Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bilingual Battle

As you might suspect, we've got a few language issues in our little family. Hubby speaks English very well, though I realize I use a lot of idioms that he doesn't understand. My Spanish is pretty passable, but Hubby's coworkers call him "El Rey del Albur" and he often uses it against me when he knows I won't understand. He loves a good laugh at the expense of my Spanish. We use a lot of Spanglish together, sometimes joking, sometimes because that's just how we communicate. I like to make up Spanish words like "pobrecitamos" and "arribate". He likes to put on his really bad American accent and try to talk like a tourist or "frijolero" as he likes to call anyone North of the border.

Raising a bilingual kid is a whole other adventure. I only speak English with Max. Hubby only speaks Spanish. School is primarily Spanish with a few hours of English a week. Next year he will begin French at the school as well, the directors are from Paris so I am hopeful for at least a little bit of the language. The woman who cleans our house (I still haven't figured out if "muchacha" is an insulting word) speaks Maya to Max. I'm encouraging her to do it, not hopeful of anything sticking but the exposure to yet another language can only be good.

With all this going on, this little kid sucks it all in. His teachers say he is one of the most verbal of all the kids in his class (all between two and three years old), speaks the most English (obviously) and he speaks the most clearly. He is also a pain in the ass who won't sit down or sit still for one freaking minute, but he's a smart pain in the ass.

While his English and Spanish up to this point have been pretty equal, he's suddenly on a Spanish roll. Lots of new vocabulary which he uses over and over. I repeat the English words to him and he just says "Yes!" like, "Good mommy, you knew what I meant when I spoke Spanish!". It's tough when he asks "Quieres tacos mami?" and I as his teacher reply with the correct English translation "Do you want tacos?" and he screams "Yes!!!" at which point I have to make the freaking tacos. Over and over all day I am repeating back to a two year old what they just said to me in Spanish. I'm wiped out! I feel like a Larousse parrot!

It's a lot of fun, having a multilingual family is really important to me so we better be able to laugh at each other. Whether it's Max saying "No manches!" over and over or me not understanding that the teacher meant "naranja" (orange) when she wrote "anaranjado" on Max's homework or hubby staring at me blankly when I say "water off a duck's back, eh?", we gotta laugh. I do go a little nuts with it sometimes, but it's totally worth it when Max says "I love you pretty mami, quiero a hug".


JJ said...

Fun post! The picture inset is hilarious, Mistico Max says "Daddy's stinky" and "Afuera! Immigracion!"
It's great that he has such an opportunity to be multilingual - it can only benefit him in the future. Keep up the good work on that baby!

Manolo said...

Children just disarm you... I still remember the youngest kid of my ex-brother in law when she was two, growing up in Kitchener surrounded by parents more on the Spanish side and siblings more on the English side. Due to a long story she used to call me "abuelito"... and I can hear her, as if it was yesterday (and not two or three lifetimes ago) trying to call the attention of her older brother and sister with a "you guys..."
I bet you will end up learning more Mexican slang (caló, pues) along the way... I wanted to end with some Canadian saying but I guess the snow froze my "Teflon" brain :-)

Islagringo said...

Wouldn't you just about kill to have had a childhood like Max is having? Full of languages everywhere. From the looks of him now, when he gets a bit older he is going to be a lady killer in multiple languages! See what you have to look forward to!

CancunCanuck said...

JJ, thanks mamacita, hard work but well worth it. And oh yes, I was thrilled to come home one day and have Max point out the door and say "Afuera, immigracion!". He and Hubby had been practicing all day. :)

Manolo, kids blow my mind. I never wanted them, but now I can see the appeal, they're like little science experiments in action. Tengo muchos modismos, hablo español de taxistas. Tengo miedo que cuando hablo con mi suegra vaya a decir algo de mala educacion sin intencion!

Wayne, I would give a limb to find languages as easy as Max does! And yes, I think we have a little Don Juan on our hands, his teacher says he is "el galan" of the school.

Fned said...

Speaking as an ex-bilingual child growing up in Mexico with an american mom and a mexican dad I guess I can give you a head's up on what's coming....

Right now Max is probably having a blast sharing a "special link" with his mommy learning new words in english every day and mexican slang in school that cracks his dad up in the afternoon.... then he will start the Primaria and slowly but surely he'll ask you not to speak english in front of his friends or teachers... don't take this badly, the little guy will probably be trying to "fit in" and his "gringa mom" won't exactly fit the mold. Try to be patient and find other ways for him to continue to practice his english (ask him to tell you how his day went when you're out of earshot, insist on watching TV and movies in english, etc)..... in Secundaria he'll start to take "serious english" in school and become the star of his class and the cool dude that corrects his teacher in front of his classmates, he'll also have a blast at the cinema when all his friends are struggling with the subtitles and he can actually sit back and enjoy the film.... by high school he'll begin to realize how lucky he is that he had a bilingual childhood and how fun it is to see the reaction of people when he'll yell out in the middle of a Wamart isle: "hey mom, aren't we out of cheerios?".... by this time he'll be back to enjoying having that "special link" with his mom and being able to share a foreign language in public places and for people not to be able to understand....

Of course, this is all hypothetical.... At the rate things are going, chances are Max will be speaking 6 languages by the time he reaches highschool! LOL


CancunCanuck said...

I am glad to hear about someone who has actually experienced what we are trying to do with Max! I read a LOT about raising bilingual kids and I witness families doing it here. They do reach an age where they do NOT want to speak in English, I am not looking forward to it but I know it's coming. Seems like around age 7 they get very willful.

I'm going to stick to the plan where I will NOT speak Spanish to him. There are two main theories of how to raise a bilingual child, OPOL (one parent, one language) and Home versus community. We're doing OPOL and pretty strictly, I do not respond to Spanish requests from Max, nor do I ever speak Spanish to him. I tell him I don't understand and if he wants milk he can't ask for leche, it won't come. Sounds harsh, but there are a lot of success stories. Max gets upset if he hear's me speaking Spanish, screaming "stop, no mama!", lol!

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