Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Bilingual Easter Romance

We spent Easter weekend within walking distance of the border of Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. On the Slovak side. The weather was perfect and time with friends much needed.

After we got back, K overheard me telling someone we had seen "lots of friends" and she instantly corrected me: "No, Mama. Only one friend."

That would be because while WE spent time with lots of our friends, SHE spent the whole time playing with one new friend. It was L, our friends' son who was born 5 weeks after K. They've seen each other before but didn't remember, since it's only once or twice a year.

This time, though, they hit it off the instant we stepped out of the car and played non-stop from morning til night. Or rather, from morning til nap-time, and then after nap-time til night. They're only 3, after all.

Other than the hand-holding and mischief-making and occasional kiss-giving, this friendship was significant for K because L, too, is bilingual. His parents are American but he was born in Czech Republic (different city from us) and he goes to Czech preschool. I don't think K has met any other kids that (she realized) are bilingual like her.

They started off speaking Czech together, which was pretty fun in itself. L's mom kept telling him, "You can speak English with K, you know...", but it took a while to sink in. Both kids are accustomed to other children speaking Czech so it was a perfectly normal thing to do. L also spoke mostly Czech to me, especially at first.

Eventually, the two little ones realized they both know English as well, and the real fun began. I loved eavesdropping on their conversations and hearing how and when they switched between languages. They're both currently stronger in English, so they used it for more complicated thoughts they couldn't express in Czech. It was also instructive to note the sort of things they talk about. It's been a long time since K spent any time with other kids outside of school, where I only see her for a few minutes before going home, of course, so I miss out on the types of things she and her school best friend talk about, for example.

It ranged from planning out their next mischief (Czech: "Půjdeme tam, a pak tam, a pak tam..." - pointing out where they would run to next), to discussing who could run faster (the Slovak overheard this one), to complimenting each other on a job well done (Czech: "výborné! dobré!" every time they jumped from stump to stump).

K woke up in the mornings asking for L: "Where's my friend? Where's L?" though she relatively often referred to him as simply "boy". Including to his face. "Chlapče!" (CZ) she would call when he wasn't right next to her. Or else it was chlapček (SK). Hard to tell.

Slovak made an appearance, too, as it usually does in K's Czech. I'm never sure that anyone but us (i.e. her teachers, etc.) realize that it's actually Slovak, though, instead of gibberish or mispronounced Czech. "Počkaj ma!" she called after L. I don't think I've heard her say počkaj ma (wait for me) before, but it's definitely something she's heard from Apo. I like how you can trace where she's learned things based on the language it's in. Useful for casting blame, especially when she picks up somewhat inappropriate vocabulary. On which more later.

K and L were also fun to watch on a social level. K is a bit of a leader and L is a bit of a follower, so their relationship was pretty much her grabbing his hand and taking him from place to place. With him more than happy to be led. They both had some out of character behavior over the weekend because they were having so much fun and encouraging each other. Usually they both would have stuck closer to home (closer to mama), but with a friend to play with they didn't need us! Plus the sun was shining and there was a sand pit, so really, what could parents offer them other than a place to sleep at night? Didn't bother me...more chance to talk with MY friends.

I can't actually remember all the things I heard them say to each other, but I remember they were funny. We don't get many chances to see our daughter interact with peers, at least for such an extended period, so it was a really nice opportunity for us to see how two 3-year-olds interact. In that sense even the English was a bit of a revelation, to hear how (and what!) K communicates with a peer, or anyone who isn't me. And of course for a kid who at the beginning of January wasn't stringing two words together in Czech, having whole conversations with a friend in Czech is a great accomplishment.


This happened after we were back home, but speaking of somewhat inappropriate vocabulary, K and the Slovak had the following exchange on Monday:

"K, potrebuješ ísť peepee." (K, you need to go peepee)
"Apo, už som bola, ty vole." (Apo, I already went, dude.)

That's all Slovak except for peepee (duh) and ty vole, which is Czech and means roughly "dude". It's not a BAD word, but it's a little rougher than "dude" in English, and you definitely don't expect it from your 3-year-old's mouth. The Slovak and I officially disclaim all responsibility for K having heard it, which is reasonable in principle since it's Czech and we are English and's true that ty vole regularly makes its way into our conversations (with each other) in any language. It's a Thing.


Oh, I also asked K's teacher the other day if she could identify a certain song K sings at home, which in K's rendition goes, "Kaka kaka kakala". I had to sing the tune before the teacher realized what it was: "Jedna kapka kapala". She also burst out laughing and immediately told the other teacher K's version, because K was basically singing, "Poop poop poopy poop". Which was pretty much my first clue that the real words were PROBABLY, ok HOPEFULLY something different.

Parenting, it is a joy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Working Mama, Growing Girl

I have five documents open in Word needing to be translated. Obviously this is an ideal time to blog!

The upcoming holiday has had me unusually busy for the last several days. In typical feast-or-famine fashion, I got TWO random phone calls on Friday from prospective clients I contacted ages ago, and then fielded various offers all day yesterday.

In fact, since I knew Friday that I'd be pretty busy Monday, I agreed with K's school that she would stay all day Monday since she'll be missing school this Friday. So K stayed in school 8-5 and I worked all day. It was strange, because while I've put in some very full work days since K was born, it was always working while taking care of her, or at most working while the Slovak took care of her. Translating for hours at a time with no one asking me for a spravočka (roz-, cartoon), pink milk, to come play, what I'm doing, if I'm done working was not my usual working environment.

Which brings me to a tangent on why I work in the living room, the loudest room in the house. I have a work station set up by the couch. The answer is, I've tried working in the bedroom at the desktop, but it happened about like this:

Me: working away.
K: keeps talking to me.
Slovak: keeps talking to me.
TV: on, because they like it.
Me: I'm going in the other room so I can concentrate. *goes, sets up, translates for 30 seconds*
K, opening door: Hi Mama, what are you doing back here? Do you want to play?
Me: I'm working, can you go play with Apo?
K leaves, comes back 30 seconds later: Do you want me to cook you some lunch Mama? Do you want me to sit on your lap?
Slovak, coming down hall: I'm coming back here with you, this is where all the action is!
Me: OK, I'm going back in the living room, and you two stay here!

My family wants to be close to me. I love that. But it does make it more practical to stay in the main room when I'm busy, because they follow me all over the apartment anyway. Haha.


As I mentioned, K stayed at school all day yesterday. She was pumped, because the all-day kids take naps at school and she's been talking for months about wanting to sleep at school. The teacher said she did great and was cheerful all day.

She's also been attending swimming lessons every Tuesday for a couple of weeks, taking a mini-bus from school to the pool and back. My questions about how "swimming" went met with a flat refusal, however - "I didn't go swimming. I blew bubbles in the water. (or) I splashed with my feet in the water." Caught out by lack of precision again! I've mentioned this before.

I also told K recently not to put her shoes on the couch, to which she replied, "These aren't shoes. They're slippers." I told her that slippers are a kind of shoes and to get them off my couch now. Again, precision. Very important to my little girl.

K also continues to impress most everyone with her Czech. She speaks Czech most of the time at school and on Skype to her grandparents. Most of the time meaning that she doesn't always know how to say what she wants in Czech so she makes it up or says it in English. The kids and teachers understand her (Czech), though, which is great. She sings Czech songs she learns at school and gets mad at me if I don't know them. I know some of them, parts of others, and others are just new.

Somewhat frustratingly, her grandparents do NOT understand her. Or more precisely, they don't listen to her. Before, the Slovak and I could shrug this off as it was probably hard for them to pick out the three CZ/SK words from a torrent of English, but lately she's been speaking Czech to them the whole time, no English included, and they still don't respond to what she's saying unless the Slovak tells them LISTEN and asks K to repeat what she said. To be fair, it is probably also hard to hear over Skype, but the main ingredient here is not paying attention. Which is kind of too bad. It's frustrating for K to make a comment or ask a question and be answered with, "You're so cute, yes you are."

It may be better when we see them in person in a few months. Or it may not. We can deal with either.


Ok, back to work. Or to get a snack. Hmm...


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