Last year, after my daughter Vanessa turned two, I enrolled her in a Parent’s Day Out (PDO) program at our local church. She goes once a week for 4 hours and seems to get a kick out of it. During orientation, we made sure her teachers were aware that, up to that point in her life, she had been exposed only to Spanish with very few exceptions here and there–we live in Colorado, after all. The first day of the program, again I reminded her teachers that although she probably would understand their instructions because of their simplicity, she only knew to communicate in Spanish. They told me not to worry, that everything would be fine. But like any “normal” mother, worry I did. A lot. I mean, I knew nothing bad would happen, but I wondered how in the world she would communicate her needs to her two teachers…
When I went to pick her up after that first day, I was relieved to find her smiling, wanting to tell me all about her day. I approached one of her teachers and asked how she had done. I was told she was an angel, but a very quiet angel. “She didn’t say a word,” Ms. P told me. I was fine with that because I knew from her demeanor that she’d had a good day. However, I wished her teachers spoke Spanish so they could be as amazed as I was at her extensive vocabulary–in Spanish. At 25 months, Vanessa said a lot more words–and I mean a lot–than most kids her age. In the end, I guess I just continued worrying about her ability to be understood.
As time went by, I noticed that she had picked up a few phrases in English–even though she only attends the PDO program four hours a week. She’d come home and say things like “he ya go,” “am soyee” and “am okay.” The crazy thing was that she would say these phrases at the appropriate times. When handing me a toy, throwing her cup or after tripping and almost falling, for example. My husband and I found it amusing, but more than anything, amazing to realize that she understood the actual meaning of each phrase. My worries about her abilities to communicate with her teachers started to dissipate, albeit just a bit. On occasion, I would still ask her teachers how she was getting along in respect to the language and they would say: “She doesn’t say much, but she seems to understand everything we tell her.”
So on we went, until one day recently, a crazy thing happened. A crazy thing–that I still can’t believe–happened! Check it out:
It was kind of late–which translates to: I was very tired–and we were finishing having dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Vanessa was sitting in her high chair playing with some fortune cookies, minding her own business. My husband paid the bill and for some unknown reason gave me the pen the waitress had brought for him to sign the check. Without really thinking too much about it, I said to him: “That’s not mine.” In English. Just like that. Vanessa looked at me and said: “Mami, ¿eso no e tuyo“? To which I responded, completely oblivious to what had just happened: “No, Vane, eso no es mio.” Immediately after both my husband’s and my jaw dropped to the floor. What had just happened? Had she translated my sentence word-by-word? Yes, she had!
When did she start doing this? How did this happen? How did she know? Who told her? So many questions, none of which could be answered. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to us, it was a HUGE deal. For us, it meant that Vanessa is really on her way to being bilingual, that she gets it and maybe it also means that we’ve been doing the right thing! It’s nice to get some reassurance once in a while, don’t you think?
I still smile when I think about it! I’m sure she probably thought I was crazy to make such a big deal out of it, but I believe in celebrating her each and every chance I get
Have your kids done things like this that make you feel you’re right on track? Do you have a story of a small triumph like this one you can share with the rest of us?