Saturday, April 18, 2009

growing up with two languages

jordbær med chokolade overtræk
(pron: yord-bare meh chokolathe ower-trike)

sabin is growing up with two languages. she always speaks english with her mom and danish with her dad. school is all in danish, tho' next year, in the third grade, she starts to have formal english at school. 

when sabin watches hannah montana in the morning or in the afternoon when she gets home from school, it's been dubbed into danish. when disney channel broadcasts it in the evening, then it's in the original--in english. even for me, that sounds really weird. i'd never seen hannah montana before, so even i have mostly seen it with the danish voices, so it's really strange to hear miley's heavy southern accent. sabin prefers to watch it in danish, for sure. 

for the most part, denmark is too small of a market (it's only 5 million people) for dubbing television and movies, so most are broadcast in the original with danish subtitles. but for children's movies and on disney channel and such, there is some dubbing of programming for kids. because kids wouldn't be able to keep up with the subtitles. sabin recently saw the monsters vs. aliens movie at the theatre here in our town and it had been dubbed into danish. there is always a theatre or two in copenhagen that shows the original english version.

since sabin was little, we've always watched lots of shows in english. we have a channel called BBC Prime, which has children's programming in the morning and afternoon and sabin watched it a lot when she was little. she watches less now. generally, while we're making dinner, we watch friends and sabin likes that. on saturday nights, DR1, the main danish state-owned channel, almost always has a james bond, so we watch that and it's always in english.

sabin speaks danish with her friends and has always done a lot of translating of what i say for their benefit, ever since she was pretty little. i can speak danish as well and i do generally speak to her friends in danish. but sometimes i tell sabin something in english, because it feels strange to both of us if i speak danish to her. she switches absolutely fluently between danish and english--that's a talent she's inherited from her father, he's brilliant at it as well.

sabin's dad and i always speak english together, i don't think we'll ever switch to danish in our home, it's too much who we are that our life takes place in english. i think it's good, because it also means that sabin gets more english in her everyday. we tend to use danish together only as a traveling language when we're bargaining on a rug or an antique in turkey. it's pretty convenient then.

sabin's dad's native language is actually swedish--he lived his first five years in sweden and then moved to denmark when he was five. he speaks both swedish, danish and english fluently and pretty good german and enough french to get by in a french-speaking place (like morocco, not necessarily like france). 

sabin's aunt monica was here last year, staying with us for five months and that really helped sabin's english. i have always spoken english to her, but she knew i understood danish, so she wasn't actually speaking that much english before aunt monica came. sabin also went to the states last summer for a month and stayed with aunt monica and her cousins owen and finn, who are 7 and 6. that helped a whole lot too. here they are, doing a jump shot on her first day at navy pier in chicago.

we should just note that owen's tongue is black because they had a blue slush right before this. but we'll tell more about that trip another day. now it's time to run off to our riding lessons.


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  2. Addie and I read this post together. You did a great job explaining the language situation in your house and in school. It answers a lot of questions I had in my mind. I always felt it be important to know more than one language but have never been in a situation where I needed to learn a second language. They encouraged it in school but never required it. Frankly, English is hard enough for me.:) And trying to speak "Womaneze" to Jules is almost impossible to master. Of course, some people say mathematics is it's own language so does that count?

    My father's, Addie's grandpa, first language was Finnish. It wasn't until he went to 1st grade that he learned English. I have always felt a strong pull to learn Finnish to be able to speak it with my dad and his side of the family but never followed through. Thanks for sharing.
    Addie's Dad