We are a bilingual household. Since the birth of our little guy we are using the OPOL method (one parent one language). I am the master of the Czech side and I can tell you I speak so good and have such a good accent I sound just like a native speaker … Wait a minute I guess that’s because I am one.
The two very different languages are slowing our little guy’s speech, or it seems like it. But lately he is definitively starting and in both languages. He took his sweet time. “Stephen started to talk at three and he didn’t have two languages” my husband’s hundred year old grandma told me about my father-in-law. I don’t know why, but my father-in-law disagrees and firmly believes he was much faster in talking than that.
I cannot say that up until now our little guy was mute… No way! He was just using a lot of different ways to express his will. He was signing, using a lot of noises and his favorite word “no!” But finally he is really talking and trying to say words in Czech and English. What is really funny is his usage of both languages on the same level, the way he interchanges and mixes the words. He is definitively cheating, using words that he knows how to pronounce and that are easier for him. Well, there is one thing, I am not sure if I can call the sounds he makes pronunciation. Once I saw a dog on YouTube, a very special dog barking “I love you.” And even my unbiased heart of a mother to a genius kid realized the dog’s barking declaration of love was pronounced much better. Seriously this dog is good!
Our little guy’s way of using both languages is a great contribution to the American side of his family. They are actually learning Czech!! They have to! Unfortunately they are also learning it with little guy’s pronunciation. Thus, his cousins know that “Hoyii, hoyii!” Means “fire!” However, they have no idea that in Czech, we actually say “horzi!” And that “hoyi,” means “to heal.”
What about something like the word “had?” We Czechs now that this kid means “snake” but poor Americans, what do they do with this? Little guys yells:”Had, had!” My mom-in-law answers: “What? You had something?” Believing our extremely smart little guy just used a passive form of the verb “to have.” “He wants his hat” my father- in-law tries to correct her. Luckily we don’t live in a countryside prone to poisonous snakes.
Another favorite word of our bilingual genius is “hen, hen.” No he is not calling for a flock of chickens in our Brooklyn neighborhood, he just shortened a Czech word “honem, honem” which means “fast.”
But “bumbat down,” the whole American family understands. Sure the only small problem with that is that it means”to drink” in Czech baby talk except that our little guy means ” bumbaz,” Czech baby talk for “falling.” So lucky is the American side of the family to have our little guy as their Czech teacher. They will find out just how lucky they are at their next visit to Prague.
Our little guy is not only teaching his American family Czech, but also my Czech mum English. My mum perfectly knows the word “to hide.” Yes, because of the never ending repetition of one word, he is literally burning the words in my mum’s brain.
Also our nightly routine of reading books before sleep time was changed. Our little guy decided to give it a try and gave his very brave father a Czech book to read. My husband valiantly started to read: “Kolem víří jisrky a rozstřikují tisíce kapek. Z pramenu bez přestání prýští voda.” I have to say even I felt pity for him hearing those words full of consonants stumbled on. Our little guy’s face was priceless. He just couldn’t get it. The idea that his Da cannot read it just didn’t register for a while. Than it settled in and he started to stuff my husband’d mouth with his favorite and smelly security blanket. My husband relentlessly read though the stuffing. Our little guy started to add his other hand until the sound of his father’s voice butchering Czech words was sufficiently muffled.
Since that night our little bilingual guy makes sure to give my husband at least a couple of sentences to read in Czech. He loves to have a good night laugh. He definitively inherited our sense of humor. I so wanted to to tape my husband’s Czech book reading but he flat out refused. Pity, I will have to do it secretly.
Yes, it’s awesome and so much fun to have a bilingual child at home.