Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Language gaps

The other day we went out for a family bike ride. Jacques has just taught Gabriel to ride. He is enthusiastic and desperate to ride on a real road. Jacques goes first, followed by Marc, Nina, Gabriel and me at the end (presumably to pick up any children who might fall off). It all goes well until we set off down a hill and Gabriel picks up speed. Too much speed though, and he starts rapidly overtaking the others. I call out ‘Gabs, brake a little!’ He calls back ‘Break what??’ I reply, breathlessly, ‘Brake…the bike.’ ‘Break my bike? Why, Mummy???’ and he starts looking behind, rather dangerously, to see what I am talking about. ‘Brake, NOW!!!’ I shout, getting nervous as he spins his wheels. ‘Break my leg? Break my head? Break my arms!’ he sings, with no fear in his mind. One little bump on the road and he will be in the hedge, with a broken arm or leg.

I mentally imagine the trip to the local hospital. As I think, in French, how I will explain the accident to the doctor (‘I told him to brake and he ignored me!’) it hits me that maybe he doesn’t know what brake means. He only knows frien, which Jacques taught him, naturally. I never got to explain the English translation. But this is no time to start translating. If I mispronounce frien or put it in an English sentence he might not understand. It sounds a bit like Friend and that might distract him. If I talk to him in French he will be surprised and might turn around to ask me why I am speaking French. Default language use eventually comes into action, my brain automatically finding a linguistic solution.

‘STOP!!!!’ I scream. That works. He stops. We all stop. Everyone understands Stop.
‘Nothing broken!’ smiles Gabriel ‘Why did you say break, Mummy?’

Ah, the joys of parenting in two languages!!

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