Have you ever thought about what Noah’s Ark might have sounded like? A pair of all the animals in the world in one big boat would have been loud! If you crept into the eating quarters, would you have seen Mr. and Mrs. Duck talking to Monsieur et Madame Chien over a cup of tea? “Quack, quack.” “Ouaf, ouaf.” “Slurp, slurp?”

Well, we don’t live in a boat, and our animals are mostly in 2-D, but you can hear some pretty international animal sounds blaring from our windows lately.

I am French, and my husband’s Norwegian, and we both talk English to each other. Therefore, there are three strong languages, our mother tongues plus English, under our one roof.

When little EM, our daughter, came along last year, she was welcomed by the language of love. We had decided to talk our mother tongues to her and continue talking English to each other. But, during the early stages, I didn’t really think about what language I was using, just fueling the love and attention.

The first time we really realised that she was, indeed, hearing different languages all day, was when she first identified sounds. And, these were usually animal noises.

What a magical moment! When pointing to a cat, our once mute baby said “Miaou Miaou!”, and her cat was French! Hourra! Hourra! Vive la France! (We do live in Norway, so I am a minority here.) We were so ecstatic that we encouraged her language choice of animal sound : Yes, “cat = miaou miaou.”

She got the buzz and went for more. That was when it all started: our first experience of multilingualism.

I was told that when I was her age, I called every animal a cat, well EM is more clever than her mummy (already ?! ). She just picks up anything you give her. So, we have now become efficient animal sound machines in the eyes of our 1 and 1/2-year old.

As I said earlier, we both stick to our own language with her, but we didn’t want to contradict her first discoveries. So, we kept the first sound she identified per animal. The game between my husband and I became to be the first to introduce the animal sound to her :-). This is how it wound up that today in our family birds, ducks and dogs are Norwegian; and, cows, sheep and cats are French.

There is a whole bunch of vaguely international animal sounds such as monkeys (Ooh,Ooh-Ah,Ah) and owls (Ooo, Ooo). I’ve also had to go for a few homemade ones. Our snakes are “Sssss” and our lions are “rrrrr”. Now, I call out to you, mothers of the world, can anyone tell me what sound does a giraffe make?  We… just skip the giraffe page.

If EM turns to me one day and tries to correct that knowledge gap, I will have to say with my most serious face that I believe giraffes are mostly thinkers (I can probably imitate a leaf eating giraffe, if need be). But, for now, the omission goes unnoticed — ditto for penguins and mice. Why do book editors include these animals in baby books? What IS one supposed to do?!

Funny enough, some animals have made no impact at all to our daughter, such as frogs, bears and horses.  This is a good thing because I’m not sure how I would imitate them!

I can at least guarantee that I am a fantastic pigeon, and I master the sheep beautifully. But, I do draw the line at pigs. Who would have guessed? Masters degree in International Business, trilingual AND animal imitator…any job openings out there?

It’s funny how EM can come out with these sounds out of nowhere , or so it seems! She is not old enough to play pretend, so I know there is a trigger somewhere, and I just need to find it. It can sometimes be the tiniest thing one ever noticed before. A logo or the tiny, winy bird on a tablecloth will trigger a loud and excited “pip, pip!! pip, pip!!” (Remember, our birds are Norwegian.)

The day has come when finally an animal is not only a sound but has a name : “Kolil’le.” Is it French, Norwegian, or English? Well, none of the above! It ‘s  a personal creation of EM’s for “Crocodile.” She is quickly bringing even a fourth language into our home, EM-ish. 😉

Do you raise your child among more than one language? Have you found your family creating cross-overs between the languages, whether through animal sounds or any other vocabulary?

This has been an original post to World Moms Blog by Ambre French of Norway, our French Maman in Scandinavia!

Photo credit to Horia Varlan. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.