A natural consequence of living in a foreign country is that my eight-year old daughter usually only hears English when she speaks with her father and me.
She spends her days in the local Swiss school, speaking only German (and Swiss-German), the language of learning, of play, of pretty much everything, even for the English mother-tongue kids like my daughter; it’s funny to hear two kids who might speak English at home naturally slip into speaking their adopted language with each other.
As a writer I choose my words very carefully, although even with all the care in the world I’m aware that it’s hard to escape my inbuilt vocabulary, my natural tendencies when it comes to phrasing and syntax. I also collect words, writing them down on sticky notes, in my phone and in the special notebooks that lurk in my bag and on every surface, revelling in a word or phrase that I find in a book, despairing when I don’t have a pencil to hand.
If there’s one thing I want my daughter to have it’s that love of words. I want her to look to books for more than just a way to pass the time or a test, to be impatient to get back into a half-read story, to linger over a chapter long after I have issued my final warning about dinner being already on the table, and you better come now!
But living in Switzerland I wondered how this could happen. It seems I needn’t have worried, as she’s turning out to be just like me, something her father finds very amusing. What’s even more amusing is her use of language, although we can’t take all the credit for her burgeoning vocabulary.
For that we must thank…Enid Blyton, and our nightly ritual of reading aloud.
The Faraway Tree, The Magic Wishing Chair, The Naughtiest Girl in the School, Naughty Amelia Jane, plus other classics such as Milly, Molly, Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley.
Words and phrases common seventy years ago trip off her tongue. She tells me how beautifully she and a friend were playing, how something was rather queer, and so on. She dictates stories in which children evade their nanny to go on wonderful adventures, all by themselves, getting into all kinds of scrapes.
It seems to me that a love of reading is essential if you are to write. I have days when finding the words is just too difficult, when all traces of creativity seem to have vanished, never to return. But, thankfully, picking up a book and reading the words that someone else has written is usually enough to get me started again.
I don’t know if my daughter will ever want to write. But if she does, at least I know we will have given her a good start.