A completely fictional diary based on very real situations from bilingual families.
Went to the shop with our youngest daughter. She loves the game of me saying the words for everything, and she points at what feels like every single item in the shop and I diligently deliver the corresponding word. I notice a few ladies listening in on us. Suddenly the curiosity is too much for one of them and she comes up to me and asks, “Does your daughter understand what you are saying to her?” – what?!
Walked our son to school and he seemed to want to rush off quicker than normal. He even told me not to bother to come all the way to the school gate. He would just run the last bit, he said. When he came home I asked what the hurry was in the morning, but I didn’t get an answer. Thinking about it, I realised that something similar had happened on many a morning before, so I asked again. This time, I got my answer “Mum, I don’t want you to speak to me when you drop me off.” Bang! The reply felt like a slap in the face, and I had to gather my thoughts for a while before I answered. “Why?” was all I could muster as a response. “Because no one else speaks like us – I don’t want to be different.” Straight away I started blaming myself for not managing to make him proud of our language and not giving him enough confidence to use it. How could I have failed so miserably? Then I thought of something another mum once told me: “Bilingual children have the same insecurities as other kids, don’t always make everything about language.” She was right, I had jumped to a conclusion, and not listened to what my son actually said. He didn’t reject our language, he just wanted to be like everyone else – something I remember wanting myself at his age. We agreed to say goodbye before the gate and I would just wave when he leaves. I will wait until he feels okay about us speaking our language in front of his friends.
Yes, yes, yes! She said the first word in my language. It was maybe not the word I expected, like for example ‘mum’ – she calls me something that sounds like “mihmah” – she said “duck”. I’ll take it, any word is good after worrying that she will never utter a single word in my language. After all, how many times have I not said the word ‘duck’ during our walks through the park!
Grandma and grandpa popped up on Skype, like every Sunday after they have finished reading the newspaper. We all gathered around the computer and I showed our little girl a picture of a duck, so she could shine with her new word. Of course, she wouldn’t say it – I should have known better. I do remember being told not to ask my kids to say something in my language just because they can. Sorry, won’t happen again … but I am still dead proud! The doorbell rang so I had to leave the room – when I came back, our son was excitedly telling grandpa about the latest game he had learnt to play. He did this in great detail and, most importantly, in our language! I have no idea how much grandpa understood about the game itself, but I could see how happy he was to be able to share this experience with his grandson. And so was I. My little hero was just behaving like any other boy, only he can do it in two languages.