Tuesday, July 24, 2007

We speak English. Sort of.

At home, we often speak in an Italian-English mix. With our Italian relatives and friends, we stick to straight Italian (or dialect, in my husband's case). My kids speak Italian as if they were born and raised there-- in fact, people are often surprised when they discover that my children also speak English.

When we came to the U.S. this summer, I knew my kids would need help with some English words initially, but then I assumed they'd sound like native English speakers in no time. In the past month, surprisingly, they've only asked for help with a few words--usually for things that don't exist in Italy (like Rice Krispy bars and Heelys--those shoes with wheels).


They don't sound like native English speakers. A speech therapist friend told me that it's not their accent, per se; it's the cadence and inflections that give my kids away. I've also noticed a few constructions and wordings that American kids would never use. Here are some examples:

1. My daughters saw a baby rabbit hop into some bushes. An American kid would say something like: "Oh, how cute!" My 5-year-old said: "The bunny--it is so beautiful!"

2. My 8-year-old told us that one of her cousins had a Popsicle, and wanted to know if she could have one, too. When I asked which cousin had the Popsicle, my daughter pointed and answered: "She."

3. In Italian, the words for bride, groom and to marry are similar: sposa, sposo, and sposarsi. We went to see The Little Mermaid play, and in the scene where the hypnotized prince is about to unknowingly marry the evil witch instead of Ariel, my 5-year-old yelled out: "No! Don't bride her!"

I'm torn when I hear my children speaking this way. Things that make adults go "Awww," can make kids go "Huh?" and I don't want my children's classmates to make fun of them when we move back to the U.S. next summer. But I know these linguistic gems will fade within a few months, never to return. My older daughter has already added cool and wha'sup? to her vocabulary, and I've even heard her call her father Daddy a few times, instead of Papa.

When my daughters were toddlers, I recorded some of the cute things they said in a notebook, but I haven't made any new entries in years. I think it's time to pick up my pen once again.


Rilla said...

Yes, Natalie, you must record them because they will be gone before you know it. Unfortunately so as well, because the language they speak...it is so beautiful...and other than the bride bit...grammatically more sound. Sigh...gone in no time. And if you need convincing that spending summers in Italy is only good for your kids, studies suggest that people who know more than one language are less susceptible to alzheimers amongst the other thousands of benefits of being multicultural. They may take time adjusting to the US but they will be totally comfortable in the REST OF THE WORLD!
We have a term for what Hindi-speaking Indians do to English as well...it is called Hinglish and is widely used even in the press, sometimes in serious news reports. After all that is the way English came to have such a large colorful vocabulary ;0
For e.g. did you know that the word 'widow' is derived from the Sanskrit vidhawa?
AND if you don't want such long rambling comments to your posts...you need to start posting more often...;9

TinaFerraro said...

I agree--write it all down. Kids adapt to situations so quickly that I'm betting they'll fit in with slang-speaking Americans before you know it, and you'll be nostalgic for these days!

Thanks for those cute examples. Here's one from my family from years ago:
After a month or so of total immersion in Italian, we had an English guide showing us around Venice. My youngest, three at the time, asked me, "How come she talks normal?" :)

Rilla said...

Hey Natalie,
you sure you don't want to change your mind and come to the LA conference after all...it's a bit of a shame your being in the country and all and not coming...

Natalie said...

Thanks for your comments, Rilla! The term "Hinglish" reminds me of "Spanglish," which many of my former ESL students spoke with their families. Do you speak Hindi? How interesting about Alzheimers and bilingualism!

And yes, I WISH I were going to LA for the conference--I'm so jealous! You'll have to fill us all in when you return.

And (hanging my head) I know I haven't been posting very often this summer! I promise to pick up the pace once we return to Italy at the end of August. :-)

Ciao Tina--
What a cute comment from your 3-year-old! It's funny what kids come up with, isn't it?

Katia Novet Saint-Lot said...

See, I told you with live similar things. I can so totally relate to what you write. About bilingualism, Nathalie, actually, a connexion happens in the brains when kids speak two languages. And it happens before the age of 6 or 7. After that, gone, finish, it will never happen again. And that special connexion makes it easy for them to learn more languages later on. Now, I'm not a scientist, but studies have been made about that. You know what ? I'll post something on the subject on my blog. It's such a fascinating subject.

Natalie said...

You're right, Katia--they say that bilingual children have an easier time learning new languages later in life, because of the synapse connections made in the brain when they were acquiring two (or more) languages as children. It's such an important window of time, and it is neat to see my children emerging as bilinguals. I just need to remind myself that "bilingual" doesn't necessarily equate with a native-like command of two languages...one language will always be more dominant, depending upon where we're living at the time, etc. Thanks for chiming in on this!