The big supermarkets here give free bread rolls to children while their parents shop. M loves getting his ‘bolle’ when we go, and we’ve been teaching him how to ask politely for one – Jeg vil gerne en bolle. A couple of weeks ago we struck a queue at the bakery, and while we waited M admired the nice looking cakes on display. Finally it was his turn
‘Jeg vil gerne en kage’
We’ve noticed a huge increase in the amount of Danish M is speaking in the last few weeks. As well as an expanded vocabulary he is speaking in quite complex sentences. We figured he’d reach this stage at some point, but it is quite remarkable to watch it all happen. When A was born my husband and I both stopped Danish lessons. It is pretty clear that we are going to be overtaken in our ability very soon. He can already pronounce the tricky vowels, and impossible ‘blødt d’, like a local:
At dinner the other day he chatted away to us in Danish about eating ‘jeg skal spise, but du skal ikke spise’ (I’ll eat, but you won’t eat. Clearly the word for ‘but’ is not part of his vocabulary). His instructions and patter about eating went on for quite some time. Until he suddenly leant towards me and said ‘Pirates have torches’.
It can be hard to keep up with the brain of a three year old.
I don’t know how we are going to manage when he is fluent in more than one language. Especially if his little sister is eventually able to join in.
He is also better at distinguishing between the two languages. While my father was staying M asked him to read one of the Danish picture books, and my father gamely tried. The performance was clearly unsatisfactory as after that he took to checking if his book was in English or Danish before reading. Now we get less mixing of languages, unless he doesn’t know the word he needs in which case he is happy to borrow it from his other vocabulary. As his proficiency has increased, so has his ability to translate himself.
‘Flyvende balloner’ he cries, pointing to the ceiling. Then he whispers, for our benefit, ‘flying balloons’ with a little knowing nod.
So if all goes well he’ll be able to translate for us soon. Yes! We’ll be the stereotypical immigrant parents ‘M. We need you to translate our rental lease for us.’ ‘Can you call the bank for me, I need to ask them something’. He is going to be so useful.
Also his incessant questioning ‘cause?’ is now accompanied by ‘why?’, and the Danish ‘hvordan? hvorfor?’ Variety is the spice of life after all.
Children do have this amazing capability to learn just by osmosis. We’ve spent months going to lessons. Looking at vocab lists, and learning the rules of grammar. And we live in a ‘language immersive’ environment. But we just can’t compete with M. He has learnt both his languages in the completely opposite way. Building his way up from pointing and single words, not giving a damn about grammar. Who needs verb tense anyway? Until suddenly he gets the rules. OK, his use of singular and plural nouns still needs work. Yuss, one win to us!
We’ll just have to keep trying to keep up. And we aren’t always going to get it right. I was telling M we were having chicken for tea, because he kept saying ‘vi skal spise omelette’. Until I realised he was actually saying ‘vi skal spise om lidt’. (We will eat soon).
It isn’t just some vain parental boast ‘Quintus can speak five languages, and is learning to read classical latin and greek’. Actually M needs to learn Danish if we are going to stick around here for any length of time. The older he gets the more other children expect to be able to communicate if they are going to play. One friend I’ve made here has a daughter of a similar age to M. They are from Benin, and speak French at home. As my husband says, this is probably the first time in history a French speaking Beninese child, and an English speaking Kiwi have played together in Danish. But they have really enjoyed playing together since their common language improved.
And, I think I am allowed to admire M a bit. It isn’t easy for children to adapt to daycare. It isn’t at all easy when you don’t speak the predominant language. And it’s not as if the last few months would have been easy anyway, between a new sibling, and a parental hospital stay. We’ve thrown a lot at him. More than I’ve felt was fair at times, but that’s just the way things worked out. We’ve seen some of the anxieties played out in tantrums. It’s been hard on all of us. Now, I feel a little like we are coming out on the other side. And not only has he coped, he has learnt and grown during those times. I’m quite proud of him really. As I should be.