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I Want Chocolate

Cocoa, schokolada, bonbons, bombona, dulce…the list goes on and on.  Who knew there were so many words for candy?  Well, in the world of my two-year old son Max, all of these words are tools for achievement---the goal being, of course, to obtain as many sweets as possible!  It seems like just yesterday, I was defrosting breast milk and eating the chocolate myself to replenish my reserves.  We nursed, we swaddled, we cooed and gazed and now even the baby talk is a thing of the past and so our work has really begun.

When I met my husband almost a decade ago, I was intrigued by his thick Slavic accent and admittedly slightly overwhelmed by the seemingly fiery tone that is a staple in his language exchange.  Having studied Spanish for eight years in high school and college, I was very much accustomed to Romance Languages and I found this Slavic tongue very challenging.  Even having lived a year in Japan didn’t aid me in sorting through the simple tones.  Additionally, it was difficult to find learning resources for his language that was du jour of what was once Yugoslavia.

I remember thinking, if we ever get married, it is imperative that our kids speak Serbian from birth. We joyously found out that we were expecting Max in our fourth year of marriage.  Once anxious to master Serbian, I had become comfortable with a working vocabulary of maybe 20 words and the ability to hold a loose conversation of greetings and common questions but I knew that this was definitely not enough to fake it through a toddler temper tantrum.  I needed to certainly develop at least proficiency in order to raise a bilingual child.

I urgently reached out to friends and family in my husband’s native Serbia to obtain as many visual developmental aids as possible.  Baby blocks, alphabet posters, flash cards, books, even baby dictionaries were collected in time for Max’s arrival. However, as I excitedly opened the gifts, I realized another hurdle in my path: the Cyrillic alphabet, which as my husband explained, is used in the preschool years. 

How was I going to memorize another alphabet as well as words and grammar? As if dealing with pregnancy symptoms weren’t enough?  I just wanted to give up and waive the flag of defeat!  English is more widely spoken than Serbian and we weren’t planning on living in the region, I tried to reason.

Feeling discouraged, I called my mom, a bilingual Spanish and English immersion teacher, and she said, very confidently,  “English will be the language he learns from his mother and Serbian will be the language he learns from his father.  Don’t worry, the child will be fine.  He’ll use the words he needs to express himself.  The difficult part will be when you don’t understand him when he’s speaking Serbian to you.”

So here we are a few years later, Max knows exactly what he wants and is using every word he can in order to get it.  I think I even heard him whispering in his crib, “I want chocolate!”