Friday, April 27, 2007

Bilingual Support

Having two days free, with Gabriel at school, meant I could set up a Bilingual Support Group at the ibu association’s house. At the same time I was asked to do a talk about Bilingualism at the Alliance Francaise in KL.

This was to be a bigger more formal talk than the last one I had done. The Director asked me to do a PowerPoint presentation lasting about an hour, followed by questions. ‘In which language?’ I asked. ‘Well, if we do it in French our students won’t understand it all, and I think most French expats understand English, so can you do both?’ I agreed that it would be a shame if the beginner students could not follow, but then a dual language talk would be a) too long if I had to say everything twice, b) daunting for me to do a simultaneous translation. I had never spoken in public in French and did feel comfortable in a formal situation. In the end we decided to do the talk in English, but with an on-screen translation for French speakers and handouts in both languages. That seemed acceptable. I took the basic themes of the book and edited them to simple one or two sentences for the PowerPoint. My French friend, Odile, translated it into French for me, adding all those dammed accents and Chinese-hats that I would have forgotten, and making it fit beautifully to my text.

A week before I had a mild panic that nobody would come and sent out emails and sms’s to everyone I knew. The French school handed out invites, noting the importance of learning more about Bilingualism. Although it was a rainy Thursday night around thirty people came, including most of my KL friends, filling up the room with their pre-talk chatter and cheering me on. Most people were English-speakers with a French connection, and several parents and teachers came from the French school. We sold many books afterwards and with the glass of free wine, provided by the Alliance Francaise, people stayed late to discuss, compare stories and chat.

Suzanne's Talk on Bilingualism

From that came the spin-off Bilingual Support Group, which began in March. The monthly meeting had a theme, such as Mixing, The Early Years, Parent’s Roles and Trilingualism. The group was a wonderful mix of languages, stories and experience. Mothers told of problems with husbands who refused to let them use their first language, teachers who had banned on language, children who were mixing, had delayed speech or could not speak to their grandparents. I gave advice as needed, and also urged the group to give solutions as well. This worked well as two German mothers passed on information on German-speaking playgroups, or the Malaysian mothers advised how where to buy books or DVD’s in foreign languages. Seeing the relief on their faces as they saw they were not the only ones struggling with bilingualism or multilingualism was very moving for me. I was delighted to give them handouts, suggest books or websites and help them find their way through the early years of Bilingualism. The third Tuesday of the month, when I did my talk, was soon my favourite day of the month.

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