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My Secret Language Weapon

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Finding Each Other

Last year, when MamaLingua featured me and Bilingual Baby as her first in a series about parents raising bilingual children, more people than ever read my blog. That’s how a mother from Spain found me and decided to send me an email: “Creo que podemos ayudarnos mutuamente, yo con tu español y tú con mi inglés.” She had this idea that we could help each other. I would help her with her English and she would help me with my Spanish.

Andrea was my alter ego: A native Spanish speaker in Spain raising her child in English, her non-native language. She was doing the exact same thing I was doing, only in reverse.

She understood that looking up a word was relatively easy, but that expressions and sayings and specific uses were more complicated. In the same email she explained how best to translate the words “wart” and “mole,” answering a question I’d posed in one of my posts. She had me at “wart.” I was hookedI wrote back and immediately accepted her offer to be language buddies.

Exchanging Languages

We decided we would use WhatsApp for little questions that arose throughout the day, and email for longer, more involved correspondence about language and the challenges we both face raising our kids in our learned languages.

It’s been nearly a year since we started helping each otherexchanging voice recordings, texts, emails and videos. She has even recorded video of herself reading a story in Spanish for me to share with Jojo, and I’ve done the same in English for her to share with her little boy, Pol.

I think we work because we have the same level of fascination for each other’s languages. I have friends who are native Spanish speakers that, over the years, have generously helped me along. But I would feel bad overloading them with the kinds of examples, variations on vocabulary and uses, and linguistic tangents that go on in my head. You can see in this question from Andrea, however, that she wants the nitty-gritty, the grammar, the prepositions, examples, all of it:

Hola Alice! Quería pedirte si podías explicarme cuando utilizas “fall over” para el significado de caer. Entiendo bien cuando usar “fall out” (por ejemplo si algo cae fuera de una caja), “fall off” (si alguien se cae de la bici), “fall down” (the stairs), pero cuando usas “fall over”?? Me puedes poner ejemplos?? Los verbos con preposiciones son complicados para los españoles. Gracias!!

This recent conversation about all the different ways we have to say “fall” in English, spawned pictures of things that fall “over” as opposed to “down” (like my husband’s guitar when it’s sitting upright on the floor). As well as various written examples, a few voice recordings back and forth and, of course, more questions. It’s fascinating to us, and probably excruciating for others.

I found Andrea through both luck and by “putting myself out there.” I think anyone who wants a language exchange buddy can find one, especially with resources, like Mama Lingua, available.

Now you know the secret weapon that I literally carry around in my back pocket. WhatsApp conversations with my international language buddy compliment the frequent WordReference searches I make on my phone.


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