I might be French but I have brought up British daughters. This stark realisation came yesterday evening when my younger daughter was taking far too much time to go to bed. To speed things up I decided to switch the light off (otherwise she would probably still be reading -or playing-) in her bedroom. That’s when she protested with a loud
What? Did she just say ‘Oi’? I couldn’t believe it. A well-behaved French little girl would have said
‘eh oh, I still need the light’ or
‘Mummy, can you please switch the light on?’
When did it happen? When did my little one become so jaunty and self-assertive? Why is she so intensely cockney? It’s clearly not a genetic thing!
She is now 100% British, this much I know. Don’t get me wrong, we French also use interjections from time to time. But never ‘Oi’.
We will say ‘Aie!’ for ‘Ouch!’
Contrary to popular beliefs, we don’t say ‘Sacrebleu’ or ‘Oh la la!’ at every possible opportunity. We have our own set of interjections, and I must admit that they still come to me in French. Yes, even after all these years. Maybe I am more French than I think, despite having just said ‘Thank you!’ to the guy who didn’t hold the door for me. What can I say? I am in a weird place, somewhere between France and England.
I thought that my children were bilingual. Maybe I was wrong. Come to think of it, I doubt that there is such a thing as being 100% bilingual. One language is always going to prevail in the end. Clearly, in my younger daughter’s case, it’s English. I should have seen it coming: even when I speak to her in French, she answers back in English. I could pretend I don’t understand, but I don’t think she would buy it.
Children do not become bilingual “by magic”. There is a persistent myth claiming that ‘children are like sponges when it comes to language’, and that they will learn all languages they hear regularly – this is simply not true. It’s hard work to maintain a kid’s bilingualism -believe me, I found out the hard way! The fact that my children go to British schools doesn’t help.
We are where we are.
I suppose I will have to get used to ‘Oi’. What can I say? Life is full of challenges…