29 January 2012


Friday afternoon I attended a parents' meeting for Gabriel's classroom, during the course of which we watched a video of the kids doing their daily activities: playing, singing, naptime, painting or drawing, stories, and puppets. It was a great glimpse into what the day is like for Gabriel, since he can't quite explain it to me himself, and he's clearly enjoying his time there. But watching the video, for the first time, I had a twinge of guilt for sending him to a Dutch-language daycare. It's one thing for him not to understand directions or instructions, because if the teacher sees he doesn't understand she will translate for him. But the poor darling wasn't able to participate in the many songs they sing and the hand motions and hand games that toddlers so enjoy--mostly because they're not the same songs we sing or games we play at home. He sat and listened and watched, but didn't join in. He laughed at the puppet show, but couldn't sing along or call out answers like the other children. And I felt so sad for him!

But. We're still confident we're doing the right thing. It's a great gift for him to be immersed in three languages at such an early age, when he will pick them up easily. Having him in daycare now means it will be that much easier when he starts school this fall, already knowing some Dutch. To address the participation issue, I thought that we can get some sort of CD (or watch YouTube videos?) to learn some of the Dutch kids' songs so that he will be able to join in.

And every day he learns more words; his teacher has told us that he has started to understand more and more. Lately he's been using a few of those words at home, which is pretty adorable. For a long time he's been saying "dag!" (with appropriate "gh" sound at the end) as well as "hello" and "hola," but now he's added "kijk!" to "look" (he says "ook" in English) and "mira" as well as "nee" for no and--this is a fun one--"mooi" for neat/nice (used to express approval of, say, a drawing). I didn't recognize the word, but the Mister did, and it's a sign that all too soon he will know more Dutch than me (because I really hardly know any). Oh, he also likes to say "komm!" oh-so imperiously, easily distinguished from the English because in English he says "mon" as in c'mon. ("Mon, Dada!" he'll say, enticing M. to leave the dinner table and go play--"Pay!") It's also interesting to me how he chooses to use his Dutch words--at a recent lunch with friends who have a young daughter, Gabriel said "nee" and "kijk" to her exclusively even though she's an English speaker. He just assumed that any kid he doesn't know speaks Dutch.

In general, I've been fascinated watching his language change and develop over the last months. He's certainly not as verbal as some other kids his age (especially girls), but in some ways the slow progress allows me to see those step-by-step changes more clearly, in both pronunciation and grammar. For example, he's recently added prepositions to his nouns, and the prepositions tend to change the formulation of the base word altogether, which I find very cool. Whereas before he called shoes "oof," now he says "shoes on" like "toot-on," and obviously "oof" is very different from "toot."

I think he has trouble pronouncing "s," so that many words lose the s altogether or transform it into "th" or "f." So sleeping is "leeping," snack is "nack," nose is "nofe," and oops is "oopth." (This is so cute that I wouldn't mind him retaining these pronunciations forever if it wouldn't put him at a disadvantage for, say, a job interview.) Come to think of it, though, consonant combinations are difficult in general; clean up becomes "lean up," and so forth.

Along with adding prepositions to nouns, he is adding other nouns to them to create possessives or adjectival nouns. "Mama 'at" and "Babe-il 'at" (Gabriel hat), he likes to say when we get our coats and hats on. Or, he gets very excited to identify mother and baby animal pairs in our books or puzzles: "mama moo" and "baby moo," "mama pig" and "baby pig," "mama wee-wee" and "baby wee-wee" (penguin). He says all of these quite fast so sometimes they get jumbled, the syllables of "mama" and "baby" intermingling.

One recent change I'm a bit sad about--for the longest time, he's said "Ah-nee" to mean "all done." It was one of his earliest phrases, appearing right when he started speaking. We're not quite sure how that pronunciation came about, but it was always so cute (and he said it often, whenever he was done eating/wanted to get down from somewhere/finished with a toy or object, etc.). Now, though, he suddenly says "ah dunn," much closer to an accurate pronunciation of the words. But then again, he now says things like "nee-no" for piano and "eh-pane" for airplane, so the cuteness is compensatory.

Meanwhile, on the Catalan side of things he often surprises us by pulling out a Catalan word for any of the above, especially when the Mister is around, and even more especially when we're in Barcelona. In general, his spoken English dominates, but he understands the Catalan just as easily as English, and uses it when he needs to. He usually asks for "bed" (bread), but today he asked M. for "pa," the Catalan word for bread. He pronounces the word for book, "llibre," astonishingly well, and uses it just as frequently as "book." And so forth.

As a language nerd, I love watching (well, listening to) all of this mix of language and acquisition of words, and I'm so proud of him! Writing down some of the complex soup of language development will hopefully help me remember it as it is now, because it changes so quickly and subtly day by day, and I don't want to forget any of it.

No comments: