Both our daughters would be considered bi-lingual and chatter away or read and write in either French or English with no difficulty – preferring French with each other and English with us old folks who struggle to keep up with their teenage blabberings in French.
Eldest daughter is even doing a literary BAC, which involves reading and reviewing advanced books in either language – Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais is the current French book being studied, for example.
Their English teachers have often had a strange desire to make sure they aren’t top of the class, with even the slightest spelling mistake getting enormous penalties, so ‘I got 12 out of 20 in English because I spelt one word wrong out of 40′ is a reasonably common story. When queried the teachers maintain that they should be marked harder because of their natural advantage.
Not quite sure if that’s fair or not – children who are naturally good at maths don’t get penalised because of it – but that’s just the way it is so we’ve given up complaining about it except when it counts towards an official exam like the brevet or BAC.
Another curious thing about their English teachers – some insist on being corrected when they say something wrong and enjoy the opportunity to improve their standard of English, while others go into a rage and insist that something like ‘seven persons big’ is a valid phrase whatever anyone tells them. You can get away with this if there is only one non-French student in the class, but you just make a fool of yourself when there is a sprinkling of Brits, Dutch and Americans who can all speak very good English.
But a curious oversight has come to light. Certain words that children learn when they are very young appear to be missing from their English vocabulary – and not advanced or clever words but some very simple ones. The other night we happened to be talking about baby animals and it turned out that words such as foal or gosling were completely missing from their English vocabulary.
One of them suggested ‘cup’ for a baby lion, which I suppose is close, but the word for a baby pig had them both completely stumped until one of them finally brightened up and announced it was a ‘piglie’. (Admittedly piglie is a much nicer word than piglet but sadly that doesn’t quite make it correct.)
I’m sure they knew these words eight years ago when we arrived, so I suppose they are just forgotten through lack of use.
I’m not quite clear what the solution is. They can’t go from reading Joseph Conrad to reading ‘The Three Litle Bears and other favourite bedtime stories’, and it is hard to come up with a list of ’100 words that every five year old should know perfectly well’ for them to learn.
So for Christmas, instead of the iphones and gadgetry that they really want I thought a box-set of children’s films might go down well – a few hours with Black Beauty, Lion King, and 101 Dalmations should set them on the right track in no time at all.
And by sheer coincidence it would also save me a great deal of money.