On Language and Imaginative Play

On Language and Imaginative Play

A short, ‘thinky’ one today. Why can’t I play in French? Is it the language itself that isn’t so playful? Is it that creativity and imagination are linked in some way to childhood and the memory of our mother tongue? Tant pis. We are a French-speaking family; English is used when a book or programme is in English, or with English-speaking friends. But when it comes to playing I’m…tongue tied. I can only ‘play’ and goof around in English. Do you know what I mean? I’d love to hear from other people on this.

The funny thing about language is that is changes who you are. I shrug and gesticulate more than I used to, I think. There are English words that no longer come to me automatically, since I prefer the French expression; there is a small delay. I will use awkward translations of the French I use to my children in my own language, English. That’s a good question, my daughter. Or: Has anybody seen the TV command? I wonder, sometimes, whether my children really know ‘me’ at all, or whether who I am is buried somewhere underneath all that. I can no longer remember.

Here are some interesting things to consider, if you speak two or more languages at home:

  • Do you have a language that you are more affectionate or playful in?
  • Are you more likely to tell your children off in a particular language?
  • Do you have a language – or blended language – that you speak with the whole family and a default language when you are alone with your partner?
  • Is there a language that you tend to read more in?
  • What is your attitude towards mixing the languages? Do you break mid sentence and totally freestyle, or do you consolidate time to each language in your house?
  • What language do your children reply to you in?
  • Do you find yourself swearing in a particular language because it’s more fun or expressive?
  • How does your body language change when you move between languages?

It’s another warm morning in the UK and I’m pouring coffee, listening to the shiver of freshly-woken voices steal cautiously down the hallway. The baby says: Maman? Maman? But my older children, who know me better outside the home and see me as the ‘English one’, say: Mum? MUUUUUUUUM! Perhaps I’m not buried after all. Perhaps our family’s bilingualism just provides more complexity; the French and the English identities. Or perhaps, as usual, the kids are too busy being themselves to give much of a toss either way. C’est la vie.