When our boys came home, they spoke Amharic. Mikias was 4 when he arrived and Jemberu was 3. We were told that learning English would come quickly. It did and it didn't. Basic language came quickly. Six years after Mikias's arrival and four years after Jem's, there are still challenges. One struggle is acceptable language use, I'm talking about bad words. The other is what Mikias used to call 'figgers of speech', the use and understanding of idioms.
When Mikias played his first season of baseball, the coach was working hard to get him into a proper batting stance. He finally got Mikias where he was positioned to hit the ball, he said, "That's it Mikias! Now plant your feet!" Mikias, careful not to move his feet, crouched down and covered his feet with dirt. He was confused when we all cracked up.
"Sorry Jem, bad word, not allowed."
"Dang it! I like that word!"
"It's actually 4 words, but not allowed."
I know how he feels, some words or phrases just feel good and right when we say them. Fortunately I know which ones are socially acceptable and which are not. I am working on that with him. Some that are not socially acceptable that he really loves, he is allowed to whisper to me (like piece of crap). Some I have to rule against altogether (like son of a bitch). His fascination with words is both embarrassing and funny, it all depends who is nearby.
Recently, Jemberu's teacher told him that a worksheet he was doing was a 'piece of cake'. He looked at her funny. He had no idea what she meant. She ran a few other idioms past him and he didn't understand any of them. She gave him a sheet of common idioms and helped him with their meaning. She also encouraged him to use them when making conversation. Now a typical conversation can go something like this:
"Hey Mom! Whoa, you look sad, are you down in the dumps?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Guess I was barking up the wrong tree!"
"You sure were."
"Will you look at the weather? It looks like it is about to rain cats and dogs!"
"No it doesn't. It's sunny!"
"Your right! I was close but no cigar, right Mom?"
"Nope, not even close, there's not a cloud in the sky"
"You're kind of grumpy. You may have a chip on your shoulder!"
"I'm not grumpy!" I say laughing
"Fine but if you ask me, I think you're all bark and no bite!"
Maybe he's right. When it comes to language and the boys, there are days that I know I am on the right track, that they are getting it. Other days, I feel like I am in over my head. Either way, I hope they know that they are both the apple of my eye.