My (un)Scientific Study of a 4-Year-Old’s Denglish

The Weihnachtsmann is coming to town, did you know that?  That’s what my (just turned) 4-year-old told me the other day.  Well, sang to me.  After I explained to him that Christmas is over and Santa Claus isn’t coming for 11 more months, a thought hit me (while he continued singing Christmas songs anyway).  I taught him that song in English.  And I never told him that Santa Claus and Der Weihnachtsmann are the same person.  Wow.  Wow, wow, wow!  This kid never ceases to amaze me.  But that brings us to the point of this post……

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Why do bilingual kids switch back and forth between their languages, a.k.a. code-switching?  Is it a learning disability?  Are they behind their peers because of the two (or more) languages?  One of a gazillion other possibilities?  (Yes, I said gazillion!). Since I started blogging, I have read more and more about multilingualism.  I am, after all, the parent of a bilingual child and I just so happen to see raising him as the biggest responsibility and adventure of my life.    There are plenty of intellectual and scientific studies that have been done, plenty of theories established, plenty of guidelines published.  While that is all well and good, I have my own (very) unscientific and I’m sure (very) unoriginal theory on the subject.  Are you ready?  Here it comes!  A ground breaking, totally original idea that is most definitely all my own.  For truly bilingual kids, there is no difference between the two!

Think about it, when you grow up listening to two different languages there are two words for everything.  When you see a tree, your brain automatically knows it is also a Baum.  When you see a Tisch, your brain automatically knows it is a table.  When you see a house, your brain automatically knows it is also a Haus.  Oh, oops.  Well that last one didn’t work out well for me, but you get the point!  Tree and Baum are the same thing.  Tisch and table are the same thing.  House and Haus are the same thing.  So what is the logical result of all this to a 4 rear old?  English and German are the same.  I mean, he knows he speaks English to me and German to his mom.  But I really don’t think he differentiates between the two.  At all.

So, as I wait 11 long months for the Weihnachtsmann to come to town again, I leave this one last thought.  Don’t over think the reasons why bilingual kids “code-switch”, to them it’s all the same.

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