Few people dispute the value of learning a second language. And studies show the earlier, the better. My brother’s wife, who is Japanese by birth, raised in Japan, cannot hear the difference between an English “l” and an “r.” Her children, however, raised in a bilingual household, who listened to their father from birth (and who will shortly stop listening to him, as they enter their teens), can differentiate the two sounds.
Other languages never came easy to me, largely, I suspect, because my ears seem to be connected to my brain by noodle necklaces instead of actual information-transmitting neurons. I sat through three years of high school French and a year each of college Italian and Spanish without gaining more than an appreciation of my genetic disposition for unilingualism. I can’t even roll an R.
My brother, on the other hand, could mimic any silly accent at all from the time he was as big as an haricot verte, and when he speaks Japanese on the telephone, no one can tell he’s a gaijin.
Only when I found myself, in my midtwenties, on the Boulevard Saint Michele ogling handsome French men, did I realize that Madame Nyudu hadn’t used the right motivations. Learning French would have meant that my dating pool would have grown by roughly ten million.
By then it was too late.
But it is not too late for my children, and Mbot’s school employs a Senora Miriam to spend thirty minutes each Tuesday tutoring her young scholars in the finer points of Spanish colors, foods, and animals. Each Friday, I receive a newsletter telling me what Senora Miriam presented, so that I can help Mbot practice his very useful second language.
I admit, we are falling behind.
One reason is that Mbot, as readers know, is three. And Senora Miriam’s teaching methods seem to be geared more toward the five year-olds in class.
Another reason is that I have been negligent in completing daily Spanish practice. My instinct is to blame Gbot, who wants to participate by playing with Mbot or pushing computer keys while we are reviewing beetles colored in Spanish colors. I admit to having given up on more than a few occasions.
But still, we struggle on. I am learning some Spanish, too. It’s all new to me; I remember nothing of what I learned in college, as I relied solely on my short-term memory to carry me through, and the files were erased in 1989. Not only is youth wasted on the young, but so often, college is, too.
It caught up with me this morning.
After breakfast, I put the netbook on the table and we studied Spanish, first with an interactive video, then with a short movie on YouTube, during which we were treated to a row of thumbnail images along the right side of the screen that showed us what other videos we could enjoy. One of the pictures was of Mickey Mouse.
Now, two nights ago, at the end of our bedtime ritual, I decided we should start practicing for our Christmas Thankful Book (see comments on Buddha’s Stocking) by reciting things we’re thankful for every evening. I asked Mbot what he was thankful for.
“Butterflies and birds,” he said, “and mammals.” I suspected he was reciting something from the Montessori Pledge to the Earth. Then he came out of his robotic state with a sly grin. “Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck. And Pluto, too.”
So at the breakfast table this morning I thought, Mickey Mouse in Spanish! It doesn’t get any better than that.
I clicked on the wee image, and the Midgets watched, entranced and smiling, as Mickey and his friends enjoyed a party at Mickey’s casa. “He’s talking Spanish!” exclaimed Mbot.
When that video ended, he pointed to another. “Una Navidad Sin Pluto,” said the title, followed by “Carlos Julio Gallego.” Oh joy! A Spanish Christmas Mickey Mouse video! Apparently, it did get better! I clicked on it and went to brush my teeth.
I came out of the bathroom five minutes and thirty-six seconds later. I know this by the timer at the bottom of the video, whose entire length was ten minutes and twenty-six seconds. Gbot was staring at the screen, frowning, with tears caught in his lashes. Mbot was silently crying, tears streaming down his face, fists trying unsuccessfully to staunch the flow, even as his eyes were glued to the screen. “Why does Mickey Mouse not have Pluto for Christmas?” he wailed.
I quickly assessed the situation on-screen. It was Christmas. Pluto’s collar had come off and he had gotten lost. Mickey was looking for him everywhere. The dialogue was muted, and just the sad, sad song went on and on: “Feliz navidad, feliz navidad….” in a heart-wrenching minor key. I stood hugging both Midgets as I assured them that Pluto would come home. Look! The reindeer are helping! Pluto’s flying! That brought a giggle from Mbot. But then the tears began again as we witnessed Mickey’s lonely, vain attempts to find his dog. It was wretched with no voice-overs, just that damned song. I didn’t need to understand Spanish to know that Merry Christmas had never been so ironic and forlorn.
We watched together for five more minutes before the joyful reunion. The belly scratchings, the panting, the tail-chasing in front of the Christmas tree.
All was well. But this afternoon on the way home from the park, Mbot’s eyes filled with tears again. “Why did Mickey’s dog get lost? Will our dog not get lost?”
Pluto was so careless, I assured him. He wandered away from home and got lost and then he found Santa Claus, who helped him get back home! And Mickey asked Santa Claus for his dog back, and that’s what he got for Christmas! And our dog is never going to get lost. That’s why we’re so careful when we take her for a walk.
That’s why we’ll be more careful when we are choosing our educational Spanish videos.
How has lack of another language bitten you on la mierda?