MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Celebrate our language diversity February 16, 2016

February 21 is International Mother Language Day. UNESCO started this celebration day “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. With roughly 6500 languages spoken around the word, we have a lot to preserve, protect and celebrate.

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The theme of Mother Language Day 2016 is “Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes”. Mmm. That is a mouthful. Basically, UNESCO wants to stress the importance of appropriate languages of instruction in early years of schooling. Sadly, it is still not the norm everywhere to be able to go to school in your mother language.

I got schooled in my mother tongue (Afrikaans) when growing up in Apartheid South Africa, and I’ve written how awful things were done in the name of my mother tongue. The history of Mother Language Day is a similar story than the South African narrative where students were forced to learn in Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor. On February 21, 1952, students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, which is now the capital of Bangladesh. We remember these horrible events, honor the people who died in the process of standing up for their language, and then we try to promote language diversity in our sphere of influence.

I believe mother language instruction for young kids gives kids access to education. My daughter was in a two-way bilingual immersion program where half the class where Spanish speaking, some exclusively so. The Spanish speaking kids learned from the English speaking kids, and vice versa. Everyone is a learner and a teacher.

But since we chose to live in another country, where our mother tongue is not being spoken, I know mother language instruction is not possible for our girls. Instead, we made a choice to foster a love of language learning in our kids. They are proud to be (almost) trilingual, they enjoy showing off their language skills when meeting people who can speak Afrikaans or Spanish, and I know they will continue their multilingual journeys throughout their lives. Let us encourage each other to continue our language journeys, and let us encourage others to be proud of their mother language, whatever one of the 6500 languages it may be.

“A Senegalese poet said ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.’ We must learn about other cultures (and I would add, languages) in order to understand, in order to love, and in order to preserve our common world heritage.”
– Yo Yo Ma

 

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Multicultural Kid Blogs Vlogging Telephone: “Raising multilingual kids” August 18, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michelle @ 1:24 pm
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Welcome to the Multicultural Kid Blogs Vlogging Telephone. We’re asking each other questions about raising multilingual kids. Since our kids are now preteens/teenagers, this subject has been on my mind for over 13 years now! But we definitely don’t have it figured out (do you ever have anything figured out with kids?) so it will be fun to listen to everyone’s answers on their blogs.

For the Travel Telephone, I’m in between Eolia from La Cité des Vents, who is asking me a question, and Audrey from Españolita, who is answering my question.

Enjoy our travel telephone! Here we go:

 

Doctor Me Di Cin: Book Review of a multicultural children’s book August 4, 2015

Filed under: Bilingual / Multilingual — Michelle @ 8:45 am
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I loved reading to our girls when they were little. We read books in Afrikaans, English, and sometimes Spanish. Through stories from different cultures and in different languages, we showed them a world filled with a beautiful rainbow of people.

One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou: Being exposed to the existence of other languages increases the perception that the world is populated by people who not only speak differently from oneself but whose cultures and philosophies are other than one’s own. Perhaps travel (and I would add reading) cannot prevent bigotry but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try to understand each other, we may even become friends.
– Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

Doctor Me Di Cin (we read it in Afrikaans, but there are translations in many languages) is a wonderful story set in ancient China. The story and the beautiful illustrations make this a great book to read with the wonderful message that nature and fresh air and exercise can heal us – emotionally and physically.

Our girls now read for themselves. I love to see how their worlds get bigger with every book, and I like to believe we started that process with books such as this one.


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Recommended ages: Ages 6-10. 

This book review is part of the second annual Read Around the World Summer Reading Series from Multicultural Kid Blogs.  Follow along on our website, Facebook page or Pinterest page for great book recommendations for kids of all ages!

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September Blogging Carnival: Raising Multilingual Children September 29, 2013

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Welcome to the September installment of the Multilingual Blogging Carnival! I’m glad to be hosting this month, after Perogies & Gyoza did a wonderful job last month putting our stories together.

For more information about the Multilingual Blogging Carnival, or to sign up as a host or participant, please check out the wonderful organizer of it all, Piri-Piri Lexicon!

I picked for a theme this month “Music and Language” – how do you use music in your kids’ language journey? We always have music going in our house, and it is so fun to hear the kids sing in Afrikaans, English, Spanish! I got some fun responses, I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I did!

From Bilingual Monkeys we hear how the power of music nurtures bilingual ability, with some great tips on making suitable choices for music around the house.

Bringing Up Baby Bilingual reminds us that music is a great way to learn languages, for children and adults!  She also lists 7 great reasons why you should sing to learn a new language: this is definitely new inspiration for me in my language journey!

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Piri-Piri Lexicon did an amazing job to tell us about the research findings why music is good for language learning. Definitely a good reminder of why it is good for us to listen to lots of music!

The Creative World of Varya shares a song from a friend, that she then translated into Russian: how neat! She also tells us how powerful music can be, and how it can be relaxing for children.

The Head of the Heard tells us about the music in their family: maybe more Wheels on the Bus than their musical heritage from Brazil and Britain right now, but it sounds like they are off to a good start with bed time songs.

language and music Stevie Wonder

From Babelkid we have an example of singing a French song to learn grammar: have you made up some songs to teach your kids a language?

Open Hearts, Open Minds writes about the fun of singing with her son in Spanish: at concerts, with CDs, but also made up silly songs.

Taco de Lenguas gives us nice resources of finger games and rhymes in Spanish. This is especially nice to know if you are trying to teach your child a language that you are not that familiar with!

Bilingüeabies tells us about the calming effect of music, and how it can be used in class to help with language learning.

Lastly, I share my tips to use music to help your kids’ language learning, as we sing our way to 3 languages!

Enjoy reading, listening, and singing along, and post some comments on each other’s blogs so that we can build our community!

 

Making peace with our language journey August 17, 2013

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I had big ideals when our girls were born. They would be bilingual, bicultural, and able to read, write and speak two languages fluently (Afrikaans and English). Later we added Spanish to the mix. The more languages, the easier it becomes, right?

The last year or two I’ve come to realize more and more the truth of this John Lennon quote:

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

Our youngest was in a Spanish Immersion class in Michigan, and was able to read and write Spanish by the age of 7. Moving to a new state changed the education options available to her. She now has only one and a half hours of Spanish instruction per week. Our oldest daughter is currently in a Middle School with a special before school Spanish program. She gets an hour of Spanish instruction each weekday. Even though we can supplement our Spanish learning at home through reading, listening to music, and watching movies in Spanish, we don’t always get around it.  Who has the time, right?

On the other hand, the kids are hearing more Afrikaans here in Nashville outside of our house than they did in Michigan. We’ve had friends and family visit over the summer, giving the kids’ Afrikaans a boost too.

I have now come to accept that each of our language journeys will be different, and will not always go as planned. Sometimes we’ll have the time and the opportunity to learn a lot. And sometimes our language abilities will be stagnant. If we rely on the school system for language learning, we will not have a lot of control over the journey. But cultivating a love of language in our kids, will make them lifelong learners and enjoyers of language. And I’ll be happy with that.

 

Learning another language after turning 40 July 22, 2013

This blog post was written as part of the Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival for July. The topic for this month’s carnival is “Hidden Opportunities”. I wondered for a long time what is my hidden opportunity of being a multilingual family. And then it hit me: for me, learning a new language after turning 40, would not have happened if we didn’t walk the multilingual family route that we did. Here is the story of how it happened.

Chiapas, Mexico

In Mexico, where we attended a Spanish Language School.

I’ve always been a math + science kind of girl. Chosen profession? Electrical engineer. Since I grew up in South Africa, where it is normal to speak at least two languages, I had to learn English alongside Afrikaans. My lowest grade ever was for English. (You can probably guess that from all my grammatical errors on this blog! Sorry!)

Fast forward 10 years. After giving birth to our two girls, I made a career switch to being an entrepreneur, so that I can work from home and determine my own hours. My chosen business? Printing words from around the world on t-shirts and other apparel. Suddenly, I’m reading papers written by linguists, and researching translations of life-affirming words.

Fast forward another few years: Our youngest daughter starts school right when the public school opens a class for Two Way Bilingual Immersion. We reason that adding a third language, Spanish, to our household can’t be too difficult, and will only have positive possibilities for her in life. And so starts our multilingual family journey.

Since our daughter learns to read and write in Spanish, it only makes sense that the rest of the family learn Spanish too. So we spend 3 glorious summer months in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, at a wonderful language school where I finally expand my Spanish knowledge beyond the colors of the rainbow and the parts of my body.

Fast forward another couple of years. We move to Nashville, Tennessee, where there is no possibility of Spanish Immersion for our daughter – because of a combination of Tennessee law which states that 51% of education has to be in English, and because the only Spanish (semi) Immersion school in Nashville accepts on the basis of a lottery, which happened many months before we even knew that we would move to Nashville. So now our kids go to school in English, and I continue my Spanish lessons.

In the past year, I’ve discovered that even though I struggle to remember new words, and even though it is hard to remember the difference between cuarto and cuadro and cuatro, I love to learn another language. I can now follow simple conversations. I can even speak a little bit, as long as no irregular verbs in the past tense are involved. And I look forward to traveling to a Spanish speaking country sometime soon, and not having to ask my 9-year-old to translate for me.

 

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?

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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.

 

 
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