Beta Test

Beta’s linguistic abilities have been growing a lot lately. She now says ‘bye’ in all three languages. I usually tell her to say “hei hei, isä” (bye, daddy) to DH and she goes “hi-hi” while waving her hand. Unlike Alpha, she has skipped the “die-die” phase and pronounces “bye” perfectly, without error. Her “tschuss” is pretty good, too, as a recognizable “tschuuu.” Just as it was with Alpha, bye is the most commonly used goodbye of all three, since it’s the one commonly used arounds us, but I predict after our trip to Europe, the other two will be neck and neck and neck.

Aside from those words, she also says “ba-ba” (Becher, cup), Gurke (pickle and yea she says it perfectly), and helps me discipline Alpha. She goes up to him just like I do and says, “ALPHA! Bllah blah blah blah” in a tone that implies he needs to stop what he’s doing and listen to her, dammit. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that all girls are born bossy and that’s why we didn’t have the vote for so long.

She also counts to three all the time as a preface to jumping off something, sliding down a slide, or doing pretty much anything that requires numerous steps. “Einth…doooo…deee” she exclaims before performing. Unfortunately, Alpha is a follower and even though he can say “Eins, zwei, drei” properly, he mimics her now when she says this. I’m beginning to wonder if Alpha has just internalized the idea that everyone else knows his languages and how they’re supposed to be spoken better than he does, therefore he needs to copy what everyone else does. This is probably not the case and he’s just being a kid who likes to play with other kids and be funny, so I should really not worry about it.

I’m quite amazed at her ability to understand. I explain things to her and she listens. Or, if she doesn’t want to do what I ask, throws herself on the ground in tears. But she understands. She shakes her head no all the time, too. This morning I asked her if she wanted to use the potty. She shook her head no. “I don’t believe you,” I responded and set her on it anyway. She went. Ha!

Beta has also graduated from Alpha Fan Club to Alpha Antagonize Club. She loves to irritate him. If he’s sitting on the couch, she needs to sit on him, or pull on his legs, or hit him and so on and so forth. But Alpha’s new found possessiveness is not helping matters. “Das ist MEIN AUTO, Beta. MEINS” and a snatch at which point I have to inform Alpha that he needs to trade with Beta instead of just taking away even if it is his car. She tried taking his stuffed Lightening McQueen today and was met with a deft defense and a “Nein, das ist MEIN McQueen.” I handed her her stuffed broccoli instead.


My sister and her family just visited for two weeks, during which Alpha was in heaven as he got to play with two of his cousins, T (9) and V (2). My sister also took on an active role in making Alpha speak English. Usually when someone tries to get him to speak English or he has to interact with someone in English, he just sits there until I interpret for him or everyone gives up. Not so my sister. “What do you want, Alpha?” She would ask in the kitchen when he wanted in. No answer. “What, I can’t hear you.” No answer. After a while he shouted something in German. “If you want to come inside, you need to say “I want to come in” in English!” He waited. She waited. “Say come inside” Finally he relented and said it and she let him in.

It seems strange to have to go to such lengths to get a kid to talk, but it is seriously the only way. In order to get them to speak all three languages, we have to make all three languages equally important and that isn’t easy to do in an environment where everyone speaks English, Mom and Dad both understand German and the kids are mostly with mom.

Happily, my sister’s visit also improved Alpha’s Finnish. We’ve been having a rotten time getting Alpha to speak any Finnish at all, even the simplist words. DH did have a way of getting him to say a work by saying it wrong. Instead of saying “Krokodiili” (crocodile) for example, he would say “Alphadiili” and then Alpha would immediately correct him. This worked several nights for many different words. Then he just stopped and would only correct “krokodiili.” But after my sister came, he’s been repeating things DH says all the time and, even better, saying them correctly. Once DH said something like “Ovi kiini” (shut the door) and Alpha repeated it happily with a bit of a laugh while shutting the door. But he won’t speak Finnish to me, at all. DH was discussing trees with him and tried to get him to say the word tree in Finnish, puu. Alpha refused and repeated what DH had told him in German, using the word Baum. I said yes Baum in German but in Finnish, tree is called puu. “Nein BAUM.” “Puu” “BAUM!” And the righteous anger of a preschooler hit me.

But he IS getting it and he will get it. Unfortunately for our kids, their parents are just as determined as they are and we are bound and determined to get all of them speaking, reading and writing English, German and Finnish. It’s not a life and death thing, but it’s important enough that we won’t be easily dissuaded by the little difficulties we encounter along the way.


Ask Someone Else

During the school year, my son and my husband drive down to Massachusetts a couple times a month to attend a Finnish school. At his age level (2-3 year olds), the class is entirely in Finnish and is designed to get the kids to recognize various words and grammar and that sort of thing. It also consists mainly of singing. One Finnish father with three kids was overjoyed this year as it was the last time he would have to go to this class after having spent 6 years singing the same songs over and over again.

Alpha likes the class pretty well, though it hasn’t been too great at getting him to speak Finnish. He follows along with the songs pretty well and says a few words here and there. We’re hoping next year will be better when he goes into the 4-year old class where parents do not accompany their kids. Fingers crossed!

This last Saturday was the last day of Finnish school for the year, so they had a big get together in the gymnasium at the end to say good bye and Alpha went along for a change (usually he refuses to have anything to do with the gymnasium since DH skipped it the first few times. I told him to tell Alpha very firmly they were going and screaming was unacceptable and hey look, it worked!). In the gymnasium they had these little rubber dolls with rubber clothes you could pull on and off with some difficulty. DH doesn’t remember the brand name and I have no idea what they could be but Alpha found them pretty interesting. Then one of the American ladies came up to him and saw him playing with them.

“Oh, are those your [insert brand name here] dolls?”

No answer.

Undeterred, she asked again.

Alpha kept right on playing.

So she asked again. “Are those your [insert brand name] dolls?

Finally, Alpha replied in an almost inaudible voice, “Ask someone else” and kept right on playing.

This incident tells us a few things about Alpha’s language development. 1) He definitely understands what people say to him in English. 2) He can definitely reply to them in English and knows more than he lets on and 3) He goes out of his way to avoid speaking in English and hasn’t yet developed a whole lot of confidence with it.

If he can get away with not speaking it or having someone else interpret for him (usually me) he will go with those options. Unfortunately for him, I’ve caught on and am trying to not let him use me as an interpreter.

One day after gymnastics, his teacher announced that those who wanted could come upstairs for an ice pop, so up we went and after he got his, I told him to say thank you. He looked at me, looked at his teacher and his mouth remained shut.

“Say thank you,” I urged him again. He remained mute. I waited. Then Alpha realized he was not getting out of this one.  So he opened his mouth and a very quiet, “Welcome” came out.

His teacher laughed. “Close enough!

In order to help him out of his shyness when it comes to speaking English, we’ve decided to enroll him in preschool this fall. Then he’ll have to talk and make friends all by himself without me to bail him out.