My children know 2 languages. This sometimes still amazes me, since by the time I started learning languages it was too late for me to be properly bilingual. They know they speak two languages, and have for a long time. They call it ‘having two words’.
I am, frankly, also amazed by how well they do it. We speak a lot of Polish at home and they go to a Polish preschool, but their English is better than it has ever been, and after our trip to Australia they have even started to play together in English. Maybe it’s because my parents have always been around for a few months of the year to give them more exposure.
They switch languages effortlessly depending on who they talk to.They know what the languages are called and if they don’t know a word they ask (Mummy, how you say ‘restauracja’ in English?) Their development in both languages seems to be pretty normal for their age- I can’t see any discernible delays, though I don’t have much to compare them with as far as their English goes.
Sometimes they mix the names of the languages up (mummy, how you say ‘remont’ in Polish?). They have a bit of an accent when they speak English which led our friend Laura to comment that they sound like Russian film villains. Sometimes they use phrases (lonely as a finger) or grammar structures (I too want one) from Polish when they speak English. Overall, though, I’m satisfied with their ability to communicate in my language.
I expect it to become more difficult when they get into the Polish school system and start to find me less important and spend more time with their friends. I also realise that I will be faced with the responsibility of teaching them to read in English, which is daunting. But for the moment, it’s working better than I expected.
This time I’ve decided not to be stingy with my list, and give both of you the full ten. Here are yours.
- You are sucking up information like a sponge and processing the world with your own logic. When we tell you you can’t run with a fork because we saw a picture on the internet of a kid who did that and had to have it surgically removed from his nose, you file the information away. One day, we get into the tram and see a woman with a nose stud. Mummy, you say, that Pani mustabeen running with a fork.
- You draw beautifully. Snails in a car, a snowman with a scarf, a beautiful graphic of a giraffe made of an L with 2 dots for eyes, bespectacled portraits of Daddy and Jaś. All entirely recognisable
- You are getting socially braver and don’t have to be bribed with cake to go to preschool on your own when Janek is sick.
- You ride your bike like a little professional, with madness and pure joy in your eyes.
- You have started to tell your own stories sometimes at bedtime. They inevitably contain a dog, and an adventure that ends with a nice warm cocoa (your words) and going to sleep.
- You recently took great pleasure in informing me that Babcia is Daddy’s mummy. I can see how this messes with your head and it’s so funny.
- You totally love books and remember whole chunks of text after what seems to be a single read.
- You are eating by yourself quite happily with no coaxing . Though your choice of food is not always what I would wish for you.
- You are getting more and more attached to Marcin.
- You like making nonsense rhymes ( mummy-gummy is your favourite)
Less nice things
- Tantrums. In a word. At night, in the morning, in the middle of the day. Sometimes the things you want are so crazy that we have no choice but to do battle (for example when you threw yourself on the floor and kicked because you wanted to eat all the breakfast eggs for everyone by yourself.)
- You always want to have exactly what Janek has, and you’re not afraid to bite his ears off to get it. Your fights with him are getting incredibly violent.
- Wanting to be carried home from preschool because you don’t feel like walking or riding your bike.
- When we don’t have something you want and you say go to the shop and buy some. It makes me want to lecture you for hours about children in Africa.
- The mess you make
- The late hour at which you deign to go to bed
- The way you demand that someone scratch your back for what feels like 5 hours before you will go to sleep. I hate scratching you.
- Watching you ride your bike down the hill as fast as you can, knowing you are going to fall off and being powerless to stop you.
- Still worrying about your shyness, although you’re much more forthcoming than you were.
- Your erratic affections- when you scream all the way to our friend’s place in the taxi because you don’t want me sitting near you, but Marcin
Janek and Maja are almost 32 months old, and they can talk. In two languages. Quite fluently, though sometimes with hilarious grammar. They can form the regular past tense in Polish and English, use some irregular past verbs in English (saw, found) ask grammatical questions (sometimes), tell stories. I am so proud of their English it’s ridiculous, taking full credit for it even though I know I also have my family’s regular visits to thank. They haven’t developed the speed of adult speech but they do have the elision in place, so I often hear them say, in their little bell- like voices, things like Mummy, I want to meet ‘im.
Conversations with them are frequently surreal. Janek wakes up from his nap in an embrace with the magnetic moose my sister brought him from Norway, and begins the following commentary.
Moose no say moo. Cows do a moo. I saw a cow, in the bushes. I’m a cow. MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
And now Maja joins in.
I’m not scared. I saw a cow, outside, on the big bikes. And there were fishes here. (This is all true. In May we went on a bike ride to a monastery in eastern Poland and indeed saw a cow in the bushes and some fishes). I saw a cow’s milk. On the belly button it was coming out. And it’s have to drink a milk.
(This part mystifies me a bit. )
My other favourite thing is to hear them sing songs. After a while I realise that ‘the bear climbed up the hill’, which I had initially attributed to their authorship, is actually the better known children’s hit The bear went over the mountain. Maja sings Ba Ba Black Sheep with the following text:
Baa baa black sheep/ Any any wool? /Yes-a, yes-a three bags full/ One for the Masai (we met one in Dubai airport on our way to Australia, so she knows this word)/ one for the day/ one for the little boy who lives down the lane.
I am so time-rich that I am even contemplating the purchase (or theft) of a special notebook which I will carry with me at all times to record these gems.
My blog is falling by the wayside because I have become obsessed with teaching. If I am not doing it I’m planning it or thinking about it. I am clearly not very talented or I wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it all, but I am fascinated by trying to find the tricks and magic formulas which make things go well in the classroom. I have never had a job that absorbed me like this- it’s simultaneously exhausting and exciting.
Part of the excitement is just the onset of the school year after a long, slow summer. Part of it is that I did the extension to CELTA for teaching kids at the beginning of September, and now I have my own classes of 10-year olds to contend with, with their ever-shifting social alliances and wild enthusiasm for giving answers and their very involved parents. It’s a different universe to the classrooms I have inhabited until now, with their jaded accountants and teenagers who will do anything to fly under the radar.
For the first time I have to impose a system of rewards- initially I thought, with my almost 40 year old system of priorities, that nobody would do anything to get a star next to their name, but it turns out I was wrong. I try to remember being 10 myself and suddenly recall my desperate contortions at Friday aerobics, trying to get the free drink from the school canteen that was given to hard triers. It’s a trip back in time for me, and a foreshadowing of what is to come with my own children. The time is fast approaching when I will stop worrying about their eating and sleeping and start to worry about their social life and education, a far more complex set of problems.
Listening to my own children start talking, I remember words our family used when we were little which were purely invented. Monie for tomato, bogga for spider, the niche-filling doon-doon, described elsewhere, my youngest brother’s ‘butter-up-top’ for the peanut butter which was kept on the top shelf.
Janek and Maja are making their own contributions. Some words are just bastardisations of words as yet too difficult to say (neczko for słoneczko- sun) or molot instead of samolot (plane.) Others are more mysterious. Gloom for milk is purely their own invention. And the other day Maja was sitting in her high chair licking a lemon and saying over and over again, Fushka! Fushka! When she got down, she went to Marcin in the bath to tell him all about her fushka too.
We are quickly infected. Our own language is peppered with gloom and fushkas and molots. I hope I can keep it contained and out of the workplace.
Do you want to go back to bed? No, no, no.
Is Babi coming today? tak, tak, tak. (emphatic nodding of the head).
Holy mother of God- she is talking back! She also has her first bilingual words- shoes/buty and light/ lampa. It’s like the walking – I know everybody does it, but when my kids do, I am amazed and delighted.