Tuesday, December 23, 2008

River's First Word

I think I’ve been hearing him say it for a while now, but in the past day or two, it’s been made official with others hearing and recognizing it as well.

River now says mama, with a clear indication that it’s me he wants.

“Congratulations,” Mark said, on me being his first word.

I suppose it’s nice and it definitely makes me feel good to see that he wants me, to know that I can comfort him and make him feel better. Those signs of affection are enough and I wouldn’t have minded if he said daddy first.

What excites me most is that he’s beginning to communicate. Soon, we’ll see the results of my experiment in bilingualism. I know other babies that are talking earlier and I have to remind myself that we can expect an average delay of two months because of him learning a second language.

His babbling has definitively taken on the sound of a foreign language lately and it’s clear he’s trying to communicate. I hear an Asian ring to many of his words – such as do-ying or digalits. I wonder if it comes from the Chinese babysitter he had during his first two months or whether that’s just how baby talk sounds. Mark thinks it sounds African, like Swahili, so maybe it’s just a matter of perspective.

Mama could be either English or Spanish, so it’s unclear where he’s headed in terms of embracing the two languages. I’m eager to hear him say his first word in Spanish and I’m curious to see what it will be. I wonder how many of his first words will be in English and how many in Spanish. I wonder how he’ll mix them, how he’ll distinguish between them, whether or not he’ll use them with the people who understand that language.

I wonder how he’ll accept it when he realizes I do speak English, just not to him. I wonder if he’ll appreciate learning a second language without really having to work at it or whether he’ll resent me and fight it.

For now, I’m trying to ensure that he has other people in his life who speak Spanish besides me (Mirena is also being raised bilingual and when she comes over, the language in the house is Spanish), especially since I’m not a native speaker. Grace also speaks to him only in Spanish. Right now, he’s probably hearing more hours per week of Spanish than he is of English. Since I know that will change as he gets older, I hope he can take advantage of it now.

At the same time, I’m thinking of taking him to Russia later this winter. We would probably stay with my friends there and be largely immersed in a Russian environment. I wonder how that would impact his language learning skills, if upon hearing those harsh, strange five-syllable words he might just throw up his hands and say, forget this, I think I’ll continue with the point and huff for a while longer. Luckily, mama would be understood, even in Russian.

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