My parcel arrived last month. It came a couple of weeks early. I guess you could call it an express delivery. An hour and a half transit time in all. It wasn’t quite as planned. I wasn’t expecting it to be delivered by firemen for a start. My Beirut baby, who is suddenly no longer the baby at all, got to meet my Paris baby a few minutes after delivery, the two of us wrapped up in a space blanket, in a camion de pompier on the left bank just off the Esplanade des Invalides, where, back in some distant past I studied Flaubert and Zola, interspersed with translation techniques, phonetics and the basics of linguistics.
There was some kind of irony in giving birth so close to my student stamping ground. Nothing could be more different from that hazy era of academic indulgence than the thoroughly mundane world of spit-up, nappies and silly advice into which we’ve plunged once again.
Still, incurable pedagogue that I am, I can’t help analysing my offspring through linguistic glasses, especially as I try to understand what’s going on in my two-year old’s head. At least now I get some clues from the horse’s mouth. Last month for the first time she related to me something that happened when I wasn’t there. Or the first time I understood at least. Here’s the scoop: there was a bike on the grass, lying down, and her grandma stood it up. Not that impressive huh? Yet in a way it’s as big a step as learning to crawl. She actually told me about her day. It’s only when something like that happens out of the blue that you realise it was missing before and that a whole chunk of the language puzzle has just fallen into place.
Two is an incredible age to observe language acquisition, and she’s making leaps and bounds in both English and French. However, her English is still stronger, despite the summer spent here in France.
Now we’re a family of four, I’m all the more aware of the need to work to keep a balance for both languages. For now the oldest has been exposed to a linguistic one on one, but within a couple of years their dad could be outnumbered three to one, since if we leave France as planned she may end up speaking English only with her little brother. For now, though, she speaks to him in both languages, and even a smattering of Lebanese (more on that next time). Let’s hope he’s listening.