Monday, September 13, 2010

pajama dilemma solved thanks to bilingualism!

Last night Griffin insisted that he wear his "pajamas with the white rockets" to bed.

Dear readers, he doesn't own any pajamas with white rockets.

Ed and I were very confused and kept annoying him with our questions--what pajamas? white pajamas? how about the red pajamas? how about the pajamas with the blue rockets? what white pajamas?

After a few minutes that felt like an Ionesco play, it occured to me that we might be misinterpreting his two-year-old speech: he can't say an R sound in English yet (though he can do a passable French R!), so what sounded to us like "white pajamas" could have been "right pajamas," as in, "No, Daddy, not those jammies with the blue rockets. That's wrong! I want the right pajamas!"

So I stepped in to translate, asking Griffin if he wanted the "pyjama blanc" or the "pyjama correct." He looked up at me--and if he were a teenager he would have been rolling his eyes at this point--and informed me that indeed he needed the "pyjama blanc."

And while we never did find white pajamas with rockets for him to wear last night, it tickled me to think that we were able to clarify and understand his needs (despite his lisp) thanks to his bilingualism!


  1. For the life of me I sometimes can't tell when my daughter is asking for "Apo" (Daddy) and when she when she wants an "apple" for a snack. I've also used the other-language trick to determine which one she means.

    I tell you, understanding the grammatically incomplete speech of a person with multiple speech impediments (can't say r, l, etc) has to be the toughest language test ever. :) Also, this person occasionally asks for outlandish things like pajamas that may or may not exist outside of his imagination. And gives you about a 30 second grace period before letting you have it for being too slow.

    I love kids. :-D

  2. Hi Sarah

    I am a British soon to be mum planning to raise my newborn as a bilingual English/French speaker and I have read your website with great interest - would you have an email address I could contact you on rather than leaving a message on your Comments Board?

    Looking forward to hearing from you.


  3. Nikki, felicitations on your pregnancy! You can contact me at

  4. Heh, this reminds me of one day not understanding whether punk 2, then around 2 or so, asked for bread or bed - not easily distinguished given his toddler speech. This was further complicated by the fact that we were late for lunch and hence very close to his nap time, giving him reason to demand either one or the other, or both.

    After a while of me not getting it, however, he yelled "BROT!!!" at me, the German equivalent for bread, to make himself understood.

    I was in awe at his general awesomeness for coming up with a solution for his problem, of course, but then it dawned on me that I'd just been incredibly dense and totally been outsmarted by a 2-year old :)

    But those moments make it all worthwhile, don't they?

  5. This is a simple, but very telling story about how life with (at least) two languages is better than a life with just one!

    I'm proud of you, Ed, and the kids for striving to achieve a task that is not an easy one. Score for the narrow path!! :)

  6. Hmmm...maybe I should pretend not to understand a single thing Griffin says in English! Then he'd be forced to clarify in French, right?

    Smashedpea, thanks for sharing your story, and Karin, thanks for your praise!

  7. One day my daughter, at about 2 years old, who is learning English from me, French from her dad and German outside the home, kept asking me for her "hot." I didn't understand and repeated it back to her. So she said it again. I heard the same thing and we went through this exchange a couple more times. Finally she got frustrated and said, "chapeau!"
    "Oh, HAAAT!" I finally got it. I swear she rolled her eyes at me.
    It is always an adventure having children and multiple languages!

  8. RC, danke/merci for sharing your anecdote! Aren't our kids amazing and resourceful (and adorable even when they're showing scorn at their parents' cluelessness)?