“Pokiponi, pokiponi, pokiponi,” Max chanted as we made our way to the checkout aisle. “Pokiponi, pokiponi, pokiponi…dai mi pokiponi…I want it!” he continued trying his best to grip all three boxes of Barilla pasta.
“Nema macaroni. Ne, nema macaroni sat. Macaroni u kući. You can have some for rućak when we get home. Mommy has to pay for the macaroni so let’s put it up on the belt,” I tried to reason with my two-year old son as I reinforced my broken Serbian and finally released the boxes from his bionic toddler grip.
“Hoće pokiponi, hoće pokiponi. It's mine!” Max was in full effect, attracting the attention of other shoppers as I swooped him up under my left arm like a football and tried to find my bank card with my free hand.
“Oh, he must be tired,” the elder cashier said looking at me with a patient smile.
“Hoće pokiponi!” Max asserted even louder, kicking his legs around.
“Pokemon?” Is that what he wants? What language is he speaking?” the Supermarket employee continued inquisitively.
“It’s Serbian, my husband’s language,” I qualified, struggling to sign the credit card keypad.
“Serbian? Oh boy! Aren’t you worried you’ll confuse him?” she persisted.
“Oh, I’m sure he’s already confused! Thank you, M’am!” I laughed as I grabbed the shopping bag and quickly hustled off with Max's legs dangling all the way to the car.
Later as Max napped off his pasta lunch, I revisited the checkout encounter over the telephone with my mother. “Maybe I am confusing Max. Between the muffled English and baby Serbian, I barely understand him half of the time,” I worriedly admitted. My mother sighed and without a fumble, quickly allayed my fears, “Oh Sweetie, you’re forgetting that babies are smarter than adults. He’s fine. Just let him keep on talking. He’ll organize the languages when he’s good and ready!”
Science argues that although a highly complex system, language is somehow learned by children within the first years of life in a sort of reverse engineering mechanism where words are derived from a foundation of sounds. Bilingual children ingeniously use rhythmical cues to keep languages distinct, which in turn helps to sharpen the brain producing an enhanced ability to concentrate. Perhaps, this is why multilingualism is mandated in countries with traditionally regimented academic schedules.
English is huge in Japan, where children begin learning the second language in elementary school. Its widespread availability was my mother's selling point in convincing me and my sisters that living a year in the super industrialized nation wouldn't be at all disorienting but instead predicted that it would be a lifelong inspiring experience. I can still remember how my fourth grade Japanese classmates’ perfectly drawn A’s & B’s looked like art compared to my own. Calligraphy among other activities including morning calisthenics and mandatory after school homework sessions challenge students to make custom of processing and organizing immense amounts of information.
Always the teacher, my mother easily turned around us asking for directions into an English lesson for many helpful Japanese teens when we found ourselves lost trying to navigate the extensive metro maps in our journeys from Saitama to Tokyo or Shinjuku to Shabuya. Max is learning volumes of new words everyday and while we'll probably never find Pokemon in the pasta aisle, I have to keep faith that he’ll soon enough reshuffle “pokiponi” into macaroni and eventually reformat his rough text into an artfully crafted script.