Raising son in French was important, Twain says during promotion appearance in Montreal

"I raised my son primarily in Switzerland, so his first language was French because I forced myself (to speak to him in French)."

Montreal Gazette
By Brenden Kelly
November 23, 2017

There are so many things to talk to Shania Twain about. We could have talked about what it’s like to be the top-selling country artist of all time. How it feels to have pretty well invented modern crossover country music. Or what she went through when serious issues with her vocal cords forced her to stop singing for eight years.

But the conversation with a handful of journalists at a downtown hotel Thursday afternoon began with the pop superstar from Timmins, Ont. talking about her relationship with the French language and how she raised her son Eja en français.

“I learned French as a kid like a lot of kids going to English schools,” said Twain, who was in town to do promotion for her latest album, Now, which was released in late September.

Now is her first new studio album since Up! in 2002. The Now tour is set to kick off in May and will touch down at the Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26.

“I went to an English school, so the French was limited to basic nouns … and very crude grammar,” Twain said.

But she picked up much more French when she moved to Switzerland around the time of the Come On Over album, which was released in 1997. At the time, she was married to Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who produced and co-wrote her best-known albums, The Woman in Me (1995), Come On Over (1997) and Up! (2002), albums that spawned hits like Any Man of Mine, Man! I Feel Like a Woman, and You’re Still the One.

“I raised my son primarily in Switzerland, so his first language was French because I forced myself (to speak to him in French),” Twain said. “I would recommend that to anyone who wants (their child) to learn a new language. If you’re having a child, take advantage of that.

“What I did is I said, ‘I’m not going to speak a word of English to this child. I know enough from my childhood to read one- and two- and three-word-per-page books and to just do the basics and he’s not going to know the difference.’

“By the time he was three-and-a-half and going to preschool, he was in a French preschool and it all took off. By the time he was four-and-a-half, he was correcting my French. So by the time he was in kindergarten, he was already like, ‘Mom, I think you should just speak English.’ I was like, ‘You’re breaking my heart! I got so good at French.’ ”

Now has echoes of Twain’s most famous albums, but it strays even further from her country roots, with lots of rock, soul and even reggae touches thrown in. It is also the first time that she wrote all of the songs entirely by herself, a major change from the albums she co-wrote with Lange. (They divorced in 2010.)

“First of all, it was a decision of independence,” Twain said. “I may never make a record like this again. It was so important to me that I do it alone. I needed to rediscover my sole songwriting because for 15 years I had written with (Lange), which was amazing. We both had incredible success. He had the biggest success of his career with my collaboration. So it was very successful and very harmonious. It was a good combination.

“But I’m like, ‘Now I’m without him. I don’t want to just jump to another collaborator. I’m just going to do it myself’… I really enjoyed and indulged the creative freedom. There’s pros and cons to doing things very independently. The pros are that you have all this creative freedom and you are in the driver’s seat and it’s your vision that is getting realized. The risk is taking the full responsibility. So you can’t share the responsibility.”

Her comeback started when she began a two-year residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 2012, and it was the period when she finally felt her voice was back in shape to perform live and record. In 2004, Twain discovered she had lesions in her vocal cords because, she said, of Lyme disease.

“I was petrified coming into Las Vegas, but that was what forced me into (vocal) therapy,” Twain said. “I said, ‘If I can’t do it, I’ll know I’ve just gotta shut it down and it’s over forever.’ But I succeeded at that residency. I actually did it. When I got through that residency, I knew I could make the album.”