My Daughter Barks in Arabic

As strange as it may sound, every language -and some times even every culture- has its own set of animal sounds, and they are definitely very different from each other.

I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people of many different countries ever since I was a junior in high school. This opportunity has enriched me immensely not only by sharing foods and customs or learning about some history and the most famous landmarks of some of these countries, but also by opening my mind to interesting sounding words in different languages.

I don’t know how it all started, but on the night of my college graduation as I had a group of friends from Iraq, Albania, Armenia, Russia, Lebanon, Mexico and the US gathered all together, the topic of animal sounds came up. We started going around the table making the different sounds of different animals and were very entertained by the big differences between cultures. It was amusing but I didn’t think about it until now that my toddler is beginning to learn words and animal sounds.

Both my husband and I make an effort to read in Arabic and Spanish to our daughter every day. We even narrate the books we have in English in our particular foreign language so she can get exposed to a wide variety of topics and vocabulary in each language.

Lately, I began to notice how my daughter is starting to make the connection of a particular language with a particular person and how she’s understanding that outside of the home and with our local friends, we use English. I first discovered this when she started to use the word for baby. She says it in Spanish to me and when we are at home, but as soon as we go out and see the neighbors or one of her playmates, she immediately switches to English.

This milestone is terribly exciting to me as I have put all my energies into making her environment a trilingual one in every aspect. At the same time, this new progress amuses me because she’s starting to develop certain preference for the “easy” words and sounds, which she’s beginning to use by mixing languages.

She, for instance, uses the Arabic word for cookie even when talking with me because it is much easier than the word in Spanish. She’s also choosing the language that is easier for her to pronounce to make animal noises. I discovered this because, although she’s able to “bark” in Spanish when we read her books at home, she will use the Arabic “bark” when we actually see a dog in the street.

The level in which her brain works, picking the most convenient language for her to use, doesn’t cease to amaze me but it definitely poses a challenge as, according to all the research in linguistics that I have done indicates, I have to ignore any word (or sound) she makes in the language we aren’t currently speaking in and steer her back to the one we are. (As if I didn’t have enough trying to get her to eat her veggies).

No matter the challenge, I’m thrilled she’s showing signs of trilingualism this early in her life. Now is up to us to continue exposing her to vocabulary in as many media as possible and to continue keeping things exciting!

I wonder what language will she prefer to meaw in…


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