Learning French as a second language has given me an insight into how my 8 month old baby is feeling (and will be feeling in the near future). Able to understand more and more of the spoken language, but unable to effectively communicate back.
My son has a simple understanding of language. We have started doing baby sign language, and he is unable to contain his excitement when I say milk (with the sign). He becomes my little penguin, bobbing up and down in excitement with his fins flapping wildly by his side.
I often get the same reaction from him when I start a sentence with, “do you want…?” or “Would you like?” I swear he understands that too, although I am yet to be convinced that he knows exactly what I am offering him. Maybe he just knows that if I ask him if he would like something, then usually the answer is most definitely yes. It’s almost always something that he would want.
When I was in France for the Christmas period almost two years ago, I understood a fair amount of what was being said, but never really spoke at all. However, even though I would want to flap my arms excitedly from across the dinner table when I was offered Orangina to drink, I would simply smile and say “Oui, s’il te plaît.”
And even though I thought I would keep my cool when being offered something delicious, I knew that my excitement for cornichons and pâté smeared on bread was written all over my face. My face would light up, my eyes would become alert, and I would have a big goofy grin spread over my face. I would draw laughter from the table and I loved it. This was how I was able to communicate my love for food at the table.
Soon, my son is going to start talking. He’s going to understand most of what is being said, and will be able to follow conversations. He will be able to understand so much before he can even say his first word. And, when he does start talking, it will not be in full sentences. He will start off saying one word. Most likely Mum (ha). And then, he will start to string two or three words together.
Now I find myself in France again, surrounded by my fiancé’s family and their French chatter. I can understand a lot more, and I am starting to speak in simple sentences. Feeling frustrated at times that I’m not able to even remotely adequately articulate what I want to say, and realising after I have spoken that I have made so many grammatical mistakes. Playing back what I have said in my head, and then cringing a little thinking about how goofy it would have sounded. Like fingernails on a chalkboard, slightly mis-pronouncing each word and failing to use the correct verb tense.
When my son starts talking, it’s not going to be perfect, and he will probably get frustrated. I will understand why. I know the feeling of being trapped with language: understanding what is being said, but unable to effectively get my point across.
But, watching a child grow into language development has helped me become less critical of my own spoken French. I have realised what is most important with learning and speaking a language: communication. Being able to understand each other is what is important.
And even though I’m in the frustrating toddler stage of speaking a language, I will keep trying and improving. And I will
try to not care how I sound, as long as people understand what I mean. With the goal of one day being able to accurately and poetically explain exactly what I mean.