Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The perils of bilingual tantrums

The other day, as le Petit was crying and flailing about upset about something too boring to mention, a breakthrough occurred. He finally -- finally! -- told me how he was feeling. He used his words, and English words at that, instead of just screaming and crying.

Or so I thought.

"I'm very very 'ungry!" he told me.

"You're angry! That's right!" I said enthusiastically and I hoped empathetically, thrilled to be getting somewhere with all of my intuitive parenting techniques.

"No! No! I'm very very 'ungry!" he repeated.

"Yes. You're angry because Mommy told you [...], and you can't do [...] because [...]," I said calmly.

"No, not 'ungry! 'UNGRY! I'm very very 'ungry!"

Le Petit kept crying and at the same time seemed to almost sigh and shake his head at his mother's inability to understand something so simple.

Then it clicked.

"Oh... you're hungry!" I said, almost slapping my forehead, "You're very very hungry!" It was after all dinner time, but I still wondered where this had suddenly come from. One minute he was throwing a tantrum about [...] and the next he was demanding to eat, and his slight French accent with the dropped 'H' threw me off.

I mentioned it to my husband yesterday.

"[Le Petit] was telling me that he was angry..." I started to explain.

"...and he wanted to eat," my husband finished, laughing. He shrugged. "Moi, j'ai compris tout de suite." He understood right away.

It reminded me of an incident years ago when my husband and I stood in the kitchen, having what I thought was a deep conversation about our feelings.

"I'm very 'ungry," he confessed.

"You're angry? But why?" I asked, deeply concerned.

I eventually figured it out that time, too.


Jac said...

That is too funny! I don't know how you do it - I have a hard time deciphering tantrums here too - but I only have one language to contend with.

hush said...

How cute (and at times very frustrating for you, too, I'd imagine!). I wonder what his English will sound like when he's older, or when he'll realize your French sounds slightly different from the way others speak French.

the milliner said...

Heee. I've experienced similar things with DS. I'm getting better at deciphering which language he's speaking, but for sure DH is much quicker to pick up when DS is trying to say something in French.

One interesting thing I've noticed is that DS is starting to pick up my anglophone accent (i.e. mispronunciation) in French. Uh, maybe not so good. But I guess it'll all work out in the end.

Anonymous said...

Here my 4-year-old son says 'I'm hangry' for I'm angry... It helps that he growls when he says it.

Cloud said...

Don't feel too bad. I have similar conversations with Pumpkin all the time, and we're both supposedly speaking English. I don't know if it is just her preschooler mispronunciations, or the fact that she says some words (like garage- that's "gare-udg" not "gah-rahj") like Hubby does.