Off topic: Mom's secret language
Thread poster: Kathryn Litherland

Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:48
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sep 10, 2008

Reading another post on the boards reminded me of a funny story I thought y'all would appreciate:

We moved to Bolivia when my son was about two years old. As one might expect, once we were in a situation where he was interacting with Spanish-speakers all the time, he pretty quickly learned the language at an age-appropriate level. After about 6 months, he was speaking only Spanish, although he still understood English when I spoke it to him. He would even translate for his little amiguitos in the neighborhood when I spoke to him in English: "mi mama dice que..." 2.5 years old--quite amazing.

But the funniest thing was that a short while later I gave birth to his little sister, and my parents came to visit for a couple of weeks. He had somehow come to think that English was this queer little language that only his mother spoke, and that everybody else in the world spoke only Spanish. So for the first three days that my parents were there, he tried to TRANSLATE what I was saying into Spanish for them! Eventually he figured out that they understood mom's secret language, too.

(The sad part is that I did not continue speaking Spanish around the house when we returned to the U.S., and he has forgotten everything he ever knew--not only that, but he has failed middle-school French--twice!)

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Elena Robles Sanjuan  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:48
English to Spanish
A little bit off your topic, but Sep 10, 2008

I couldn´t resist telling you that, when I was I child, I thought all languages of the world were translated into Spanish. I felt very important because all languages depended on my mother tongue if people were to understand each other. I guess it was self-centered, but it was a great feeling !

As for your child, I honestly believe that he hasn´t forgotten a language that he started speaking at the best possible age and for long enough to achieve a good command of it. It can be dormant in his head, just waiting for a new stimulus, but that´s all.

As a Spanish mother of a child who was born in Scotland and went to a French school in Paris at the age of four, I always tell people the story of how many language decisions my son has made over the years.

When living in Scotland:
No. 1 I spend a long time with my Mum. My Mum speaks Spanish, but so do her family and her friends, so I´m going to learn to speak it too.
No. 2 I am English. I am in a place where everybody speaks to me in English, and I can speak English without any trouble.

When living in France:
No. 1 I am going to a French school, so I must speak French, though I am English.
No. 2 My Mum, her family and friends keep on speaking Spanish to me, so I must speak with them in Spanish.

When moving to Spain:
No. 1 I am living in my Mum´s country now, so I no longer need to speak French
No. 2 My Dad keeps on speaking with me in English, and so do his family and friends. I am no longer English, I´m Spanish now, but can carry on speaking my Dad´s language.

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Maria Michelfelder  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:48
Member (2008)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Dad's secret language Sep 10, 2008

I had a similar experience with my oldest daughter who is now almost 4 years old. My husband is German and speaks German with our children and I, being Swedish, speak Swedish with the children. We have been living in Sweden ever since our children were born, so Swedish is the language that they hear the most. When our daughter was 1 1/2 years old and it was time for her baby sister to be baptized, the relatives from Germany came to visit. At that time we had not seen the German relatives for almost a year, so this was her first "conscious" encounter with them. And I still remember the look on her face when she first heard Grandma and Grandpa speak German. You could see her suprise and her thinking: "What??? They speak just like Daddy." So up until that time she must have thought that German was Dad's very own language.

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Amy Duncan  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:48
Portuguese to English
+ ...
They don't forget Sep 10, 2008

Kathryn, something interesting happened with my daughter years ago. We had spent some time in Mexico; she was around four years old and learned to speak Spanish very quickly. However, when we came back to the USA she stopped speaking, even when I tried to speak with her, so I let it drop. About a year or so later we went back to Mexico, driving from New England, so it was a long drive. During the drive I kept trying to get her to speak Spanish, saying that when we got there her grandpa and his new Mexican wife would be speaking Spanish. She absolutely refused and said she didn't know how.

Then, the minute we crossed the border into Mexico, she suddenly started chattering away in Spanish as if it were the most normal thing to do! I was amazed. So, apparently they don't forget!


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Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 11:48
English to Russian
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Oh, I can relate... Sep 11, 2008

I have ten-years-old daughter who practically lost her Spanish (the language of her father, as well as nannies she had until she was about six), except the very basics... As I am loath to force my children to do anything, I let it go; but I hope it will come back one day, when we travel to a Spanish-speaking country...

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Capesha  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:48
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Thank you for sharing this one Sep 11, 2008

It really was so nice to make a short break and read this story.

I once had a colleague, he was Austrian and his wife was American. So she spoke English with her child-boy and Dad spoke German with him.

At the age of 5 years the young man started to mix up the languages when he felt stressed.

One day his father asked him to clean up his room and he really couldn' decide if he should answer "ich will nicht" or "I won't. So he said "I willn't"

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Kimberly De Haan  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:48
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
How many languages can one child speak?! Sep 11, 2008

My own son was born in Paris, to a Canadian mom (me) and an Italian father. He learned to speak all three languages equally well, having gone to part-time daycare and nursery school before we moved away when he was 4 1/2. It was really interesting to watch his little face whenever we met someone new. He would concentrate really hard for a second or two to (I believe) determine what language they would be speaking. He would then respond appropriately.

Another interesting thing was in nursery school he made a little friend who was Colombian. We spent a lot of time with little Nicolas and his mother, and soon my son had learned to count to ten and say a few other words in Spanish too. It was so funny to hear this little tyke proudly insisting that he spoke four languages!

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