I never called my dad “Dad”, it was always “Papa”. And when I would go to France and come back here I was like “Papa, we’re speaking French now! Not English!”. I think it was a bit harder for my brothers because there was less time to read in French with mum, and boys yell and all of that. And with my dad who doesn’t speak French it was just more and more English. But I think that even when I was very young I liked words and languages and all of that. I loved reading books. Now I love languages and all of that still – like my mother! [Laughs] But my brothers are not like that. They don’t like words in the same way so I think it’s different for them.
Q: When you were little do you remember your mum taking you to French groups with other children?
A: I think I really didn’t like it [those groups] because I was very shy and in French it was more umm…
Q: It was even harder?
A: Yes! [Laughs] Especially as I got older and I started to become more aware of things. It was quite a judgmental space… like, you know, some parents spoke a lot of French to their kids, and then some didn’t so much and there was quite a lot of… it wasn’t an extremely friendly sort of atmosphere I think. I mean I was really shy and anxious so that didn’t help! [Laughs]
When I went to France 6 years ago – so I was 11 – I found it so much easier to speak French. It was like a switch just clicked and being in that environment with French everywhere all around you just makes such a big difference. It was just so much easier, I was just so surprised. I mean it was easy, but it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. You know sometimes I’d have to think what I’d want to say in English and then translate it, but then sometimes I could just go straight French, which was pretty cool. And then my dreams were, like, half in English half in French [laughs]. And I was on the phone with my dad and I think I started the sentence with “alors” or something like that and it was like oh! [Laughs] I caught myself. It started becoming quite natural even though I was only there for a few weeks.
When I started at high school and I decided to do French as one of my subjects, writing was quite hard because I’d never really written in French. It was always reading or listening or speaking. And so that was quite different. I think… um… I’m glad that I read because otherwise I wouldn’t have known how words were spelled. I think that was quite important. So I sort of had an idea of how words looked, but writing – you know, learning the grammatical rules for writing – and all that was quite difficult. Nowadays I sort of wish that I’d done more French when I was younger because… it was… I can tell… I have an ear for it, and I wish I had more of that.
I felt quite proud of, you know: “I’m half French”. That was quite… that was really nice for me, that was like, my ‘special’ thing about me. You know like, it became quite a positive thing and I think that’s quite an important thing which really helped me learn French, whereas if a child had grown up thinking that: “The French part of me isn’t as good as the English part” or you know… that would’ve made a big difference. Especially with different… um… cultures, I think… that are sort of… seen as, like… ‘inferior’ in a way. I don’t want to sound mean but you know like… I’ve got a friend who’s Chinese, and he doesn’t speak very much Chinese because he doesn’t really like that part of himself, he doesn’t like that culture and, you know, he got quite bullied…
Q: Because it’s less desirable or something?
A: Yeah. So he sort of began to resent his culture and so he really never wanted to learn Chinese or any of that. So for parents and that community to be able to celebrate their culture and all that I think it makes a big difference.
Q: Like it’s something of value…
A: Yeah, and teaching their child to be proud of their heritage and all that.