Little Kids and Big New Words

One of my most vivid childhood memories are of a sunlit room somewhere in our church (St. Ignatius of Loyola in Montreal). After Mass one Sunday, aged about nine, I discovered CS Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I would have had only three years of English by then, not that anyone would have noticed, or that it made any impression on my young self. Books were books, and English was what I read. If words like “pitter-patter” and “wardrobe” were new to me, and the idea of an allegory years beyond my ken, it didn’t seem to bother me – the magic of the story swept me away, and understanding just seemed to happen eventually.

Anyway. . .this anecdote, in the context of Betty & Cat, is meant to justify the fact that the books aren’t translated.  Kids are amazing creatures when it comes to language. Not much fazes them. They seem to know that they’re there to learn, to absorb. And that if something’s not clear today, well, tomorrow’s another day. Experience has taught them that. Also, if you think of yourself in a foreign country with some knowledge of that country’s language, you know that the actual words are only part of the communication: there’s context (there are only so many things “it” can mean), your mood and energy level; for the spoken word, there’s all that plus expression, and tone of voice . . .

The amazing thing is that kids – the younger they are the better – don’t analyze any of this, they just skate on, as though learning another language is the most normal thing in the whole world! Bliss.


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