We just returned from 2+ weeks in Israel, where Maya & Ben got to meet most of Joshua’s side of the family, including many cousins who are around their age and almost none of whom speak more than a few words of English. Ditto my kids and Hebrew.
When adults who do not speak a common language attempt to communicate, they often do things like use hand gestures or speak LOUDLY at each other, as though that will somehow compensate for the lack of understanding. But with kids, or at least with my kids and their Israeli cousins, something else happened.
Sure, they are old enough that there were a few minutes of awkward attempts at communicating through language and hand gestures, but then…..play.
The kids played. The young teens played, the 9 and 10 year olds played and all need for spoken language fell away. Play is a universal language understood by all – though as adults we tend to reject it as ‘childish’ – and as soon as the kids were outside running around and playing, they understood each other perfectly. The language of climbing, of running, of jumping and follow the leader bridged the gaps that otherwise might have existed between them. (And on both sides, they wound up teaching each other some of their spoken language & motivating each other to learn more.)
It was a wonderful thing to watch, and yet another reminder of how important play is to our lives.