My daughter attended bilingual kindergarten for four months now. Teachers there speak English and Czech, but most of the kids are local and, of course, Czech is the most spoken language during playtime (although, as I understand, they do make an effort and use English with expat kids).
Our 5 year old became best friends with kids from Turkey and Japan. Sadly, her Japanese friend left a couple of months ago to start school at home. Since then, although she does also have Czech friends and tells me how she plays with the girls and who fancies who with the guys, she became pretty much inseparable with her Turkish mate. She comes over and plays in our house or our daughter goes to play at theirs, which works really well for us and the girl’s parents, as they keep each other occupied, helping us keep our sanity.
Both of the girls have been home during this week and I had a chance to listen to the way they communicate. Just a couple of months ago they would mostly play without talking at all, just using their version of sign language. Now is a totally different matter. They constantly talk, telling each other stories that cannot be explained by simply pointing and showing. I would say, two thirds of the vocabulary they use is Czech and one third English, words from both languages easily mixed and matched in one sentence.
“Taste like strawberry nebo Coca Cola. Me nevim.”
“Look, co mam tohle!”
“Let’s go tamhle”
“My mom dělá this”
“Me mam brother takhle”
And so on and so forth.. The cool thing is – they completely understand each other. I’m sure that if we staid in CZ for a while longer, our daughter would’ve started speaking even more and would’ve been able to work out which words are from which language. Even now, when I point out to her that this word is Czech and, if she wants to speak English, she needs to use another one instead, she repeats and, I can see, she tries to commit it to her memory.
Kids are such amazing learners. They don’t over think stuff. ‘This language is too complicated’, ‘pronunciation of these words is a nightmare’, ‘the grammar is killing me’ – they don’t restrict themselves to such limits, instead just picking it up as they go, using whatever limited vocabulary they have and simply accepting it. Yes, sure, in the beginning they would mix some of the words – not because they wouldn’t know the difference, but maybe they just know that word in one language and not in another, and that would change as their vocabulary grows. What is certain, though, – they would speak several languages without even learning them and that’s just incredible.
In any case, I’m happy with my daughter mixing and matching Czech and English as long as it helps her talk to her friends.