I have this extreme obsession with language. It can lead me to analyze almost every utterance that is produced although lately I have been scrutinizing the trilingual toys I have for my baby. I have been staring, analyzing, and pressing the button over and over to listen to the French, Spanish, and English words spoken. I can’t help it! They can sound so silly! For instance, the one in the car says “mo-rah-doh (purple in Spanish),” like the Anglo kids in my high school Spanish class. Seriously? Couldn’t the manufacturer find a native Spanish speaker to say “morado?” It sure makes me wonder if the French version of purple is an authentic accent!
Then I started thinking. Does the authenticity of the accent expressed by a toy really that important? Why does it bother me so much? Why should it matter? What is really at the heart of the matter?
I could start with the fact that the toys are American ones, which can symbolize how little we value multilingualism. If I were in charge of recording foreign language vocabulary for toys, I would make sure the accents were authentic! In other words, the unauthentic accent (one that sounds like Spanish is the speaker’s second language) is a perfect example of how little our society values multilingualism. Now, I know I am reading into this, but still it’s the principle of the matter. How are we supposed to promote multilingualism when the products available are less than satisfactory?
I guess the little voice saying “mo-rah-do” reminds me of how unattainable it can sometimes feel to be able to sufficiently expose my bebita to three languages. It is as if the manufacturer is mocking my intentions. Again, what is really at the heart of the matter? Well, I’ve concluded that learning a second or third language has become somewhat of a commodity. For instance, did you know that children in China have the option of learning English via a program called Disney English (http://disneyenglish.com/EN/about-us/history.html)? Disney has found a way to market their label and their products via language instruction. Parents have found a way to motivate or help their children feel a sense of investment (bribe) to learn another language. In a way, Disney and foreign language instruction have the same appeal, the same attraction to the general population. Well, let’s be honest, at least in China it does. That, in it of itself, says something!
Where does this leave parents and their quest for, not only foreign language exposure, but also authentic and native-like exposure? Good question. I believe this may be the million-dollar question.