If you’ve raised a child, you know that as they’re learning to speak, they make a lot of really cute mistakes. It could be a grammatical error, or a word misunderstood and used inappropriately, but for someone like me who adores everything about linguistics, it’s one of my very favorite things about childhood. (Raising bilingual children means one gets a double dose of these sweet slip-ups!)
At some point though, your children get older and their language abilities improve. The mistakes become few and far between so when they make one, maybe, just maybe, you don’t correct them. You can’t stop them from growing up, but you can selfishly make it last a little longer.
I still remember years ago at the table. My younger son asked what we were having for dinner.
“Enchiladas,” I said.
“Lavas? I hate lavas,” he responded, crossing his little arms over his chest.
My older son, ever the know-it-all, corrected him, “Not LAVAS! EnchiLADAS!… Geez, if it was lavas you’d burn your mouth all up!”
But that was about eight years ago. At thirteen and ten years old, my boys are growing up and those days are fading fast. Fortunately, I still have Carlos.
Don’t get me wrong – Carlos’s English is fantastically proficient these days, but there are still a few words and phrases that I haven’t really corrected over all these years. Here are a few I wrote down the past couple weeks. (It took me a couple weeks to listen to him in daily conversation and compile the list because at this point, some of this phrasing is starting to sound normal to me!)
Wings – Carlos never uses the word “underarm” or “armpit” – instead he uses, “wings.” … In Spanish, it is accepted slang to refer to them as such. (At least in El Salvador.) And so he’s just directly translated “alas” – the Spanish word for “wings.” This one has even caught on with my Anglo parents. When they heard him use it with our first son as a baby, they couldn’t resist adopting its use into their own lexicon.
Example: [Said to one of our sons before they shower] – “Don’t forget to clean your wings! You smell a little stinky.”
Pass the vacuum – This is another direct translation. In Spanish there isn’t a verb for vacuum. You say “Pasar la aspiradora” (or more common in the United States, the Spanglish version, “Pasar el vacuum.”) Because of Carlos, the kids actually say “pass the vacuum” in English and think it’s totally normal.
Example: “I’m going to pass the vacuum. The boys got dirt on the carpet.”
Joke hard – I’m not even totally sure about this one because I’ve started to use it over the years, too. What is meant by ‘joke hard’ is to joke around with someone and tease them in such a way that you’re almost crossing the line into making them angry.
Example: “That guy likes to joke hard with people, but he doesn’t like it when others make fun of him.”
You passed me your insert illness! – This might be acceptable in English although I would say we only use it to refer to cold/flu germs. Whenever Carlos falls sick or has any sort of injury though, you can be sure he will be blaming family members left and right, telling them that they ‘passed’ their illness onto him, whatever that illness might be.
Example: “My back hurts. You passed me your back problems!”
They exaggerate too much! – In Spanish, it’s common to say “los precios son exagerados” – (the prices are exaggerated) – so I think that’s where he got this one from.
Example: “Are they kidding? Ten dollars for that?! They exaggerate too much!”
Your shirt looks like a cow chewed on it. – Carlos has no patience for wrinkled clothing. Wrinkled clothing is totally unacceptable. This weird phrasing is the direct translation of “Parece que la vaca masticó tu camisa” – which apparently is a perfectly normal way to make fun of someone’s wrinkled shirt in El Salvador.
Example: “You can’t wear that to school! Look at it! It looks like a cow chewed your shirt!”
Respect the table! – If the boys are being rude at the dinner table, it’s not tolerated. Like Carlos, I expect good manners, but when Carlos shouts, “Respect the table!” – it is terribly difficult to keep a straight face. The boys also want to giggle, but they don’t dare. “Respeta la mesa” is a normal request in Spanish but in English it would be better to say, “Mind your manners!”
Example: Hey. HEY! Respect the table! I don’t think you want me to take off my chancla.