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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Mama says "krowa", daddy says "Kuh"

This is an early post I wrote on bilingualism and now I decided to translate it from Polish. Enjoy!

I've recently attended a workshop on multilingualism where I could gain so much new information I didn't know before, and I decided to share what I had learned.  I read that at 4 years of age there is this moment where children learn to differentiate between languages. They say: "mommy says it this way, and daddy says it that way". But through this workshop, I have learned that this moment happens much earlier. Even children in K's age (update: she was 2 years old then) can understand that mommy and daddy have different names for different things. 

To be frank, I thought that this happens just like that. That a child will understand at some point that the parents speaks different languages that have their own grammar systems and vocabulary. But I wanted to give this a try. So when we were going by train, Klara saw a cow and exclaimed: "Kuh, Kuh!". I told her: "Yes, K.. Daddy says "Kuh", and mama says "krowa". It seemed to work! K. was excited and when I asked her what I call a cow, she said "krowa". Now, when she learns a new word, she wants to know how daddy and mommy call that particular thing. She now knows that daddy says: "Oma" and "Opa", and mommy says: "dziadek" and "babcia". 

I think that K. has already figured it out by herself, because she uses the appropriate words for "woman", "man", "child" depending on whether she speaks to me or my husband. She also uses more Polish with me, and more German with her daddy. When Dutch people talk to her, she hides behind me, but she seems to understand everything. We also go to international playgroups, where English is the main language of communication- and she already can say "bye, bye"!  We don't teach her English because it's not our priority at the moment, but I think it will be somewhere in her head till she will need it.

The funniest thing is that these three languages are like three separate worlds. K. knows some words in one language and other words in the other. She knows the names for things used for cooking and household in Polish, and she says some animals names in German. It is obvious that she has learned some expressions at daycare ( „Op! Op!- when she drinks everything in her bottle, or  „deze”, when she wants to show me something. But these worlds seem to get closer and closer every day. For a while she said "eten" for food because she learned it at daycare, but she understood that nobody talks like this in her home, and so now she uses the Polish or German word for "food".

So even though she can't label these languages, she makes progress in all of these languages, and I think telling her who speaks what helps immensely, as it stimulates her interest in different languages and builds up her vocabulary. So far, we have similar input in all the three languages. This can change when she goes to school, where Dutch and German will dominate and Polish will most likely be missing.  So right now, we concentrate on Polish. I am also curious how will J's multilingualism look like. She doesn't talk yet but she's 8 months old (update: now she's 18 months old). If I see her saying things in the many languages, I'll write about this. (Update: J. still is not speaking a lot, because she concentrates hard on learning to walk. But she already said "mama" at 10 months, and can say "papa". She also loves repeating words and sounds)

Sometimes, multilingualism leads to funny situations. K. has a doll she loves playing with. She wants to change the doll's diaper, and feed her. My husband saw that and asked, in German: „K., wo ist denn deine Puppe?”. K. thought for a while, and then she understood what daddy was asking her, and pointed to her... bottom. You see, in German, "Puppe" means "doll (my husband asked: "K., where is your doll?", in Polish "pupa" means well, "bottom.

Update: It is posts like that that amaze me how much progress K. has made in these 10 months. For so long I worried that maybe, just maybe she has a speech delay and needs therapy. I worried that we're really messing with her head by raising her with three languages. But it is working, and I have to keep reminding myself that. 

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