MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

About tongues and languages: mixed feelings about bilingualism September 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michelle @ 1:14 pm

I finally had the time to listen to all of this amazing BBC program about Multilingualism. Bridget Kendall talks to three academics about multilingualism: the science of bilingualism, bilingual children, and also being a bilingual exile. (The answer to how many languages one person is capable of learning: as many as you can fit in a day!)

I got tears in my eyes as I listened to Gustavo Pérez Firmat, a bilingual writer and poet, talk about his experience living as an exile from Cuba. He describes how he feels different about each of his languages: English is his happy language and Spanish his sad language. I often think about this: I also feel like a different person in Afrikaans (more outgoing, not afraid to state my opinion) than in English (more introvert, unsure). Maybe it is because I moved to the USA when I was 25, and even though I could read English, I wasn’t very fluent speaking it. I wonder how it will be different for our children, who grew up speaking Afrikaans and English since birth.

You can listen to Gustavo Pérez read his poem, Bilingual Blues, during this interview. It was one of the program’s highlights for me.

Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones.
I have mixed feelings about everything.
Name your tema, I’ll hedge;
name your cerca, I’ll straddle it
like a cubano.

I have mixed feelings about everything.
Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones.
Vexed, hexed, complexed,
hyphenated, oxygenated, illegally alienated,
psycho soy, cantando voy:
You say tomato,
I say tu madre;
You say potato,
I say Pototo.
Let’s call the hole
un hueco, the thing
a cosa, and if the cosa goes into the hueco,
consider yourself en casa,
consider yourself part of the family.

Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones,
un puré de impurezas:
a little square from Rubik’s Cuba
que nadie nunca acoplará.
(Cha-cha-chá.)

So, download this podcast and listen to it when you have some time. You’ll learn why bilinguals get dementia about 4 years later than monolinguals, why it is a good idea to raise your kids with more than one language, and why a bilingual person’s brain has to work harder. Enjoy/Geniet!

 

Ouma Ruby’s Secret: book review of a South African children’s book August 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michelle @ 7:28 am

I’m writing this review as part of the Read Around the World Summer Reading Series from Multicultural Kid Blogs.  Bloggers from around the world are sharing their book reviews of multicultural (and sometimes multilingual too) books for kids of all ages: Mondays are for ages 5 and under, Wednesdays for children 6-10, and Fridays for tweens and older. You can also see all of the recommendations on our Summer Reading Pinterest Board.

I’m recommending Ouma Ruby’s Secret, also available in Afrikaans as Ouma Ruby se geheim. We read the Afrikaans version at home. It is perfect for the 6-10 year old child. It will show a different world to them: where not everyone can read. About 16% of the world’s people are illiterate, and this book deals with the subject with compassion. It is the true story of a well-known South African author, Chris van Wyk, who describes how he found out as a young child that his grandmother can’t read. He was a book loving child who read anything that came across his way. When it was his grandmother’s birthday, he didn’t have a gift to give to her. So he wrote her a letter about how much he appreciates and loves her. When he asked her to read it aloud, he made the discovery that she can’t read. He ends up reading the letter to her. 

If you want to talk to your child about Apartheid South Africa, or illiteracy, or how poverty or political circumstances make it impossible for some kids to go to school, I can highly recommend this beautifully illustrated book.

OumaRubybook

 
 

I am from May 12, 2014

Filed under: Bilingual / Multilingual,Culture — Michelle @ 5:32 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve read other people’s beautiful “I am from” poems, inspired by “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. I’ve always wanted to write my own, and when I saw that this month’s Multicultural Kid Blogs Blogging Carnival has the theme “Where are you from?”, I thought this would be a perfect time to sit down and finally write mine. Luckily there are templates to make the process easier for non-writers like me. So, here it is.

turksvye

I am from

I am from bright blue African skies and wide open spaces
From watching the rain fall for three days straight
From Oros and Appletizer and curry.

I am from the white house with the thatched roof,
With the sweet smell of wisteria hanging over the stoep during springtime.
I am from picking buckets full of wild proteas & calla lilies,
From the syringa tree on whose long limbs I sat reading many sticky summer afternoons.

I am from freckles and brown eyes
From Mike and Renée
I’m from praying before a meal and holding my thumbs
And from dropping in at five for a cup of tea and staying for a glass of wine and dinner.

I’m from keeping quiet when you get mad and “us” and “them”
And Cry the Beloved Country.
I’m from hiking in the mountains on Sunday afternoons.
I’m from Stellenbosch and Afrikaans,
bobotie and braaivleis.

I am from moving 8350 miles to a different culture,
crossing the ocean every two years to go home
And then not feeling like it is home anymore.

I am from living between two continents.

 

 

Multicultural Kid Blogs Travel Telephone February 17, 2014

Filed under: Culture,Travel — Michelle @ 10:01 am
Tags: , , ,

Welcome to the Multicultural Kid Blogs Travel Telephone. We’re asking each other questions about traveling with our kids – one of my favorite things to do!

I’m in between Leanna from All Done Monkey, who is asking me a question, and Ashley from Family on the Loose, who is answering my question.

So enjoy our circular ride!

A photo from our fun travel detour, of the girls with our local guide on the Mayan ruins:

DSC_4354

 

World Cancer Day: do something February 3, 2014

Tomorrow, February 4, is World Cancer Day. I’m sure all of us have been affected personally by cancer: be it ourselves or a family member or a friend. Let’s stand strong against cancer on this day, celebrating the survivors among us and raising awareness.

So what can we do to mark World Cancer Day? You can find events around the world here, you can spread the Debunk the Myths message through Social Media, you can purple your profile (and Chevrolet will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society), or you can donate to the American Cancer Society.

I’d like to do something too. The MotherTongues Sisu t-shirt describes the determination to get things done against impossible odds. The Dancing Woman labyrinth on the back is a symbol of women’s strength and compassion. Normally, $1 of every Sisu t-shirt sold is donated to the American Cancer Society. For this week, till February 8, MotherTongues will donate $5 of every Sisu t-shirt sold to the American Cancer Society. The shirt is available in women’s cut and unisex tees, with a little purple in the design to celebrate cancer survival. Let’s do something!

Thanks for joining me,
Michelle @ MotherTongues

 

10 untranslatable words about food and eating January 28, 2014

Filed under: Culture,Languages,Untranslatable words — Michelle @ 8:00 am
Tags: , , ,

“One of the delights of life is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.”
~ Laurie Colwin ‘Home Cooking’

words for cutlery

This wall of words is in our favorite little falafel restaurant in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. (It is called Falafel, and Hugo makes the most amazing food!)

I love cooking. And eating. And especially doing both with friends and family. So when I collected untranslatable words for the MotherTongues slow food apron and for the MotherTongues World Words app, I really enjoyed coming across these foodie words. You’ll have to download the World Words app to find the pronunciation of these words, but here they are in writing:

Stammtisch (German noun) ~ A regular get-together in the same place around the same table, enjoying food, drink or philosophical discussions.

Utepils (Norwegian noun) ~ The first beer one drinks outside after an extensive period of cabin fever: imagine spring arriving after a long winter. (I think most of us in the Northern Hemisphere can do with an Utepils right now!)

Au pif (French adverb) ~ Literally “by the nose”, this adverb describes being creative with your cooking: using your intuition and following your nose!

Itadakimasu (Japanese phrase) ~ Said before a meal, this expresses gratitude to all who cultivated, hunted, or prepared, and to the animals and plants.

Muka (Hawaiian noun) ~ The sound of smacking your lips, done to indicate that you are eating a scrumptious meal.

Slappare (Italian verb) ~ Eating everything, leaving your plate as if it has been licked clean.

Sobremesa (Spanish noun) ~ The time spent around the table after the meal, savoring food and friendship. My favorite time!

Fika (Swedish verb or noun) ~ Meeting a friend over a cup of coffee or tea, enjoyed with a tasty bite.

Craic (Irish noun) ~ Moments where fun, food and friendship unite.

And this last one is a favorite word in our family. My nephew knew he had one, even though it took us 20 years to learn there existed a word for it!
Betsubara (Japanese noun) ~ The portion of one’s stomach reserved for desserts only.

Do you have any words about food, cooking and eating from your language(s) to add?

 

Journey of a Planet Money t-shirt January 20, 2014

animal spirits planet money t-shirt

In the beginning of December, NPR’s Planet Money did a great piece on the journey of a t-shirt. This was funded by more than 20 000 people through their Kickstarter campaign.

Ecouterre wrote a nice synopsis of the 5 movie chapters that make up the Planet Money story.  The journalists followed the t-shirts from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to the spinning of the yarn in Indonesia to the cutting and sewing in Bangladesh (women’s shirt) or Colombia (men’s shirt), back to Miami and then to Brooklyn to be printed and shipped to the new owners. Along the way they highlight the machines that harvest the cotton and make the yarn and the fabric, the people who sew the t-shirts, and the boxes that ship the shirts around the world.

I’ve read some rebuttals about the martini drinking squirrel t-shirt. By the way, there is actually a cool story behind the animal spirits design, and there are lots of people who didn’t like the design or pink color. But I think the bigger questions are more important: TS Designs asked why Planet Money didn’t follow a Made in the USA t-shirt, and Lyle Estill wondered why the reporting didn’t include the real costs of a cheap t-shirt: the cost to the environment, and the cost of people dying in the process of making our cheap clothing.

My favorite rebuttal is Stephen Colbert interviewing Alex Blumberg from Planet Money. I think he asked good questions (“Are we helping these people (the garment workers of Bangladesh) or taking advantage of these people?”) that doesn’t have easy answers. Alex Blumberg doesn’t seem to know how to answer the question of sweatshop labor either. The Planet Money piece tries to spin the cheap labor in Bangladesh ($80 per month payment for garment workers for 6 days of work per week) into not-so-bad, since people at least have some job with an income. But I totally disagree.

A while ago I wrote about Kelsey Timmerman’s book “Where am I wearing?”, where he went to the factories where his clothes were made, and through his stories, introduced us to the people who work there. He had a similar argument than Planet Money has: some job is better than no job. But I wonder if a job where you have no rights, no contract, no time off, no health care, can really be a good thing?

A couple of years ago, my husband visited one of his students in Bangladesh. In the capital, Dhaka, he saw garment factories with giant signs saying “No child labor”. But people told him that it is well known when the inspectors will be there. On those days, the children just don’t show up for work.

It is stated in the “Cotton” part of the Planet Money story that the USA is the largest exporter of cotton in the world, and that this dominance is because of the technology used by the USA farmers. Having read The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, the book that inspired Planet Money to do this investigation, I think government subsidies are also a big part of this picture. American cotton is artificially cheap because of subsidies, which prohibits other countries to grow cotton crops and compete on the world market.

I wish the Planet Money piece showed us not just the way (most of) our clothing is being made right now, but the way it could be. Made in the USA, organic cotton, fair trade certified clothing, fair labor factories, water-based inks: there are so many better options than a $2 t-shirt (see the explanation of costs at the bottom of the boxes page). Better for the environment, better for the people who make it, better for us who wear it.

Maybe Planet Money should do a follow-up story. And find a better t-shirt designer (hint-hint).

 

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers

%d bloggers like this: