A few days ago I was sitting on the sofa with my (almost) three year old daughter Sophie as we watched one of her favourite children’s shows. It’s called ‘Chuggington – Medaille Race’ and features talking trains who try to do good deeds every day to earn badges. I’m not quite sure if it’s teaching her how to be a well adjusted adult or a train but time will tell.
As the theme song started she became very excited. She was suddenly on her feet, dancing on the sofa and singing along with all the words she could manage.
“Medaille Race,” she cheered with her arms in the air as the song reached its end.
“Medaille Race,” I cheered, also throwing my arms up in the air as I got caught up in all the excitement.
But then something I had not expected happened. Sophie suddenly lost all interest in the screen and turned her attention on to me. Something in my pronunciation had not satisfied her.
“Nee Papa. Medaille Race,” she corrected.
“Medaille Race,” I cheered again, thinking that was the end of it.
“Nee Papa,” she said with a little shake of her head. It seemed she was not going to let me off so easy. Making mistakes in the rest of the Dutch language might be forgivable but messing up the name of her favourite children’s show seemed to be a step too far. The line had to be drawn somewhere. “Medaille Race,” she insisted.
“Medaille Race,” I repeated, not quite sure what I was getting wrong.
“MEDdaille Race,” she tried again, emphasizing the word ‘medaille’ with a small head bob and hand wave as if trying to point out where I was going wrong.
“MEDaille Race,” I replied, trying to copy her pronunciation exactly but still not really hearing what the difference was.
“Nee Papa. Mmmedaille Race.”
Sophie seemed to decide that I was not going to be getting it right any time soon. After a slight pause she put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and simply said, “Het is een beetje moeilijk, Papa.”
I couldn’t help it. I cracked up laughing. My almost (but not quite) three year old daughter had just put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and tried to make me feel better about my ‘failed’ attempts to say a Dutch word by telling me it was ok because, “It is a bit difficult, Papa.”
“Yes,” I replied with a smile, “Papa finds Dutch a little difficult.”
Sophie seemed to decide that that was the end of it for now, absentmindedly nodded and returned her attention to the screen.
I still had no idea what in my pronunciation had not satisfied her (or if I had been getting anything wrong at all) until a few days later when I was telling the story to a Dutch friend. It turns out I had been saying it wrong. I thought I had been saying ‘Medaille Race’ but my pronunciation was closer to ‘Madaille Race’. It was so subtle that I had not noticed. Sophie had though. I think she is going to be correcting me a lot in the future.