Friday, November 22, 2013

Fairies and Gnomes Speaking in English

This morning, as I was rushing around the house trying to get us ready for our road-trip, Kaya starts telling me a story. Initially, it sounded pretty similar to much of what she'll say to me, full of passion and interest and a strong desire for me to connect and share her experience. But as I listened further, it slowly began to differentiate itself from other things she'll share. It was a story in German, as is normal with her still in her communication with me, but what began to be very clear is that she was relating not only an experience she had at school (which doesn't happen all that often), but that she was retelling a story that she's been hearing at school lately. A story about a girl who hears Mother Earth calling to her, and what happens with the Feen [fairies] and Wichtel [gnomes] when they heed her calling. Ok, so maybe that doesn't make sense, and I'm outing myself as way more interested in the fact that she was telling me the story, and how than I was in the details (that's the story of my life, actually!).

She was following me around the house as she told me of the adventures of the girl and how she couldn't find the Wichtel and the Feen. As I beckoned her with my hand to come into my room (so as not to interrupt), she continued to her story, adding the song of Mother Earth. But what was different about this part of the story was that it was in English. Not so strange, as we'll often insert words here and there when we don't know how to say them in German. She continued the rest of the 'song' in English, and then, as she went back to narrating in the 3rd person, shifted back into German. Following me into the kitchen, she shared about how the "girl war traurig, weil sie die Gnomes und die Feen nicht finden konnte" [the girl was sad because she couldn't find the gnomes and fairies]. I was a bit surprised at how she was inserting words in English that she knew in German--but felt simultaneously in awe that she was taking the time and effort to interpret this whole story for me into German from English. And then, it hit me. As she continued to tell the story, I realized she was doing all of the narrating in German but all of the conversing in English. Every time the girl or the gnome or Mother Earth would speak, it was in English. But when she was explaining to me what they were doing or where they were going or how they were was in German.

I don't even know what to say that.
Again, I'm in awe.

It makes me feel aMAzed at this whole process, about how the brain works and how she makes the choices she does with the languages she has available to her.

The thing about the English in this story is that in no way was it intended as an 'out' to not speak German, or as a test--which she will do and has been doing more so lately. When our neighbor, Simon, comes over, who understands German but generally speaks only English, Kaya will look at me directly and say something in English, clearly waiting to see how I'll respond. I realize how clear it is to her that I speak German with Si and how he speaks English back--and how that works for him. She is naturally wondering, in certain moments, if that will work for her. Not because she doesn't like speaking German with me--she continues to tell me that she likes that we speak German together--but because she's curious. It goes against what she's used to. To help her with this, I find myself tending to speak English with Si, and when I do, she seems to 'test' me less. I wonder if or when this will change--I would love to support his German, but also find it not nearly as fun speaking to him in German when he speaks back in English. Similar to how I felt about 2 1/2 years ago before Kaya started speaking all German to me.

So, in regards to this insertion of English dialogue, it does feel different, and I continue to find it fascinating. She told me that I could make a video of her relating that story to me, so hopefully I'll make it happen soon and put it here or in another post.

But in the meantime, I'll end on this other gem that she shared with me out of the blue as we were driving to school. As you might imagine, it brought tears to my eyes. And for those of you readers who are newer to our lives and may not know, Nana is my mom who died from Non-hodgkins Lymphoma when Kaya was 1 1/2, about 3 1/2 years ago. Kahlua was our 2nd family dog, who we put down a few years ago because he'd bitten too many people. She loved them both dearly, and hears us speaking fondly of them quite often:

"Mama, weisst du was? Wenn ich an Nana und Kahlua denke, ich sehe sie in einem Feld, mit hohem Gras, zusammen spielen." [Mama, you know what? When I think of Nana and Kahlua, I see them in a field of tall grass, playing together.]