Me and my hija

Boobebe y su hispanohablante amiga

Boobebe y su amiga hispanohablante
(la amiga es la niña, no el lobo marino)

My Spanish fluency lies somewhere between “fakey” and “incompetent,” but even so I try to toss an occasional word into my conversations with Boobaby. I’m quite proud that she knows how to say “tortuga,” although to be honest, Big Bird taught her that one. Plus, she never says “turtle” in English, which means that Boo’s not so much “bilingual” as “serially monolingual.”

I used to be bold with these forays into Spanish, unless of course, there were any Spanish-speaking adults around. One of Boo’s good friends is Puerto Rican. Her family uses a mix of fluent English and fluent Spanish that makes me jealous — they have no accent in two languages. So cool.

When I’m around them, I’d like to throw in my few words of Spanish — “frog! immolation! nasal lavage!” — but they rarely fit in, and besides, I fear it will sound terrible and expose how little I paid attention during my three years of high school language classes.

Still, I continue to think that hearing Spanish would be good for Boo, so I bucked up my courage to get more public about it. “Look, my daughter! That frog is making immolation! Se necesita una lavadora nasal!” Whatever I could manage, along those lines.

Alas, just last week I went to a playgroup in the new neighborhood, hoping to meet some local kids. There was one mom and a Spanish-speaking nanny there, and the mom was prodding her 2-year old to answer her in Spanish.

“Quién es?” asked the mom, pointing to a stuffed bear, to which daughter replied “BEAR!”

In these parts, a little rough Spanish is pretty much universal, so I thought it was pretty brave of this mom to be asking her daughter “Who’s this?” in the presence of a native speaker. Except that she kept asking “Quién es?” when proffering items that were definitely not _Who_s but _What_s — an apple, a yoga mat, a book.

Besides saying “Who’s this chair?” this mom also made up a lot of words. She taught us to say “stella” (with a hard L — think Streetcar Named Desire) while showing off a plastic star. The correct word is estrella, with the double-l pronounced like a Y), at which the nanny sort of rolled her eyes at me.

I shared a private chuckle with the nanny, but inside I worried: do I sound pretty much the same way? Maybe I know a little more than this playgroup mom — I’m pretty sure about that immolación — but I bet I make a lot of mistakes, too.

So I’ve again become shy about using any Spanish with Boo. I’m sure I’m stunting her language development, but at least I won’t be embarrasada.

Whoops — turns out that means “pregnant,” not “embarrassed.” See what I mean?