I stopped this morning to talk to two older neighbors who started a conversation with me about the weather. It wasn’t long before one of the men took the opportunity to tell me that I should speak French with my children and not English. His reasoning is that because my children are French I should speak in French with them. He went on to explain that it is, also, important for me to speak me in French so that my French will continue to improve.
It surprises me that there are still people that don’t understand and are not comfortable with bilingualism.
I explained to him that my children are American AND French. My children are bilingual and I will never stop talking to them in my own language. It is our language. So, why would I speak to them in French when it is not our language? That would be unnatural.
He smiled and finally got around to the real reason he wants me to stop talking in my own language with my own children. He told me that everyone speaks French here and that I should speak French here. It is the language here.
I politely told him that even if it is the language here I will continue to speak in English with MY children. I agreed that it is important for me to speak in French with everyone else here. As I pointed out to him I was speaking with him in French since that is the language here. I didn’t expect him to speak to me in English. However, I don’t see why it is a problem for me to speak with my children in our own language. He gave up and told me good day with a shake of his head.
It is not the first time I have had someone confront me about speaking English with my children. One day the mailman brought me a package I had to sign for. I told the kids to speak in French since he didn’t understand English and it was rude because he was talking with us as a group. He sternly told me that, yes, the children should speak in French so that they learn to speak French. I explained to him that they do speak French and their father is French. However, they are bilingual and speak English with me. I could see that he didn’t approve. He was not comfortable with anything but French being spoken.
I have found that few people in our village understand what being bilingual is about. They either think that I should not speak in English or they assume that because I stay home with the kids and speak English to them that my children cannot speak French well. They assume that English is the dominate language when French should be.
My children speak both English and French at the same level. However, I could bring up the fact that my children speak French together. They speak English only when talking with another English speaker. If I or another English speaker join their conversation they will switch from speaking French to speaking English together. They do it naturally without even thinking.
Because they regularly speak in French together does that mean French is their dominate language?
I don’t think so.
I think they have to pick one or the other to be consistent and since we live in a French speaking society the children speak French together. While we were in America for six months they spoke English together. It is logical for them and again they don’t think about it and simply do it naturally.
For my children, I think it is important that we move to a larger city where being bilingual is accepted and understood. I don’t want them to think that being bilingual is something ‘special’ when it isn’t. It is a natural state of being when you have two different languages spoken to you every single day of your life.
It is just the way it is.
I think that people put pressure on bilingual kids by making it a big deal when it really isn’t such a big issue for the kids. The kids don’t even think about being bilingual.
It is who they are.
It is not an issue or hard or special or something that needs to be pointed out. It is only when others have an issue with bilingualism that it becomes an issue. It is only when others see it as special that it becomes special when in fact it is not.
Lausanne is full of people openly speaking in their own languages. I felt a freedom to speak in English that I do not feel here. I felt like I could be myself and that our family was normal. We were just another intercultural/bilingual family in a sea of people like us.
I want my children to grow up in an environment where being bilingual is not controversial or special. With forty percent of the population of Lausanne being foreigners, I am sure that my kids and our family will fit right in.
This is the biggest reason for my wanting to move to Lausanne. My children are my first concern and I think living in Lausanne will provide them with an open environment where they can flourish without the pressure to change who they are or live with being labeled special or different.
My children are American.
In America, we speak English.
That is who they are whether the old man I was talking to this morning likes it or not.
It is him that will have to change. Not us.
Next time I see him outside I will be sure to speak even louder to my children in OUR language. He will just have to deal with it…won’t he?