My daughter, Finje, chose to ask me this question not, unfortunately whilst in the private confines of our own home in Lüneburg, North Germany, but in the departure lounge at Manchester airport. My pride in raising a bilingual daughter was quickly forgotten as I hurriedly and rather loudly reminded her that sechs [read: sex] in English is six and that she in fact meant "what comes after SIX?"
She's only three and it's started already. The "why?" and "what comes after?" phase is upon me and is made only the more challenging by the presence of a Deutsch/English or Denglish combination. Following much research on the matter, we decided to follow the "speak to your child only in your native language" technique. So, her father speaks German, she replies in German, I speak English, she replies in....German.
Not much going on in the English department there then. Though I'm reassured by the fact that she seems to understand everything I say, she resolutely sticks to German in her replies with one exception: Our neighbour's Hungarian daughter is a similar age to ours. She only speaks Hungarian and has somehow managed to succeed where I am failing. She chatters on quite happily to Finje, who replies in, I am told, pretty good Hungarian. I am left, much to their obvious delight, clueless.
Don't get me wrong, I'm fiercely proud of her blossoming multi-linguistics, and, honestly, a tad jealous. Never will she suffer the embarrassment of announcing to new work colleagues, "Ich bin kalt". The word for word translation being "I am cold", the nuances of this intricate language meaning however, that I had just declared to my somewhat horrified co- workers that I was frigid! Much shuffling and staring at feet followed. Not to mention the time, when reading out the soup of the day to a friend, I accidentally said Gestapo instead of Gazpacho!
In a world ever decreasing in size the ability to speak at least one other language in addition to our native tongue is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity.
As I put my baby to bed that evening, she kissed the tip of my nose and whispered "Ich liebe Dich Mama". Sometimes the language is quite simply irrelevant.
I'm guessing I'm not the only mother to find herself in a potentially embarrassing situation. Can you beat this one?
More:Is It Just Me?
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