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.

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