Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tri-Lingual Tea Party

"Mama, I gonna make all my dolls talk. Addy speaks Ukrainian. Josefina speaks Russian, and that other one speaks English."

I love having multilingual kids.  Comes in very handy when we travel overseas, for example.  I am a dunce with languages – to the great annoyance of my in-laws – but my older daughter has no trouble understanding English, Ukrainian, and basic Russian.  She is quite a useful translator. 

My younger daughter (pictured above with her multilingual tea party . . . not sure what language the beluga whale was speaking) is in speech therapy now, something most people predicted and “warned” us would be needed.  We’re not concerned, though.  With a little bit of extra attention, her English is catching right up with her classmates.  While she may have trouble pronouncing some English words, we still feel the benefits of being able to pronounce any Ukrainian words outweigh the negatives.

One really funny myth we hear a lot about multilingual kids is that they can automatically switch 100% from one language to another and never get them mixed up.  Maybe that is true for some kids, but we loved our daughters’ mixed speech.  When our older daughter was learning to talk, we were living in Ukraine and she was exposed to all three languages on a consistent daily basis.  As a result, she would often speak all three languages in one sentence, sometimes in one word.  She combined the English “hi” with the Ukrainian “preeveet” and said “Hi-veet!”  She mixed Ukrainian “papa” (bye-bye) with the Rusian “paka” and would say, “papa-paka!”  

Our younger daughter picked up Ukrainian words first because at the time she was starting to talk, my husband was home full-time and I was working full-time.  Once she started to add the English, we often found her opting for the easier to say word.  Some words she just couldn’t be bothered to learn in English because the Ukrainian was just better.  Like “soska” instead of “pacifier”.  “De Mama?” instead of “Where’s Mama?”  She still makes animal noises the Ukrainian way.

Sadly, we still overhear people making snarky anti-immigrant comments when we are out in public and my husband speaks Ukrainian to the girls.  Things like, “Learn English or leave!” “Damn, you can’t go anywhere and hear OUR language any more.” Or the person who complained about hearing Spanish everywhere (Ukrainian and Spanish don’t sound alike at all, by the way).  For now, my husband’s selective hearing shields him, and the girls don’t understand why anyone would hate their Tato or his language, so they just shrug off the comments assuming they were about someone else.  Some day they will have to deal with the anti-immigrant crowd, but hopefully by then they will have a strong enough sense of self worth and love for their father, their country, and their heritage as children of an immigrant to not let it bug them or deter them from having future tri-lingual tea parties.

Psst . . . I have an Etsy shop, too . . .

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