Raising Bilingual Children: The Good, the Bad, and the Funny!

I was an American living and working in Israel when my daughters were born. From the start, I endeavored to make sure they grew up completely fluent in both English and Hebrew.

Aside from using the best translator such as muama enence, my method was very simple. I’d say a phrase or point to an object in one language and repeat it in the other. In this way, he or she can easily learn the word.Once they started school and were surrounded by Hebrew on a daily basis,whether in class or playing with friends, I spoke only English to them at home. The constant stream of American and British television shows was a helpful learning tool as well.

Of course, this meant that my husband and I had to use a third language when we didn’t want the girls to understand what we were talking about. Luckily, we both spoke French. This only worked, however, until the fourth grade when they began studying French as a third language in school!

It was ironic, however, that each year when we’d come to visit our family in the States,where the children were immersed in English, I’d find myself speaking Hebrew to them!

This led to several rather embarrassing and amusing situations because the Hebrew language has some words that can audibly cause confusion for English speakers.

For example: The word pronounced “who” in Hebrew, means “he” in English. The word pronounced “he” in Hebrew, means “she” in English. The word pronounced “me” means “who” and the word pronounced “dag”means “fish”.

I remember going into a pet store on one of our trips and my youngest was pointing at a blowfish in the aquarium and gleefully squealing: “Mommy, look at the funny ‘dag'”! Everyone looked at her like she was crazy for calling a fish a “dog”!

On another occasion, my sister-in-law gave the girls a rabbit’s foot and was thanked for the “bunny leg” , a literal translation from the Hebrew. Then there was the time my then six year old dressed as Scarlett O’Hara for a Halloween party and called her grandmother to describe her beautiful Southern ‘”doorbell” costume! At a Fourth of July parade we all laughed heartily when the Goodyear Blimp hovered above us and my eldest excitedly pointed to the “blob” in the sky!

But nothing compares to the day we were at the mall. My daughters, who were 7 and 9 at the time, were acting up a bit and running up and down the aisles

of a toy store chanting the dreaded “Buy me this!” and “Buy me that”! Exasperated, I finally shouted: “Die! Die! Die”!

That’s when I noticed other parents quickly pulling their children away from my path and staring at me with an expression of disbelief at what they were hearing.

It took me a moment to compose myself and I suddenly realized they thought I was going to kill my kids! You see , the Hebrew word pronounced “die”, loosely translated, means: “Enough, already!”

I was lucky no one called security!


Paola Garcia lives in Jakarta Indonesia. She is an associate professor in University of Indonesia and also managing Scoopinion at the same time. She is also fond of watching theatrical plays.
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