Nothing’s Lost in Translation

The first English words my daughter Sofia spoke were Thank You.

The first Czech word I learnt from her was Tattynek which means daddy.

The fascinating thing about our communication was that we genuinely “got” each other. And I’d like to think it had a lot to do with our father-daughter bond. I was confident that she would understand the underlying messages, the nuances and body language when I spoke to her in English.

I have a Czech phrase book and even bought one of those CD language courses, but it’s a tricky language. Aside from the grammar and all the little thingies on the letters, the language itself is strange when compared to other European languages like French or Italian. I’ve done beginner courses in both French and Italian and I found they were really not that difficult to learn; the key, as with most things, is consistency.

Anyway hearing Sofia speak Czech and respond to me in Czech, made the language infinitely more understandable and easy to digest. Being almost two years old, her vocabulary consists mostly of multisyllabic expressions which were repeated over and over again. When she wanted juice, she’d say “lemonanku” over and over again until someone responded.

I made a point of not trying to speak Czech to her, but wanted her to develop a taste for English, albeit during my brief two week visit. I came armed with English DVDs of Barney, which she really liked, and Winnie the Pooh. I think anyone born and bred in Africa has a natural affinity to the wildlife here and one of the favourite games I like to play with my kids is the one where I pretend to be a lion wanting to eat them. So I grab them and growl and pretend to bite their tummies or necks. This usually results in squeals of terror and delight and infinite requests for more, more, more. I tried this game on Sofia, and at first she was a bit surprised, maybe a little afraid… I kept saying to her in English, “I am a lion and I’m going to eat you.” But I guess it was too much, ‘cos she just looked at me like I had gone insane and as a result was going to literally eat her.

Out came my Czech phrase book and I discovered that the translation was something like “Jsem Lev” for “I am a lion”. Once I said that, she got it immediately and soon she was squealing around like frightened warthog trying to get away from a hungry lion. And of course she wanted more, more, more. I know what the word she uses for more sounds like, but I’m damned if I can write it.

The entire experience was truly fascinating for me, that my bond with Sofia was established so quickly and so freely. I’ve already had a few wordless and gibberish SMSes from her since I’ve been back. And again our telepathic bond was reaffirmed when on the weekend I watched “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” which is set in Prague and the surrounding Czech Republic. Almost as soon as the DVD started playing, Sofia sent me three successive SMSes.

So do you think these telepathic bonds are real or just wishful thinking?

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