As a father of two native Esperanto speakers, I am often asked: “What language are you speaking?” I am glad for this, because it is an outstanding advertisement for the language. A lot of people with whom you are casually acquainted probably don’t know you speak Esperanto, but for me it is hard to hide. In fact, it may be the case that I speak louder than I would because conversations are kept private because of the language barrier, rather than through a reduction in volume.
Few people question my motives. That children have a high capacity for language acquisition is common knowledge. For them to learn Esperanto, all I need to do is speak it with them. I speak it well enough that I can communicate with them anything I want, but for technical things like animal names and machine parts, I can pull it up pretty fast on my phone—there is, indeed, an app for that.
With my five-year-old daughter, I have seldom spoken to her in English since she started talking. It was an important milestone for us when, at nine months old, I asked her “Kie estas la ventilo?” and she looked up at the ceiling and pointed at the fan.
Until fairly recently, she spoke to me almost entirely in English, and I responded in Esperanto, and vice versa. Now, especially with things she says very frequently, I prompt her to say it in Esperanto. For example, when we arrive somewhere in the car, she will say, “Mi petas ke mi deprenu mian rimenon,” which I will expect her to say before I allow her to take her seat belt off. When she asks for something, I will wait for her to do so politely by saying “Mi petas…” I believe this has influenced the way the children speak English, because they will ask their mom for something by simply saying “I want…,” thinking that they are being perfectly polite.
While I use Esperanto with the kids about 98% of the time, if I am angry with the children, I will speak English. They know I am serious when I switch to English, and my wife explains to other people, “Chris had to ‘go English’ on them.” This is how she gauges how mad I was: by which language I used when scolding the children.
One of the funnest parts of using Esperanto with the kids is when they try to express something in English that they know only in Esperanto. Cooper is very well inclined to refer to a baseball bat as a “hitter,” which obviously tracks the Esperanto batilo. Another one is referring to golf clubs as “golf sticks,” and a “putter” as a “pusher.” Everyone will suspect with certainty that Cooper was exposed to golf by a foreigner.
Often times, the kids will just speak English and insert an Esperanto word, such as when Cooper asked his mother “Where is the forigi-er?,” referring to an eraser. When we erase a white board, I tell them, forigu tion. Apparently, “erase” is not a concept they have encountered in English yet, as they will erase the board saying “I have to forigi ĝin.”
It is not uncommon for them to mix the two languages like this, and I will hear them say “Are we ir-ing tie now?,” or, one of my favorites: “I’m ĝoj-ing!”
The kids always amuse me with the way they translate Esperanto’s -ejo words into English. Both of them seem primarily inclined to translate those place words as a “station”: “coffee station”, “golf station”, “work station”, from kafejo, golfludejo, and laborejo. More recently, they will say “place”, like “swimming place”, or “jumping place”—a swimming pool (naĝejo) or a bounce house (saltejo).
I have a repertoire of short rhyming expressions that I commonly say to them:
- Brakon en la jakon.
- Jakon en la fakon.
- Ĉapon sur la kapon.
- Metu, ne ĵetu.
- Tuŝu, ne puŝu.
- Iru, ne diru.
- Haltu – malŝaltu.
- Memoru: Ne ploru!
There are things we say to each other in Esperanto that don’t even make sense, and constitute “inside humor.” The most amusing example comes from an occasion when I wanted to say “Fermu vian buŝon!” and “Iru al via ĉambro!” but it came out “Iru al via buŝo!” For a while thereafter, this expression was how I told them to be quiet.
The way Esperanto is spoken in our house may constitute its own dialect. Football (that is, American gridiron football) is referred to as usonpilko, because usona piedpilko is a bit cumbersome. Our expression for kitchen counter is surfaco, which is short for kuirsurfaco. The toilet is called poto, which means that when I want to refer to a pot in the kitchen, I usually need to say kuirpoto. Parking lot is aŭtohaveno, which I have never heard anyone else use.
My wife is often asked if she understands what we are saying, and while she does understand, her speaking ability is limited. Nevertheless, certain phrases in our household seem to always be Esperanto ones, regardless of who is talking or what language we are speaking. Nobody says “chocolate milk” in our house, it’s always ĉokolada lakto. If the kids get in trouble, they will have to report to the paŭzejo. Or, sometimes my wife will say, “Did you get a paŭzejo in school?” The kids had never used the expression “day care” until only recently, because we all call it the vartejo. The word pugo seems to be the only way we refer to that particular feature.
On one occasion, the kids asked if we could go to Applebee’s, and when I said “ne”, they of course asked why not. I jokingly blurted out, “Ĝi eksplodis.” They asked me to elaborate, and I made up something about too much ice cream.
Later, when I told my wife I said this to them, she actually suggested that we go to Applebee’s. Thereupon, Charlotte informed her “but it blew up.”
My wife easily repaired the situation by saying, “Ĝi maleksplodis.”