Do Toddlers Find French Tougher than English?

Being a native Anglophone, my perspective on this question is necessarily biased. However, even my Franco husband has concurred lately that many French words are quite the mouthful for young kids, especially because they are much longer and often require articles and prepositions.

Teaching Petit-Homme to speak involves a lot of repetition. I am fairly committed in this endeavour though nothing like someone I read about who insists on speaking 40,000 words a day to her kid.

Having to pronounce the same words all day with perfect diction, careful enunciation and exaggerated enthusiasm has made me aware of what feels good, what feels easy, what fits the context, what I’d rather leave for Sesame Street to teach. Some examples of English triumphing over French:

  1. “Out” – Let’s go out! Get out of bed? Take out the light bulb from your mouth. Out, out, out! Monosyllabic, easy to repeat, rhythmic, fits a myriad of situations. Contrast: On va aller dehors. Tu vas sortir du lit? Enlève l’ampoule ..
  2. “Come” and “Go” – Come here! Nanny’s gonna come tomorrow. Versus viens Nanny va venir demain. The word changes completely depending on context and speaker. No need to get into vous venez and nous venons or je vais and ils iront (You’re coming, we’re coming, I go, they will go) but I have wondered on more than one occasion how French kids figure it all out!

Anyway, I suppose there are some exceptions where the reverse is true. Bicycle is so much mushier than the crisp vélo. Caresse, caresse, I implore, to prevent him from yanking the bejeebers out of Little Girl’s hair at Ikea. That just sounds so much better than stroke gently.

I wonder what it is about certain languages that make them infinitely more appealing than others. I reckon Chinese sounds abrupt because it’s a very context specific language that lacks just about everything (tenses, articles etc.). (Also, we tend to remember dramatic scenes of Chinese people yelling at each other, which reinforces the thought that Chinese is for hurling slimy fish in the marketplace. But watch some Zhang Yimou and the throaty Gong Li …) Dutch sounds coarse perhaps because there is very enthusiastic jaw and throat engagement leading to uncomfortable sounds of buzzing, rasping, some even call it hacking. And French is universally considered the sexiest language because those who speak it well purse their lips and pout a lot, which makes them look like they are about to engage in foreplay (or are currently doing so). Back to the notions of caresse – which everyone should indeed learn early.


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