Growing up, I was not the most patient of people. I would get easily irritated when I perceived that things took longer than I anticipated them to take. If someone told me that they were going to pick me up at ten in the morning, I would get anxious at a minute after ten, wondering what had happened and why that person was late. (I am quite grateful for ebooks and my iPhone for greatly relieving this problem to some extent.) Teaching my son Chaim the Romanian language has been an exercise in patience. I encourage all multilinguists to speak only a non-native language to their child and have their spouse or partner speak the native tongue of the country — that way, the child grows up knowing both languages and is ready to more easily learn others if so desired.
The first exercise in patience was that from the time he was a year old until about when he was two, I spoke exclusively Romanian to Chaim but he said very little if anything in return. I had to keep reminding myself that even though he was unable to say anything back to me, he was still understanding some words and learning more every day. I was thrilled when, one evening, I was sitting with him and picked up a book titled “Where Are My Shoes?” I began by reading the title to him. “Unde Sant Pantofii Mei?” He immediately pointed to my shoes. I knew I was making good progress.
One letter with which he (and a lot of other toddlers) had problems was the letter R. When he started repeating words after me, he would sometimes substitute the letter T for the letter R. He would also sometimes drop the letter L entirely from words. Now, we have always encouraged him through example to be thankful when someone does something nice for us. In Romanian, one traditionally says “mulțumesc” (the accent under the t turns it into a “ts” sound) and the response is “cu placere”, or “with pleasure” — tangentially, placere is one of the words I use to exemplify the Romanian language’s ties to Latin and show how it is a Romance language, as the same word in Italian is piacere, only one letter off and more or less the same.
The problem that Chaim had with this exchange were that he would say “mootoomesc” and when it was said to him he would respond, “cu pacete.” Initially I corrected him, or tried to do so, except that he would persist in repeating it incorrectly.
There was a slight turning point when he suddenly decided that he was saying it correctly. I would tell him that it was pronounced “cu placere” and he responded, “Asta am spus!” (That’s what I said!)
He started saying it incorrectly and immediately follow by saying, “Tati, am spus correct.” (Dad, I said it correctly.) “Nu prea,” I would respond. (Not quite.)
Then there came a point when he got to be a little cheeky and started agreeing with my correction, but still said it incorrectly. “Cu placere,” I would say. “Da, tati,” he would respond, “cu pacete!” “Scumpule” (My dear), I would say, “Noi nu spunem acelas cuvint.” (We aren’t saying the same word.) He would again say, “Da tati, cu pacete!” The subject would move on to something else.
Last week something happened and we had a sort of breakthrough. I am not sure how it happened — perhaps it was over two years of speaking nothing but Romanian to him, or my persistence in speaking slowly and carefully, but he started saying “cu placere” correctly.
The end result is that he is now saying the word correctly, and he is never afraid to do his best when translating from English to Romanian. The other day, for example, he tried translating the opening theme song to the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. He did a remarkable job, considering that I have never translated it for him.