I’ve often wondered if my children, by virtue of hearing me speak English to their mother and other, non-Spanish speaking relatives, will somehow adopt my sultry and exotic accent into their own English. But it never occurred to me that the same could happen as a result of other influences (and without sultriness).
Gabriel and I were paging through a picture book the other day when he started talking excitedly about something called “big beard’ (this, he said in English).
In my confusion, I assumed we had just flipped through a page featuring a venerable bearded man or a totally awesome pirate, so I flipped back to the previous page, but found no examples of such fellows. My boy, however, returned excited to his “big beard” refrain, which was even more vexing as he rarely uses English with me, and even when he doesn’t know the equivalent in Spanish of an English term, he somehow figures out a creative way to say it or simply changes the subject altogether.
What the heck was this “big beard” business? Well, the boy finally pointed at a drawing of a large, yellow beast that looked like Big Bird from Sesame Street and I felt like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense when he finally figured out that he had been dead through the whole damn movie. But there was still a bit of mystery to be solved – I immediately called to my wife to see if she had talked to Gabriel about Sesame Street or Big Bird (since we’ve been raising the boys Amish style -without TV- and we don’t have any Sesame Street books in the house), but she said no such reference had been uttered by her. So where the heck did he learn about Big Bird?
Last week, when I picked Gabriel up at daycare, he proudly showed me a sticker he was given for some reason (maybe he did a good deed or maybe he was awarded it simply for going a few minutes without being awful, like some modern child rearing methods seem to call for) and pointing at the sticker planted on his chest, he said “mira papá, Big Beard!”.
And…bingo. I realized that his mostly Spanish-speaking teacher had surely talked to the kids about Big Bird with her somewhat accented English, infused with a Spanish pronunciation of vowels. What’s surprising is that my boy wasn’t talking about “beeg beerd.” And now, no matter how firmly I try to refer to the character using the traditional pronunciation, the boy will firmly correct me and inform me that his name is Big Beard.
Hopefully when he’s twelve, we won’t be talking about “Ereek Cartman.”