‘What’s she saying?’ G’s Grandmother turns to me as if I am going to be able to translate my daughter’s babblings. G fixes her gaze on me and launches into another stream of complete nonsense accompanied by hand gestures and deeply serious facial expressions. ‘I haven’t a clue’ is the only reply I can give, as I truly don’t know what she’s on about.
I’m not exactly a baby expert you know, only having the one. So I don’t really know what to expect in the way of language development. My girl was born in Mallorca, she lives in an English speaking family, with English telly, music and books, and goes to a local municipal nursery where she is taught in Castillano and Catalan, and surrounded by other little Mallorquinas and Mallorquinos who are probably also growing up with at least two languages in their heads. She’s been at the nursery since she was a year old, which is almost two years ago now.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I know my girl is smart and quick – her sense of humour and understanding of what I am saying to her is absolutely on the button. I very proudly explain to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen to me that my daughter will be at the very least trilingual, and I hope she learns many more languages than that along the way. But right now she’s all over the place with what comes out of her own mouth.
Or is she? Perhaps it’s just me not understanding a little girl’s interpretation of the languages that are around her. I don’t know. And that’s what is frustrating me here. She is so desperate to communicate and talk to us, but most of what comes out is gibberish, to us at least. Which leads to the most almighty of tantrums and misunderstandings.
It’s galling when she hangs out with our Mallorquin friends, Tomas and Consul, who quickfire Catalan at her and she nods in assent whilst we gape in incomprehension. And even worse when we’re stopped in the street by a kindly, well-meaning neighbour who kicks off in Catalan again and G again enjoys a better conversation than we ever do.
I understand why Mallorca is so adamant that its schools should teach in Catalan, I do. It’s a cultural identity, one which was denied for so long by Franco. But isn’t it actually going to disable its young as they grow up studying predominantly in a language which isn’t spoken much outside of Catalonia (which, although of course it is the centre of the Universe, is not the centre of the Universe of educational possibilities for a bright, young thing – if they studied outside of the confines of Catalonia where Catalan is the prinicpal language, then how would they manage in Spanish, which would be their second language rather than their first? Does that disadvantage a student? Possibly).
I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I get by. I like to throw in the odd Catalan word here and there, to show willing, but really it’s so different to Castillano, that I don’t know when, if ever, I will truly understand it. Which leads me to my next worry….. what happens when G goes to school? How will I help her with her homework if I can’t understand it either? I’m not the only immigrant parent who suffers this indignity, plenty of my girlfriends with similar aged kids are in the same situation, and we’re going to have to figure out a solution before homework becomes important. Or cross our fingers that Mallorca will relax its stance on teaching mainly in Catalan and move over to the more international Castillano. I know that I am not alone in feeling that the insistence by the Balearic government for Catalan is misguided, you’d be surprised by how many local people also think it’s a foolish thing to be doing.
There’s a private school opening in September which is going to be teaching in English, German and Spanish…… which hits hard against my Socialist principals, and my need for my daughter to grow up in her local community. It’s not an easy decision, but something we won’t need to seriously think about until she’s bigger. For now, she’s going to the local school in the Port from September where she will learn in Catalan and Castillano and we will supplement that learning at home by teaching her to read and write in English.
When I first came to Mallorca, I considered the future which I hoped would have children in it, and it does, but I certainly didn’t consider the details which all currently seem to be in Catalan.