October 18, 2013
By Ekta R. Garg
I have a confession to make: when my kids mispronounce words, I don’t correct them.
Is that a terrible thing to do? Maybe. Maybe not. The trouble is, they say everything with such precision and accuracy that I don’t get to hear many things mispronounced. In fact, I could probably count on one hand the number of words they say incorrectly—between the two of them.
I really don’t remember how old Seven was when she began communicating in full sentences, but when she started talking every word—every syllable—came out crystal clear. Once, when she was just shy of her second birthday, we took her to the mall for a family outing. Someone had commented on how cute she was and asked her age. I think I was the one who answered, “Twenty months.”
Somehow the phrase “twenty months” got incorporated into her vocabulary. We’d taught her to count to 20, and even though she skipped some of the higher teens, she always ended her counting with “twenty months.” We even have video of a small Seven running through the house being chased by her father and giggling and counting, and as clear as a bell you can hear her say, “…sixteen, eighteen, twenty months!” To this day we’ll occasionally call her “Twenty months”; when she jibes back it’s still in flawlessly-said words.
When she was three years old, though, she went to school and got introduced to pretzels for the first time. After having them for snack in her preschool, one day she asked me, “Mamma, can you buy some prent-zels?”
I didn’t know they’d started eating pretzels in school, so it took me a few moments to figure out what she meant but I caught on to it after puzzling it out. I think I did correct her the first couple of times, but when the correction didn’t take I just let it go. To this day Seven still asks for “prent-zels” when she wants that particular snack.
Earlier this week I’d put some in her lunchbox, and after school I asked her (as I do every day) whether she’d eaten all of her lunch that day.
“I ate all of my prent-zels, but I didn’t finish my fig newtons,” she said.
“Di-Di, what are prent-zels?” Five asked.
Seven did that thing she does when a big sister kind of ignores her little sister’s question and takes the conversation somewhere else. I think she’s caught on to the fact that she doesn’t pronounce the word correctly, but, again, I don’t have the heart to tell her what about her pronunciation is incorrect.
In keeping up with her big sister, Five also began speaking with a surprising amount of clarity at an incredibly young age. When Seven did it, I thought it was just the typical “first-child-has-to-compete-with-all-the-adults-in-the-house” state that first children encounter. When Five came along, I assumed it was a “younger-sister-following-in-her-big-sister’s-footsteps” kind of thing. Both of them breezed through baby talk and moved to regular conversations so fast that we didn’t really enjoy too many months of “Isn’t it cute how she mispronounces that?” So when we do run into that rare count-on-one-hand example, I let it slide.
Yesterday Five got into the car and told me about some sort of “adventure” the middle schoolers will have. Apparently the “gnome” has been kidnapped, and the middle schoolers in her school have to find the little fellow. I have to point out there that her private school is small—there’s only one class per grade, and with combined classes for every two grades the school administrators make a concerted effort to include the younger children in experiences the older students have. Even if that means they just talk about it.
I’m sure the entire K/1 class was abuzz with news of the kidnapped gnome. Except that as Five told me about it in the car, she said the gnome was “kibnapped.”
I hesitated, debating about whether I should tell her what the right word was. I made a halfhearted attempt at it, but after the third or fourth “kibnapped” once again I let it go. Since she’s started kindergarten I’ve found my daughter maturing at what can sometimes be an alarming rate, and I like these little nudges toward her baby self. I figure that “pretzels” and “kidnapped” don’t come up in common conversation enough for me to worry about anyone teasing the kids about the way they pronounce the words. I also figure that they’ll probably learn soon enough how to say these words the right way, and the baby part of my babies will be gone for good.
So until then, I won’t correct the way they say words.