Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Longer the New English-Speaking Girl

Yesterday a new girl started at K's preschool, recently arrived from New Zealand. Like K when we arrived, she apparently understands but doesn't speak Czech.

The teacher told me about her yesterday and said it was funny that K and the girl hadn't yet realized that they both speak English. I told her the story of K and her bilingual friend. It's not that unusual I guess.

Today I asked K who she played with at school, and she mentioned playing with Lexie (the NZ girl). I asked about Lexie, and she said they played together but Lexie "doesn't speak very well". She speaks a little bit but not a lot, K said. I asked whether K speaks a little or a lot, and she said she speaks a lot. (That is certainly true!) I asked what language Lexie speaks, and K answered, "Sometimes she speaks English." I pointed out that K also speaks English, and K said that yes, she does speak English, but she doesn't speak it with Lexie. She speaks Czech with Lexie.

It was kind of interesting hearing K's perspective on a girl in the same position K was not so long ago. Her stance on Czech as the language of kids (and babies, and animals) is firm. I was wondering if she would feel any kinship or similarity between her and the new girl, but I didn't want to suggest it to her by asking. I'm not sure if K feels much of a difference between herself and the Czech kids at school. She does speak a little differently, but it's not a significant difference any more and she/they might not pay it much attention.

I did ask K's head teacher yesterday what she thought of K's level of Czech, and she pretty much agreed with my assessment that K is somewhat, but not significantly, behind monolingual kids her age in Czech, but that she should bridge the gap in 6 months to a year at this rate. She was also pretty impressed with how well K has done so far.


K also demonstrated yesterday that she knows her left from her right, in Czech/Slovak (words are the same) and in English. She immediately and without thinking showed me her right hand, left hand, pravá ruka, levá ruka...

This is more impressive (to me) than you might think, because I have always had trouble with telling left from right. I also sometimes forget which side of the road you drive on or which direction is first base from home [in baseball], which knee I have a freckle on, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a technical term for it. So I was doubly surprised when K knew it correctly, because I had to think to know whether she was right or not. Obviously I wasn't the one who taught her.

I asked her teacher once we got to school (this happened on the way there), who said that they don't specifically teach left and right, but they do tell the children, "You are coloring with your right hand now" and similar. And last week K was looking for something and the Slovak told her it was on the left side, and she reached the correct direction to find it - that was our first clue that she knew the difference.


Another of my idiosyncracies is that I sneeze in bright light. Like not knowing left from right, people who don't do it themselves don't even know it exists usually, but it totally does! I think it's called photosensitive sneezing, and it apparently runs in families. The Slovak thought I was making it up until our daughter was born and, as an infant, sneezed in the bright sunlight for the first time. He has to admit it exists now. :)


  1. Maybe it's context that keeps her mainly in Czech, even with Lexie? As in this-is-my-pre-school-and-this-is-where-we-speak-Czech!

    Also, her memory is not what your's is yet :) I know my youngest, he just turned 4, forgets most things within the year, but remembers things that impressed him (like Spiderman showing up at his friend's birthday party - but not a caretaker who moved away, even though he had really liked her and talked about her all the time).

  2. Wait, I may have been unclear that this is a different kid named L - K just met new-girl-L, so I don't think her long-term memory plays into it. I think it's context, as you say - not just "we always speak Czech at preschool", but K takes it further: she speaks Czech by default to all children, babies and animals everywhere, unless they speak to her in English first.

    The community and school language really seems to be powerful. I'm probably going to need to find K some English-speaking friends at some point!



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