Teaching the Dolls

At some point in mid-1957, I noticed that my dolls were not actually communicating that well among themselves. I was six years old and had a variety of dolls. I had two that were clearly Guatemalan, Juan and María, dressed in traditional clothing, el traje típico.  There was a Mexican puppet also in traditional clothing, and a conventional American baby doll, plump, dressed in baby clothes and with brown hair painted on her plastic head. Another girl doll with blonde hair wore a flowered party dress and spent most of her time with two small stuffed bears.

Now, they all talked to me just fine, recounting what had gone on during the day while I was away at school. But they did not converse well with each other and I slowly realized the source of the problem:  Juan and María spoke Spanish and a Mayan language- maybe K’iche’ or Mam and the puppet spoke only Mexican Spanish. The baby doll, the blonde, and one of the bears spoke only English. One of the bears was bilingual but not that anxious to take on the responsibility of being an interpreter.

It was clear that I would have to start language lessons, English to the Spanish speakers and Spanish to the English speakers. I began right away, gathering them around me in a semi-circle on my bedroom floor as soon as I got home from school almost every day. Each group had pronunciation drills and spelling tests.  On small pieces of paper, I wrote out lists of words that I had dictated to them, one paper for each student. I would include spelling mistakes in the lists, which I would correct with dramatic red checks or circles. Since I was the only child in the house, my mother would quietly peek into the room to see who in the world I could possibly be talking to.

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