Parlez-vous français?

Now that Isaac has moved up to pre-school he is having one French lesson per week, and he is always quick to regale us with what he has learned. He has already mastered un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six. (He woke up in the middle of the night chanting those numbers in his sleep the other night.) And last week he came home having clearly been introduced to his basic colours, although a bit more practice is required before they are bedded in. (Of course, the first thing he asked me was what the French for ‘pink’ is. Typical.)

He showed an interest in learning the language when we were over in France last summer. By the end of our five-day stay, he was strolling around confidently saying bonjour, s’il vous plaît, merci and de rien, and actively enjoyed using them even after we came home. He still remembers them now.

They really are sponges at a young age, aren’t they? Definitely something to be encouraged.

One of my regrets in life is that I’m not proficient in any second languages. I did French and German O Levels at school – now that really betrays my age, doesn’t it? – and even have a Business French AO level to my name. In fact, I studied French for ten years. Can I remember any of it now? Can I heck!

(As an aside, for some reason I still know that une mitraillette is a sub-machine gun, although why I learned that when studying French for Business is a mystery which has become shrouded in the mists of time – I’m pretty sure I was never destined to be an arms dealer. In a similar vein, I will remember until the day I die that funambulus is the Latin for tight-rope walker. I can’t remember useful stuff, like how to ask for directions to the nearest taxi rank, though.)

They say that language becomes increasingly difficult to learn and remember as you get older, and that is certainly true in my case. One of my constant frustrations whenever we go on holiday in Europe is that by the end of a long weekend I have usually managed to dust off enough conversational French/Italian/Spanish/German to hold my own in restaurants and wandering around town, but that within a week of coming home all I can ever remember is “two beers, please”. (Which, let’s be fair, is always a decent starting point when confused and lost in a foreign land.)

Never has the old maxim of “use it or lose it” been more true than in the case of learning languages.

But now I have an opportunity to get in a bit of practice, while simultaneously spending some time teaching and bonding with my boy. Maybe in helping him learn a little French, some of it will finally stick in this tired old brain of mine. So I think I will try to join in with Zac as much as I can, as well as actively encouraging him to learn the language. Maybe once he’s got a basic grasp of French, we can try a bit of Spanish …

If you can’t beat them, join them. Je m’appelle Tim, et je suis un alcoolique …