Monday, December 18, 2006

Linguist boy

Although my husband and I speak to each other almost entirely in English, there are a lot of other languages floating around our household. When Barak was about one and a half, and still in daycare, he was hearing not only English but also Hungarian, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Romanian, Russian, and Urdu. On a regular basis.

One day that summer, MHH came to pick him up at daycare--I don't remember why. Then they came to my office to get me and as we were all leaving, ran into my boss at the elevators. I remember Barak in an orange polo shirt and little gray cargo pants, not yet able to walk on his own, industriously pushing a mail cart along the hall and talking very seriously in what sounded to me like normal baby gibberish. My boss thought differently.

"Do you speak a language other than English at home?" she asked.

I didn't really feel like getting into the answer to this question. "Not exclusively," I said vaguely. "Why?"

"Well, it's just the way he's babbling."

"What about the way he's babbling? Isn't that normal babbling?"

Pause.

"No."

I listened a little more closely. It seemed fine to me. The next day, I listened a little more closely to the other kids at daycare. And then I realized it--they were all saying things like "ma ma ma" and "ba ba ba." My kid? My kid sounded like he was coughing up hairballs.

Maybe because she is used to us and our linguistic, ah, variety, our babysitter gave Barak, as a Chanuka present, a Baby Einstein book with sentences about various animals in various languages. "Bonjour, chat!" and that kind of thing. They also have transliterated Hebrew (which is a little confusing if you are used to the genuine article. I read the English, which of course Barak understood. I read the French, which he didn't understand at all. Then I read the Hebrew. Barak understood me--sort of. He just thought I was getting it wrong. So he corrected me.

"Shalom, chatul!" I said.

"Issa cat!" he said.

"Shalom, parah!" I said.

"No!" he said. "Iss not parah. Issa cow!"

3 comments:

Deborah said...

Urdu? When did you pick that one up?

Muffin&Bear Mom said...

We have the same book :)

Uberimma said...

I don't speak Urdu. I'm good, but I'm not that good. Our landlady and downstairs neighbor spoke Urdu, as did one of the workers in Barak's room at daycare. He heard it quite a lot.