Emma: “Mama, mama?”
Me: “Yes, Emmy”
Emma: “Mama… (and she continues to speak in Greek)
Me: “Emmy can you tell me in English. I don’t understand what you are saying.”
Emma: “No mama” as she repeats what she has said.
Me: “Michael? what is she saying? Did she say something about a dog? or was it that she loves us?”
Michael: “Ya, I think she was talking about a dog.”
Alex (from a room away, with music in the background): “She was telling you that she wants to play!”
When I was a child, we had family friends who spoke French at home. They were Irish, like us, but their Grandparents on one side were French. We spent a lot of time with them and all I ever remember thinking is that I wish I spoke a second language. I’m not a language person, it doesn’t come easy to me. I spent the best part of 10 years learning French and I struggle to speak two words of it. But I knew I always wanted my kids to speak more than one language. I didn’t care what the language was because once they are bilingual, they will have a better chance of learning other languages as they get older.
Fast forward to 2012, and I am pregnant with baby Kelly no. 1 and I don’t think the subject of baby Kelly being bilingual came up. (I did however ask Michael would the baby look Cypriot. He spent a good 5 minutes asking me how would that be possible and then when I was getting more and more frustrated that he was he was getting angry, he told me that the only way that baby would look Cypriot is if he wasn’t the Dad! Stupid thing I have said no. 4,675!!) The first time I really remember discussing it was when he was starting playschool at 15 months old. I was so excited that he would be surrounded by many nationalities and would be exposed to a new language at such a young age. It was a similar story when Emma started in playschool at 5 months old.
At no point did it dawn on me (or Michael for that matter) that the kids were learning a second language and that there was a very strong possibility that there may be very large communication issues in our house in the future.
At this point I must add that Michael does speak some Greek. He says that he doesn’t, but I have witnessed conversations he has had where the other person speaks not a single word of English. I am a different story. It is only in the last 12 months that I have began to learn Greek, but the words that I do know are the most random words like Knickers (κυλόττα), moon (φεγγάρι), olive (ελιά) and my love (αγάπη μου). I am also very proud of the fact that I know 6 songs in Greek (but only know a handful of the words). Unfortunately none of this adds up to me being able to have a conversation. And herein lies the problem.
Emma’s first language is Greek. She can speak really well in both languages but Greek is her go to. She talks in her sleep in Greek. Sings in Greek and I am sure, makes devious plans with Alex in Greek. Michael and I are now in a situation where Alex translates for us and as a result, he is getting frustrated with us. But the flip side is that Michael and I are getting frustrated too, as we are finding it hard to communicate with Emma. This is the part that I should have given more thought to when we decided to send A&E to a Greek playschool.
Alex and Emma have many conversations in Greek (which usually involve Emma backing away and in a terrified voice saying “όχι Alex, όχι” (no Alex, no). I can only imagine that Alex is planning on world domination and wants to drag Emma along. It would be nice to learn another language with them and would benefit me greatly in my day-to-day life here. I think that my New Year’s resolution must be that I learn more Greek. Even if it is just so that I can understand that secret conversations that A&E are having!