Monday, October 1, 2012

Child Interpreters and Foreign Languages in Preschool

I recently learned that K serves as an interpreter when her preschool teachers can't understand the external English teacher who comes in twice a week. Apparently (one teacher told me today) they ask K and she explains what he said.

Part of me wonders if this is expecting too much of a four year old and the other part wonders if we could negotiate a break on tuition for K's language services.

I am impressed that she can do this, actually, since it is one thing to be bilingual and another thing to facilitate communication between two other people. It's a different cognitive process.

It does go slightly against my no child interpreters rule (I don't think it's right to put a child in that position if it can be helped at all), but this isn't serious or frequent. I know she can handle it, and I am proud of her for being helpful.

We had this conversation as K and another girl sat at the table working puzzles. The little girl pointed to the animals in the puzzles she was doing and named each one in Czech.

The teacher said, "Yes, that's right, and I bet K could tell us how you say that in English."

K, obligingly: "Horse. Cow. Chicken."
Teacher: "Isn't it 'cock'? (to me) Isn't slepice 'cock'?"
Me: "No, I believe it's 'hen', but we usually just say 'chicken' for everything."

An extra level of multilingualness was added by the fact that the little girl naming the animals in Czech - is Chinese. Like K, she's a Czech-born foreigner and is perfecting her Czech in preschool.

Life is fun sometimes.


  1. Wow - if K is interpreting and teaching in preschool just imagine what she will be accomplishing as she gets older.

  2. It's great that she is happy to do the interpreting! We aren't to the age of having to worrying about our son being asked to do any interpreting, so thank you for getting me thinking about this! It does seem like a lot to ask of a child, although perhaps as in this case there are circumstances where they enjoy it.

  3. Agreed, an actual interpreting situation is too much pressure and responsibility for a child. I'm pretty sure in this case it's more like K happens to be playing nearby and tells the teacher the one or two words she didn't catch. It didn't sound like a long-term or sit-down situation :)

    K did tell me yesterday that she is demonstrating for the other children how to pronounce various English words. I asked if K is learning any Hungarian words the same way (asking the Hungarian girl how to say them) and she said yes, she is. I hope she keeps being interested in new languages as she grows up!



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