Lebanese are known for being excellent linguists. At the school Isla attends, they study English, French and formal Arabic starting at age 3. It makes learning Arabic, in Beirut especially, difficult because so many people speak at least a little English.
Even though Isla was born in Lebanon and has lived here her whole life, her Arabic is pretty weak. She understands quite a bit, but really only speaks memorized phrases at this point. Even though we’ve asked our friends to speak Arabic to her, people see her blonde hair and go straight to English with her. And when people do speak Arabic to her, she generally answers them – albeit correctly – in English.
We discovered this summer that Isla often tunes out when Arabic is being spoken… it’s like she thinks it’s not for her. If you are speaking to her directly in Arabic, she will listen and respond. But if someone is speaking to a group she is in, even if it’s just two or three other kids, she ignores it. I wonder if she even hears it or if she’s just gotten so used to being spoken to in English only that she just waits for the more familiar language. We’re expecting (and hoping!) that after a few months in school, this will change.
It has been fun to see her grow and experiment with all the different languages that are floating around in her little brain. It’s cute when she tries to make an Arabic word plural by adding an “s” like we do in English. Or an “ing” onto the end of an Arabic verb to tell us what she is doing at that moment. Right now her big thing is to make up her own language. She’s speaking gibberish, but takes the time to translate for us what each word means.
Ruby’s got her own little language as well. It’s quite adorable, although a bit messy…