American in Spain

Conversations with a bilingual preschooler: Overtranslation

October 8, 2013

Bottle CapThe other day I was out walking with my bilingual four-year-old daughter, and we passed a pair of elderly women. One of them was carrying a plastic bag full of plastic bottle caps to recycle, probably for charity. Out of the blue, my daughter begins this conversation:

"Do you know what Grandpa likes to do?"

"No, what?"

"He likes to go to bars and get tops."


"Like bottle tops."

[huge burst of laughter!] [startled] "Daddy, why are you laughing?"

"Do you mean tapas?"

"Yeah, tops."

[switching language to confirm] "¿Quieres decir que le gusta ir a los bares y pedir tapas?"

"Sí­, tapas."

"No, sweetie. Tapas are the little servings of food at bars.

"So how do you say that in English?"

"We just use the Spanish word, tapas."


"So if Grandpa tells you he wants to go get some tapas, he means food at a bar, not bottle caps."

"I hear you."

Bottle Cap

The whole conversation reminded me of the first time I took my Spanish wife to a Mexican restaurant, in England. When the waiter came, my wife ordered our drinks, "Two exes and a crown, please."