Saturday 30 April 2016


I had finished my morning swim at the rock pool and was enjoying a few moments of peace, sitting on the slatted wooden bench at the end of one of the lanes. To my right, a long stretch of pristine sand; to my left, a rock platform abutting a cliff, from the top of which I knew there were panoramic views up and down the coastline. I registered that there were sounds ... gulls, waves... but they were not intrusive, just faint, familiar background noises. Unlike Mediterranean beaches, this beautiful place was not crowded, I had not had to pay and there was not the slightest indication that I was in reality only kilometres from the busy Sydney CBD.

A lady came up beside me. We exchanged the inclusive smile of early morning swimmers and she got on with the job of readying herself; goggles, swimming cap, towel ready for the exit from the water. An elderly man swam up to us both and mid-turn, he addressed her briefly.


"Hey, Dad", she answered back, before he disappeared and she slid into the water beside him.

I watched them both for a while longer and then headed back to my car, reflective, and a little sad.

My own father was hundreds of kilometres away. There was no chance of us bumping into each other during our morning rituals.

We have not had that privilege since I left home for my first teaching job, several decades ago. Then, I gave it no thought. In fact, I was driven - to leave, to explore the world, to do things differently, to experience - and what I left behind was simply unavoidable collateral damage.

My oldest daughter left home a couple of months ago. She was just about to turn 19. Since then, she has thrived in her new independent environment and I am proud, very proud, of the choices that she is making. Of course, I understand better what my own parents might have been feeling when they put me on the Overland train from Adelaide to Melbourne, with my one suitcase filled with a limited collection of clothes and novice teaching materials.

My husband and I chose to go and live in France with our children. We chose to absent ourselves from family and friends and struggle through unfamiliarity and loneliness. Several years later, we also chose to come back to Sydney. For us it was another new city, another set of challenges. We were still a long way from my family.

But, despite the occasional twinges of regret about how life could have been lived differently, closer to my first home, closer to my parents and sisters, I am witnessing for myself the benefits of the lessons that my children have already learned from the choices that we have made for them. What are they? A deeper awareness of more than what would have been their own little world; an interest in people, that allows them to want to communicate with others, a desire to do, to see, to experience, to be independent and to know better how to cope when times are tough.

What is interesting is that my parents chose to take myself and my three sisters overseas to live for a year when I was twelve. The person that I became grew from this experience ... just like my own children are growing from theirs.

Does this mean that in years to come, I will be far from them, wishing that I, too, could glance up at them from the water, as our daily paths crossed?


But, I have made a choice to give them the freedom to see the world differently. I can't go back on that now.

Sunday 24 April 2016

N'oublions jamais l'Australie

April 25th - it is ANZAC Day.

It is a special day in Australia and New Zealand.

We remember fallen soldiers from past and present conflicts, give humble thanks to our serving men and women and try and imagine a world of peace and love.

Here is an excerpt from the Australian War Memorial website, describing what took place, 101 years ago: (

The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated from the peninsula, with both sides having suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. More than 8,000 Australian soldiers had died in the campaign. Gallipoli had a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.

Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the actions of Australian and New Zealand forces during the campaign left a powerful legacy. What became known as the “Anzac legend” became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways in which they viewed both their past and their future. 

It is now 9 o'clock in the morning, here in Australia, and our dawn services, emotional, poignant and attracting ever-growing support, are over. But, in a little village on the other side of the world, another ceremony will take place in a couple of hours.

In the west of France, in Villers-Bretonneux, liberated in WW1 by Australian forces, the local school is called l'école Victoria, in honour of the Victorian school children whose fund-raising attempts helped re-build the school after the war, rows of graves of Australian soldiers are perpetual reminders of sacrifice, maps of Australia are strung in the corridors of the secondary schools, 'N'oublions jamais l'Australie' is chalked up on primary school blackboards and Australian visitors are treated as part of the family.

There, ANZAC Day will soon be commemorated. It will be in French, but another language, that of love and mateship will assist with the translations.

Let us not forget.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Bilingual Baby - Chapter 2

Our language journey continued and, as those of you who have been reading my blog or book would know, it ultimately took us to France. Not to holiday, but to live. Undoubtedly, there was no better way to reinforce the learning and give it some sense. Of course, there were other reasons, yet, again, I cannot tell you exactly the detail or timing of our very first 'let's go and live in France' discussion.

The practicalities of getting there were not easy and not quick, so in the meantime we kept doing what we had started. For those of you who are doing the same thing, or interested in trying - here is another snippet of our (one-sided) early conversations.

On se lave? Bathtime ?

  • Qui sait qui va prendre son bain. Le bain est prêt. Viens mon coeur. D’abord on se déshabille.
  • On enlève le pull, le pantalon, les chaussettes, le t-shirt et la couche et voilà, tu es tout(e) nu(e), tout(e) nu(e), tout(e) nu(e).
  • Tu as les mains toutes sales. Un bon bain va te faire du bien.
  • Regarde, maman a mis tous les jouets. On va bien s’amuser. D’abord je te lave. Ne bouge pas comme ça, tu vas glisser.
  • Attends, maman regarde si l’eau n’est pas trop chaude. Oh si! C’est trop chaud. Attends je vais mettre de l’eau froide. Voilà. C’est bon. Je vais te mettre dans l’eau et d’abord on va se laver.
  • Alors, où ai-je mis le savon? Et le gant de toilette?
  • Où sont tes jouets? Tu me montres la balle jaune? Le petit canard? Tu remplis les petits réservoirs? On fait des bulles? Tu veux que je t’arrose avec le petit canard?
  • Allez, on tape dans l’eau. Maman va t’arroser. Et doucement. Tu vas en mettre partout. Petit(e) coquin(e), tu as arrosé maman. Je suis toute mouillée.
  • Regarde maman va faire des bulles. Tu les attrapes.
  • Allez, je vais te laver les cheveux. Un peu de produit/shampooing. On rince, on rince et voilà. Ca ne te fait pas mal aux yeux.
  • Tu es tout(e) propre. Allez, l’eau est froide. On va sortir maintenant.
  • Regarde je vais t’enrouler dans cette bonne serviette bien chaude afin que tu ne prennes pas froid. On fait un petit câlin avant de se mettre en pyjama.
  • Je retire le bouchon. Tu vas voir. L’eau va s’en aller et ... elle est partie. Plus d’eau.
  • Allez, on va dans ta chambre mettre une couche, un pyjama et te sécher les cheveux.
  • Où est-il, le petit séchoir à cheveux?

Jumping back to the present ...

Occasionally, my son forgets that he has always answered me in English and replies absentmindedly to my French, in French. Occasionally, he will search for an English word and get it wrong e.g. listening to me talk about les poireaux (leeks) he will refer to them as celery, or he will mix up an English word ('registrate' rather than register), but this in no way detracts from his fluency and capacity in the two languages.

I admit to not reading to him in French still every night, but when we get the chance, we zig-zag from Le Club des Cinq, through to Les grandes questions des tout-petits, passing by Le journal d'un dégonflé on the way. Always, at Christmas, we count down with our 24 histoires pour attendre Noël.

I don't sing 'Fais dodo' to him at night anymore either, but he knows his (adapted) nighttime song and it is recalled often enough in conversation for me to know that it is special.

If you would like any of the other chapters of language hints to use with your baby (mealtime, dressing etc.) then please don't hesitate to contact me.

Monday 4 April 2016

Bilingual Baby - First steps

In my last post, I reflected on the twelve-year French-language journey that my son and I have been on (and are still on) and promised to share some of the specifics of this adventure.

I guess at some point, it must have been a conscious decision that my husband and I took, but to be honest, I do not remember the dialogue that went with the decision. I don't remember having a serious discussion, just prior to directing my first French word at my Australian-born son, about the benefits of so-doing. Possibly, neither my husband or I really thought that it would be anything more than a passing phase.

So, knowing only the 'when' (always - hopefully!) but being somewhat vague about the 'why' and 'how', much of what followed initially, could probably be put down to good luck. Soon, though, I recognised that I was totally invested in the process, enjoying it despite the difficulties and challenges, and going down paths that I would never have previously considered, which were exciting and enriching on a personal level.

What did we do?

  • I knew that I did not have enough vocabulary and worked as often and as hard as I could on building the baby vocabulary that I needed.
  • I employed a native French speaker to tutor me and verify that the words and language that I had begun to use were indeed accurate and appropriate. Our household funds were limited, as I was on maternity leave with no second salary coming in, so I had my long list of language questions drawn up and ready before we started each time, and restricted myself to just a handful of lessons.
  • I joined a council-subsidised, local, French-speaking play-group. French was the only language spoken, and all levels of fluency were welcomed. It helped immensely that there was a paid 'leader' who set up activities in French (colouring in, songs, stories) for the children. This was followed by a free-for-all play and morning tea, which gave the children and parents an opportunity to socialise in French.
  • I found a French-speaking pre-school and enrolled my son in the program as soon as I was able (he was 3 yo).
  • I kept on talking. Every moment with my son was an opportunity to tell him how I was feeling (Comme je t'aime. Tu es si beau) or describe what I was seeing or doing (Je te mets dans la poussette. Vois-tu les jolis oiseaux colorés? Penses-tu qu'ils chantent bien? Ah non, voilà mon chapeau qui s'envole...). Of course, there was nothing in return, initially, but this meant that making mistakes, or stopping half-way through a sentence because I was unsure how to finish it, or changing tack to something I did know how to finish, was never a problem. I got used to what I was doing and my son just smiled and did what babies do back at me.
  • I read to my son in French during our play times, but also just before I put him into bed. By that stage we would already have gone through our dinner and bath routine. Then, when he was old enough, we would sit on the floor in his room and I would read aloud to him. It was a moment of pleasure for both of us and one that I shared reluctantly! When he was capable of so-doing, he would turn the pages and interact with the book, pointing to objects that I asked him to show me, giving me the words to finish sentences or well-known rhymes, clapping and reacting as per the book's instructions.
  • For his day-time sleep, I would often also put on, very softly, a CD of French lullabies or rhymes for him to listen to as he was falling asleep.
  • I bought French stories on CDs to listen to in the car, which helped reinforce my language as much as giving my son (and by default my older daughters) the enjoyment of the sounds.
  • I kept a pen and paper on me whenever possible to write down the things that I wanted to look up or ask about. (This is 12 years ago after all! Using the Notes function on your mobile would be just as good). 

  • I drew up pages of sentences (cheat sheets) relevant to each of the stages of my son's day, listed as chapters. Of course, they are just a sample of all the possible language - but I needed to start somewhere.
I'd love to know what you think.

Here is my Chapter 1


Pour un garçon :-
Bonjour mon chéri.
Coucou mon chéri/mon loulou/mon canard/mon lapin/ma puce ...
Tu dors ou t’es réveillé?
Coucou. Je te vois. Je suis là. C’est maman.
Maman est contente de te voir. Je t’aime mon petit chéri.
Tu viens. On va faire un petit câlin.
Tu es tout mouillé. On va te changer.
On ouvre les rideaux. Est-ce qu’il fait beau? Bonjour le jardin!
Allez! Allez! Tu dois avoir faim mon petit chéri. On va aller manger?
Allez! On va s’installer. Je vais te donner le/ton biberon? C’est ça que tu attendais?
S’il pleure
Tu pleures? Qu’est-ce qu’il y a? Tu as faim? Tu es mouillé? Je suis là. Pendant toute la nuit on était séparés.
Pour une fille
Bonjour ma chérie. Coucou ma chérie/ma louloutte/mon canard/mon lapin ...
Tu dors ou t’es réveillée?
Coucou. Je te vois. Je suis là. C’est maman.
Maman est contente de te voir. Je t’aime ma petite chérie.
Tu viens. On va faire un petit câlin.
Tu es toute mouillée. On va te changer.
On ouvre les rideaux. Est-ce qu’il fait beau? Bonjour le jardin!
Allez! Allez! Tu dois avoir faim ma petite chérie. On va aller manger?
Allez! On va s’installer. Je vais te donner le/ton biberon? C’est ça que tu attendais?
Si elle pleure
Tu pleures? Qu’est-ce qu’il y a? Tu as faim? Tu es mouillée? Je suis là. Pendant toute la nuit on était séparées.