It’s almost 8.20am and we are ALMOST ready to jump into the car and go to school.
I am trying to brush my teeth while getting dressed and get my hair done at the same time…
…while my bilingual kids are almost ready to rock at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me and trying to sort out THE most important stuff for the day ahead – their pokemon cards!
They are discussing who’s gonna take what cards in what kind of box or book.
When I glimpse at the clock and see the pokemon crisis at the bottom of the stairs I am getting rather impatient myself:
‘Richie, you can’t be serious, are you actually planning to take this large plastic box with you?’
And my bilingual cherub a.k.a. butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth replies in a very natural way:
‘No, mummy, I’m not, you know that we’re not allowed to take the pokemon cards in, but Bob is. I’m getting the new cards ready for him to take in because I want to show them Ted after school.’
Looking at the box of a rather large shape and Bob’s much smaller school bag full of all sorts of stuff and I am thinking to myself:
‘Whaaaaat? I hate these bloody pokemon cards…. Here I am, trying to get ready, running around like headless chicken and these two little monkeys are trying to fit an elephant size of a box into a poky little school bag full of …’
‘No, darling, sorry, you can’t take these in this big box,’ I sigh ‘I know it’s a nice display for the cards, but we’re never gonna fit the box into Bob’s bag… not in two minutes you’ve got anyway…’
‘But mummy, I want to show them to Ted.’
‘No, no, no, sorry darling, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. No, I am not having that. Bob won’t be carrying extra bags of bleep (‘bloody’) pokemon cards to school. Just take the cards out, put them in a small plastic bag and then Bob can put them in his bag. Otherwise, they won’t fit’.
Looking at the clock again I am getting a bit stressed now.
And my little treasures carry on:
‘But mummy, what is a…. plastic bag?’ my 6-year-old asks genuinely in my native language.
Seriously, pokemon cards are driving me nuts sometimes and I am sure I am not alone here!
But hang on a second, I just realised that I used a different word for a plastic bag than I would probably normally use.
Usually, in out-of-crisis hours, I’d carry on explaining in my native language to my bilingual kids:
‘Well, a plastic bag is a thin bag made of plastic that you can usually see through, it hasn’t got handles like a carrier bag….’
And I would carry on describing the object patiently in my native language until my bilingual kids would be making an impression that they understood what I mean.
But you caught me stressed out here, my patience’s gone. So my time-saving answer to my bilingual cherub in my native language went like that:
‘A plastic bag means’ Followed by an English word ‘a plastic bag in English’.
Ooops, I gave in.
Easy-peasy, you might think, why don’t I do it all the time?
In out-of-crisis hours I try to be as explanatory as I can without just giving out the English word as a translation.
I rather take their clever bilingual minds on a very detailed descriptive trip.
Sometimes it works, like giving them a riddle, sometimes they work it out straight away, sometimes it takes a longer conversation that expands their vocabulary and horizons even more.
That’s what I see as a side benefit.
But the point is to keep the conversation flowing in my native language as much as we can.
At least on my part, remember my 99% rule (or as close as you can be…) I’ve described here.
If one of my boys works it out first they are very keen to translate into English for the other one anyway, even if the other one might have worked it out by now.
‘Ok, ok, I know Richie, I know what that means! You don’t have to tell me,’ the big bilingual brother is getting a bit disgruntled as he hasn’t won the linguistic race today.
Bilingual kids… Kids, bilingual or not…