Gougou Maman!


My sister asked me the other day “What does baby talk sound like when babies hear French?” and I realized that while I can kind of imagine it, really I have no idea.  When does a baby get the ability to roll an R or pronounce a nasal vowel?  Will that show up in his babel soon?  And what happens to the baby babble of a baby raised bilingual?  And will his first word be in French or English?  I think the fact that I am so fascinated by our journey is a large part of what keeps me going day to day.  I can’t wait to find out what Nelson will sound like!

I also don’t really know how French mothers speak to their babies when they are not speaking.  I repeat his coos back to him, and say “mamama” “bababa” and “gugugu” because he has vaguely approximated those sounds, but have I not been trained to listen for the right French sounds to encourage him to repeat?  And how early do I need to get him around native speakers?  I have a sense that he still has time, and for now my approximation of the proper sounds is good enough, but I have so many sources I can’t keep the science from the folklore in my head.  And there just isn’t that much science yet anyway!  I also have a related but different concern– I think my accent deteriorates when I speak sing-song Mommy French.  I have never seen anything that models it for me, and I try to keep it accurate but dancing with pitch and volume on top of trying to maintain a proper accent is proving to be difficult.

I might head to YouTube and do some research tonight.  If I find some good French Motherese I’ll come back and share with you all.

Whatever sounds he ends up making, I know he is talking up a storm now, and already really trying to imitate.  I love our conversations.


4 thoughts on “Gougou Maman!

  1. Babbling starts as universal. all babies produce similar sounds. Research does show that from about 8-9 months old, children do babble according to the language(s) they are hearing. So an english speaking baby will sound different from a french one. But to the common ear the differences are minimal. Vowel length is an example of differences between languages. If you are interested look into the work from Boysson-Bardies (in French) or Oller (in English). Search for language-specific babbling. Bilinguals will show evidence of both languages. But will loose the universal sounds they may have produced at 6months.

    • Thank you so much for your (always) thoughtful comments. It is so helpful for a somewhat lost bilingual adventurer like myself to have a linguist helping me find my way in the dark! I’ll try to look up the papers, and I’ll certainly be listening hard for the vowel lengths in his babbling!

  2. My baby boy- 12 months – definitely makes sounds from both English and French when he babbles. My 2 1/2 year old daughter did the same thing. At this point her English is far beyond her French, and she sometimes “babbles” in French. She’s working on those Rs and really emphasizing the roll – very cute 🙂 I’m so impressed with your courage in this endeavor – keep at it!

  3. French babies say areuh! And not goo-goo, if you can believe it! Actually I think babies actually all make the same sounds but it’s fascinating to know how different languages interpret these sounds! In English goo-goo, in French areuh and in Spanish agu, for example! Thanks for your guest post. I’ll let you know when it’s scheduled to post. Love, Maria

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