MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Travel Words September 8, 2017


Untranslatable words inspire me, since it teaches me something unique about another culture. Travel inspires me, since the new sights, sounds, smells and tastes teach me about another way of living. Combine untranslatable words and travel, and you get these inspirational words:

Vacilando – Spanish, Portuguese verb. To travel with the knowledge that the journey is more important than reaching a destination. This is true about life in general!

Lebensgefährtin – German (female) noun. The companion willing to seek adventure and travel life’s road with you.

Phượt – Vietnamese noun. To travel by letting your feet guide your way. Unplanned travel is sometimes the best way to explore!

Inuksuk – Inuktitut noun. Inuktitut is spoken by the Inuit people in Canada and Alaska. Inuksuks are large stone signposts of values and navigation: it can welcome guests, guide travelers, and ensure safe passage. I love the symbolism of an inuksuk – I’ve even used it on a MotherTongues scarf.

Wanderlust – German noun. An irresistible urge to travel to and explore foreign places. I definitely have wanderlust…

May we all find a lebensgefährtin who will vacilando with us!

  • See the MotherTongues app World Words for more of these untranslatable words.



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:



Art inspiration while traveling January 6, 2014

Whenever we travel, I love to snap photos with my phone of interesting art, crafts, places. I look at these during the long gray winter days back home, to give me new inspiration and ideas for MotherTongues. I think traveling and exposing your kids to different ideas, cultures, music and art, open their minds and help them to become comfortable in cultures other than their own.

Here are some random photos I’ve taken during our last couple of trips to South Africa and Mexico. Now I’m inspired to go make something!

Labyrinths in nature:



Play spaces:








Brands we know, seen in a different light:



Local art:





Outdoor art:







5 reasons why I travel with my kids June 18, 2013


Exploring in Mexico

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

As I’ve said before, I love to travel. And I love to share this love of traveling with my family. We try different foods, we try learning new words, we learn about another culture. Here are 5 reasons why I love to travel with my kids:

1. When traveling in a country where the dominant language is not English, the kids soak up the language around them. This happens every time we visit South Africa – their Afrikaans improves within a week! – or when we visit a Spanish speaking country. Traveling helps them to see WHY we try hard to be a multilingual family.

2. Traveling reinforces the lesson that not everyone looks the same, eats the same food, believes the same, or enjoys the same sport. Wade Davis said: “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”

3. Whenever we can spend a little longer time in another country, the girls make friends from all over the world. Instant pen pals!

4. Our kids are much more likely to try new foods when traveling than they would at home. I think travel opens up your senses and makes you more adventurous.

5. And lastly: I see the world differently through the eyes of my kids. What a priceless experience!


Bilingual and bicultural: do they go together? May 22, 2013

Bicultural means that two cultures are functioning in one person, or that one person can be active in two cultures.

As we move between two, sometimes three languages in our family, I often wonder if we do enough to encourage our kids to be bicultural as well. We visit South Africa every couple of years, but we don’t specifically talk about the differences and similarities between the two cultures. Do you have to work at being bicultural, or is being bicultural something that you absorb just by being part of two different cultures?


Exploring a different kind of playground in South Africa.

Does speaking two languages mean that you are bicultural too? I don’t think so. It is possible to speak two (or more) languages without ever leaving your country / hometown / culture. And I guess the opposite is true too: you can be bicultural and monolingual (think Australian and South African, or British and Canadian).

In a recent article in Psychology Today, Francois Grosjean writes that there are many advantages to being bicultural: for instance having a greater number of social networks, being aware of cultural differences, and being an intermediary between cultures. He states that recent research has shown that biculturals have greater creativity and professional success: hooray!

I’ve never deliberately thought about fostering biculturalism in our kids. They have two passports each, and have traveled back and forth between South Africa and the USA more times than they can remember, even before turning 10. I’m grateful that they feel at home in either country, can navigate the social rules, can make a new friend at the playground lickety-split, and know what their favorite candies and food are in each country. I’m thankful that even without us really trying, they have become bicultural.

What do you do to nurture biculturalism in your kids? Do you watch cultural movies, visit the second culture often, send them to spend time with grandparents or cousins in the second culture, or do you talk about the culture often? Comment with some ideas for us all to try!

Helping our kids become bilingual is a great gift we are giving them. But helping them become bicultural is also an amazing gift, one we don’t think about often.


On inspiration, insight and ideas September 10, 2012

I’m back! We spent almost 2 months in South Africa this summer/winter, flew back to the US and moved 4 days later to Nashville, Tennessee. Our girls started new schools within a week, and my husband started his new job at Vanderbilt University. What a whirlwind!

My husband taking photos of the elephants in Addo Elephant Park (South Africa) in his Ubuntu t-shirt

I’m making new friends and contacts in Nashville, and trying to figure out our “system”. In Michigan, I knew where to recycle, where to donate, which farmer’s markets we loved, and we had our CSA that we belonged to for many years. In Nashville, they don’t take glass in the recycling: you have to take all glass to a special recycling place. I still haven’t figured out where to recycle batteries. The people I’ve asked, all said they just throw them in the trash. Not a good idea.

Regarding our language journey, I have found someone who gives Spanish conversational classes, and I’m looking forward to my first class tomorrow.

In between looking for a house to buy, and figuring out our new “system”, I feel like I’m finally ready to blog and implement some new ideas for MotherTongues. Whenever we travel, I always find new inspiration for MotherTongues along the way. This trip to South Africa and Botswana was no different. I’m looking forward to turning some of my new ideas into reality!


On discovering new oceans June 12, 2012

Filed under: Be the change,Travel — Michelle @ 8:49 am

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

You may have wondered why this blog suddenly turned silent. Our lives changed about a month ago, when my husband got offered a new job. We will be moving to Nashville, TN, this August, where he will be teaching and administering at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School.

Although we are excited about this big change, right now I feel like this:
“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” -Deepak Chopra

For the last moth, we’ve been selling our house, trying to find one in Nashville, I’ve visited Nashville to find schools for the girls, and on top of that, we’ve been getting ready for a visit to South Africa/Botswana/Zambia, which we planned a long time ago.

This will be a summer to remember!

The MotherTongues website will stay open for business (most of the time!), with Kallie shipping the t-shirts, aprons, socks, etc. to their new homes all over the world. In August, MotherTongues will move south. If you are ordering MotherTongues gear as gifts, please plan on a few extra days for shipping this summer. And the MotherTongues blog will be back as soon as I get the kids settled in their new schools.

Now wish us luck on this roller coaster summer. Next on the agenda: 34 hours of traveling (me and our 2 kids), to a freezing winter vacation in South Africa…


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