Normal Hanissa English

Fireworks outside, vacuuming inside. Meanwhile, I’m trying to talk to Hanissa who keeps saying, “I’m not listening!” She repeats it over and over getting louder and louder. I look over at her and see her cupping her ear so she can hear what I’m saying. That’s when I realize she’s saying, “I’m not listening,” but means, “I can’t hear you.”

Misunderstandings like this are common in our household these days.

In the beginning, her language ability was so little that everything Hanissa said sounded like a rude command. “Water!” or “Me like, no!”

But she’s learning quickly and language isn’t going to be a barrier for her.

To our dog she says, “Mei-Mei! Eat me No!” This can be heard if Mei-Mei looks at her, smells her, or licks her.

When she is looking for someone, she calls, “How are you?” instead of “Where are you?”

To the sister who says something she doesn’t like, “No, say that, no!”

In a tickle war, we hear, “Tickle me, no!” as she giggles.

There are also the funny pronunciations.

Dark sounds like duh-ra-ark.

Kitchen sounds like chicken (Chicken sounds like chicken,too. Sometimes it’s confusing.)

Stuck sounds like suck. We hear “I suck” or “Mommy suck?” about 20 times a day.

And the stories go on and on and on.

She will tell us one or two sentences that make sense and then she is off in her own world. She throws in friends from Ethiopia, words she hears around her, and either the word bathroom or potty into every story. For the longest time, we struggled to understand “add-den” (translation – and then). Her stories had this mystery word scattered all throughout them, sometimes every other word.

Rachel had some triangle shaped rivets on the back pocket of her pants. Hanissa asked, “What is it? A tingle?” I had no idea what she was talking about so I asked her to show me. Instead she said, “Yeah, ummm, a tingle, maybe.” Sure enough, every triangle has been dubbed “tingle” by her. But I guess if stars can “tinkle” rather than twinkle, and belly button can be shortened to “belly butt,” a triangle can certainly be a “tingle.”

There’s plenty of laughter when Hanissa uses the vocabulary she’s learned in different, often embarrassing ways. Hanissa often hears that she has cute, chubby cheeks. She’ll even tell us that her cheeks are cute and chubby. When she blurted out that her sister has a “chubby bottom,” I just about died.

Phrases get mixed up all the time, too. Not quite comes out “quite, not yet.” Since we say, “a little bit” it makes perfect sense to her to say, “a lot a bit.”

She used to speak exclusively in first person, “Hanissa do…” but we’ve progressed to “Me do…”. It really is quite an accomplishment. And since she likes to try to do everything by herself, we hear, “Me do it” a lot.

Most people, who understand her, are amazed at her English ability. They just assume that she doesn’t know English. After all, she’s only been home for 5 months. I never expected language to come so quickly either.

She learned “What is it?” and she uses this question all day long. She may be in the middle of a story and unable to find the word she needs or she may come to me just to find the name of an object.

“Mommy, what is it? Big, white, high. What is it?” If I don’t guess with her clues, she’ll sigh and say, “I show you.” Then I’ll follow her to the object and she’ll point and ask again, “What is it?”

“The white, high in the sky? That’s a cloud.” I say.

“Oh, a cloud. Me do it. Mommy, the cloud up high!” She says triumphantly and she’s off to continue her story or to play.

We all love to hear her talk. At mealtime, she’ll sit and listen to her sisters talk and then she’ll speak up, “Me turn.” She’ll then proceed to talk about any and all things that fly into her mind. Of course her older sisters egg her on and keep her talking with their suggestions.

One day a friend listened in as Hanissa told a story about sliding on the ice. A lot of animation, excitement, and “add-den” filled her speech. Hanissa finished the story and ran off to play. My friend watched her and asked, “Was she just speaking in her native African language?” “No,” I replied, “just normal Hanissa English.”

~ Regina

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