Max can read better than Suzanne did at the same age because he likes systems. He's a very intelligent little boy with a lot of energy. Personally, I think he's bored in school...he's punished a lot because he likes to talk...A LOT. Max likes to understand things. And then he likes to explain the things he's understood to anyone who will listen to him. He knows everything you could possibly want to know about super heroes and is very proud to know all their names in both French and English.  You may remember that Max's English was a struggle for a while. But now it's solid. He continues to have a cute little accent, but like his sister, he speaks only English to me. And he uses such precise language in both French and English, which is part and parcel of his personality. The other day, he said, "Mom, I managed to ...something something." and that's exactly what he meant. He managed to do it. He didn't just do it.

This post from 2012 documented how each of the kids deals with bilingualism, fitting it into their own personal rules and order. And looking back at it, it all still holds true! I had some cool insight back then (when I had time to think about all this more!)

Some general observations I'd like to share, after all these years of strict OPOL:

  • the hard work continues to pay off! The system is so ingrained in their minds, that they have trouble speaking French to me when their friends are there
  • I am no longer scared of them speaking French to me because I know it's not a permanent thing.
  • authenticity is important to the kids. When they tell me what happened during the day, and what so and so said, they tell me in French because that's what the kid said! For them, it would be artificial to translate from French to English. 
  •  correcting them is frustrating. I was always so scared of them not speaking correctly, that I got in the habit of correcting them mid-sentence. This is a huge point of frustration for my daughter. I'm trying to stop it, and just let her go on, and correct after, but old habits die hard...
  • homework is challenging. At first, I did my daughter's homework in English. But I'm finding that sometimes, when it's a stressful topic like math, then I have to switch into French. And it's ok! It doesn't impinge on our English speaking at all. 

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