As you may or may not know, Valentine has her own blog. In one recent post, she ridiculed (very gently) the sub-par English of her English teacher at the French school. A friend then pointed out to me that the English that Valentine writes in her blog is, well, a tad unusual. It may seem strange, as she learned English from me, starting in infancy. Though we lived in Switzerland when she was born and then later moved to France, I always spoke to her in English. No way was I talking to my baby in a foreign language! But that led to a huge battle when it was time to put her in nursery school. In France, free public pre-school begins at age 3. But Valentine didn’t speak all that much French. It was ok, but her English was WAY better. (When she was that age, she got car sick a lot. Once when we were on a mountain road, I handed her a bag to throw up in. She said : “Ooh- a transparent bag! What a bad idea!” Showing both a good vocabulary and a refined sense of aesthetics.) I ended up in a big argument with the principal of the school, who said that I should stop speaking English to my child and switch to French only. That sounded like about the dumbest thing I ever heard and I said so. And so it went. Suffice it to say, that I ignored her and did it my way. As a result Valentine and the other three kids are perfectly at home in both French and English.
But it’s true that their English is a tiny bit odd. I think it’s the result of French influencing their English. When Valentine writes “ I proposed Zoe a doll” , that is a too literal translation of the French verb “proposer” (to offer).
Severin came to me a few days ago and asked “Is it possible that we go pick up Daniel?” It seems to me that a “normal” nine year old boy would just say “Can we go pick up Daniel?”
At lunch yesterday, Mallory said “He scares me. I don’t wish to approach him”.
Examples abound. The thing is, I don’t often correct the kids’ English unless it is obviously wrong. I find their rather original verbal constructions have a charm and dignity to them.
Then there are all the expressions that they pick up from me. They don’t have many English-speakers around them, and no tv shows to sway them. So, they are mainly influenced by me.
“That’s disturbing” Severin says.
“Oh my goodness!” Mallory exclaims “You are acting like a crazy nut!”
“Everybody scramble into the car!” Alexa exhorts.
All trademark Beth phrases.
They don’t sound like they grew up in Nebraska. I think the many years abroad have pretty much ironed the Great Plains out of my accent, so they sound pretty neutral. Except for Alexa, who my mom SWEARS sounds just like Leslie Caron.
The kids have ended up with excellent French, despite the major misgivings of Valentine’s first principal. People that speak French with them never guess that English is their first language. (But they do speak like French kids raised in Africa)
They switch easily between the two languages and read equally well in both. Writing is a bit harder in English, but Valentine actually prefers it. She’s even writing a novel! She’s been working on it for months, but won’t let anyone read it yet. I think she has about 200 pages now!!! Is that amazing, or what?