Never mind exams, never mind marks on a piece of homework, never mind memorizing verbs- the ultimate test of ones progress with a second language is given by very small children, and their disapproving eyebrows when you don’t understand is far more hurtful than those of a teachers.
I’ve babysat a couple of times while I’ve been in Switzerland- this was my third time, and with a family that I’d only ever seen at a local eating place before [that’s how they met the Wehrlis, actually. It’s a small village!]
I’ve always really liked babysitting- it’s a relatively simple way to earn money, and the kids [however difficult] are always fun; It’s always an honour to be trusted with other people’s kids. I think I’m also a little bit nosy- I like seeing how people live, what books they have on their shelves, how they arrange their kitchens. [Especially if I don’t know the family; especially when it’s in another country].
This particular family lived in quite possibly the more gorgeous house I’ve seen so far. It, like so many Swiss houses, was wooden and old and set in the tangled back alley ways of Ennenda- reached more by crooked footpaths than roads. Inside there were three or four floors, reached by narrow staircases worn smooth by years of feet climbing them. The decor reminded me of a lot of our friend’s houses back home- there were wind chimes and bundles of herbs and bookshelves and a big sofa couch bed in the middle of the living room. Roughly three minutes after I arrived I was pulled [barely out of my coat] onto this sofa couch bed by the two little girls [one under ten and one under five] to read a selection of picture books. But oh no, wait, I needed a tour of the house! The parents were leaving to go to a party over the street, but they first showed me the little tea tray with a teapot and some chocolate and almonds and a selection of herbal teas that they’d laid out on the kitchen table for me, and then they left, with a promise to return at half past ten. It was Friday night, so I wouldn’t have minded staying later, but it was very thoughtful of them! I hope my parents don’t read this- I’m sure they’ll be shocked by what scandalous wild weekend parties I’m having. Such debauchery, so much alcohol and drugs. Such a cool teenage daughter [I thought to myself whilst drinking herbal tea and doing homework to the sounds of two kids snoring upstairs].
But anyway, regarding those two children, there is nothing guaranteed to bruise your ego more than a seven year old correcting every single pronunciation error you make whilst reading a picture book. Like, at least five times a page. And we’re talking books with four words to a page!
The older girl could speak High German, and she was delightfully astute when it came to talking to me. The younger girl spoke Swiss German, and I, as ever, was smugly proud at how much I understood. And yes, I maintain that I did understand what I was getting into when I let her give me a ‘hair makeover’. Totally. No regrets. Although as I was leaving two birds definitely flew down and tried to nest on my head, so she has a bright and promising career as a hairdresser!
When they were both tucked into bed [probably at least half an hour later than normal] I told them about the kiwi bird. In Switzerland kiwifruit are known as just ‘kiwi’s’, and I remembered Gabriella saying that her kids at the wild kindergarten were interested to hear about the kiwi bird. The older girl was very interested, and asked lots and lots and lots of questions about if I’d ever seen one in the wild, and where they lived, and what they ate and so on. It got to the point where I began to suspect that she might have an ulterior motive- perhaps the motive of trying to stay up as late as possible [Runa, their usual babysitter, had warned me of such a crime], so I turned off the light and just sat quietly with them for a while. When the younger one had drifted off to sleep I crept downstairs and made myself a cup of tea and sat and did some work on my computer for a bit [it’s amazing how productive one can be without internet], until the mum came home. We chatted for a bit before I left to walk home [only five minutes away]. The two little girls really were adorable, and their family ‘vibe’ was really similar to that of a lot of our family friends back home [well, as far as what one can know from an evening of babysitting!]. And now I know what I should do next time I need to practice my German- just ask a seven year old!