Thursday, November 19, 2009

Accents talk in Ruffec

I am presenting an informal talk on Family Bilingualism, organised by Kathryn Dobson from the Accents Association. If you would like to attend please confim with Kathryn: before the 23rd November.

Date: Tuesday 1st December

Venue: Seppings Café (Condac near Ruffec - about 5 mins off the N10)

Leader: Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert

Cost: If you would like to join us for lunch (recommended) then the cost will be 12€ per head (includes coffees/teas etc.) - please let us know if you would like the vegetarian option. If you would like to just come for the meeting there will be a charge of 3€ to cover coffees/teas etc. but we do need at least 10 having lunch to have free use of the venue.

Meeting Format:

We will start with a presentation on bilingualism and then have a general discussion for the second hour. If you have any specific areas that you want to discuss (starting out, issues, one parent one language etc.) then just let us know.

I will bring some books on bilingualism for you to browse and copies my my book (Language Strategies for Bilingual Families) will be on available to purchase.

You can email me your questions on Bilingualism and schooling in France to me at:

or reply through this blog.

Please give me brief details of your family (how many children, their ages, languages spoken.)


Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert

Monday, November 02, 2009


Our cat, Caline, is two years old now. As we celebrated her birthday we tried out some IQ tests to see how she was doing. The children set up a timed test.
‘Caline, here’s your dinner!’ (Cat runs across room and eats food one minute later)
Caline, vien manger ton dîner!’ (Cat runs across room and eats food two minutes later)
They decide she replies faster to English, probably because four of us always speak English to her. It seemed weird to speak my second language to an animal, and the children simply followed suit, even though she joined our household as a six-month-old kitten from a French family. The cat does have a role to play though. She is a shining example of the one cat-one language strategy, because now Marc, Nina and Gabriel all speak English to the cat. She meows in return and conversations can go on for quite some time. They even made up special songs for her.

My French friend, Corinne, lives in Scotland and just adopted a kitten from a French family who were moving home. Her two children also follow the one-cat-one-language policy and only talk in French to the cat. Corinne is happy to hear them using more of her language and reports that the kitten loves the kids chatting to her. The OCOL approach may not be high level language use, being rather limited in subject matter (food, water, mice, birds, the weather), but at least it gives children a chance to use the minority language with a willing and purring listener.

Game on!

Family games are a traditional way to bring parents and children together, with timeless classics. However, in the OPOL family games like Monopoly can have two meanings. For me, the cards represent my British childhood (Park Lane, Trafalger Square), while Jacques’ has a more chic version (Champs Elysées, Rue de la Paix). The children have played both versions and, frankly, they prefer the French one, for the practical reason that their French cousins and friends can play too. Marc and Nina said they got sick of explaining the value and cultural meaning of London property sites, and dealing in pounds when they could use euros.

Never agree to play Trivial Pursuit in your second language, unless you have a degree in the History and Culture of the language. At a recent village Games Night I naively joined the Trivial Pursuit table, thinking I could easily score some points for my team. But the only question I could answer was ‘Which three languages are spoken in Luxembourg?’ Otherwise, fifty classic French culture, people, sport and music questions passed straight over my head. It was humiliating. Bingo is a simple game of cards and numbers that any person can play and is popular in the villages in winter. But what if half the family has problems with French numbers over sixty? (That’s me and Gabriel, by the way). While the others coolly serve themselves drinks I desperately try to find ‘quatre-vingt-douze’ (20 x 4 +12, or 92). And when I finally fill in all the gaps do I shout ‘Bingo!’ or ‘Loto!’?

On the early evening family television game shows we watch together Nina is quick to fill in the blanks in the French version of ‘Wheel of Fortune’, while I am still working out what the question meant in the first place. In the French version of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’ I can only answer those trick questions designed to catch the French out, like what is the name of the famous clock in London a) Big Mac, b) Big John, c) Big Ben or d) Big Boy? ‘Yes!’ I shout ‘I know that one. It’s c!!’ as the children groan and say everyone knows that answer.

A classic drawing game, Pictionary, should be transferable across cultures. A recent game of with a group of French-English bilingual children showed a technical problem with languages. The word was ‘Seal’. One child scribbled a drawing and one team yelled ‘Seal!’ as the others screamed ‘Phoque!’ simultaneously. This particular French word is banned in our house (after Marc once said to my mum while watching a nature programme, ‘Oh, look, a phoque…’). As referee I disqualified the team who said the bad word. They cried injustice and argued that any word in any language could be used and the rules do not state which language the game must be played in. ‘You have to choose one language,’ I say, ‘It would create total chaos if we all spoke three or four different languages.’ The children disagree and decide to take me to the European Court of Human Rights for inhumanity towards bilinguals…