I usually don’t have a problem understanding what my son says. He speaks clearly for a toddler, and I can usually follow his logic, especially because we spend so much time together. But when he pointed to a picture of a dog in a storybook we were reading recently and told me it had coffee ears, I was stumped.
I’ve learned not to dismiss his seemingly random comments, however, so I scanned the picture for clues. But there were no coffee cups or steaming kettles, no one drinking any sort of beverage, in fact. Then it hit me.
The Spanish speakers among you may have already guessed: the dog’s ears were brown, that is, café. The word in Spanish for “coffee” can also mean “brown,” as in coffee-colored.
“The doggie has brown ears?” I asked.
“Doggie…ears…brown,” my little Monkey replied with a grin. I had figured it out!
My husband and I often joke that our son is our little social experiment, as we figure out how to raise a bilingual/bicultural child – in other words, a global citizen.
Based on an article I read in a linguistics class in college, we dealt with the problem of language separation (when children taught more than one language confuse them in their speech) by having us each speak only our native language to our son. So I speak to him only in English, and my husband speaks to him only in Spanish.
When our little Monkey first started speaking, we had a friendly competition about which language he would choose for his next word. “Juice” – I win! “”Agua” – he wins! Nama” (banana) – a tie! The biggest blow to my ego came when my son, after hearing me sing a “Good Morning Sun” song to him every morning of his life, looked up at the sky one day and said “Sol!” (“Sun!“)
As time went on, however, our little Monkey has become a predominantly English speaking kid. We live in an English speaking country, after all, plus he is home all day with me and spends much of his time with other (English-speaking) kids.
He still holds onto some words in Spanish, however, even when speaking English. Tree is always árbol, for instance, and bed is always cama. In some cases, the choice is understandable. Daddy drinks café, and Mommy drinks tea. Daddy built the puente (bridge) on his train tracks. But why árbol and cama? Hard to say.
And even though he mostly speaks English, the little Monkey clearly understands everything his daddy says in Spanish, often doing instant translations, as in:
Daddy: “Vamos a la tienda en el carro y vamos a comprar arroz y manzanas.” (“We’re going to the store in the car, and we’re going to buy rice and apples.”)
He does tend to use more Spanish words when speaking with his daddy, though, and on occasion we catch him applying Spanish language rules to English, as in talking about the “chair green” instead of the “green chair.”
And sometimes, of course, dogs have coffee ears.
Are you raising your children to speak more than one language? Were you raised in a bilingual home?
This post has been shared at Worldwide Culture Swap’s Culture Swapper.