At home, I babble constantly in French to little Nelson. He hears about every item in the house, everything I am doing, everything I am thinking. I speak so much that I don’t have time to have an internal monologue in English– which is a strange sensation. Has anyone else ever experienced searching for the word to complete the thought you are having? It is really bizarre. It is like throwing on the breaks to your stream of consciousness, then switching to another track to find the English word if the French one does not exist, then switching back. Sometimes by the end of it you feel like the thought was too trivial to be worth the process– like when someone asks you to repeat a bad joke and you wish you’d just never said anything. But despite these hiccups, he hears and I practice non-stop French.
Then we go out in public, and suddenly I am incredibly self conscious. A few things happen. First, I speak a lot more slowly. This is to a large extent because I get nervous about saying everything I am thinking, so I actually have to think of things that are worth saying in front of my imagined audience. Of course, there are rarely people who could hear a full sentence of my monologue, and if they do they don’t speak French, but this seems somehow beside the point. I also get very slow because suddenly my grammar must be perfect, just in case one of the people in the cafe is an inappropriately judgmental Parisian linguist. So I am speaking at a third of my normal pace. Then, on top of that, my volume descends to just above a whisper. Because even at my slow pace, checking every sentence twice, I want to be sure the invisible linguist doesn’t hear, just in case I somehow messed up– or perhaps he is trying to scrutinize the simplicity of my sentences, my repeated reliance on the same vocabulary, my accent.
In the end I realize that things would look a whole lot better to passers by if I just spoke like I do at home. Then I would look like an (inappropriately?) obsessive mother rather than presenting the bizarre image that often results. S now I am the less than optimally bathed woman (I try, but figuring out when to shower is still a challenge) with knotted, wild hair (Nelson has learned to swipe and grab, but usually can only manage to grab my hair), near delirious (who has enough time to sleep beyond basic functionality?) muttering slowly and adoringly in what sounds like a foreign language and seems to be directed at some mass under her giant coat (he loves being nuzzled up under a coat in the Gemini carrier). Better for the judgmental linguist to hear me debating which 90’s dance song should come first in our afternoon dance party, broken French and all.