PaR Cooked

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Language at Five Months

Around the time leaves were appearing here and Phoebe was emerging there, the boy and the girl were exploding with language. It felt not unlike the long wait for spring. We had greeted every new word spoken and every phrase understood with joy, but fluency never seemed forthcoming.  And then, like with the spring, we looked away. We got distracted by other things only to look up one day and realize our children had blossomed into Spanish speakers. Suddenly, they were speaking to people and all their shyness disappeared.

Now, they are perhaps even bolder when speaking Spanish than English. The boy strikes up conversations with the porteros, asks questions of strangers and teachers, and yells to his friends about bottoms, boogers, and how exactly they should crash into each other. The girl still mostly speaks in shorter sentences, phrases and songs, but it doesn’t stop her from holding court in the apartment lobby to explain the intricacies of the most recent party at school. And it doesn’t stop her from from calling out to her friends’ parents or perfect strangers on the street to share some piece of news. It helps that people here are so obliging. Women of a certain age will sing along with her songs and ask if she means to share the candy she’s showing them. She still has a tendency to speak to us in long strings of nonsense words with a marked Spanish cadence, but every day more and more words emerge from the stream of sound until I start to wonder if the fault lies more with her ability to speak or my ability to understand. They sing pop songs (terrible pop songs), school songs, and made up songs without pause. The girl has things for which she rarely uses the English word for anymore and the boy pronounces some English words and names (thumb drive, Jackson Pollack) with an Uruguayan accent. They both pretend laugh in Spanish (ja, ja, ja) and they both use culturally appropriate gestures to express emotions.

Their grammar is definitely creative and often wrong, but nearly always understood. The boy mostly conjugates verbs as ‘you’ even when he is talking about himself and the girl tends to use ‘I’ even when she is talking about someone else. (Definitely take a moment to armchair psychoanalyze that.)  At home they speak to each other, themselves, and us in this pidgin Spanish. Sometimes they even speak it when they are sleep. Before, no matter how much we spoke to them in Spanish they responded in English. Now, they almost universally respond to Spanish with Spanish, and sometimes to English with Spanish. Often they will be playing together (or likely arguing) in English when one of them will say a word in Spanish and just like that the language will switch and the conversation (or likely the argument) will continue without interruption.

It seems like forever ago that we were reveling in those first few words and sounds. Sometimes it’s hard for us to remember what it was like then when they barely spoke or understood. The boy told us last night he was sure he has always spoke Spanish this well. While it is still amazing to hear their language continue to develop, at this stage there are times when it feels like the sole result of taking them halfway around the world and immersing them in a new culture is that they now have two languages in which to argue and whine. No matter, we’ll take it.