Sunday, 30 May 2010

creating a language of her own

This post is a contribution to this month's bilingual carnival, which I'm hosting right here on June 2nd. If you have any experience of raising bilingual children and wish to contribute to the carnival, please leave a comment with a link to your post by 1st of June and I'll include it.

We have entered the creative phase. No, it's not all about glueing, painting and drawing. Cubling has hours of fun making up words, names and enjoying the possibilities of creative use of language. Now, I'm not sure if this is phase is so pronounced because she is brought up bilingually, but I wouldn't be suprised if it was. As ever, it's hard to separate personality traits, nature, from influence of growing up with two languages, nurture. I can only observe and suggest that maybe there is a link.

I'm not talking about her making up her own secret language, it's more a sense of delight in the enless creative possibilities that language offers. A delight in sounds, in combining words to make nonsense words, in naming things and bringing them into existence by the very act of naming. Last night, two bilingual toddlers were in stitches when they surpassed one another in making up such words, which to them were hilarious, maybe even slightly naughty (just that there was nothing we adults could pin point as cheeky or naughty - or to use a good Irish word for it, bold). Their behaviour told us they were exploring boundaries, the boundaries of language for sure, as if their creativity in making up new words and sounds was rebelling against the order of words usually imposed by the OPOL approach. The sounds themselves, well, they were both English and German.

To watch the two bouncing off one another made me wonder whether there was a link to the two 3 year olds growing up in a very similar language environment (mother German speaking, father English speaking, living in Scotland, both attending nursery almost full time). With Cubling I could also see a link to her tendency to add to her communication through drama and vocal expression. It may be that this is her personality, or she may be making up for her still slightly lagging language development (NB, the lag is within the norm, I'm not concerned at all, but I can see that other children her age are able to produce longer and more grammatical sentences. As a linguist, I also understand that non-verbal communication is equally valid and she clearly is very good at that part). If it is the latter, she's doing fabulously by using all the communication functions available to her: her language is supplemented by gestures, facial expression, change of tone, volume, making her the most engaging interlocutor aged 3 that I've so far encountered. She loves role playing and pretending to be animals, so it all makes sense. She doesn't just enjoy drama and pretend play, she is also very confident at it, it warms my heart (mainly because I was always far too shy to stick out from the crowd or act out like that).

Her friend who has the same language background has just moved to Germany for good. From here on, their paths will differ a good bit. For him, German will become the dominant language while for her, English will continue to take centre stage. One last time we were able to listen to their way of communicating with one another, their carefree mixing of languages, their effectiveness of communication that enabled them to have the most fun filled play dates imaginable. How far have they come, from toddlers who only yesterday seemed not yet able to engage in social play without the constant intervention of adults reminding them to share, not grab, not push and pull, to pre-schoolers who genuinely play together for hours without a single argument or disaster, but hours of fun and entertainment. And all in perfect Denglish/Engleutsch. Just like their language, their creativity in their play was striking as was their delight in their creative adventures.

We will all greatly miss the shared time together, which will become so much rarer in the future with the distance that is now unfortunately between us. Yet we're determined not to let this come between somehow managing to continue the friendship not just between the two children.



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