Over the past two weeks, Laurine and I have met twice for a French-English language exchange. This works well for both of us: for about 30 minutes, Laurine asks me hard-hitting questions in French (like, you know, what I do on a typical day), then we switch and for another 30 minutes I pepper her with similarly rigorous questions in English.
These conversations are strangely similar to those I try to have with my four-year-old niece and nephew. We cover lots of engaging topics, like what we ate for breakfast and what we saw on a walk around the block.
Last week, while describing various places I’ve lived in the United States, we ended up on the topic of horseshoes. (I was trying to explain that Michigan is in the center of the country, surrounded by big lakes that look like a giant horseshoe.) From there, we moved on to the idea of hooves, and we spent several minutes enumerating animals that have hooves.
“Des chevaux, des chèvres, des girafes…” Laurine and I listed several. Then Laurine got stuck trying to remember the English name for a certain animal with big ears, found on farms, kind of like un cheval but less glamorous…
“What’s the French word?” I asked.
“L’âne,” she said apologetically.
“Oh, a donkey! Un moment!” I exclaimed as I bent down to pull a book off my shelf. I held it up to the screen so she could see.
It was a copy of a children’s book, Le Petit Âne, that had been my mother’s in the 1950s. It’s been on my shelf, unread, for years.
I explained to Laurine that I had wanted to read the story for years but always got hung up on the difficult vocabulary on Page 1. (Somehow, I’d managed to read more of Le Petit Prince than Le Petit Âne, possibly because the story is so well known.) She thought this was hilarious and challenged me to give it a go.
That night, I pulled out my French dictionary and read myself a bedtime story, a touching tale about the friendship between a lonely little donkey and a family of rabbits. The following night, I read it again, this time without the dictionary. I’ve now read Le Petit Âne three times, and Laurine is very proud. I am solidly a toddler in French now!