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English for kids


Kilkenny Ireland, 2010 —
Some friends of mine have a four-year old boy who doesn't speak English.

I speak a little bit of Romanian, but will usually talk to him in English — that's the first language here.

I know that he doesn't understand "what color is it?" when we're looking for a toy car that he's misplaced. But I also know that I can proceed to ask him — at least badly — the same question in his own language.

His father, who speaks English pretty well, instinctively and immediately translates what I've said for the benefit of the kid.

Whether that's overprotective is not the point right here. The point is that it's a problem that I have with almost every bilingual speaker — they're too helpful.

I find this, also, when I am myself trying to listen to another language. I can't grasp every nuance of everything that a speaker is saying — but nobody can. And it's no help when somebody's there to help with "do you understand this" and a whole lot of instinctive, thoughtless translation.

I think people ought to be allowed to listen.