Saturday, March 13, 2021

Magical words

Day 13 of 31 at TWT!
As soon as I push the play button, Sweetie's eyes pop open so wide that I'm reminded of gazing into them when she was a baby. Her mouth drops open with upturned corners in a cavernous amazed-smile as Terje's lyrical Estonian pours out of my phone. 

"It sounds like Spanish!"

"No, it's totally different," I chuckle. "That's just because you only know a little bit of Spanish right now. It just sounds like a language you don't understand!" 

"Is this the list of names?" she's remembering my quick recap of some of the multilingual slices when I was so excited at dinnertime. 

"No, that's the Farsi one! We'll listen to that next. This is Estonian. She's describing the fierce wind and thinking about spring coming soon."

Her mouth is still slightly agape when it ends, so I ask if she wants to listen again, and she nods. 

Rainbow Girl toddles over. "Can I see that?" 

"There's nothing to see, but we can listen. It's Estonian, from the country of Estonia." I push the replay button, and we all let Terje's rolling words wash over us. This is sooooo coool. 

"Now can we do the Farsi one?" 

"Of course!" I find Nawal's slice and hold my phone down so they can see. "Look, she wrote the Farsi words with our letters, then down here, she wrote in Farsi with Arabic letters! They go from right to left, so they'd read them this way." I slide my finger across my phone. "Isn't it beautiful?" We look at the picture too, then I press the play button and Nawal's voice jumps into our family room. I try to follow along and notice the beginning of the list of terms of endearment. "Here! This is the list of sweet names!" 

When Nawal stops reading in Farsi, I pause the audio and read the list in English. "These are things they say to show they love each other, like how Meemaw calls me 'Sweet Pea' or we call you "Sweetie" and your sister 'Sweetie Pie,' 'Honey Bun,' and 'Snuggle Bunny'!" 

We all giggle at "my liver", and Sweetie shrieks at "fire in my belly". "That's silly!" she cackles. 

"I like it!" I reply, thinking of all the different facets of love, and how well this list reflects them.

"Light of my eye" is my favorite, and when Nawal says it in Farsi, I immediately notice that it contains "noor", the Arabic word for light, even though I didn't notice that when I was reading the words! I remember my former student Noorulhuda's slice about her name, years ago. I love linguistic crossovers, like all the Arabic-rooted words in Spanish, and I wonder how close Farsi and Arabic are.

I'm usually a reader who prefers not to listen to audio, but there's something absolutely magical about hearing these writers' voices giving us access to the way their words are supposed to sound. 

I love that my girls are so interested in languages, and it's so special for them to hear these two that we don't have many opportunities to hear! I think I've only had one Estonian student and two Iranian students, and I remember them as we listen to their special languages here in our home on a beautiful Friday night.

I think of how both girls have learned to sing in Samoan and Tokelauan when we listen to "We Know the Way" in the car, and how we read about those languages when we learned the song, intrigued by what we were hearing, and further intrigued by Opetaia Foa'i's choice to include both languages in the song. And I think of the English lyrics: "at night we name every star / we know where we are / we know who we are..."

Knowing another language is more than having two sets of labels for a given concept. The words we use are who we are. Each language lives in us with the experiences that brought it into our hearts. I'm so grateful for these bloggers for sharing their words, these pieces of who they are, with us. And I'm in awe that I helped make this happen.


  1. So glad you helped make it happen! And I am entranced to hear about it from your girl’s perspective.

  2. Thank you for sharing my language with your daughter. The number of people who speak Estonian is little over million, and many people in the world don't even know that this country and language exist.

  3. I love listening to different languages. I took French all through high school, but never was accomplished in speaking. I had better luck reading it. So I follow Justin Trudeau on Facebook so I can listen to him deliver his talks in French. I love the way the language sounds even though I rarely pick out a word I recognize. You open the world to your girls through languages.


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