When he was still five, he could cite the names of the animals and their offspring. In the vernacular, it was an easy task: memorization could be entertaining.
The other week, when he approached me, I could not say if he was just being an smart aleck or seriously making a thought-provoking comment.
At age 11, he’s in fifth grade, old enough to reason out intelligently about any issue that interested him. Of course, I was his favorite sounding board since other people treated him like a small kid. I, on the other hand, listened to him like we were friends.
“Ninong,” he began, stopping near where I worked in the orchard. His grandmother bought him a bicycle which he constantly showed me. He was aware I did not have the talent to ride one. “English is a difficult subject.”
“It is not,” I replied, continuing my chore. “You have to practice a lot just like riding a bike.”
“I am wondering why there are too many words in the dictionary.”
Hah! Good question. It was my kind of topic, something that intrigued me, too, when I was his age.
“Words are created to describe a thing or an action. There are too many things and too many actions so there should be too many words.”
I tried to make my explanation elementary so he could grasp the connection.
“My teacher asked us to name animals.”
“You know them by heart.”
“In Tagalog, yes. But in English I could not. Not all of them.”
“Do you want me to teach you?” I asked, ready to leave my chore to assist him. “I don’t need a dictionary.”
He looked at me, trying to figure out if I was just boasting. There was a time he pointed to me my inability to cook something I earlier told him I could. That was probably circling his mind at that instant.
“Not now, Ninong,” he maneuvered his bike and was ready to leave. “But there’s one thing I want to clarify.”
“Tell me. If I can help you, I will.”
“Why not call all small animals ‘baby’ and just add the names to make our lives easier?”
“You mean, a small dog should be called baby dog?” I laughed, following his logic.
“Yeah! If there are 100 animals, I have to memorize 100 names.”
“And if your teacher asks what their offspring are called, you will add ‘baby’ to the names.”
“That’s about it,” he summed up. “Easier to remember, right?”
How could I explain to him that what he said was valid but unconventional?
“Listen, like in Tagalog, small animals have their corresponding names. You’ve memorized them. It is the same in English. You can memorize them, too, once you are comfortable with the language.”
“My classmate Joey was offended when he learned that a small kangaroo is called joey.”
Now, that’s something to think about.
“Other children picked it up and jumped around calling out his name.”
I surrendered. Perhaps, small children should call small animals ‘baby’ to prevent such misunderstanding. 😀