19 May, 2013

Transferences and other milestones

I read some time ago about transferences from one language to the other as bilingual children grow to 3-4 years old, and now that we are experiencing it I can say they are both fascinating and also really fun. In our case transferences usually take place in Spanish, when our boy refers to a word that he is normally using more in English (i.e. speaking with “Papi”), here are some examples:
  • “Blanca” instead of “manta” because of “blanket”: “Papi no se moja en la moto cuando llueve porque lleva una BLANCA”.
  • Lanchar” instead of “lanzar” because of “to launch”: and he conjugates the verb in Spanish “Voy a LANCHAR estos coches con el LAUNCHER”.
  • No me DESCUBRAS!”instead of “no me DESTAPES”, as a direct translation of “uncover”. He said that while playing in bed, although it should be “don´t take my covers off” or something similar…
  • Carpeta” instead of “alfombra” because of “carpet”. This is an old one, and he is still stuck here, but we don´t put any pressure on correcting him directly so far.
  • “Ella ES 0 aƱos” instead of “ella TIENE…” . Direct translation for “she is 0 years old”. In Spanish we use the verb to HAVE X yo.
  • “… y voy a GIRAR en un monstruo!!” instead of “…y me voy a convertir en un monstruo!!”. In fact he is translating directly from “I´m going to TURN into a monster!!”. He always translates TURN as GIRAR in Spanish, and he does the same with words that are used for different purposes. I guess this must be confusing for him, but once he hears me use TURN again he goes with the flow without questioning, so I guess it´s ok.
I´ve been more at home lately, therefore his daily exposure has increased, and I think this is one of the main reasons for these events. We also see that he switches into English and initiates conversations in English from scratch more often, and also more easily every time. Another thing that has progressively changed is that he doesn´t take very well when mummy speaks English, so we could say he is becoming stricter when it comes to sticking to OPOL. Either I read one story in English or Mum does it in Spanish, but he rarely accepts Mum reading the same story in English. When he asks about something in English and Mummy answers he sometimes goes like “No Mummy, not you! I´m speaking English with Papi!!”, meaning that if the question is in English, it´s me who must answer.

Reverse story telling:

I´m very glad to see that another milestone has been accomplished in terms of speech production!! Our little punk has started to be the story teller in our daily storytelling session at bedtime… I had to hold myself back for not to crack up laughing.

Last night as I was tucking him in bed, we were going through what we had done during the weekend, and he came up with “Papi, I´m going to tell you a story: This time it is about a shinny car, and he was going very fast along the road, and suddenly he got a flat tire, and then he called the tow truck, and it came and it hooked him up and took him to the repair shop…” and he went on and on, using different plots and situations recently played with his cars. He had done this before but only with random sentences, not building a whole story by himself and never at this speed. 

I thought it was very remarkable as he was keeping a very good fluency. Something interesting as an observation is that he has started stressing the –ed words (in past) and polishing his pronunciation, as he speaks more clearly now in English, getting closer to the level of clarity that he has in Spanish, which everybody says is really good. His accent is somehow strange, and the poor thing is not obviously the one to blame. I trust in his future exposure to native speakers at school and some reinforcement that we will provide with summer camps and other resources.

Another observation is that he is also figuring out the grammar rules, for instance “…and then the plane run along the runway and TAKED off!” I read on a book about bilingualism, that this type of constructions reveals a step forward in language awareness. Even though he normally said “the plane took off” in a sentence, this “correctness” was a result of memorizing the set of words, and now he is building the language by reasoning the structures and figuring out the grammatical rules. As always I don´t correct him directly, but I use the same structure in the correct way one or two sentences after.

Correcting “WHY” questions: 
As I mentioned before, our boy is constantly asking “WHY… everything imaginable”, and he connects every answer to one further question. So far so good, only that he uses the Spanish structures (order of words) for English questions. He is having some difficulties integrating the auxiliary verbs here; and he uses them right in other cases, but apparently not in this one. A typical conversation goes like:

- Papi why is that car going so fast? (he is 100% into cars now…)
Maybe the driver is in a hurry.
- Why HE IS in a hurry? (instead of “is he”.
- Maybe because he wants to pick up his children from school and he is late.
- Why HE WANTS to pick up his children from school? (instead of “why does he want...”)

And it goes on and on… Seriously, it can last 12 rounds! I think this routine is a great field to promote the right use, since he reformulates naturally everything one says. What I do here is that after some “wrong” sentences, I ask him a question with the right structure, and if he insists on the Spanish pattern then I explain him briefly that we have to say it differently in English. I think he appreciates these explanations because immediately after he stumbles a bit but tries to follow the right path, at least for 2 or 3 questions after coming back to the Spanish structure (sigh)…

Have your children gone through a phase of transferences between their languages?
What patterns does your family use to "correct/redirect" wrong grammar, and how strict are you applying them?

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