Baby J has recently learned a new skill – code switching! Ok, fine… it’s not really a skill so much as a natural byproduct of being raised multilingual.
Let me step back a second and explain code switching. Code switching is the act of switching languages mid speak and even mid sentence.
My wife and I have been speaking to each other in English and German from shortly after we began dating. Why not from when we met? I may have withheld information about my ability to understand simple German just for fun. But that’s neither here nor there. My German vastly improved as I visited Germany over the years and, especially, after moving there. I am now fluent. As a result, we speak to each other in both languages and often code switch mid sentence and sometimes several times in a single sentence. It’s not always easy to pinpoint a reason for code switching. Sometimes it’s practical – a thought is more easily expressed in one language or the other. However, sometimes it is seemingly random and results in somewhat comical sentence constructions.
One important thing to note, though, is we try our best not to code switch in front of Baby J. The reason is simple. Baby J is still working on separating the three languages from one another. Our code switching would only confuse the matter – no need to make things harder than necessary.
Code switching for toddlers occurs naturally when they begin stringing two, three, and even more words together into simple sentences. Not having fully understood the separation between languages, toddlers tend to mix words from each language they are learning. Baby J’s first two word sentence involved two languages. A 100% diversity ratio! One day at breakfast, after finishing a cup of juice, Baby J proclaimed:
(word order: left to right, but second word written right to left; pronounced: “m-eh-r m-ee-ts”)
The first word is German for “more” and the second is Hebrew for “juice”. Baby J had just told us the cup of juice we supplied was insufficient and more would be required.
For reference here is a chart of all possible combinations of the words “more” and “juice” in Baby J’s three languages:
I raise my glass of juice to many more sentences to come!
UPDATE: A few months have passed since I initially wrote this article. Baby J is now like a gusher of words. Code switching and all.
– Yono, Team Gus