In our household, we are fans of Lego Duplo building blocks. Meant for younger kids, these are larger than the classic Legos and just about as fun, too. D has accumulated a few Duplo building sets this past year, and the blocks have been enjoyable for all 3 of us.
When I am playing, I usually construct buildings and towers (very original, I know!), while Aron demonstrates his knack for making robots and all kinds of creations that are much more interesting than anything I make. D tends to take what we make and adapt or reconstruct it in some way.
Much like with the regular-sized Legos, Duplo sets often come with little people (and animals) to use for play. Altogether, we have ended up with 3 people — 2 males and 1 female — along with a wide range of animals (mainly due to the zoo set). I’m guessing it is natural, since Aron and I are the people with whom he spends the majority of his time, that D automatically name the Lego people Mommy, Daddy, and D-Lego.
Any 3 year-old’s playtime conversation is interesting enough, but the funny thing is that when D plays, a main piece of the Lego family’s chemistry is exactly like that of the real version of each member of the family. That is, Daddy Lego speaks only Spanish, Mommy speaks English with D but Spanish to Daddy, and D speaks English to Mommy but Spanish to Daddy. When D talks about Aron, he refers to him as Daddy, whereas when he speaks to Aron, he calls him Papá.
A common example:
- D TO ME: May I have some gum?
- ME: Ask Daddy if you can have some.
- D (turning to Aron): Papá, ¿me das un chicle, por favor?
- (Aron gives him a piece of gum.)
- ME TO D: Did you tell him thank you?
- D TO ARON: ¡Gracias, Papá!
It all seemed confusing to me when I wrote it out, so just in case you’re more of a visual learner like I am, I scribbled a diagram for ease of understanding:
So D uses the same communicative path with his toys, too. It’s so cool to watch kids play and grow, and it’s magical when you hear them saying, or see them doing, things they haven’t been directly taught to say/do. Aron and I were super-amused by this whole language shift the first time we witnessed it taking place. We locked eyes and beamed, wanting to giggle but not wanting to make noise or let D notice:
- MOMMY LEGO TO D-LEGO: Get down off of the roof! It’s time to eat.
- D-LEGO: I’ll be down in a minute. I’m just working.
- TIGER LEGO POSING AS A MONSTER: ¡Rrrarrr! ¡Soy un malo y te voy a comer!
- DADDY LEGO: ¡Aaaaaa! ¡No me muerdas, no me muerdas!
I just noticed that these dialogues are much like the real ones that occur in our home.
One aspect I find fascinating about observing D and other bilingual children is their instinct. While I learned Spanish in a classroom, and had vocabulary list after vocabulary list (zapato-shoe, desk-escritorio, student desk-pupitre, piscina-pool, etc.), D does not associate his words directly in this same manner. With the exception of color identification that we had worked with him on (red-rojo, purple-morado, etc.), D does not seem to pair words together as people like me do. For the most part, he is working on a real-world ability with both languages. While he can turn around and translate from one person to another, he actually has trouble reciting vocabulary. That means when folks want to ask him things like, “How do you say ‘sun’ in Spanish?”, he is unsure of how to answer.
- SOMEONE: D, how do you say “milk” in Spanish?
- D (gives confused look): …
- SOMEONE: D, ask your dad for some milk.
- D: Papá, ¿me das leche, por favor?
- ARON: Sí, hijo.
One day we expect he will be able to be a bit more like an Eng-Span/Span-Eng dictionary, but for now he’s just listening, inhaling information, and using it to meet his needs!
Before I became a parent, I never thought learning was so much fun! Do you have any amusing learning observations, or interesting play-dialogues (in any language) that you have overheard your child come up with?