ame soeur

Our New Puppy & Dog Commands in French

Max and Jackie with baby Braise, 2006

la fifille(fee-fee) noun, feminine

 : affectionate term for "my little girl" or "sweetheart"

Petit Larousse (French) definition: fifille = fille, fillette (girl, little girl)


Audio File & Example Sentence:
Listen to my (then 11-year-old) son, Max, pronounce the following sentence:
Viens ici ma fifille! Come here, my girl!

Download MP3 or Download wav

French Expression:
filfille à sa maman = (derogative) mommy's little girl

by Kristin Espinasse

(Note: the following story was written 3 years ago.)

I had many concerns about acquiring a dog: Who would take it for a walk? Who would make sure there was enough fresh water in its gamelle,* and what about la pillule,* barking, ticks... not to mention who would watch it while we were away?

Strangely, of all my worries, communication wasn't one of them.


"That's a good girl!" I congratulate our puppy, Braise, after she has done her besoins* outside the house (and not on the couch like the last time).
"You are SUCH a good girl!" I repeat, patting her soft head in approval.

"Mom, Braise doesn't understand you!" my 8-year-old says, pointing out the problem: English.

I never thought about our dog being French. I stop to consider Jackie's point. Though I do not agree with my daughter (Braise understands my English... when there's a reward biscuit in my hand), her language comment does remind me of a tip that I have just learned: speak in one-, two-, or three-word commands.

When next I return to the house, I offer our pup a one-syllable English order: "Come!"

But Jackie stands her ground. "Viens!"* she corrects, in French. Our puppy obeys -- only who can say whether it is the French or the English command that worked? Hmmm? Hmmm!

When Braise jumps up on me I react. "Down!" I tell order.
"Koo-shay!"* Jackie insists, over-riding my command.

"Sit!" I continue, determined to educate the dog à ma façon.*
"Assis!"* my daughter counters, with growing concern for our dog's linguistic education. If Jackie has her way, our dog will communicate via French one day.

To my "Shake!" Jackie corrects "Donne la patte!"* and when I say "Good girl!" Jackie feels compelled to translate my flummoxing foreign words: "Bien, fifille!"*

My daughter's concern throws me back in time to when I used to stroll her, as a six-month-old, through the village of St. Maximin. "Are you hungry?" I would say if she cried, or "You seem a little tired." Occasionally a French neighbor would intervene.

"You are not speaking English to your child, are you? The two languages will confuse her!" they cautioned. I remember being taken aback by what I found to be an absurd idea: that the commingling of languages might in some way harm my child, or at least result in mental mayhem.

I listen to the child in question, who is speaking to our puppy in French and to her own mother in English. Instead of letting language tangle in her mind, I'd say she has it wrapped around her Franco-American finger. As for our puppy, she has us all tied around her Provençale paw.

Comments welcome. Please share with us one benefit of being bi-lingual. Can you think of any negatives (or set-backs) to knowing many languages? Do you believe that there is some truth to what those ladies said about confusing a child by teaching the young learner another language? Share your thoughts and experience here.


Provence 2009-3 004

Today's story was written years ago. Now, our Braise has puppies of her own. We are much more relaxed about babies, these days, and therefore speak in French, English... and sometimes Franglais! (The photo above was also taken by Jacqui McCargar. Thanks Jacqui!).


~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~
la pillule
(f) = pill, birth control; la gamelle (f) = bowl (for pet); les besoins (mpl, from "faire ses besoins" = to relieve oneself) (for an animal: "to do its business"); viens! = come here!; koo-shay! (pronunciation for "couché!" = (lie) down!; à ma façon = my way; assis! = sit; donne la patte! = give me (your) paw; bien, fifille! = good, little girl!

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Dear Kristi,

Can't wait to show the puppy picture to Rohan tonight. Thanks.


Jacqui's photo is superb. They are so adorable you can feel the sweet puppy breath and kisses. As for confusing a child with two languages I don't think so. A child's mind is like a sponge and can absorb so much. Learning two languages can only be a benefit. (Sure beats having to do it at age 50!!)
Bon Weekend Kristin!


Knowing two languages gives you an extra perspective on many things that are being communicatied. It gives you an extra layer of meaning or a slightly expanded one. For me it is a bit like the way imagery in poetry developes a fuller picture in your mind. However, sometimes it slows down my speaking while I choose between two ways of saying something.

a side note: Please do a feature on the santon shop mentioned here and show photos of the santons.


I can't stand it - I want one of these puppies so badly. Are they all spoken for?? We sure will miss them when it comes time for their adoptions.

Not being in or from a bilingual family, I can't speak to the realities of it but when I am met with such a family, I find them mysteriously fascinating. The little cultural differences they share as a family intrigue me and makes me wish I'd had that opportunity with my children.


Any explanation for the use of the past participle (assis, couche(accent)) rather than the tu form of the imperitive?


I teach in a private school, grades junior kindergarten through eighth grade, where even our four year olds have classes in French, Spanish and Chinese. They absorb all instruction like little sponges and are not concerned about "which language" they are speaking. When they see the Spanish teacher on campus, they automatically greet her in Spanish, and when they pass me on the sidewalk, I hear, "Bonjour, madame. Comment allez-vous?" The mind sorts it out!

As a collector of Simone Jouglas santons, I would also like to hear more about the santon shop in your picture.

Laura P

Our son is 3 (41 months) learning three languages at once at a trilingual immersion preschool - and he does so quite handily. Occasionally I will try to confuse him by throwing Spanish in a French conversation - and he'll say "No, Mom, that's Spanish!" I've also studied the impact on multilingual learning at an early age, and it supposedly keeps parts of the brain active that would otherwise go "dormant" if only one language is used.


Although I am not a child of a bilingual household, I learned English at a very young age. I don't think it is harmfull, I actually think it makes it easier. Is like the brain wires itself for that language as you develop. Recently I've started to learn French and it definetly has been more dificult (but thank God I can associate something to Spanish or English.)


Punch, I think assis and couché are used as adverbs or adjectives in these cases (not sure exactly which), where the verb is understood. It is the same as when in English we say 'down', instead of 'lie (or get) down', the verbs'lie' or 'get' being understood, in French when you say 'couché' or 'assis', i.e., 'lying down' or 'seated', the verb 'get' or 'be' are understood.

anni wakerley

Dear Kristi
As a dog trainer (I train puppies who are destined to be guide dogs for the blind)it is more the tone of voice that your puppies are responding to, not so much the language the command is in. Seems Jackie has a more assertive voice than her Maman! However, the secret of good dog training is consistency of command, so it's best to decide which language you will train in to speed up the process. Our guide dogs here are trained in English or Afrikaans, but often go to Zulu- or Xhosa-speaking blind owners. They need a period of retraining in the owner's language after being paired with their blind owner after graduation.

warm wishes


I had my dog with me when I lived in Senegal (a francophone country) for two years. My housekeeper spoke to the dog in French and I spoke to him in English. He became bilingual quite quickly. When we returned to the US, I used English and he soon forgot all the words he used to know in French like viens and assis. There was one word, though, that doesn't really work in English, so I still use the French - pousse - he leaps up and out of the way as soon as I say it. My advice is to persist in English and raise a bi(tri)lingual dog -- English, French, and Dog.

Betsy Ritzel

I would love more info on Santons. When I
taught 7th graders, we made them in class
at Christmas. They were like cardboard
paper dolls, but we used the
brochures and website of Marcel Carbonel as
a guide. Created a great display in the library.


Children have a special capacity to absorb languages. They begin to lose it as they grow older. I think it is absolutely essential to teach them as many languages as possible at an early age. In India people learn as many as three languages right from birth. There's research that it helps develop the elasticity of the brain and has other added benefits.

As for dogs, I believe they respond to tone and not exactly words, but I may be wrong.

Johanna DeMay

Bonjour Kristi,

Being bilingual is a huge asset! Good for you, for not letting those folks tell you otherwise! I am currently reading "La Gloire de mon Père", by Marcel Pagnol. Can you believe that his mother was horrified when she discovered he had learned to read before he was old enough to school??! She took his books away and prohibited him from reading, because she thought it would damage his brain! Ridiculous, n'est-ce pas?

Now days many children start learning letters and numbers during the first year, along with spoken words. Reading becomes an integral part of their language development, and it's a good thing.

The same goes for learning one or more languages at an early age. In fact, that is the ideal time to learn, because the brain is developing along with the vocal apparatus, and children naturally become fluent, without the foreign accent that is so hard to get rid of later on.

I was blessed to grow up in Mexico, in a bilingual and bi-cultural household. When I decided to learn French at the age of 60, I had a huge advantage. In 5 years I have become pretty fluent. From my own experience, I can assure you that your children have a big advantage that will serve them well throughout their lives. They will know more, understand more, and learn more because they have more than one lens through which to see the world.


Johanna DeMay
Albuquerque, NM

Diane Scott

If only it were as Susan Meddaugh imagined in her marvelous book -- "Martha Speaks" -- that we merely open up a can of alphabet soup (French cans in your case, Kristin) and allow our puppies to lap it up, et voila!, they SPEAK!! What wondrous words would we hear in place of little "yips" and "grrrs"?

Traci from MN

Not on the topic, but I bought a whole creche from that santon shop!!! Seguret is adorable! We had our 15th anniversary dinner there - great memories - thanks!


I have tried to be bilingual (English/French) all my life but have struggled until I immersed myself in France and had to use all those years of classroom teaching. It hasn't been until recently that I understand that some things in one language cannot be translated to another which has opened up an aspect of understanding another culture that I never expected.

Understanding another culture in this "global" world of ours is critical as we will need to work more closely and hopefully harmoniously together in the generations to come as we reside on this small planet of ours. Knowing other languages is the doorway and besides, it's fun.

Mary jeanne Reich

Bonjour Kristin,
I agree with everyone that to speak a few different languages is so great! I myself was born in France, Alsace-Lorraine moved to Chicago at the age of 19 not knowing one word of English, but because I spoke 2 different german dialects and High German I was able to learn the english language very fast.During the last 20 years I also added spanish to my knowledge of languages. I just love to speak to people of different etnic backgrounds and being able to communicate with them is just so great, it opens a lot of new doors for me! We have a 4 year old grand daughter Lorena now and I talk to her in French and my husband in German, she is so cute when she responds in those languages. It never is to early to teach children different languages, their brains are like sponges and they will pick it up so fast! So dear Kristin keep talking to your children and dog Braise in English.
I have a brother Gilbert that lives in Roquebrunn/Sur/Argent and I was wondering if this is close to where you live? Keep up the good work Kristin, I look forward to your e-mails every day!
Mary Jeanne Reich (Benedic)


Eh bien, comment dit-on "my little boy?"


Is there a word like fifille for boys?

As for bilingual, sometimes my sons make fun of me for "putting on airs" because when I say words that "cross" like croissant, I say them the French way instead of the mangled English way. Usually, I cannot even think of the mangled English way! ;-)

Linda C

Our dogs have learned commands in English, French and Spanish. They are fine!

Michael Morrison

For older people, here's another benefit of learning a second language. I read that people who learn or know a second language improve their chance of not getting Alzheimer by 94%. The theory discussed was that you were using both sides of your brain.

As for dogs understanding two languages, I spoke to my dachsund (teckel in French) in both French and English. He responded appropriately to commands in both languages

I would like to add my voice to those who requested a feature on Santons.

Thanks for providing us time after time with interesting and educational stories.


Dad's parents immigrated from Norway. He spoke Norwegian only until age five. The conversations he had with Grandma when I was a kid were in Midwest American Norwegian. The classic I heard was when they were talking about "Campbell's suppah". I learned some Norwegian via osmosis, took French and a bit of German in school. The "French" standard poodles I own know various commands in English, French, Norwegian and German and obey them-sometimes. The dog trainer who commented above is totally correct. It is the inflection of the voice that dogs listen to.

Nancy L.

Aha! Franglais! Our very proper Parisian friends abhor it...but it was Very useful this summer while we had visiting French students in our home. Between my rusty french and their newfound english, we communicated just great. Of course, we all attempted to do the best we could in each others language and frequently (and gently) corrected each other. But my feeling is that one has to begin where one is "at". If that means a smattering of Franglaise, then in the interest of communication, so be it(-: As for your family, it has clearly been proven that children do best when they learn other languages before the age of 3 you were spot on and clearly only good things came out of it(-:

Marianne Rankin

I wish my Danish grandparents had taught us Danish when we lived with them for 3 years as young children. I later learned enough written Danish to help write to relatives in the Old Country when Nana was no longer able to see well enough to do it herself.

I have written poems in French, and find it hard to translate my own work into English. Each languages has features that aren't readily duplicable in another. For example, how would you render into French "It takes a heap of living to make a house a home."?

I've spent some time with Russian immigrants, although the following situations could probably occur with any language. A Russian boy 2-3 years old, who also knew some English from preschool, one day asked his mother a sentence that was all Russian words, grammatically correct, but in English word order; she had no idea what he meant. Another child, asked by his parent how to say a particular word in English, wasn't sure - he had not heard it in isolation. When the parent asked for a whole sentence with the word, the boy was able to say it. He hadn't reached the point in English of "cutting" strings of sound into separate "pieces."

Learning a foreign language is valuable because it shows you that your way of speaking and thinking is not the only way, and that your country is not the center of the universe. I'm so glad that France and the French are part of my world.

Lee Ann

Comme ma tutor française m'a dit:
"De nos jours, un chien ou chat bien élevé doit être bilingue."

J'aime bien les photos des chiots, merci!


Dear Kristin,
Another great post! Knowing multiple languages and especially learning them at a young age is an incredible asset, not only because one is introduced to more than one world but also because it has proven benefits in brain development. With each language, sound, spoken word, only one area of brain develops. This is why now they insist on teaching kids at least two languages from the very beginning. You know the reason Chinese pronounce L as R is because the location on brain for R and L is too close (because of sounds in their native tongue) while R and L are separated for Anglos for example. It is a fascinating field of study. Good for Jackie!
I am impressed though by animals, I believe they speak the same language, although they probably obey commands that they have been taught.

What did Braise do?

Happy Friday!


PS mon mari est a Paris maintenant; je suis ici toute decue! Sigh!

Michael Armstrong

For Punch: I think Leslie is on to something. Perhaps in this case, Faire is understood, with the verb phrase being faire couché, for which a translation might be, (get) down! in the imperative. In that case, the phrase would be, (fais-tu)couché, with the first part being unspoken, just as in English. How does that sound?


Bonsoir Kristin,
My 4-year old son moved this autumn from his ordinary Finnish day care group to a Swedish immersion day care group. We live in Helsinki, Finland, and our mother tongue is Finnish. However, my husband's late mother spoke Swedish as her mother tongue (as do about 5 to 6 percent of Finns - nowadays many of them are completely bilingual though). But she did not speak Swedish to his child because some relatives told her that would hinder the child from learning Finnish properly (that was a common way of thinking at that time I suppose). My husband spent a lot of time at his maternal grandparents, listening to them (and other family members) speaking Swedish, so he feels very comfortable with Swedish and the culture and traditions of the Finnish Swedes. Now our son can learn the same language at an early age and also absorb those traditions that are part of my husband's family heritage! We are very happy about this opportunity and after some acclimatization problems during the first weeks (new place, new people, new language) our son seems to enjoy learning new words every day. The teaching method is "early total immersion"; the same method used in Canada (French immersion for English-speaking children).
I agree with many others who have written here that learning another language (at a young age) really widens horizons.


What is not to love about knowing more than one language??? It opens you up to new concepts that exist or are more fully developed in other languages. It gives you insight and the ability to communicate with people from other cultures. (Even if you're not fluent, making an effort goes a long way!) It helps you master your first language better. It reminds you that your culture is not the center of the universe. It gives you more opportunity to travel. Research does show that children can naturally absorb the pronunciation and rhythm of another language (prior to about age 13) and that learning new languages keeps your brain stimulated when you get older. Always take advantage of the opportunity to learn or teach a language! :-)

Annette Heath

Bonjour Kristin,

My former French teacher, who was a young woman from Paris, who had married a US Naval Officer,and had 2 little girls. I would often be at her home for an hour of instruction. Her 4 YO daughter would be asked to come in at a specified time and would always say: "I don't want to go dans la maison." It was so funny to hear her mix French and English. A couple of my older French friends thought it was terrible...that this child should not be allowed to mix the two.
Your thoughts? Did you ever experience this w/your children?

Amicalement, Annette Heath

dorothy dufour

Those adorable puppies! I'm not a dog lover (I like them if they're well trained) but yours would melt the hardest heart....

Re bilingualism, our two oldest learned two languages sans effort in Quebec, often hilariously. The younger one seriously thought his father's name was ton pere for a time. He would answer "Il s'appele TON PERE" when asked.

They were 4 and 5 when we moved back to BC, and I confidently thought we would continue to keep them bilingual. I would simply reverse and speak to them only in French. Ha,
we spent 3 months with my unilingual parents
and they lost it all. Unhappily, that was
before bilingual schools, and their two
sisters didn't benefit either....
sisters didn't benefit either...

hey were 4 and 5 when we moved back to BC, and I confidently thought we'd keep them \billingual - I would reverse and speak only
French to them. Ha., we stayed with my parents for 3 months


Our 3 year old son Sebastien is trilingual in French, English, and Chinese. He was a very late talker who wouldn't say much until he was well past 2. We were very concerned. When Sebastien was about 18 months old, we met an older gentleman at a restaurant who was interacting with Sebastien with great interest. It turned out that the gentleman was a pediatric psychologist. He encouraged us to teach Sebastien as many languages as possible because it would be good for his brain development. He further reassured us that our son was perfectly normal and that we shouldn't worry about his speech. Sure enough, when Sebastien was about two and a half, he started speaking in all 3 languages and he would address his father (a French Canadian) in French only, his nanny (a Chinese) in Chinese, his mother in both Chinese and French, and the children at the park in English. He somehow figured out who can speak which language. He does not seem to be confused at all.


My son began to study French in middle school. As soon as his schedule allowed, I requested that he be allowed to add Spanish. The administration doubted the wisdom of learning two languages at the same time, but they relented. He had no difficulties. By the time his younger brother reached the same point in his studies, the school was routinely mailing a reminder to parents regarding a second language. I like to think that we helped initiate this change of heart.


Learning a language at an early age is perfect. My mother spoke Finnish and my grandmother on my father's side spoke Ukrainian, but neither of them taught us either of the languages. I really think that if I had learned at least one of those languages when I was young, I would not have as difficult as time today with French.

I have friends whose parents speak to them in Spanish and English and they are very bilingual. They do not seem to mix up the languages at all. Young children just get it.

Love those puppies!

I would speak to my cat in English and French and she understood both. It just might have been the infliction, but I like to think that she really understood French.

Janine Cortell

Dear Kristin,
I was born in France but came to the U.S. as a little girl. French was my native tongue but I would surely have lost the ability to speak it if my mother had not continued to speak to me in French. I later became a French teacher and this language has served me well throughout my life.
I am sure that Braise will be totally bi-lingual. pas de problemes. Janine

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you all for your thoughts on bilingualism! Who wouldn't want to learn
another language after reading about the positive return we get on our
language investment.

Annette: you asked about our kids mixing languages. Yes, they do (when they
can't find the word that they are looking for in one language, they'll use
the first word that comes to mind in the other language. Then again, many
adult speakers do this too.)

Jane: like your tri-lingual son, our son didn't speak until he was
two-and-a-half years old. I was worried about this, too, and relieved when
he began to speak -- eventually sorting out both languages. Still, both Max
and Jackie speak French better than English.

Merci encore for sharing your thoughts and experiences!

On Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 11:09 PM, wrote:

Jennifer in OR

I loved hearing about the bilingual and trilingual schools out there. Awesome; I live in a rural part of the state without any language immersion schools--I wish there was this opportunity for my children. I do teach my own kids French and have formal lessons a few times a week, but it'll never be the same as immersion. Considering I'm on the west coast of the US, there's not much hope for meeting many French speakers here. I'm surrounded by plenty of Hispanics, and REALLY wish I had an interest in Spanish, but I don't.


On kids -- it's amazing -- kids have a connection in their mind for what language goes with what person. They will then speak THAT LANGUAGE with THAT person, and won't stray from it. Thus an Anglo child will speak French with his friends and teachers, but won't utter a word of it to his parents, and vice versa. International families are mindblowing to watch -- the kids here speak French between themselves, maman's language with her, and papa's language with him-- and manage to keep it all straight.

Dogs? We adopted a dog from the shelter here in France. Since we knew nothing about what he knew, we started with 'sit', 'lay down', etc...nothing...a few days later, we had him out for a walk, and a lady walking past told him "assis" - which he did promptly. The light went on -- OF COURSE the dog speaks French! (talk about feeling stupid)

Edith Schmidt

We have a new little grand daughter who is half French and her parents are determined that she will be
bilingual. I think it's a great idea. She's already been to France to visit her French family and we will join them for Christmas when she's baptized with her little French cousin. I have been trying to learn more French. I go to an informal French conversation group once a week, but I'll never be bilingual. I think you have to start at a young age! It's that "old dog" syndrome.
Love the new pups!

Edie, Sunday, September 27, 2009


I can report on the bilingual experience in the schools of L.A, Califronia.Back then, if the student came from a family with a grandparent who spoke Spanish, he was put into Spanish Reading and ESL.Though born in an English speaking country they were denied immersion in the language. When the law changed and English was the language of instruction, all students were taught in English and ESL and the reading scores soared. Many factors need to be considered but thankfully for the children their English improved dramatically.

I am like the rest of your readers.I love languages and am amazed that you can make funny sounds and people understand you. What a gift. My English is top-notch, thought you would like that one, my spanish is excellent and my french is intermediate. Love them all. PT


I have learned three languages at the same time. I was lucky to have grandparents who studied in France, but spoke both Russian and Romanian from home. My grand father insisted to talk to us in French, my Grandmother was talking to us in Russian, and our parents in Romanian. I leaned to read first in French since I had a baby sitter who could not speak other language and we had a few french book with Roudoudou and Riquiqui.
My daughter grew with three languages in Canada without any problem. After high school she was quite annoyed that my father did not teach her more Russian when she was little. And she learned two more.
Since then I have learned two more languages and I manage pretty well in another two. You get rusty, in time in it takes a few days to get back the fluency, however this is mainly in speaking the language rather than comprehension.
I am convinced that kids can learn two or more languages at the same time if there is consistency.
I have a friend who speaks with her Granddaughter only in a foreign language. She is three and has absolutely no problem speaking the language. When I met her first I spoke to her in that language and she always talks to me in that language.


Wow, what a beautiful frontage and its really fascinating. Your dogs are looks nice too. Thank you for sharing!

French Country Furniture

wow, that is a really cute puppy! i want!


Everything said so far regarding kids and language is true. I know so as a foreign language educator and also as mother of two. My French husband, aside from speaking English, also speaks German and Dutch. I, aside from my native English, speak French and Spanish. For us, knowing more than one language is just as natural as waking up in the morning, and it is for our children, too, as they've been exposed to French and English since birth. We live in the US, speak only French at home and among each other, and still get all the English needed and then some via all the conveniences of modern technology plus school, friends and neighbors, and American relatives. Our children love making something familiar new again by changing up the language on their DVDs, and interacting with relatives in France or Switzerland is no problem! We know that we have given our children a valuable life skill that always will serve them. Oh, and lest I forget the cats--they also understand and follow commands in both French and English. What seems linguistically unreal to many is simply a normal part of everyday life in our family, and it's all that our children and pets have ever known.


Bonjour Kristi:
I'm so happy to have stumbled on your blog. I love reading about your life in France. I am a Francophile, so I love many (not all) things Frenchy.
I learned French when I was growing up, but now living in USA, I have little use of it. Your French Word-A-Day is what I really need to freshen up my French.
As for bilingual, my children are all trilingual, speaking English, French and Chinese. They just pick up the languages like sponge, Chinese from their dad, English from...TV, Disney videos throughout their childhood and school and French at school and during their foreign student exhange year in French lycées.
Jacqui's photo of the puppies is so adorable. Est-ce possible que je peux utiliser la photo pour ma peinture? Merci an avance.

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