Language Firsts

3:29 PM 3 Comments

The funny thing about living in a foreign country whose native language is not your own, eventually you need to learn that language. I would like to share some of this with you, along with the amazing revelations I have had about language development.

I think just about everybody has told me that kids pick up the language fast. I know it, I get it. But seeing it actually unfold before my eyes is nothing short of miraculous to me. My kids are like sponges that have picked up an Israeli cadence and speech tone that I cannot even come close to approximating. How do they do it?

Since being in Israel, I have been engaged in a lot of conversations with my oldest son that go something like this:
Question: "How do you say [insert English word here] in Hebrew?"
Answer: "[insert Hebrew response]"
And with that, I notice the new Hebrew word popping up in conversation and usage left and write. Whenever a new word is learned, the kids try it out at every opportunity as if to wear a proud badge on their chest saying: I learned a new word today.

My middle child (being just shy of 3) will undoubtedly be the most fluent in both languages. I think she already has an ear that far surpasses mine or my wife's in listening and comprehending Hebrew.

Which brings me to my biggest problem. Listening. When someone speaks to me in Hebrew, often times I fully know (or should at least) what they are saying. But the quick-tongue, and my still slow processing time leaves me in the dust every time. While I am still grappling with the beginning of the conversation, the speaker has already moved on to a new topic. And then ... I am lost.

In Ulpan, conversations were generally at a slower pace, making my ability to follow easier. Couple that with my grasp of what was going on, I felt quite comfortable.

Part of our decision to live in the South, and Retamim in particular, was because we wanted to be immersed in the language. We wanted to be forced to learn it and not live in a community where English could be a crutch. Perhaps more for the sake of the kids than ourselves.

That part of the plan has worked out well.

Let's revisit the question and answer from above.
Question: "How do you say [insert English word here] in Hebrew?"
Answer: "[insert Hebrew response]"
The issue here is that in recent weeks, the Questioner has gone from being my son, to being me. I have experienced many new firsts in the months we have been here. Asking my 4 year old son for a definition of a word ... definitely a first.

Maybe I am cutting myself a little short. In the last few months I have noticed that Hebrew has started coming to me much more quickly. When I am engaged in conversation (whether it be in my head or merely myself imagining what I could say in a conversation), the thought process of how to say what I want seems more fluid.

But the real fluidity that amazes me comes from the kids. Their ability to travel back and forth baffles me. I know plenty of people that converse well in both languages, and have for years. None of them seem to code-switch as effortlessly as the children who knew not a  lick of Hebrew just a few short months ago.

This is amazing to me. Simply baffling.