A Bright Future in Translation

When my son went to preschool, he provided me with an on the spot translation of the apple song he learned in Kindergarten. It originally went

I am apple I am apple
On a tree, on a tree
You come and eat me
You come and eat me
I taste good. I taste good.

He sang this once and I complemented him on it and then he kept singing it, only each time he sang it more and more of the song was in German until he reached the final version:

Ich bin Apfel, ich bin Apfel
Auf dem Baum, auf dem Baum
Du kommst mich essen
Du kommst mich essenIch smeck’ gut, ich schmeck’ gut

He was torn between ‘gut’ and ‘lecker’ on the last line (and apparently it should be ‘an dem Baum’ but whatever) and kept changing it, but I was very impressed.

Since then, his translation skills have continued to developed.

When we were in Kansas visiting my family, my brother-in-law took Alpha and my niece out some where. My niece spent the drive asking him how you say various things in German and he would tell her. Not speaking German, my brother-in-law had no idea if he was giving her the correct answers or not. Finally, my niece asked him, “What do you say in German when you’re really, really scared?” Alpha thought for a moment and opened his mouth and screamed, “AAAAAAAGH!”

* * *

We’re currently remodeling our bathrooms. I don’t know if this project is current; we’ve been doing it for the past 5 months, but since we’re still doing it, I guess it is. At any rate, we let the kids do a sample tile mosaic so we could get an idea how the grout color would tie everything together.
Beforehand, my husband explained to the kids in Finnish that the white glue they would be using was like liquid concrete and was toxic, so they should be very careful not to eat any or mess with it.

Alpha listened to this, then turned to Beta and repeated what DH had just said to them, only in English.
My husband was astounded. “I didn’t even know he knew the word ‘toxic’ in English.”

I get the feeling we consistently underestimate our children’s language abilities, particularly Alpha’s because he’s had so many problems with his speech. He’s also more reticent than Beta when it comes to speaking. Beta is a little chatterbox and talks to everyone. We go to the gym and when I drop them off at the daycare, she immediately starts chatting away to the lady there about her outfit, or a toy she brought or whatever. I talk to my host family via skype and she happily starts telling them whatever she can think of.

Alpha will talk to people now on the phone, but he’s still very quiet about doing so. His speech therapist has mentioned that she has a very hard time getting him to speak spontaneously. If she asks him what he wants to play with, most of the time he doesn’t answer until she offers him a choice and then he just says yes. She worried about his vocabulary, commenting how she showed him a nature scene and asked him to point at the leopards and he pointed at some birds flying. I told her that was strange because ‘leopard’ is actually the same in all three languages (Leopard in German and leopaardi in Finnish). She wondered earlier if he was just self-conscious but then answered her own question by stating that he was too young to be self-conscious. Then I told her the story of the first time we went to get his speech evaluated and he told me that he couldn’t do it because he couldn’t speak English. This seemed to change her opinion a bit.

Alpha is still quite sensitive about his speech abilities. Once when he was sitting at the table doing his work, he commented in English that he had to do speech practice because “I am not very good at speaking.” And it really stung me to hear him say that. I quickly told him that it wasn’t a big deal, lots of people have to practice their speech and told him that his father had to go to speech therapy when he was Alpha’s age and now he speaks just fine. I think this reassured him; he hasn’t mentioned being bad at speaking much again. At any rate, his speech has improved remarkably and ask long as he speaks up when he’s around people, he is very intelligible.

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