MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

September Blogging Carnival: Raising Multilingual Children September 29, 2013

blogcarnival

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!

IMG_0062_2

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!

Advertisements
 

Singing our way to 3 languages September 23, 2013

language and music Stevie Wonder

We are a bilingual family, trying to become trilingual. Our kids are fluent in Afrikaans, even though they were born here in the USA and don’t hear Afrikaans outside of our house on a regular basis. So we are always looking for ways to reinforce their second language. One of the ways we have found to work for us, is lots and lots of music.

We love listening to music. When the kids were babies, we listened and sang Afrikaans children’s songs all the time. Repetition helped them to learn the words – it is such a fun way to learn more vocabulary.

Now that they are a bit older, we’re all learning Spanish. Listening to Marta Gómez and Peret help us to get used to the sounds and rhythm of the language. Afrikaans music is still part of our house – the kids know lots of songs by heart.

Here are my tips to use music to help your kids’ language learning:

1. Sing to your kids when they are babies and toddlers, and then sing with your kids once they can follow along.

2. If the language you are trying to teach your kids have DVDs or YouTube videos with singing characters for kids, make sure you get them. In Afrikaans we have Lollos – the kids have enjoyed it for many years. If the songs have subtitles, so much better!

3. Figure out who are your kids favorite musicians in the language of choice, and sing along to the songs in the car.

4. Nurture a love for music in your kids, and who knows where it will take them!

 

Making peace with our language journey August 17, 2013

multilingual sign

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?

Image

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.

 

Celebrate Your Mother Tongue February 21, 2012

Today, February 21, is International Mother Language Day. This day was proclaimed by UNESCO “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of two national languages of Pakistan (then), were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh (now).

Having grown up during Apartheid in South Africa, I know that June 16, 1976 carries similar significance for South Africans that February 21, 1952 does for the Bangladeshi people. This is the day that school children in Soweto protested the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in secondary schools. The government forced Afrikaans education onto children who didn’t speak it. Police killed about 176 students during the Soweto uprising – the photo of Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo after being shot, became the iconic image of the day. The day is now commemorated as Youth Day, a public holiday, in South Africa. Since my mother tongue is Afrikaans, I’m filled with sadness about what happened in the name of my mother language. South Africa now has 11 national languages, but mother language instruction is sadly still not always available in all locations.

Celebrating International Mother Language Day is a way to promote our unity in diversity. Our world is richer because of multilingualism and multiculturalism.

“We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.” 
- Kofi Annan


How will you celebrate your mother tongue today? I’m planning to sponsor a word in the Afrikaans dictionary (a fundraising way for survival of the dictionary), read only Afrikaans books for our evening reading ritual, and learn a new word in an unfamiliar language.

Happy International Mother Language Day!

 

Being a bilingual / multilingual family February 16, 2012

I was wondering about what to name this blog post. Are we being a multilingual family, or are we becoming a multilingual family? Maybe we are always becoming?

Reading time at home means books in a mix of three languages

It is said that at least half of the world’s population is bilingual. And many of those are multilingual. The broad definition of a multilingual is someone who can communicate in more than one language. This can be through speaking, writing or signing, or through listening and reading. There is an interesting new book by Michael Erard, Babel No More, about polyglots: people who can communicate in multiple languages. Poly (Greek: πολύς) means “many”, and glot (Greek: γλώττα) means “language”.

In our family, my husband and I grew up in South Africa, speaking Afrikaans, and learning English (the Queen’s version), starting in elementary school at about age 10. Our first language, or mother tongue, will always be Afrikaans, but we are pretty competent in English, with Jaco having written 3 books so far.

Our girls were born in the USA, but have heard both Afrikaans and English since birth. I guess this makes them simultaneous bilinguals. When our youngest started Kindergarten, we opted for her to go to the same public school as her sister, but to be in a Two Way Bilingual Immersion Spanish class. In this class, balanced numbers of native English speakers and native Spanish speakers are taught together, so that both groups of students serve as language learners at different times. It has been a wonderful experience: it is amazing to see the kids grow in language ability, but also to see friendships develop over the 3 years between all of the kids.

As our youngest is becoming a competent reader, writer and speaker in Spanish, we realized that we needed to learn Spanish too, since it helps to understand when we listen to her practice reading, and when we help her practice spelling words! Our family spent 3 months during 2010 in Chiapas, Mexico. All four of us attended a Spanish Language school in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Even though it wasn’t always easy to be immersed in a language you cannot speak, it is the quickest way to learn and we made a lot of progress.

Back in our regular life now for over a year, it has been difficult to keep up our Spanish vocabulary. We’re trying to find creative ways to hear, speak and read Spanish so that all our hours of Language School will not be in vain. Our oldest daughter is taking piano lessons in Spanish, and I recently started attending adult Spanish classes again. We also listen to a lot of Spanish music at home.

We have realized that we need to spend more time in South Africa if we want our kids to be able to read and write in Afrikaans, and not just speak it. So we’re planning to spend two months close to family in South Africa this year, immerse the kids in language and culture, and work on their reading skills. Hold your thumbs (the South African/British version of crossing your fingers) for us!

I think what I’ve realized most in our multilingual journey, is that it is a process. There is no goal post that we have to reach. There is no path we need to follow, since this is our own journey. What works for one of us, may not work for the other ones in the family. We’re figuring it out along the way, making mistakes and learning all the time. And that is OK.

What do you do to encourage multilingualism in your family?

 

 
%d bloggers like this: