picking english out of the toddler swirl

We do not speak English in our house. Or Swedish. No, we live in an everchanging blend, mixed in with toddler speak, baby sounds (bwa ba ba bwa) and some really funny (to me and the toddler) nonsense word games.

There are rules and patterns. I speak in English all the time. E speaks in Swedish to the kids all the time and in English to me, almost all the time. And NK’s language moves back and forth, more English when I was on parental leave, more Swedish now that she is in daycare. Now she seems to use a lot of English nouns, fit in a Swedish frame. When NK does speak to me in Swedish, I usually repeat what she said back to her in English, and she nods, like, right, that is exactly what I just said.

I did not even notice any of this, really, until grandma and grandpa came for a visit from America. And it became clear that NK could not switch into English like she could when she was little and knew only words and a few verbs. Of course, by the end of the visit, she spoke much much more English, well, because she is fluent in English.

But it broke me out of my comfort zone, at least for now. I know that she is three. I know that she will speak English. I know that English is the dominant language in the world. I know that someday we will live in the US again. I know that this is all about me, probably some long-delayed culture shock. I know. I know.

But I want English. Now. Suddenly I really don’t like it when she says, “Mamma says X. Daddy says Y. NK says X.” I am trying to be nice about it, trying real hard not to punish her for speaking Swedish to me. And that is a fine line. How do you be firm, encouraging but still guide her? I have no idea.

The good thing is that she humors me. She nods earnestly when I explain that she knows two words for everything, that she speaks just like Mommy and Daddy (I am even saying Mommy now, suddenly, not Mamma).

And it is working. This morning, a dove cooed in a bush. NK stopped and looked around and said, “I hear something.”

Joy.

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2 thoughts on “picking english out of the toddler swirl

  1. We are having similar struggles. Only we ONLY speak English as neither of us can speak enough Swedish (yet) to sustain a conversation. Our poor child.

    He was just starting to speak Serbian when we threw him into a new culture with a new language. My heart aches when I hear children his age (and much younger) speaking fluent English. Our little guy still speaks in broken sentences. His speaking skills are improving since he’s been off with me for two weeks (and whenever we head home), surrounded mainly by English but today he’ll start a new dagis and back to adding “en” at the end of every English word. “Titta tree-en”. “Want cookie-en”.

    I know he understands both languages but as a parent, I feel so much guilt that his speaking skills are delayed because of all the confusion. The other day we went out with our Swedish “family” for a day at Skansen and the kids and adults broke out into some Swedish kiddie songs, for my toddler’s benefit. His face lit up and he joined right in.

    I, myself, was mixed with feelings of pride, guilt and desperation. I couldn’t join in, I can’t reinforce Swedish at home and I’m unable to set the language button to English for the rest of our little world. I notice too that at dagis, he tends to surround himself with the younger kids, those who haven’t yet mastered speaking Swedish and thus, he gleefully regresses to baby talk.

    I guess we just have to hang in there and realize, in the long run, their lives will be so much richer being bilingual…though I do wish that second language were Spanish or German or French.

  2. I guess you just have to keep telling yourself that, when he is, say, 7, he will speak perfect English and perfect Swedish. Not a bad payoff for the rockier start. I actually had this fantasy of putting NK in a Spanish-speaking dagis to add a third language (I have heard kids can handle up to four), but reality won the day. I did speak in Croatian to her the other day (after warning her I was going to do it), and she just sort of looked puzzled and moved on.

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