“Hello,” I say to the 6-year-old French boy.
“Hello! How are you?”
“I’m good. And how are you?”
Shy, silent stare.
“Are you good, too?”
“What did you want to ask me?”
“Uh…do you want to play with me?”
“Sure! What should we play?”
Mulling, and more mulling.
“Do you want to play Uno? Or foosball? Or something else?”
Eyes light up. “A match!”
“Foosball, then? A foosball match?”
“Okay! Let’s go!”
“What’s up?” I ask his 7-year-old brother.
“Do you know the game that you play on the computer, it’s called cup-eet.”
“Cup Eat? A cup, like a glass that you drink out of?”
“NO! CUP! Like a police!”
“Oh, a cop,” I emphasize. “Cop is a policeman, cup is a glass you drink from.”
“Cop…mais je peux pas le dire en anglais, moi…”
“Yes, you can figure it out in English. You figured out how to say ‘cop’ to me by saying ‘police,’ you can figure other stuff out, too…”
“Howdy, pardner,” I drawl to their 12-year-old brother, who picks up accents astonishingly quickly. Scarily fast, even.
Giggles. “Caooooowww,” he tries.
I giggle, too.
“Oh, remember, you told me you’d do a Scottish accent, too.”
“Haha, no, I said I’d find you an example of a Scottish accent. That one, I can’t do.”
“But what does it sound like?”
“Dude, I can’t explain it.”
“Do a British accent again.”
“Oh yes,” I quip, pinkie in the air, “this is the accent of the Brits and the BBC newscasters, and Monty Python and all the rest…”
“Yep, that’s it.” Now if only you’d stop imitating your parents’ French-accented English so well…
As for the oldest, their 13-year-old brother, he and I sit in silence. He’s a teen, and he’s trying to figure out how to deal with that. But if I’m patient enough, I can earn his respect. And it doesn’t take long. By the time we reach the theatre, we’ve bonded over “hiding from the old people,” since we’re the two youngest there by a couple decades. Then, we’re spies. Then, he steals my cookies, my pen, my glasses — and always gives them back, so long as I let him have his fun. And then whole night has been in English, which he struggles with as much as his identity. This is a good thing.
You just have to know who you’re talking to, who you’re writing for. Talk to them like you would a small child or a teen, write to them like you would your best friend or that college professor you were terrified of. And in translation, it’s almost easier. The decision has already been made for you — you just have to figure out which audience the author was writing for, what kind of audience that corresponds to in your own tongue and culture, and write appropriately.