My son likes me to read to him. Though I would rather have him start carrying more of the burden of the reading, I generally don’t mind his requests. Sometimes, he doesn’t even listen to the story. He just likes hearing the sound of my voice.
If I needed any more proof of this, it came the other day when I read a good chunk of a book to him in German. The boy does not understand German. Moreover, a solid C- average through two semesters of German 1 notwithstanding, I neither speak nor read German.
The story of how I came to read to my son in a language that neither of us understand is a long one. I will shorten it as much as possible.
My father spoke German like an authentic Swabian, which is to say fluently, but perhaps with a bit of a southern drawl. I’m sure this came in handy for him, growing up in a mostly German-speaking household. When I was a child, he would occasionally travel to visit some of the Swabians his parents left behind when they decided that all the artillery noise from neighboring France that kept them up at nights was too much for their peaceful natures.
My father would bring home from Germany the most wonderful storybooks I’d ever seen. They were full of brightly-colored animal characters, performing heroic deeds in fantastic settings. The heroism of their deeds I deduced from the pictorial narrative, since the text of these German books was, not coincidentally, all German. In spite of, or perhaps because of, their foreignness, I loved those books.
I grew up, and the books vanished.
Before our first son was born, my wife located copies of these books online. She gave me a set for my birthday. Even she made me read them aloud to her, because although we don’t know what the words mean, she is in love with my German pronunciation. She thinks I sound like the Germanest German who ever clicked his heels together, and for some odd reason, she finds this attractive. After the children have gone to bed, I sometimes hear her whisper into my ear, “Sprechen to me, baby!” But that’s a story for a different blog.
Anyway, my son found these books on the shelf and was immediately taken with the artwork. He can tell by the pictures that these are good stories. Of course, he wants me to read them to him. At first, I protested that they were in German, but that feeble argument did nothing to dissuade him.
Consequently, I occasionally find myself sitting next to the boy, reading to him words I don’t understand and am pronouncing like I think the German generals in old WWII movies would. To make matters more ridiculous, the text is written in an old fashioned script, from which I could probably not make out English words. I can’t stop to try to decipher all those 30-letter words without affecting the flow of the narrative, so I just read the first syllable and tag onto it something that sounds like an order to move two panzer divisions to Normandy.
The boy just listens, or not, patiently enjoying the great pictures. He doesn’t interrupt me at all until we get to the end of the story. When we get to the end, he asks me if I’m done. He is completely satisfied with the story, except for one little thing. “What was that about?” he asks.