Children learning two or more languages at the same time are really cute. Some of them mix the languages in one sentence, others reinvent a new language or give words different endings. As parents we always caught ourselves laughing, not in a mocking way, just because it sounds adorable.
Learning to speak two languages at the same time is quite challenging. As adults we feel irritated whilst learning a new language, everything seems to be different: the way the sentences are built, the use of the gender in some languages, choosing the right word in the context… it’s tricky and takes ages to internalise. Kids give us the impression that talking more than one language is just like being on a playground running between different games, everything looks easy to them and inventing new words is just natural for them. Communication about fun and play is central for them, not the grammar or the tenses.
That’s the reason why children can play together and laugh without perfectly speaking the same language as each other. It’s amazing!
During the interviews for my book, the parents shared some amusing anecdotes about their children learning and exploring different languages.
Hannah and Dirk are the parents of a four year old boy. He is growing up in England with the two mother tongues of his parents: Hebrew and Dutch.
At 14 months, he was just starting to speak. We arrived in Israel for the holidays and the second evening his grandfather gave him chocolate. And our little boy ate the chocolate and asked his grandfather: “saba, more, noch meehr!” It was like he wanted to say: what ever language you speak I would like you to understand that I want more chocolate. It was the first time we realised that he was aware of the three languages. He was just shooting in all the three directions.
And when he was older (2-3 years) he invented double-words like “catool” (cat + chatool).
If he doesn’t know a verb in Dutch, he uses English in a Dutch form. To pull becomes “pullen” (it should be “tracken”) The word order is also different in English and Dutch, he constructs sentences in Dutch but in the English form.
There is another interesting confusion. Hebrew is the only gendered language he uses. I am the primary person talking to him in Hebrew, and so he copies the female voice that I speak in, and tends to confuse the genders in other languages as well.
I like when our son mixes English and German, for example “I am forgetting gemacht”, to relay that he forgot something. Or when he uses the Japanese way to ask where someone is, he says: “Papa, wo?” instead of “Papa, wo bist Du?”
Eva and Josh are a German-English couple. Their kids, 7 years old, are bilingual.
I am often joking with them and say we speak “Denglisch” at home, which is a mixture of English and German (Deutsch).
My favorite quotations are: “If du noch hier bist… spaeter…” and “Ich habe den Film gepaust…”