Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | March 22, 2007

Can you say that in English?

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since we were last in the US. I remember the trip vividly, as though it took place just last month, yet suddenly I find myself making preparations to fly once again. It will be different from last time though, for two reasons. First of all, we will be flying to Florida instead of New York, and second of all, the Little One and I will be flying solo without the Husband, as he has too much going on work-wise and can’t get away right now.

I’m really looking forward to the trip, though not without some trepidation. We’ll be flying the route recommended by SavtaDotty, which involves a direct flight from Tel Aviv to Atlanta lasting just over 13 hours, a layover of just under three hours, during which we’ll have to go through Customs, grab luggage, return luggage, and probably take a train to our next gate (which I plan to milk for maximum entertainment value). The last leg of our journey should take a little more than 90 minutes, where the Little One’s grandparents will be waiting for us by the massive aquarium to help us collect our luggage and make the fifteen-minute drive back to the house. I’ve ordered kiddie meals for the kiddie and selected our seats for all four flights (sadly, no bulkhead seats were available), and have more or less decided that potty training will be put on hold while in transit so that we won’t have any unfortunate incidents at inconvenient times. The last thing I need while standing in the Customs line is “Mommy, doody/pee pee”, and not having any place to run (and not wanting to give up our place in line).

But I digress. One of the things that concerns me the most about this trip (aside from having to keep my son entertained for three weeks straight) is language. As time goes by, he is speaking more and more in Hebrew, and less and less in English. He understands everything we say to him in English, he chooses books and videos in English, but the language he usually opts to speak in is Hebrew. If I ask him how to say a certain word in English, he can tell me, and occasionally initiates in English, but for the most part, his primary spoken language is now Hebrew. Our conversations usually occur with me speaking to him in English and him responding in Hebrew. I’m not overly thrilled with this situation, but don’t like the idea of trying to force him to use English, as I don’t want him to rebel against the language. I don’t want him to see English as a chore.

I’ve begun preparing him for the trip, and he knows that in a few weeks we’ll be getting on an airplane and flying to visit Grandma and Grandpa (and possibly Mickey Mouse, which has proved an effective deterrent when I want him to do something or stop doing something, as he doesn’t want to miss meeting the mouse), and a slew of cousins, and aunt and uncle, etc. While gently pushing him to speak more English, I’ve been trying to explain to him that when we go to visit Mommy’s family, he has to speak in English, as they don’t speak Hebrew, but I’m not sure he understands yet. He seems to understand the concept in reverse, in that if we tell him to say something to someone else, and we tell him in English, he switches to Hebrew, even when it’s a word that he normally uses in English. I’m hoping that once he’s fully immersed in a totally English-speaking environment, the language will come to him naturally, and that after three weeks there, his English speaking skills will be on par with his Hebrew speaking skills. Needless to say, I don’t relish the thought of having to play full-time translator for the duration of our trip, and I know that my parents will be incredibly frustrated if he responds to them only in Hebrew.

Given that he is not yet three years-old, I’m not sure how much he comprehends of his bilingualism. He understands that there’s an accent he uses on certain letters when speaking in Hebrew and that the accent changes when speaking in English. Sometimes, if I ask him to say a particular word in English, he simply repeats it in Hebrew, using an American accent. While watching Balamory last week, Archie came on the screen. I made some innocuous comment about Archie and was immediately chastised by my son, who explained that it wasn’t “Archie”, it was “Ahhhrrrchie”, and no amount of explaining and cajoling would convince him otherwise, even though Balamory is in English. On the other hand, while being read to in English by one of his young Israeli cousins recently, when the girl stumbled over a word or two, the Little One (who knew the book virtually by heart) corrected her while using his American accent.

Before we flew to the US last year, he was speaking, but not really connecting words into sentences yet. While there, he had something of a language explosion, and because it happened while we were in an English speaking environment, the “explosion” was mainly in English. After we returned to Israel, his Hebrew caught up with his English, and then surpassed it as he began to truly interact with his peers and other Israelis who were, of course, all around him. I am hoping for a similar explosion (or at least concrete recognition of the fact that there are two distinct languages, and that not everyone speaks both) during this trip, but given that his language skills are far more developed this time around, I’m not quite sure what to expect.

*This post cross-posted to Brio.

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Responses

  1. This is all a natural part of the process, dear Liza. Nothing to be concerned about. He may have a trip that finds him a bit shell shocked and less talkative than normal. Be prepared. It even happened with my motor-mouthed viking girl once… or he could run all over florida capturing people in the name of the 100 acre wood! I know I had one trip home where I was her translator. she spoke norwegian and I had to repeat everything in english.

    I solved that by leaving her for a day. She had noone to translate so she reached up into her brain and took all of the passive english and made it active. Kids do what they have to to be understood. Don’t sweat it.

    Worse for me…i’ve been speaking way too much norwegian with viking boy and his comprehension of english is on the decline. I can see the confusion on his face… thank goodness my parents are coming in 6 weeks!!

  2. Not to worry, dear. His English will surely get a “bump” while you’re there, and I have no doubt that within a day or so of landing he’ll speak Anglit almost exclusively. He’ll want to be understood by the grandparents, and will surely make the switch. Luckily, it’s a pretty easy thing for little kiddies to do.


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