Lost in translation

Learning two languages is harder than it sounds…

Today T was carrying a stick he found on the ground. After a short walk he found a bench and sat on it. 

I sat next to him and asked “fai una pausa?” (Are you having a break?). He answered with a cautious yes. I turned towards my husband and say “T is taking a break, look.” and pointed at T sitting next to me. 

T turned towards me and bent his stick trying to break it. He smiled proudly, then he said “mummy, I’m pausa stick”.

I burst into laughter!

Parents’ evening

As a secondary school teacher, I’m not really a fan of parents evenings. It generally means talking to 26 pairs of adults in the space of 2 hours in a freezing cold gym. Not my favourite pastime. Parents evening at nursery though is very different…

First of all, you need to sit on tiny tiny chairs. This creates an atmosphere which is much better than the aforementioned freezing gym. Strangely my first thought was “is this going to break?”, but my immediate reaction also was “Don’t be stupid! Now, shall I sit on the red one or the blue one? “. As an adult, you don’t usually get to choose the colour of your chair anymore. It is obviously a sad part about getting older. 

The conversations were centered around much more important things than GCSE subject options. For example with T’s key person the main topic was “stickers for pooing on the potty”. A much more pressing matter!

Although we agreed that B is not trying hard enough to talk at the moment and that his vocabulary could be expanded, we also agree that we are not to worried about his GCSE English language exam in 2031.

We set targets for T:

1) Learn to count to 5 

2) Learn the colours

For B we decided to let him choose what to learn next as there would be no point otherwise. For example he knows all the sounds of animals (such as cow, lion, snake, et …), but it has been two weeks that for daddy he only does the sealion noise.

In many ways this was a typical teacher- parent meeting, but it was definitely so much more fun not to be the teacher for once! 

Why my children have no chance of learning Italian over English

Everyone knows English is a very easy language to learn. Words are short, sentences are simple… it’s beyond me how Shakespeare could do so much with so little! 

Italian on the other hand is elegant and classy, but it’s certainly not easy. All words are looooong. Most words are complicated. Some words are unpronounceable! Asking my own children to learn something so complicated at such a young age can appear to be more like torture than a privilege. 

Do I really believe that my son will choose to say “rubinetto” instead of “tap”?  Maybe I can ask for”automobile” instead of “car”, but surely I can’t expect a 2 year old to say “scavatrice autocingolata” instead of “digger”! It’s probably considered child abuse anyway.

When they choose an Italian word over the English correspondent I’m always very pleased and full of praises. “Balena” instead of “whale” and “nanna” instead of “sleep” are my personal favourites. Sometimes I wonder how confusing it must been that all colours have different names except for blue, then I remember that all colours are “green” according to B, so… 

I will persist and do my very best to teach them. I’ll be rude and speak Italian to my children even in front of English people. I will correct their bazaar pronunciation of “buio” (dark) till it’s perfect and doesn’t sound like a new Teletubbies character anymore! I will read them book after book and talk to them in Italian, so that one day they will be able to say all those long and convoluted words. For tonight I’ll settle for “Babbo” (Santa). 

The unspeakable name

My husband and I are really puzzled and we have been for a few weeks now. Our boys have learned many new words recently and obviously quiet a few names. Names of family members, names of pets and even names of cartoon characters, but they still can’t say T’s name!

It’s not a difficult name. It’s not that we usually call me with a nickname so they are not used to hear it. And it’s not even that it’s terribly uncommon or foreign (like mine!) and people pronunce it differently each time. No, it’s a very common name, in fact more than 20 boys in the school I work for are called like that! And yet it is apparently unpronounceable by the twins.

We tried everything! We simply asked them to repeat after us. Nothing. We tried to ask “who is he?” to B or “who are you?” to T. Nothing! We used pictures of them and point at each child asking for the name. Still nothing! 
The boys now know the difference between Henry and Percy in Thomas the tank engine cartoon. To me they are two indistinguishable green trains. They know many words in two languages. I didn’t speak a second language till the age of 6. And yet they still don’t know both of their names… it’s just puzzling! 

We are not worried they don’t have their own identities like some identical twins do, we are just curious to why T doesn’t use his name and B doesn’t call him either. It’s so strange we reached an unusual conclusion… it’s a game! They know they are driving us crazy and they are having a laugh a minute by carrying this on. IT MUST BE THAT! 

The nightmare

I often wonder what my boys dream of at night and even more why sometimes they wake up screaming. Do they really have nightmares? Once a friend told me that her little girl fell off a slide at the playground and then for a few weeks she would have nightmares about it and wake up screaming in the middle of the night. That made perfect sense for her as the little girl would talk about her dream when she was awake. My boys on the other hand don’t really talk yet, so it stays a mystery what they dream of. At least till earlier tonight…

It’s 8.55PM and Sue and Mel are about to announce who will leave the Bake Off tent tonight, when I hear a scream in the monitor. I wander upstairs ready for the usual back-to-sleep-now conversation, when I find a very scared T sitting in his bed with no intention of going back to sleep. He is very upset, he is sobbing and not even seeing mamma calms him down. He obviously had a nightmare. When I ask what’s wrong he actually replies instead of crying. In his own words he says he had a nightmare about a train… “Nooooooo! Choo choo! Nooooooo!”. 

Has the train derailed? Has he been run over by a train? B stole his favourite train? We will never know. All we know is “Nooooooo! Choo choo! Nooooooo!”

New words

The world of toddlers is full of magical discoveries, exciting adventures and incomprehensible words. They are so eager to communicate and share!

T, for example, loves trains and that seems to be all he talks about. What I mean by that is that his first word every morning is “choo choo” and his greetings every evening after nursery is still “choo choo”. We are trying to convince him that not everything big that moves goes “choo choo”. No, a bus does not choo and not even a lorry! He lives loves loves loves trains. Then if you put him on a miniature one, he screams and wants to get off straight away, but that’s a topic for another time.

B can’t really say much. Recently he has learned some new animal noises, but words are still a mistery to him. He can say mamma, dada, nonna, door, “denti” (teeth) and fish or his own version of it: “pesch”(the Italian “pesce” and the EnglIsh “fish”). More recently he has learn a couple of vital words: “more” and “Clangers”. Guess what we have been watching a lot lately? Let’s not forget is favourite sound of the week “nee naow”. He enjoys so much pushing around his ambulances and fire trucks! B is actually very expressive and very creative, so he communicates in his own way. If he wants something to eat, for example, he would take your hand and literally drag you to the cupboard. Make sure you pick him up and then point to what he wants. Simple!

My favourite new word is “olo”, it means olive and it’s T fave food by a mile. A little unusual for a toddler but it works. You need him to drink his horribly tasting medicine? Offer him an olive as a reward. You need him to calm down after a toddler tantrum? Here comes the jar of olives. You’ll not be surprised when I will tell you that I buy 1kg jar of olives now! 

T is making enormous progress with words lately. He has learnt to say “come back”. A two-word sentence you need a lot when your twin brother steals your toys on a daily basis! Last month we realised he can sign as well. I knew they could both sign “sleep”, but I didn’t know T signing vocabulary was so extensive. He can say thank you, please, duck, drink and he can obviously choo choo!

Being twins they tend to copy each other a lot, so as soon as T started to sign “thank you” for his drink, B copied him immediately. At the moment it feels like I will need to teach good manners to only one child… and the other will copy! 2 for the price of 1!

Which language was that?

Understanding a toddler is an art. It takes practice and self belief. It is so difficult that most parents have to translate to outsiders what their child is saying. It’s a very common thing and most people don’t think twice about it. But what happens when not even the parents understand? The secret is simple. Guess!

Nobody will ever know if you guessed correctly. You just need to look confident to others and to your own child. Make him believe that you are right! If you can’t do it now, he certainly won’t start to believe you have all the answers in his teens, will he? I’ll make you an example of something I observed at the playground. A little boy asking for something. Daddy looking momentarily puzzled and than he offered him a teddy bear. Maybe the poor little boy wanted something to drink, but his daddy was sure he wanted his soft toy. The boy gladly accepted the toy and probably forgot about the drink.

Or maybe his daddy was right.

We will never know…

So you can choose to believe your bilingual son just said “pesce”, while the grandparents swear he said “fish”. He probably said “pesh”, but the most important thing is that he got himself understood and made 3 grown ups extremely proud.

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Bilinguism

This is a very difficult word to describe a very difficult thing to achieve. I know people (like myself) who worked the best part of two decades to learn a second language at a level good enough to be considered “fluent”. So why are we surprised that bilingual children are delayed in their speech development? It’s not only normal, but predictable: they will take longer as they are doing double the work. And yet a child who doesn’t speak at 18 months is seen as “behind”.

As a parent of two bilingual children who can only say 3 words together (in fact only one of them can talk at all), I feel constantly under scrutiny.

When the twins were younger the questions was “do they sleep through the night yet?”. Now the question is “are they talking yet?”. My answer is always the same “No, but they sleep through the night now”. Some people look at me blankly, some smile politely and some ignore me and carry on as nothing has happened. I’m a parent of twins, every night in which they sleep through it still feels special to me. Even 18 months into it.

Maybe I’m asking for too much. Maybe I’m hoping for proper understandable words, when I should keep my eye out for “baby words”. So “ssssh” is in fact “shoes” and “ga” is “gatto” (the Italian for cat). In that case then I will have to pay more attention about their favourite word “ca” or “ka”. Everything between the two of them is “ca”, but which “ca”? Is it an Italian word like cavallo, carota, calze o cane? Is it an English word maybe? Car, cap, cup… who knows! If most of the words in their vocabulary does starts with “ca” is not really their fault, poor boys!

I’ll read them more books and speak to them more. I will turn the tv and any background sounds off. I will also repeat every word a million of times. But in the end I’ll just wait till they will speak two languages and been seen as “advanced”.

It will be worth the wait, I’m sure!

Twinspeak

It’s so obvious that the twins now understand each other. I heard people calling it twinspeak, a language developed by two twins that nobody else can understand. Not only that, but they understand each other much better than what I can understand when they try to communicate to me. As their vocabulary is limited to 5-6 words, when they want something all they can do is babble and point at stuff. That creates some really funny situations.

Today, for example, they were both pointing at something. I thought it was the back door. I thought they wanted to go outside in the garden. They thought differently!

What they were pointing at was the cereal box (next to the door). Before I realise though, I started to get them ready to go outside, so I asked them “what do we need to go out, boys?” And I pointed at my feet saying “shoes!”. They both looked at me, looked at each other (probably rolled their eyes) and pointed at the cereal box one more time. Why does mummy wants us to put shoes on to eat cereal?? She must be crazy! Once I realised what they wanted I felt very silly for suggesting to put on a pair of shoes, while they felt very accomplished they made themselves understood! It was a lovely twinspeak moment.
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