Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bilingual and Worried


Amelia is bilingual. I am not. It is not that I haven’t tried to learn Spanish (though I could certainly try harder) and it isn’t that I don’t speak some Spanish (I can order meat at the local butcher), buy my Spanish pales in comparison to Amelia’s.

On the whole I am incredibly excited by Amelia’s fluency in Spanish (or Castellano as she corrects me). But, having a child who speaks a language that you don’t can be an interesting experience. A case in point:

A few months ago Amelia went with me to my Spanish lesson (which I no longer take – another story). She was playing in the area, making fun of my accent and correcting my grammar, and generally hanging out with some of our friends. Suddenly, I could hear Amelia yelling at a friend of ours (Florencia – one of 50 friends named Florencia). Typically Amelia doesn’t yell much. She laughs really loudly and screams in delight when she can trick you in some way, but she is not much of a yeller. Anyway she was yelling. I could here her say two things to Florencia:

Callate!!

Te mato!!

The downside to having a child who speaks a language you don’t is that they say things you think might be cute, but they aren’t. I had no idea what she had just said. Since I was in the middle of a Spanish lesson, I asked my instructor.

Her response was, “I was wondering if you understood that”. I think that might have been a personal dig – what did she expect after only 12 months of Spanish lessons! Sadly, the answer was no. I admit it. My five-year-old kid can speak a language I cannot. But, I can order wine at a restaurant and she can’t! Well, she could (and better than I can), but they wouldn’t give it to her. There are limits to what a five year old can do!

Anyway, I called Amelia over - “Mia, we don’t talk to people like that.”

Mia - “Como”

Me – “You know what you said and I don’t want you talking like that. Apologize to Florencia.”

Mia – “No hice cualquier cosa mal.”

Me – “You know what you said. Now, apologize.”

Mia – “Era un chiste.”

Me – “It wasn’t funny. We don’t talk to people like that. Say you are sorry.”

Mia – “No”

Me – “Yes”

If you want to get a sense of the full extant of the conversation you can re-read that section several times.

After several minutes Amelia saw the error of her ways (or realized I am entirely too stubborn to make it worth the time) and apologized. We had round of besos and abrazos all around and play could resume.

I learned an important lesson. I need to study all of the Spanish words that could be used to insult people – and quickly!

Today, I realized Amelia is picking up some Italian. She has been playing with some kids whose parents are from Turin – their kids speak Italian to each other almost exclusively.

I guess that means I need to start to learn Italian insults.

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