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When Children Translate


Driving to church with my sister and my nephew, I asked Gabriella, "In your class, does the teacher speak English or Spanish?"

"Spanish," she told me. 

"Okay. Well, if she's speaking in Spanish, you may need to tell Sammy what's going on, ok?"

"Okay, mom."

As we walked down the steps after the children had been dismissed from the service, Gabriella repeated her mission back to me. "If the teacher is talking in Spanish, I'll tell Sammy what's going on."

It was a bizarre moment to me. My little four-year old, a translator. Now, in reality, I'm not totally convinced of two things: 1) that the teachers speak to the class in Spanish and 2) that Ella could translate for another person if the need arose. But really, those details are beside the point.

As we raise our little bridge builders, these bicultural kids who can connect with different groups, it struck me how normal this all seemed to her. Of course she would help her cousin with language if needed! The same way she might grab Isaac's diaper out of the drawer for me or find him a toy to play with. 

Kids are helpers. And if they have cross-cultural skills, they will naturally offer those to help others along the way. It's really beautiful to watch. 

Still, I think about children who translate for their parents out of necessity. I know that this gift of bilingualism can also feel burdensome at times.

But as I watched my little wanna be translator, it made me just want to give a shout out to all the kids rocking two languages and translating for those they love in their life. What a gift you have to share in the world!

As a mom, it brings me such joy and makes me so proud to watch. And I want to say thank you for using your skills, whether they feel like a burden or a blessing in any given moment, to help others. You are awesome!

3 comments

  1. We have a lot of that here, with first generation migrants that don't speak much English and their totally fluent kids translating. Or trying to. I remember one time a lady was trying to explain that she wanted some binding for a quilt, you know the satin edging that goes around a baby blanket, and her son, who couldn't have been more than 5, was trying to translate, but he didn't know what he was talking about either so didn't have the words for it even in English. I was so glad I could understand and help explain to the clerk what she was looking for!

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  2. That's precious! It's pretty amusing how even bilingual kids (and adults) can be missing segments of vocabulary. After a few minutes trying to explain to me a repair needed on the car, Billy finally said he didn't know the English words for anything car-related!

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  3. Yes! You don't realize how specialized vocabulary is until you need it! I had 2 full years of college Spanish (with a good prof) and could hold a decent conversation, but when I went to Bible school in Spanish... well, all the religious language vocabulary was totally missing! That was a learning curve!

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