Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grammar, Stories and Parenting

My daughter K objects to the name "Goldilocks" and the Three Bears because, as she says, "It's only one Goldilock. Not three." She finds my explanation of the "locks" having to do with hair to be somewhat lacking. Possibly because "hair" in English is uncountable, though I'm relatively sure she isn't up to countable and uncountable nouns yet.

Along the same lines, she doesn't like the "Don't talk to wolves" rule in Little Red Riding Hood, because, again, there is only one Big Bad Wolf in the story. I told her there are other wolves in the world, but she considers that irrelevant.

I think she may have inherited her mother's attention to detail, known by certain adults in my childhood as "playing word games" (not in a good sense) and "twisting words". I never saw it that way, though; for me, it was just a question of what the words ACTUALLY SAY without regard to what you may have intended to say. I was genuinely bewildered that it might annoy someone.

I'll have to keep this in mind in parenting her as she grows up.


K also really wants the title of the story (i.e., what I read out on the title page) to be "Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf". Ditto for "The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf". She's started re-telling stories to her babies, usually taking elements from several different stories or even genres and combining them.

I start most stories with, "Once upon a time, there (were three little pigs, was a little girl named Red Riding Hood, etc.) whose mama loved him/her/them very much." We have one book that starts out that way and I noticed that K likes that beginning, so I adapt almost all our stories to start the same way.

Yesterday, K told a story that started, "Once upon a time, there was a Big Bad Wolf whose mama loved him very much."

I think I like that perspective, in fact.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Preschool

Today was K's last day at her current preschool. She'll start at the new one January 2, I think.

One point I forgot to mention in my first post on this topic is that despite the rigid attitude and possibly exaggerated expectations as described, they actually seemed really pleased with K whenever I talked to the teacher or principal. Even at the parent-teacher conference where we discussed the evaluation of K as a "beginner" in skills I know she masters well, we finished that topic and then the teacher talked about how great K is and how lovely she is during ellipse time and how well she's acclimating into preschool. So maybe they did think she's on track for her age, after all. No telling.

I don't think it was a total mistake to put K there, and I think the experience was probably helpful for her. Even if the teachers rarely spoke Czech to her, she had the opportunity to spend time with Czech-speaking children, so I think she's fully on board with the idea that some people speak one language and some speak the other - an improvement on her previous belief that actually, everybody understands both languages if they would just stop being STUBBORN. I think this school has served its purpose, which was as an interim measure, a halfway house between fully English school (and society) and fully Czech school.

But! All of that is behind us now. On to new things: Czech preschool.

It's still private, because our neighborhood preschool still doesn't have any spots available, but it's less expensive than the current one and much closer - three bus stops from home. Actually, it's 30% cheaper for five half-days a week than the other one is for three half-days a week. Taking into consideration the more reasonable cost, my steadily increasing workload (yay! and...whoa) and the fact that I don't have any supplementary activities for non-school days* like I did in England (no playgroups or other places to go to be around other kids), we decided to go ahead and increase her school days from three to five mornings per week.

It will be good for me to have more time alone to dedicate to work while K is out, and it'll be good for K to have more time with teachers and children who speak Czech. The mommy in me feels like K is still such a baby to be in school so much, but I also recognize that it's not good for us to spend all day home alone. The good things is the teachers at the new school seem really flexible and open to adjusting the number of days, so if we go for a few weeks and I feel like it's too much then I can just ask to cut back.

We've visited the new school twice now. First for a short visit so I could look around and ask some questions. My main impression was that it was nice but seemed disorganized, which I thought might be due to the time of day (half-day pickup, some kids downstairs waiting for parents, other kids upstairs napping). Then we visited again last week for about 2 1/2 hours so that K could experience part of a regular school day. I stayed in the room at first, but as she got more comfortable she told me that I could go and wait in the other room, oh and could I please not sing along with the songs the class was singing? Thanks Mom for not humiliating me in front of my new friends. I figured that was a good sign.

My second impression was that the school does seem nice and a little disorganized. But for me, "nice" outweighs "disorganized", provided they don't actually lose my daughter while I'm gone. And if it comes down to it, I prefer disorganized (but warm and relaxed) to strict and rigid (but organized). It's their first year in business, so things are still fluctuating somewhat, as the reality slowly comes into line with the vision. Some things mentioned on their website, for example, aren't fully implemented yet. Most of the children are K's age, both older and younger (i.e., 2.5 to 3.5) with just a couple of older children (4-5).

K REALLY enjoyed the visit and kept herself busy in the home corner and playing with the kids. She announced before we left that she will go to THIS school now, thank you, and doesn't intend to go to the other one again. She didn't comment on or seem phased by the fact that it was all in Czech. She definitely understands Czech better now than she used to.

I did ask if the teachers all understand English, and they do, which is reassuring in the sense that if K tells her teacher something important in English, she'll get more than a blank stare. They said they'll just speak to her in Czech, though, especially since they know she understands Czech. That's what I'd prefer, anyway. We'll see how it ends up working in practice, I guess. There are two other foreign children in the school (Russian and Ukrainian, I think), who started in September not understanding a word of Czech. Apparently it was rough at first but now they are much more comfortable and understand what is said to them, even though they don't speak much.

All in all I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm not expecting it to be perfect, but I think this school will be a better fit than the last. Anyone who's met us knows us we are definitely on the "warm, relaxed and disorganized" side of the fence!

* Especially now in the Arctic Winter of 2010-2011. When it was warm we could go to the zoo or park or castle, etc., but these days, if we don't absolutely have to go outside, we don't. It is COLD out there! And hard to walk on non-cleaned sidewalks.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Montessori: Our final verdict

I haven't written about K's school in quite a while. The short answer being that we aren't too thrilled with it...

We had reservations from the beginning (see "education" tab for a few, though I didn't mention them all) but didn't have many options and thought a bilingual school might be a good halfway house before Czech schools.

The "bilingual" aspect was disappointing, since the classroom teachers are non-native speakers of both Czech and English and seem to spend all their time speaking to the children in English, anyway. I noticed that at pick-up the "Czech" teacher always spoke English to K, which made me suspect that she might ALWAYS speak English to K, and when I went for parent observation in November that was confirmed in the classroom. Then I went for K's birthday celebration and saw that again, everything was in English (birthday celebration during morning circle time) except what was addressed specifically to K's grandmother, who came with me and doesn't speak English.

So "bilingual" = "actually we pretty much speak English", which is great for Czech parents wanting their kids to learn English and probably ok for foreign parents who don't much care whether their kids learn Czech or not, but for a Czech-speaking family wanting to help their child learn Czech after a few years abroad (it's us! it's us!), not so helpful.

More problematic than that, though, was the atmosphere at the school. I'm not sure if all Montessori schools are like this or if it's just this one, but the classroom sessions we observed were incredibly sterile, controlled and not very engaging. A classroom full of preschoolers working was almost completely silent: the teachers whispered to the students, who were also expected to whisper.

I also watched my daughter working with one of the activities and trying to play with it in a different way: building a tower out of the blocks instead of lining them up in the determined way. The teacher, who was sitting right there, didn't exactly chastise her, but redirected her and when K persisted in building, the teacher suggested she go and get the tower-building blocks. I was surprised that the expectations were so rigid and that there wasn't more support for thinking outside the box, which to me says good things like Creativity and Resourcefulness and I Am Not Even Three Years Old, What Do You Expect? Haha.

The birthday observation was also instructive, since I got to see how "ellipse time" looks at least loosely. There was a lot more sterility and long stretches of silence. K was thrilled to be sitting in the special birthday chair, but was otherwise obviously uncomfortable with the extra attention and didn't understand what was expected of her. The teacher did not, in my opinion, do a good job of explaining what was expected, either. That is, she explained, but not fully enough for a newly turned 3 year old to understand. The expectations weren't complicated, but were expressed in sentences too complex for a child this age under stressful conditions to fully grasp. When I touched K's arm and told her the same thing in a different way, also in English, she responded instantly. Or, for example, when the teacher brought out the birthday cards the children had made, she showed each one to the class and set it on the floor in front of her. K, predictably, wanted to get the cards herself - they were HER cards! Since the teacher didn't let her have them and didn't explain (first we all look and then I give them to you), K spent that time pouting and wanting to leave the circle. They didn't actually do the full Montessori birthday ceremony, either because there wasn't time with all the long, long pauses or because they thought K wasn't being cooperative enough (since she was uncomfortable and confused).

Any time the children moved off the designated ellipse or raised their voices above a quiet indoor voice, the teacher got their attention by chanting a quiet two-tone "thank you" or the child's name. I found the chant-singing oddly creepy, if effective. Also when the teacher randomly asked a child to pick a song (I think because the child was being too active or wanted to sing?), that child was the only one who sang it while everyone else listened. Is that a Montessori thing?

I also went for a parent-teacher conference a few weeks ago. They gave us an evaluation of the child in advance that assessed skills in various areas, graded on a scale of beginner - making progress - advanced (or similar). The only area where K had top marks was in "speaking English". Guess I'm doing my job on that front! The other areas, though, were all marked as beginner or at most making progress - even areas where I know K's abilities to be at or above age level. It made me wonder what standards they were using, if children are judged against the whole age range of the class (3-6 year olds) or if each age is judged separately (separate standards just for 3 year olds). Because, sure, my daughter's knowledge of, say, colors is probably not as advanced as a 5 or 6 year old, but she knows them all and mixes them up rarely, which to me is where a 3 year old should be. Either the standards are impossibly high or quite possibly K, like many other children, doesn't demonstrate the same abilities in the classroom as she does at home. That's fair enough, so I didn't give it much more thought. In the conference itself the teacher made a few observations that I thought were accurate and a few I thought weren't, which is probably pretty typical.

I do admire the level of discipline the teachers are able to keep in the classroom, but it's not my style. There were things I did like in the few glimpses I had into the classroom, like looking at the map and talking about different countries or making a poster with the birthday girl's name, picture and age for the classroom door. We still have it hanging up at home.

But overall, too controlled, too sterile, too rigid. Not Our Style. K seemed to like it at first, but over time has been more and more reluctant to go. She's also been going through a major mommy-phase recently, which I only this week realized could be connected to being unhappy at school. She is unusually clingy and wants me to dress her, read to her, etc. - not anyone else. Most tellingly, when I tell her she's going to school tomorrow, she says, "I don't want to go, Mama, I want to stay home with you." That, people, is NOT my Baby K. If she said that at 7 am when she doesn't want to get out of bed that would be one thing, but in the afternoon the day before it seems more like she really means it.

I could get over the seaweed they feed them at lunchtime (oh, how I WISH that was an exaggeration), I could get over the not great English, I could get over the very, very difficult daily commute (takes 45-60 minutes one way), I could get over the very high school fees, I could get over pretty much any one of these negative points, but taken all together it just becomes too much to accept. K isn't happy there, I'm not happy sending her there. This particular Montessori school gets a thumbs down from the entire Where Going Havo family.

But! Coming up next time (because this one got long), the happy ending. We found a new school...

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Book Lover's Tragedy

I wrote the other day about how my daughter seems to prefer being read to in English. Part of it is of course that she understands English best. Part of it is probably that she prefers ME to read to her and I usually (but not always) read to her in English. But there's another aspect that I suspect may play a role, and it annoys me:

I think half the problem with preferring English books is that the English books are more INTERESTING! I have the hardest time finding CZ/SK children's books that are worthwhile. You can have a big children's section in the bookstore but it is made up of:

1) dictionaries (usually board books like "My First 100 Words", often "My First 100 English Words")

2) nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Usually the same ones in different combinations.

3) some Czech originals for much older children - pages full of words and few pictures. I'll read these to K when she's older, because there are some nice ones, but they're too complicated for any 3 year old.

4) translations. Often from English, such as Winnie the Pooh, Disney Princesses, Cars, etc. Not often ones I'm that keen on even in the original.

We have a small collection of CZ/SK books that we're hoping to build further now that we're back in the country, but it is composed of 1-2 dictionaries, 5-6 books of nursery rhymes, 2-3 books of fairy tales, and 1-2 Czech originals for older children (Ferda Mravenec and maybe one other). It's looking like I'm going to have to lift my 'no translations' rule.

There is also a big jump between board books for the under-2 crowd and chapter books for competent readers: nothing really between those two extremes.

What I do NOT see in bookstores is exactly the kind of books we have so many of in English. Storybooks, lots of pictures with a few sentences per page (not one word, not whole page of text), original characters and plots that you can read to a non-reader and a beginning reader can read alone. It's a huge gap in the literature in my opinion.

Some of our favorites from UK are The Night Pirates, Knight Time, Usborne Illustrated Fairy Tales, and recently (birthday present) You Can't Eat a Princess.

We have tons of fun books like this in English and just can't find Czech or Slovak equivalents. So when I compare our book collection in the different languages, it does occur to me that I can hardly blame K for wanting to read about ALIENS AND PRINCESSES (seriously, how awesome of a book premise is that?) rather than going through My First 100 Words again.

Anybody familiar with CZ/SK children's literature is VERY MUCH INVITED! to offer me some recommendations for books to engage a preschooler. Anybody?

I say England

Time for a language status report. We've been (back) in the country two months and two days and you can already start to see the influence of school and Czech in my daughter's speech.

This week she's been saying "eště ne" (not yet) a lot, which is funny in itself because strictly speaking it's Czechoslovak: "ne" is Czech, compare to "nie" in Slovak, but Czech is "ještě", "eště" is Slovak pronunciation. Or slangy Czech.

Also heard:
"Mama, I'm not done eště" (not done yet)
"Is it skončit?" (CZ Is it done?) Took me a minute to recognize this one.
"I want to kúpiť..." (SK to buy, also used in many other English sentences)
"I'm walking in veľký sneh (SK big snow) all on my own."

I haven't really been keeping a list but she is definitely using CZ/SK words that she didn't know before. Also, if you ever doubt that she understands Czech, just say "dárek" or "něco pro tebe mám" ("present" and "I have something for you") and see how high she jumps.

She's aware now that she speaks the same language I do and that it is called English. She understands both Czech and Slovak, but not perfectly: for example, she doesn't follow all the details of a story read in Slovak unless it has very clear pictures. Of course, she doesn't follow ALL the details of a story in English without pictures, either, but she gets more of it, it seems to me.

She also prefers to be read to in English, or maybe it is that she currently prefers to be read to by me no matter what language I read in. I do read her a book of Czech fairy tales, for example, and she likes that. I don't go as far as reading in Slovak (it would be a lot less convincing than Czech) but I do sometimes translate on the fly the few Slovak books we have. Yesterday Apo read us a story in Slovak and K asked me to read it again later in English.

She seems to be identifying herself with me and as an English speaker. "I say England. I say English." I always tell her, "Yes, you speak English AND you speak Slovak. And at school they speak Czech. You speak lots of languages." She nods and agrees that she speaks Slovak and English, but she knows perfectly well that she's primarily an English speaker and isn't as proficient in Slovak or Czech. (But have I mentioned our South American friend taught her to count to ten in Spanish? My daughter: polyglot.)

K is also aware that Apo and I both speak more than one language. Our traditional conversation when learning a new word is to establish that Apo says XX and Mama says YY and K says XX and YY. She always says it with an obvious pride in her voice. Recently she's been asking more questions about who says what: Mama says fish and Apo says ryba, but does Mama say ryba, too? I tell her yes, I say ryba when I am speaking Czech. And does Apo say fish? Yes, Apo says fish when he is speaking English.

Yesterday we were discussing a word that's different in Czech and Slovak (the two languages have a lot of shared vocabulary with only some words that are entirely unrelated). I can't remember what it was, so let's call it "cat" (CZ kočka, SK mačka).

We established that Mama says cat and Apo says mačka and K wanted to know if Mama also says mačka. I said, well, usually not. If I speak Czech I say kočka. I say kočka and cat. Apo says mačka and cat. K says cat and mačka and kočka. That seemed to mildly blow her mind. Three years old, three words for cat. And turtle. And the other 10% - 20% of CZ/SK words that aren't related.

No miracles happening here, but we're making progress. The other day K asked why I wasn't wearing slippers because the floors are cold. I think she's going to fit in JUST FINE.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism

Step right up to the November Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, organized by L from Bilingual for Fun! Grab a cup of tea (or other hot drink of your choice, especially if you're experiencing this same snowy weather we are) and sit down for a while with us. We've got several entries this month taking a look at the adults, the children and some of the tools of bilingual families.

Smashedpea from Intrepidly Bilingual starts us off this month with a look at Him - that mysterious supporting player without whom the whole thing falls apart.

First-time contributor Tamara at Non-Native Bilingualism makes a liberating realization that I think would benefit all parents, not just the bilingual ones, in her post Mama's New Freedom.

Gen at Bilingual Families wrote about a "dormant bilingual" she met recently. This young mother would like to regain her native language after years of not speaking it, for the sake of her children. I think a lot of us living outside our native countries or languages can probably identify with this, no matter how far down the road to dormancy we may have gotten.

Then mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting addresses a topic that's been on my mind lately in Towards a Language Switch. With their upcoming move to another language environment, how and when will her child's dominant language change?

Jan at BabelKid knows where his daughter overheard something - because of the language she said it in! One of the less well-known advantages of raising your children with multiple languages, in my opinion.

Rea at Not So Spanish explores her son's expanding vocabulary in both English and Spanish in her post Big. Green. Boobie.

Sarah at Baby Bilingual spoke English to her nephew Carl - and didn't get in trouble for it! Read her post Ma'am, we heard you speaking English to that child. Hand over your mouse. From now on you're not allowed to blog about raising children bilingually! to see how and why she occasionally breaks the rules.

Maria at Fab Mums discusses one of the cornerstones of language learning for kids or adults. In her post The importance of songs in the bilingual journey from nursery rhymes to pop music she talks about the role Michael Jackson is currently playing in getting her son interested in English, his second language.

Eve from Blogging on Bilingualism posts about a SmartPlay giveaway, including an interview with the president of the company. Head over to check out the conditions to win! The giveaway ends Sunday, December 5.

Maggy from Red Ted Art discusses another cornerstone of language sharing: books. Read about her experience with a multilingual book exchange in her post Swap.

Lynn from Open Hearts, Open Minds also writes about the importance of reading in her family's language plan in her post Reading to Elliot en Español. She recommends some of her favorite children's books in Spanish and observes one of the enduring truths of reading books in translation: some of them are better than others! Here's to well translated children's books - something we're on the lookout for as well, since we live in a market with a high ratio of translation to original publications.

Finally, I was thinking along the same lines this month in my post The Three Little Pigs and Growing Up. With our recent flip-flop of community-minority language I think it's important not to ignore English too much, so this is a post all about reading to my daughter in my native language.

In putting together this carnival, I noticed that a few of us this month wrote posts not exclusively focusing on bilingualism or the 'foreign' language. I think it's an interesting point because really, bilingualism is just one aspect of our families. It may be the one that makes us stand out in public (hah!), but it isn't all we are. We are families who happen to speak two, three or four languages at home, which is just the way we live. And that, my friends, is pretty cool!

Thank you very much to all participants, contributors as well as readers. Please pass the link around and don't forget to check in for next month's carnival hosted at Multilingual Mania!

Monday, November 29, 2010

This and That

OK, I can breathe again. I'm still recovering from this weekend. As it turns out, 3rd birthday with associated outing, cake baking, present wrapping and unwrapping + (Slovak) grandmother visiting + big translation project due Monday = very late nights over the weekend for mama.


K had fun playing with Babka for the five days she was here. It was supposed to be six, but with the big snowfall predicted she decided to take the train back yesterday, instead. Possibly a good thing she did, because it started coming down yesterday and hasn't really stopped since.

At one point last week I looked over at where K and Babka were sitting in chairs (kid and adult sized), both with cushions under their bottoms. Babka because it helps her stand up from the chair, and K because, well, Babka has one, doesn't she?

K communicated with Babka occasionally in Slovak but mostly continued her English immersion policy (teaching the rest of the country English instead of learning Czech herself, that is). Several times we reminded her that Babka doesn't understand English so K needs to speak Slovak to her, and K would say the one word she needed and then go back to chattering in English.

The stubbornness, she gets it from her father.


K has been doing some stuttering lately that I don't really like. More like she just gets stuck on one word and can't get past it - "Mama, why you, why you, why you, why you, why you do that?" I noticed it before we left UK, which is a good thing because if I'd noticed it once we got here I'd probably be panicking that the shock of the move or change in language environment was giving my child a stutter. So at least I know it wasn't caused by the change of environment.

Dr. Google informed me that a lot of children actually go through a stuttering stage at about this age and that most of them grow out of it. So that's comforting. I haven't been making an issue of it, of course, but it is occasionally trying to stand there patiently and let K finish her sentence instead of jumping in and finishing it for her. I think in K's case it's probably related to the huge jump in sophistication of her speech (putting in all the connecting words, etc.) recently: she is probably getting stuck trying to get the more complicated grammar and vocabulary out. She's gone from "Mama! Hep!" to "Mama, can you help me please?" in a very short time.

Still. I'll be happy when I see that she's grown out of it.


Annnnnnd in the time it took me to write this I got another longish assignment for this week. Off to work.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cross-Cultural Thanksgiving

To start with, it's obviously not a day off here. We usually celebrate on Saturday, since employers typically don't go for "But it's a holiday in my/my spouse's country!" in our experience.

This year we celebrated with a young American family who recently moved (back) to Czech Republic and our friend A, who is originally from South America. It was a totally mixed afternoon of English and Czech, which was kind of fun. Most of the time we hang out with people who are one language or the other, so it's fun to spend time with a group that does both. Lets the Slovak and I speak our true native language: Anglo-Czecho-Slovak.

We had turkey pieces, stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts and green bean casserole. I had to make the stuffing and green bean casserole from scratch, of course, because you can't get the typical mixes and pre-made ingredients (cream of mushroom soup, French dried onions, etc.) people usually use in America. They turned out pretty yummy, though I say it myself.

My favorite moment of cultural syncretism was using rohlíky to make my home-made bread stuffing. It sounds funny, but it works!

K enjoyed playing with our friends' baby. She once referred to him as her "brother" and also has started talking about her baby dolls as her "brother" and "sister". I think she's trying to tell me something, don't you?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

3rd Birthday

I'm poking my head out from my translation cave to write a short post. Things were so quiet on the workish front around here in October that I was starting to wonder (ok, maybe more than starting) if this was all a waste of time. Then partway through November I started getting some work again and now have more than I know what to do with - at least for the moment. The good news is I've made up our preschool tuition already!

All of which is to say, I should be working on the ginormous assignment I have due on Monday, but I am totally procrastinating right now. Let's call it "multi-tasking".

Today was Baby K's third birthday. Babka came to town yesterday and couldn't wait til morning to give her birthday presents, so K got some presents last night, one present from us this morning and the rest from us along with the birthday cake this evening. In the afternoon she helped me bake her birthday cake. She was so excited to blow out her candles and eat her birthday cake...she's been asking if it's her birthday yet for almost two months. We sang her "Happy Birthday" immediately followed by "Živio" and provided bilingual commentary during the present-opening phase for the grandparents (his dad, my mom) watching us on Skype. Overall it was a good day.

My baby is officially pre-school age (though she's been attending part-time already). And I am officially no longer employed: my three year parental leave ended today, so as of tomorrow I am out in the cold. At least business has picked up a little :)

Happy Birthday, sweet Baby K.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Three Little Pigs and Growing Up

This post is part of the November Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month here at Where Going Havo?

When I imagined what it would be like to have a child, besides the predicted sleepless nights and constant asking "WHY?", I imagined putting my child to sleep at night by reading books or telling stories.

The sleepless nights never really arrived, but we've been fielding dozens of WHY questions daily for a while now. My daughter was never really interested in being read to at bedtime before, and when I offered to tell her a story she ran to the bookshelf - I said no, I'm going to TELL you the story - she looked pityingly at me and said, You need the book first, MOTHER. (Paraphrase)

However, in the last couple of weeks our nighttime routine consists of books or fairy tales until she drops off to sleep.

I couldn't be more thrilled.

We go through a wide variety of books from our bookshelves, though of course she has some favorites we tend to return to. I love that her attention span and understanding of the stories has increased, so we can even read some of the books with more sentences per page. We have a few collections of fairy tales, so I've been reading to her from those quite a bit. (I figure she needs a good background in classic fairy tales before moving on to Phase 2: Greek Mythology.)

For a while she made me tell her The Three Little Pigs every night. Sometimes I didn't even make it past the second pig before she fell asleep, but she wanted to hear it. Her favorite part is the Big Bad Wolf. She likes him in Little Red Riding Hood too, and I also inserted him into a story I made up for her about a nice Waaah (monster) who just wants to be friends with all the kids, and finally succeeds when he saves them from the Big Bad Wolf. K finds this story deeply engaging and usually demands to hear it two or three times in a row.

But my favorite part of story-telling, right at this age, is the following exchange we have during nearly every re-telling of Three Little Pigs:

Me: Once upon a time there were three little pigs whose mama loved them very much. They gave their mama a kiss and set off into the world to seek their fortune.
K, shocked: WHY??
Me: Because they were grown up and it was time to leave home.
K, deeply disturbed: Why they go away??
Me: Well, when people grow up then they sometimes want to go and have a new home and seek their fortune. You might want to seek your fortune when you grow up, too.

K allows me to continue, but she is visibly uncomfortable with the idea. She doesn't understand why anyone would leave home when they have a MAMA who LOVES them.

I have to admit that I don't like the idea, either! I pray she keeps this attitude for a long time yet. Sweet, sweet girl.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Call for Carnival Submissions

Hey, bilingual bloggers! I'm hosting the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism this month. Please send your submissions on multilingual family life to me at melissa dot dedina at gmail dot com by the 28th and I'll include them in the carnival!

Pass on the message!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Modlitba pro Melissu

Twenty one years ago today, students demonstrating on Národní Třída in Prague provided the final push that toppled the Socialist regime in Czechoslovakia. It was neither the first nor the last in a long chain of events leading to the collapse of Communism in Czechoslovakia, but November 17th is the date that went down in history.

This day is my own personal Thanksgiving. I know the American Thanksgiving is coming next week, but my thoughts turn to thankfulness every year on the 17th. Thank you to the students, thank you to the dissidents, thank you to the ordinary people who came out in so many thousands in the days and weeks following November 17, 1989. Thank you for seizing the moment for change. Thank you for having the courage to stand up for what was right. Thank you for surviving 20 years of occupation and 40 years of the workers' paradise with your Czech subversive spirit intact.

Thank you for a world in which we whiz by the border on the highway rather than being searched or even shot for daring to cross. Thank you for opening the way for a girl from the West to meet a boy from the East and stay with him. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to live where we choose, how we choose, with whom we choose.

I didn't know it then, but the students on November 17, 1989 were demonstrating for me, too. My life was set in motion that day. Whatever happens in the future, let peace remain with this country.

Ať mír dál zůstává s touto krajinou

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ways in which my daughter is already assimilating

1. She not only takes off her shoes at the door, she loudly berates visitors for not doing the same. "You no shoes here! You shoes THERE!"

2. At a restaurant, she wanted to play with the coasters but Apo told her, "Sú iba na pivko" (They're only for beer). Her instant and excited response: "I want pivko!"

3. She is proud of her beautiful country and enjoys seeing different parts of it. We went to southern Bohemia this weekend and she was suitably impressed by the castle we went on a tour of this afternoon. Kept saying "Wooooow!" as we came to each new room. The Czechs on the tour enjoyed her enjoyment!

She's already Czech, my friends. The language is just a detail.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Is Our Stop: on belonging

When we take the bus home from preschool, one of the bus stops we pass by is our last name. The feminine form, specifically, minus one diacritic. Used to have a friend who lived there.

We've been by several times, but yesterday as they announced it on the bus, K said, "[Last name]? It's our stop!!" I told her yes, it's ours, but we aren't getting off there. I laughed because I've always felt a certain affinity with it, too.

Compare that to life in any other country: no one can pronounce our name and you would certainly never name a bus stop after us. I spent so long mispronouncing my own last name for the benefit of English ears (i.e. anglicizing it so people would understand) that I accidentally did it a few times here in Prague, too.

People could usually handle K's name because we use two forms of it: we call her the CZ/SK form and we tell English speakers to call her the English form. That's one reason I call her K on this blog, actually, because both forms start with K! And then people end up calling her (Slovak) K anyway, because they hear us doing it.

You never meet another K anywhere else, but here, K is actually something like the 7th most popular name for girls (or was when she was born). We've already met multiple K's in Prague. In our search for a name to fit three languages I guess we forgot to consider she might be one of two or three K's in her kindergarten class. Not a big deal though. The point is all relevant family members can pronounce and spell it. Unlike our last name.

My point? I think it's wonderful to be in a place where people recognize your name. Where instead of, "What was her name again??" they say, "Oh, K, that's my sister's name!" I think it's great for K (and us) to see our last name as the name of a bus stop. It makes it normal. Just another name, and we're just another family.

There are enough things about us that are different; I am happy that I can bring up my daughter in a place where something as simple as her name can be "normal". I want to make this a place where she can feel like she belongs.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cross-cultural Halloween

This was our first Halloween (post-child) that we haven't spent visiting family in USA.

The first year our 11 month old went trick-or-treating in her grandmother's neighborhood dressed as a monkey. This was the remnants of an idea I had where the Slovak would dress up as a pirate and the baby would sit on his shoulder dressed as a parrot or, in Pirates of the Caribbean style, a monkey.

As it turned out I had my work cut out for me just convincing him to go out with us trick or treating, much less dress up himself. It was an uphill battle, but I like to think my rhetoric won the day:

Slovak: There is no way my child is putting on some freakish outfit and going around to strangers' houses.
Me: It's just Halloween; we did it when we were kids and it was fun.
Slovak: It's a bizarre American custom that I'm having no part of.
Me: But you love all the other American customs. You're more American than me sometimes. Why declare war this one?
Slovak: Yes, well, this is one step too far.
Me: How exactly is this different from Mikuláš? People dress up in freakish outfits and you get candy.
Slovak: That's different! Mikuláš is a TOTALLY NORMAL thing to do. Halloween is not normal.

(He grudgingly agrees to walk with us and observe, if not participate. We come back after one block and examine our haul.)

Slovak: Um, Halloween is awesome. Look at this candy!!!


OK, maybe not a victory for my persuasive skills...but chocolate speaks for itself.

The next year, we all dressed up! At almost two, K already knew about pirates (is still very into pirates, in fact), so we dressed up as a family of pirates. The Slovak put up a good show of not intending to dress up for several months in advance, but kept coming up with suggestions for how to make his pirate costume. I read between the lines and decided he didn't mind too much. When his costume got compliments at all the houses we went to (he looked very rakish and pirately) he perked up even more.

Sadly, the night ended early when K got excited (got into the spirit after a few houses), took off running and fell flat into a mud hole she couldn't see in the dark. It was an interesting addition to the costume, but we calmed her down and took her home. We were all jet-lagging anyway, since we had flown from UK the day before. Had to wake K up to get her ready in the first place!


This year, at almost three, K and her Apo dressed as Charlie and Lola. He wore a baseball shirt with CHARLIE written on the front (internet design your own shirt shop!) and she wore an outfit like the ones Lola often wears and put butterfly hairclips in her hair. A little girl dressing up as another little girl doesn't have far to go, costume-wise.

We were concerned that we wouldn't find any Halloween parties or trick-or-treating events, since it obviously isn't celebrated in this country (see the Slovak's distrustful attitude above), but I hoped that some expat group would have planned something. In the end some friends tipped us off that in a certain neighborhood on the outskirts of Prague, mostly populated by foreigners, they have trick-or-treating every year!

It was the most surreal experience. The neighborhood is new, so it was prefabricated (but huge) houses laid out like an American suburb. Hundreds of trick-or-treaters dressed up in a wide array of costumes. Every third house decorated for Halloween, some people sitting outside their houses, dressed up and giving out candy. It was like being instantly transported to America, except...I heard Hebrew, French, Spanish, German and English at least. English as a native language and English as a foreign language. Oh, and even some Czech. Prompting the following exchange at a Czech house:

Me and K: Dobrý večer, trick or treat! (good evening)
Czech lady: Dobrý večer, Happy Halloween!
Me and K: Děkujeme, na shledanou! (Thank you, bye!)
Czech lady: Na shledanou! (Bye!)

Now there's a conversation I never thought I'd have.

(Another conversation I never thought I'd have: serious consultation with husband re spelling of na shledanou. Space or no space? Neither of us was sure! Not because we can't write, but because you never write that word down: you just say it! I am fairly sure that some people write it all together but that a space is, in fact, correct.)

K had a fun time trick-or-treating, though she had a hard time with the idea of dressing up as someone else. Kept telling me, "I not Lola! I K! Apo not Charlie! He's Apo!" She also likes to say things like, "I not cute, I K!" "I not naughty, I K!" I'm thinking she has a very strong sense of self.

Happy late Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October Bilingualism Carnival

This month's Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism is up now! It's hosted this month by Corey over at Multilingual Living. If you make it all the way through, you can find my entry from earlier this month.

Enjoy, and keep an eye out here for next month's carnival, which I'll be hosting!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stealth Visit

This past weekend we fulfilled one of my long-time daydreams: ringing our in-laws' doorbell and announcing we'd come for a visit. I was minorly concerned that the shock might be TOO much, but after some satisfyingly dumbfounded surprise they handled it quite well.

The Slovak took a half day off work and we left right after K got out of school at lunchtime. We can make the trip in a fairly reliable 8 - 8.5 hours, which is far but not impossible. I have to reiterate once more that our daughter is a phenomenal traveler. She sleeps in the car and pretty much entertains herself while awake. We didn't even have to make any extra stops beyond what we would have made ourselves, anyway. She spent half the trip singing, "Babka, Dedo, Babka, Dedo..."

We're going back in two months for Christmas, but we haven't been to the Slovak's hometown or seen his father for over a year, so we thought an extra, surprise trip wouldn't be a bad idea. Babka and Dedo were excited to see us, by which I mainly mean their only grandchild. She got one of her birthday presents early and I only barely stopped them from giving her another. They still had to pick her up something at the toystore. It was sweet.

It was also sweet to see how easily K settled into a relationship with her grandparents: not just tolerating hugs but actually seeking them out. She would hold her arms out to Babka like, "You may pick me up and hug me now," and over Babka's shoulder I could see K's little smile that showed she was enjoying it. She was a little more reserved with Dedo, which seemed only natural as she's seen Babka as recently as July and Dedo not since her last birthday. She especially loved their dog, Sandra.

K was able to communicate better this time around, which was nice to see, at least on the level of individual words that Babka was able to understand. We still did some translating (English to Slovak, for Babka to understand) and also provided the sentences for K to say what she wanted in Slovak. Since K's method of speaking Slovak is currently to substitute Slovak nouns and occasional, haphazardly conjugated verbs into an underlying English grammar structure, she benefited from a little guidance on how to form a complete sentence. If she said something that Babka didn't understand, either Apo or I would tell her, "K, tell Babka 'Aj ja chcem pomoct' - 'prosim si dzusik' - 'kde je havo?'" -- short sentences that she understood, even though she couldn't come up with them herself. She was able to repeat whatever we suggested and her grandparents understood what she was saying. It seemed to work pretty well, actually.

The only bad thing about a fly-by visit like this is that we didn't have time to visit any of our friends while there. We saw some of them briefly, but otherwise wanted to spend as much time as possible just with the grandparents. We'll have time for visits in December, when we should stay for a week or so.

It was too short, but lots of fun. Nice hearing lots of Slovak again. K loved it. Looking forward to next time!

Monday, October 25, 2010

One Month In

It's been almost a month since we packed up and set off for lands unknown. Unknown, that is, as far as our daughter was concerned. She was born here but that doesn't mean much to her as she doesn't remember anything but England!

One month in, I'd say it's going well. K adapts well to changes and is an experienced traveler. She still asks about her friends in England, for example if they will go to her new preschool. She takes it well, though, when I explain that England is too far a commute.

She loves her bilingual preschool and has a pack of friends, both Czech and foreign. She refers to the teachers as "teta" in Slovak and "that lady" in English. Unfortunately we don't have any neighborhood friends or playgroup type activities yet, but then it took us a very long time to hit our stride when we moved to UK, too. We'll find out where the fun people are eventually!

She still speaks to people in English and seems to feel that if anyone doesn't understand her, well that is THEIR problem and has nothing to do with HER. She is, however, using more and more Slovak and Czech words when talking to Czech speakers. Last week she called me "Maminko!" - correct Czech ending and all. I still wouldn't call it a Czech explosion at this point, but that would be a little premature to expect, anyway.

K's English is still developing in amusing ways. Her imagination is wild and her use of language is more and more able to express it. She breaks out with new phrases I haven't taught her even now in a Czech environment. Most recently "ages and ages" - "I did that ages and ages [ago]." She started talking about "good choices" and "bad choices" this month - I think they must talk about that at preschool. K's approach is usually to do something naughty and then insist, "That not a bad choice." If I suggest that it was maybe not such a good choice after all, she can get kind of defensive, insisting at the top of her lungs, "I GOOD CHOICE, THAT NOT A BAD CHOICE."

We've had to work on adapting to new rules, like teaching K the rules of traveling on public transportation or other aspects of city life. I don't really like it, but I have to shush her more than I did before. Living in an apartment building you can't jump up and down repeatedly on a wooden floor without annoying the neighbors. Can't shout in the hallway, no matter how fun the echo is. Not to mention the different rules once you leave home. K is an agreeable little girl and is picking up on what is expected, but it's still an adjustment.

The adjustments aren't just on her part, either. My poor husband is going through reverse culture shock for essentially the first time (he's traveled very extensively but never lived abroad [i.e. not Czech Republic or Slovakia] before). I'm going through the adjustment, too, but as a foreigner I remember what it took to get used to life here the first time, so I can do it again. The Slovak gets worked up about things, like "The waiters! They're rude! How dare they be rude!" and I pretty much answer, "I know, they've always been rude!" The good thing is I think I'm a little more relaxed this time around, even if I do require the Slovak to give me a refresher course on random things and how they work once in a while. I never claimed to have ALL the kinks worked out. :)

All in all...not a bad start to Life In Prague, Take 2. No major breakthroughs or setbacks to report, just steady forward progress. And we have yet to get tired of fresh Czech bread for dinner.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Working Mama

I mentioned yesterday "starting a business" and was taken to task in the comments for it. So, details!

I picked up my Czech Trade License (aka self employed person's license) on Monday in part two of the Pleasantest Bureaucratic Experience Ever. Category: Translation and Interpretation.

I've done a bit of freelance translation here and there since Baby K was born, not too intensively, just kind of whoever came along. For the past six months or so, though, as I've considered what to do when my luxurious three years of parental leave runs out, I've been ramping it up a bit, updating CVs, looking for more clients, figuring out what paperwork I need, etc.

Since coming back to Prague I've started to put the plans in place, getting the trade license and everything I need to be officially self-employed as a freelance translator. Czech to English, Slovak to English. Mostly legal, since I worked in law offices in USA and CZ in my pre-child days.

It's all in the start-up stage now, trying to work out what number I need from what government office and how to generally run a business...but I think it has potential. I'm cautiously optimistic. :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Grumpy Mama

Busy week. Starting a business. Paperwork. K burned her fingers while baking muffins (really) at preschool last Friday. Took it very bravely despite three large burn blisters on her little fingers, poor thing.

Took her to the doctor to get it wrapped up. She feels like a rock star - really likes doctors. Keeps looking at her bandage and saying, "I'm very brave." Also held hand up to Charlie and Lola on TV today and said, "Look, I've got an owie hand! Oh, you can't hear me..."

I can't say that the doctor herself (at the hospital, not our pediatrician) lived up to my warm, fuzzy recent impression of Prague. So far (since first coming here) I've had mostly positive experiences with private practice doctors and mostly negative experiences with hospitals. No surprise I guess.

Lots of staying inside and watching DVDs this week, unfortunately. See above mama starting business, K burned (now bandaged) fingers. Mama not feeling that great. And Tuesday-Wednesday are our no-preschool days. We're kind of hurting without our UK playgroup routine for no-preschool days. And the two hour break I have to take in the middle of each preschool day (to go pick her up) is really wearing on my nerves and cutting into my productivity. I have to leave at 11:30, 11:40 at the latest, to make sure I'm there to pick her up for 12:30. Thus a full two hours less, practically speaking, than our Bracknell nursery pick-up (five minutes away) of 1:30. It's enough to make me consider starting to drive.

The rest of my productivity is apparently shot in the foot by the inexplicable lack of phone signal in our apartment. I knew we had reception problems in the bedrooms (baby monitor didn't work, only talk on phone in living room) but the living room used to be ok! Now half the time when I talk to someone on land line or cell phone, I can hear them but they can't hear me. And that's WHEN the cell phone even rings to let me know I have a call! I'm contemplating whether it could be a phone provider issue or if our walls are just that full of lead. Or whatever it is that screws up your phone service. I have to make my phone calls from the park outside. How ridiculous is that? Hard conditions to work under, I tell you!

And with this clearly optimistic frame of mind :) I am supposed to go out for our approximately bi-annual date while dear friend watches K at home. Too bad all I feel like doing is going out by myself for a coffee and coming back in, I don't know, three days. Or whenever we get a blessed neighborhood preschool spot so we can start living like normal people.

By which I mean people who take fifteen minutes to pick up their child from a school that is a reasonable distance away, for which privilege they pay a reasonable price. My hopes are set on next school year.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Princess and the Parek

I can think of no better place to live for a little girl who adores castles than here in Europe.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are our no-preschool days, so by Wednesday afternoon we were pretty restless. I woke K up from her nap and asked her, "Do you want to go see the castle?" Her eyes popped open instantly. When I suggested we could stop for a párek v rohlíku (hot dog in a rohlík, the long bread roll) along the way, she jumped up and started singing a song about castles and párky.

If I wrote a list of things in Prague that K loves, párky would have to be near the top. She jumped on that bandwagon after her first taste.

So we took the choo-choo, I mean tram, up to the Prague castle. On the way K entertained the woman sitting in front of us with questions to me about what we were seeing. Buses, cars, the boy walking on the sidewalk: "That's my friend my best friend! He's waiting for me!"

We got off the tram behind the castle and walked over. K was very impressed with the side view of the cathedral and insisted on being lifted up to see over the bridge railing to what was below. We admired the cathedral from the front and K commented how beautiful the castle is. To which I replied,

"Well, actually that's not a castle, it's a cathedral, a big church."
K: "Where's the castle, then?"
Me: "This is all the castle: this building here, that building over there..."
K, offended: "That's not a castle! That's a house!"

Her tastes are becoming more refined, I see. Not long ago she was satisfied with any tall, stone building!

We walked all around the cathedral, looked at St. George's Basilica and peeked into the cathedral itself (you have to pay to go all the way in now (!!), but they let you stand in the back and look around before filing back out. We looked at the stained glass and discussed what pictures and colors we could see. We looked toward the front and K was very impressed.

"Is that where the princess gets married?"
"Yes, that's where the princess gets married."
"Where's the princess??"
"She's not here right now."
"Where is she?"
"Well, she's busy. She hasn't found her prince yet. When she finds him, they'll come here and get married."
"And then dancing."
"Yes, and then there'll be dancing."

My daughter is such a girly girl that it shocks me. Where did she learn about weddings and princesses and dancing? She does love my wedding picture and calls it my "princess dress". I told her it was when I got married to Apo, and she always wants to know where SHE was that day (I guess meaning why doesn't she remember). I tell her she wasn't there, but she doesn't want to believe me. I tell her she was just a dream but I can tell she isn't convinced.

Last night she showed me an empty tin and said it was her presents. "A bracelet! Oh, it's perfect!" (Everything is perfect recently. The toilet paper with a floral pattern was, "Look, my perfect one!") K put an imaginary bracelet on herself and one on me. Then she put on her imaginary necklace and I showed her that I was already wearing one that Apo gave me. She knows that Apo gave me my (wedding and engagement) rings, too. Once we were wearing our perfect jewelry she asked if I wanted to get married. I said I am already married to Apo, but who did K want to marry? "Grandmama," she decided. I suggested that it's traditional to wait until you grow up to get married, and maybe someone outside the family would be best. K agreed that she would wait.

This girly love of weddings and pretty things is so foreign to me! At K's age I supposedly refused to wear anything except for a certain nightgown over a pair of pants. I think it's adorable, though. K is the only child I've seen who gets excited like it's Christmas morning when she gets new clothes. She always insists on trying them on right away.

When we finished at the castle, we walked through the front gates, looked over the wall to see the city from above, and made our way down the hill, across the bridge, through the winding streets of Old Town, never once finding a párek v rohlíku stand. K was asking for one every three minutes or so the whole afternoon, too! But like many fairy tales, this one has a slightly unsatisfying ending, because we never did find one and had to make do with a slice of pizza instead.

And yet, still, a lovely time was had by all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Things I've Missed About Prague

...that you just can't get anywhere else.

1. Chléb
2. Rohlíky. The perfect size for small hands. K likes to tear hers in half and hold one in each hand.
3. Cheese rohlíky.
4. Bacon and cheese rohlíky.
5. Basically anything in the bread family.
6. Iced green tea.
7. Blueberry tea.
8. Blueberry yogurt.
9. Any kind of good yogurt.
10. Bryndza (sheep cheese). It's a Slovak specialty but you can buy it in Prague.
11. Effective public transportation.
12. Automatically giving up your seat to the elderly, pregnant and small children.
13. That unmistakable Prague accent.
14. Czech evening news, including ever-present ragging on Slovakia and/or America!
15. Czech "American Idol" type shows.
16. Czech cable package including main Czech AND Slovak TV channels. (We've found that while shows dubbed into Czech sound TOTALLY NORMAL to us, we both find dubbing into Slovak to be strange and unaccustomed. Our previous Prague TV provider didn't have Slovak channels.)
17. Our friendly neighborhood pediatrician.
18. The Prague Zoo.
19. All of this.
20. And all of this.

Just a non-exhaustive list of the first things that came to mind over the last ten days in the city!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Still can't believe how easy that was...

I had the loveliest experience today at the city offices for our district of Prague today. It feels funny even to write that, because my experiences of bureaucracy are usually of the "We don't like you and are refusing your application, oh, and also, you're stupid" or at least the "Why don't you have these other three papers I never mentioned before?" variety.

I went in this morning feeling cautiously optimistic that maybe the person I talked to last week was correct in claiming that I didn't need any extra paperwork, but prepared to have this be the first of several visits, just in case. In fact I had the most pleasant, painless bureaucracy experience of my life.

I showed my IDs, paid my money, filled things out, signed them and was instructed to come back in a week to pick up my final result. Everyone I talked to was unusually helpful and friendly. All in all I'm feeling very pro-Praha 10 today!

I suspect the difference is that this was the office for residents of a certain district of Prague rather than the country-wide foreign police, for example. A higher standard of pleasantness and helpfulness may be typical for a local office. Or else Praha 10 is really just that great of a place!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What does bilingualism\multilingualism mean to you?

This post is part of the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month at Multilingual Living.

I just answered this question at the Multilingual Mania Facebook page and it started me thinking. My answer was:
"To me it means being a part of two separate worlds defined by the two languages, and belonging to them both. It's a constant challenge and a game of deep undercover, with points scored when I make a good turn of phrase or someone believes I'm a native speaker, and points lost when I lose my cover by making a silly mistake. These are the things that keep my life interesting from day to day :)"
As I've written about before, for me it's less about being two people or having two personalities and more about being one person who moves between two worlds. I think this one is key for me.

And the challenge...I do love a challenge, and this one hasn't gotten old so far. I remember my first year after university (after coming back from a three month stay in Prague) I had a job and an apartment and absolutely no challenge in my life. I was bored stiff. I read a huge number of books that year, difficult, challenging books that made me think, because I needed to use my brain. That was part of the appeal of moving to a new country and learning a new language: at first, even (especially!) grocery shopping is a challenge! I thrive on it, and I still get bored if things start getting too easy.

Along with the challenge, I love the undercover agent game aspect. I have two names (CZ/SK surnames are slightly different for women), two identity cards, two marriage licenses. I'm not quite what I seem. Still no numbered Swiss bank account or Q to give me gadgets, but it's still pretty awesome.

But then I realize, those are pretty much the same answers I could have given six or seven years ago. They relate just to me in relationship with the society around me. But they don't take into account how I've changed since then. They don't account for love, for my husband, for my daughter.

So to me, bilingualism also means love. It means I can tell my husband I love him in his own language. It means when he retreats into his own language, in laughter, in pain, in stress, in pleasure, I can follow him there. When he wants to share with me a joke or a movie from his childhood, I can appreciate it. It means I come into his world. And all of this applies equally for him to me.

Then when it comes to our daughter, bilingualism means that she is connected to her family, her extended family, generations of Slovaks and generations of Americans stretching back into the past, and the cultures that produced us all. She can share the songs, the movies, the customs, the food of both sets of grandparents. It means she has two whole worlds open to her...just as a start. Bilingualism means I serve as her interpreter when she needs one - not her as mine.

It means I can have a relationship with my in-laws, and help my daughter to do the same. It means I can support my husband when he forgets a word, my daughter when she doesn't know one.

Bilingualism makes my family possible. And you don't get any more essential than that.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guest post

So I totally forgot to link to my most recent guest post on Multilingual Mania, another addition to the Language and Identity series there. Stop by and read The Blank Page, the Fresh Start, an exploration of how learning a new language as an adult can affect your identity in the new language and as a whole.

And with that...I'm out. My bilingual child is driving me up the wall today, so I need to go count the minutes until her father gets off work!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More Encounters at the Playground

I just got back from another playground visit with K. We have to take advantage of the decent weather while it lasts! There were a bunch of kids there to play with.

One boy of about six was really intrigued by the fact that he couldn't understand K. They were taking turns on the slide and she was speaking English some.

"I go on my tummy!" she announced.
"Teď jsem jí nerozuměl," he said to me. (I didn't understand what she just said.)
"I go on my tummy!" she said on her next turn.
"To bylo to samý, co řekla před chvílí!" (That's the same thing she said before!)

I agreed with him that it was the same and that she had said she wanted to slide on her tummy. He remained intrigued and was obviously paying attention to her for the rest of the time they played. Then we bumped into each other later in the nearby farmer's market and he came up and talked to us for a minute. Very friendly boy!

I also thought it was funny that K and a slightly younger girl got into an argument about sand (the other girl thought ALL the sand was HER sand - so I didn't get involved). The girl yelled at K once in a while and K yelled back. Sometimes K yelled the same things ("MOJE!" - "No, MOJE!") and sometimes she said nonsense syllables that presumably sounded like Czech to her. K held her own, though, and they came to an agreement. K: 1, Czech: 0.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Too Sick to Blog

I wish I could offer an insightful, entertaining look into multilingual life today, but I am unfortunately prevented by the piles of boxes to unpack and piles of tissues from my fun new cold. I'm not sure which situation is more annoying.

Yesterday was K's second day of school, where she continued to make a good impression on the staff (the principal was throwing around the word "vzorná", so there you go). She was happy and engaged and made lots more friends. Whatever my reservations about the school itself, I couldn't be happier that she is starting off so well. She'll continue Thursday and Friday for her three half-days per week, which is what I'll think I'll keep it to for the time being.

Off to unpack some more...or else make myself a cup of tea with honey. One of those two.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

First fruits of life in Prague

Is it too soon for K's Czech to have improved? Because she's already using it more than before. Color me kind of impressed.

For example, K wanted our friend to come to the next room to see the toy car go.

Friend: "A tady nemůže?" (Can't it go here?)
K: "Může!" (It can!!)

With a vowel exactly in between the Czech ů and the Slovak ô.

K also declared this evening that "nemáme" (CZ we don't have) something, and earlier in the day said, "Daj šupišup!" (SK Do up your zipper!). That is her Slovak made-up word for zipper, but it's still a two-word Slovak sentence, which is still cause to be impressed in our house.

Her grandmother asked over Skype, "Ako bolo v školke?" (How was preschool?) and K offhandedly answered "Dobre!" (SK Good!) This is another word that she knows but usually you have to drag out of her, so we can see that she's already using her limited vocabulary more readily.

In words I'd just as soon she not use just yet, K told Apo, "Kecáš!!" (You're babbling / you're making that up / talking nonsense / etc.) Which just gives a nice insight into the kind of conversations we have at home, I suppose. Haha.

This evening K told me, "Mami, I want to číst (CZ read) a book." I laughed, repeated it entirely in English, then asked her how Apo says "book" and got her to say "Chci číst knížku" (CZ I want to read a book). Then I got her a book to read.

K has actually asked me to read her a certain book of stories in Czech a few times this weekend. I read it to her (in Czech) and she kept asking for "ešte" (SK more). When she was done she told me "konec" (CZ the end).

If you notice the CZ and SK labels I put on those comments, you can see that Czech is already making itself felt against the Slovak - and the English! The community language, it is strong.

K's English is still getting more and more complex and interesting to listen to. I can't begin to list all the goofy things she's said lately. She's been having a little trouble sleeping in the new place and keeps insisting, "I can't sleep very well. I have to be awake." Yesterday she came out of the bedroom claiming that, "The bed is really mean. It scratched me."

And just for something different, K has also learned a couple words of Spanish. We were walking along playing a game involving counting, doing it first like Mama (one, two, three!), then like Apo (raz, dva, tri!). Then K turned to our Czech-speaking South American friend and wanted to count like HER. So friend cooperated and said, "Uno, dos, tres!" I think K was surprised to get a different counting system, since she probably expected it to be Czech. I don't think she's heard our friend speak Spanish really. But she repeated it and can now say Uno, dos, tres! And also, inexplicably, Adios! Friend claims she didn't say it, but it's possible K remembers Apo or I saying hola and adios. Or from reading a Dora the Explorer book.

Either way, Adios!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First Day of Preschool

Yesterday was my daughter's much-anticipated first day of preschool.

We got there a couple of minutes late due to the commute (have to learn to time it right) and took K to the changing room. Each child has a little locker to store their extra clothes, coats, boots, etc., and there is an attendant there to help them if necessary, because parents are NOT ALLOWED.

In K's nursery in England we always helped her hang up her jacket on the hook in the hall and then took her straight into the classroom, so she was surprised that we were leaving her at the door already yesterday! For a minute she looked stricken - just incredibly unsure of herself, but then another little girl came in and K forgot about being scared in her haste to introduce herself. That's more like our K.

We went off, the Slovak to work (right next door!) to sort out a few introductory things, and me to the mall (three minutes away) while I waited for him. I got some work done, too, until I discovered the free wifi.

When we went back to get K after lunch, she came out of the changing room with the other half-day children. Running, singing a made-up song, waving her art project for us to look at and holding hands with another little girl. She stopped by us briefly to hand us her picture and backpack and then ran on with her friend to the playground, from which we extracted her about ten minutes later.

I think we can say it was a good day. I wasn't surprised she enjoyed it, but I was a little surprised she was so nonchalant when we picked her up, simply because when I picked her up from nursery she always made a show of crying because she missed me. At first the tears were real, then over time they got more and more perfunctory, but we never had a pickup like this one before. It was a beautiful thing to see.

After a few minutes the teacher came out and talked with me for a minute. "It's the most extraordinary thing," she said, "I've never seen a child engage so quickly before; usually they cry and cry at first..." She said K ran from place to place, looking at everything and wanting to know what was on the shelves and how it worked and that she already had a pack of friends.

I was hardly surprised to hear it, but it does please me that K's teacher seems to have a good impression of her so far. It's good to start off on the right foot!

We went home and let K take a nap, and then for the rest of the afternoon she seemed to be playing school. She kept talking about her "classroom" and I'm pretty sure she was doing circle time with her stuffed animals.

The final word on preschool was when I asked if she'd like to go back next time, and she agreed that yes, that would be acceptable. Let's hope she keeps enjoying it as much as she did her first day!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A New Beginning

The waiting and preparing is finally over and we are here, ready to get started. Currently we're struggling with an hour time difference and a late afternoon nap making bed the LAST thing on our daughter's mind. She needs plenty of sleep, though, for her first day of Real Preschool tomorrow.

Real Preschool. I'm not sure I'm ready. Maybe I'll just keep K home until Monday. Or next year. Ahem. I think it'll be easier to let her go to school this time, actually, because we are already used to her "school" in England. That was the difficult adjustment, but still, starting this school feels different: it is actual, official preschool because my daughter is an actual, official preschooler. The other one was just for fun, just to get K out with other children. This is Structured.

I was supposed to have another baby to take care of by the time I sent K off to preschool! I guess that shows you what plans are worth. I do have tons to do while K is in school, so I guess it's good that I'll have a few hours a few days a week in which to do it.

More tomorrow on how it goes!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Random Declarations and the Balancing Act of Being Two

"I no go to school. I go walking in the countryside."

K made this declaration on the way to her last day of school in UK. I'm pretty sure I know where she got the phrase from, after thinking about it, but it was pretty off the wall at the time. She then repeated herself several times, ending with, "Countryside, countryside, countryside, crountryside, crunchy, crunchy, crunchyside..." Which is actually kind of clever in a way. We had to admire her vocabulary level in English.

She has also taken to saying, "It's a rainy day," "It's a windy day" or "It's a sunshiney day" instead of just "It's raining" and so on. That one she learned from me - and surprised Apo with her sophisticated phrasing when he heard it the first time.


K declined to take her nap today, so after bouncing off the walls for a while in the hotel room, we went in the late afternoon to Starbucks. We had coffee, juice and a chocolate muffin and read books. We made it through The Gruffalo and part of a book about pyramids, with K snuggling further and further into my lap as we read until, midway through the second book, she started snoring. Not such a big girl after all, I guess!

It must be exhausting to be her age, so poised between toddler and big kid. She does a good job negotiating her way back and forth as needed. I just have to follow her lead and try to be what she needs, alternating between snuggly Mama, in-the-background Mama and Egyptology teacher.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moving, Day 2

K: "Mami, daj!" (Mama, give me that!)

Made me slightly nervous until I realized which language she was speaking. "Daj" sounds like English "die". Cheeky child.


Me, discussing fitting houseful of things into an apartment: "We're going to have to využívat the sklep." (take advantage of the basement storage area)

I could have also said it the other way: "Budeme muset jůznout (n.b. use-nout) ten basement." The Slovak of my dreams would have understood me either way. How awesome is language mixing, anyway?


K and I watched some Bořek Stavitel and Prasátko Pepinka on the internet yesterday. That is, the Czech versions of Bob the Builder and Peppa Pig. I am slightly mystified as to why they went with "Bořek" for Bob's name instead of something alliterative like "Standa Stavitel". That will not, however, keep me from singing "Znáááte Bořka? Všechno staví!" for the next few days at least.

I totally should have thought of that before - the problem with finding traditional Czech children's entertainment online is that a lot of it has no words or, all too often, words that I wouldn't want my preschooler hearing! Or else it's just over her head, like the classic Czech fairy tale movies we have. K isn't quite old enough for Pyšná princezna or Princezna se zlatou hvězdou na čele yet...although come to think of it, maybe I should try them out soon. She IS very into all things castle and royal lately.

We also watched some (more) videos of Czech and Slovak kids' songs. I particularly look for songs K knows, sung by children, like home videos of someone's two-year-old singing a barely recognizable Prší, prší. I think it's good to see the language and the songs K hears at home from Apo also being used and sung by real children like her. Plus she really likes babies.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Moving Day, take 1

I am keeping out of the way blogging while the movers pack up all our stuff. This definitely beats our DIY move within Prague. Of course, then we didn't have to deal with changing countries, or, indeed, metro (subway) stops. We moved about a ten minute walk from where we had been. CZ to UK (and back) is a bit different.

The guys moving us are Polish, which is awesome, except that we don't have a secret language if we need one. Of course, neither do they. That's the fun thing about language cousins.

I'm glad K isn't here to see her toys being boxed up. She feels pretty threatened even when I just organize them, so I don't see her being down with seeing the ujos take them away. I asked her this morning if she knows who is coming to our house today. She thought for a minute, then remembered, "Ujos. They take my toys to Prague."

I've been preparing her for the move for the past few weeks. She keeps asking if we're going to "Pwague" yet. Last night we did our final pre-move organizing and packed our suitcases for the week we'll be without our things. When I put on my pajamas and sat on the bed, K told me, "No sleeping! We have to go to Prague!" I had to explain that we weren't going to Prague RIGHT THEN.

She is signed up for nursery M-W, to give her somewhere fun to be while we pack and clean. Then Thursday we fly and Friday she has her first day of real preschool.

I'm still debating half-day v. full day. Full day would be convenient especially Friday and Monday, since we'll have plenty of work to do at home, but full days are obviously more expensive and also it might be better to ease in with some half-days for the first few weeks. Especially since full days are 8 - 3:30 and I have a child who still likes a good two-hour nap in the afternoons. It'll be interesting to see how THAT develops with the advent of big kid preschool.

Then next week I start on my work-related paperwork. Ach, too many changes at once. Plus who knows what other government office visits and official things related to work, preschool and generally re-integrating into Prague life.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Neither Here Nor There

We took our last trip to London today. Went to the Natural History Museum, which was pretty awesome in fact. We didn't see everything, but that leaves us something to look forward to if we ever come back here again. K was down with the dinosaurs and the bugs, just like in the Smithsonian earlier this year.

The Slovak of my dreams is watching college football on ESPN tonight. I think he's going to miss it when we move, unless our cable provider has improved its American sports selection while we've been gone.

In an attempt to amuse myself while failing to get very excited about American football, I have added a short list underneath the blog archive to the right over there. I thought it might be useful to link to previous blog posts with some basic information about us/this blog. Is there anything else I should cover?

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Being the Expert

We had a first this week - the first of what will probably become commonplace in a few years. K asked me how to say something and I didn't know the answer!

"Mama, I put this on table. What this called?"
"That's a banana peel."
"What Apo call this?"
"Um, I don't know! We'll have to ask Apo when he gets home."

And with that, a bridge was crossed. All because I don't eat bananas.


I'm in a peculiar position at the moment, because we are moving to a country where I know the language and my daughter doesn't. I am the expert in her eyes. But, since it isn't my native language, she will have the occasional question that I can't answer and the day will come when she will know the language better than I do. For the moment, though, I still know more than she does. I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

(That applies to more than one area of life, doesn't it? I also am retaining my edge in technology and gadgets, by the skin of my teeth. K can do things with my phone that it took me ages to figure out...)


Also, even once K both speaks Czech and works my phone better than me, I will still be the one with the driver's license. And the bank account. Thus guaranteeing me a few more years of relevance to her life!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September Carnival on Bilingualism

We took a break for the summer, but the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism is back this month, hosted by Fab Mums! Take a look at my submission, Parenting Now, if you missed it. Maria also linked to my post on Multilingual Mania earlier this month.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Childhood Classics

We've been having a nursery rhyme revival around our house lately. We have several collections of nursery rhymes and songs, but I realized recently they're all in Slovak or Czech, and I just tend to sing the same half-dozen or so songs in English that I've managed to retain the words to over the years...

So I set out to rediscover some classics - especially rhymes - that I've forgotten about in the mumble mumble years since I learned them. I didn't get more than a line or two into anything before having to hit up my trusty friend Google. With the computer to back up my rusty memory, I introduced Baby K to Jack and Jill, Hickory Dickory Dock, Georgie Porgie...and as predicted, she loves them all!

When I finish one, she encourages me, "Another one! Try again!" When one strikes her fancy, she asks me to repeat it several times until she can sing or chant along. I love how intently she watches my mouth while she's learning the words. She likes to act the rhymes out when possible, like jumping over an object on the floor every time I say "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick."

She can sing/say more of the Slovak ones that we sing, too. Her versions of "Prší prší" and "Varila myšička kašičku" are pretty recognizable. I really like how, even though she can't remember all of the (very similar sounding) words on the second one, her intonation is spot on: "tomu dala NA [lyžičku], tomu dala NA [vidličku]..." It sounds very Slovak. :)


Yesterday as we were getting ready, K asked me to "čes" her hair. "Mama česing me." "Apo no čes me." Česať means to brush (hair). This is totally the sort of mixing I accidentally do - like "čeking" for "waiting".


Not long til moving day now. Stuff gets packed up a week from today and we fly out a few days after that. Buying a few last-minute things we want to get before leaving England for good. Need to get fish and chips, I think. And order some Indian.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I have a present for you

Use it well.

This is an old Czech song that's had a major revival on the Polish internet in the last few years. Take a look at Jožin z bažin, a Czech song presented with Polish subtitles! Does that not break your language brain?

(It's like the time I told someone calling me from America

Me: "I'm just watching a Polish movie."
Them: *strangled sound*
Me: "What? No, it's not in Polish. It's dubbed into Czech."
Them: *strangled sound indicating that's not much more normal* )

Jožin z bažin is actually pretty funny, so here's a version with English subtitles if you're interested. Give it at least until the guy starts dancing (just under 30 seconds in).

I totally have to show this video to Baby K when she gets home from school.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Power of Word Choice

Recently K doesn't seem to "want" anything: she "needs" it.

"I need sit on you knee." [i.e. lap]

"Mami, I need Timmy." [TV show]

"I really, really need chocolate."

I guess all those exchanges consisting of, "I want chocolate" and "No, you don't need chocolate now" have made an impact. It's not a question of desire, mother! I need it! To live!


Also, brief, cryptic discussions in Slovak apparently don't go over K's head any least, not when it comes to Christmas presents. Apo went back in the store to buy something we'd been looking at for K, while K and I walked on. As soon as he left, she turned to me and asked, "Apo buy me my Tinkerbell now?"

If we want a secret language, I may actually have to learn Hungarian. Though K will probably learn it faster...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Parenting Now

This post is part of the September Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Maria at Fab Mums.

In talking and reading about bilingual (or potentially bilingual) families, I have often been struck by the conflict between an overly long-term and overly short-term view.

What I mean by that is those parents who give up on speaking an additional language to their kids for reasons in the short term like inconvenience, refusal to respond in the language, child not understanding the language as well so parent quits entirely, speaking majority language so the child will get on in school, and all sorts of other relatively short-term concerns. For example, in the short term it would have been easier for the Slovak to just speak English to her, or for me to speak Czech to her while we're in UK (so she would speak it when we move back), but I think in the long run those solutions wouldn't hold up.

I don't think that any of these are problems so insurmountable that the family should give up its language (because truly, stick with it and the child WILL almost certainly be fine in the end), but unlike a lot of the popular advice floating around, I DO think they are valid concerns and shouldn't be dismissed off-hand.

Then at the other end of the spectrum is the over-emphasis on long-term development. Every conversation I have about moving to a country where my daughter doesn't speak the language well includes the repeated reassurance, "She's so young, she'll be fine!" I have taken to saying it first, actually: "I know that at her age she'll be fine eventually, but [insert mild concern here]..." It is true! At her age we will ultimately be more concerned with keeping Czech from taking over completely as her dominant language. But.

What has struck me in the last year, faced with long-term reassurances like "She will be fine in the end," is that while she WILL be fine in the end and maybe even in the middle, I can't focus solely on the end result and ignore the present. I am her mother now. It is my job to be concerned about her welfare both present and future. I can't blithely go on, assuming she'll be "fine in the end", and ignore the real girl struggling today.

She will be fine in the end, but today she is sad because the children on the playground ignored her. She will be fine in the end, but today she is confused because the stranger on the bus didn't smile at her greeting.

She will be fine in the end, but today she kicks the ground and says with self-disgust, "I can't talk!" because she can't get the words out right in the other language.

I really believe that the long-term benefits will make the struggle getting there worth it, but I can't just casually dismiss the process without acknowledging it CAN be a struggle. I can look ahead to sending my trilingual third-grader off to Czech school with a smile, but in my haste to get there I can't overlook the tiny preschooler who is my today - and an over-hasty rush to say "fine in the end!" feels to me like overlooking and trivializing the tiny preschooler's real and current feelings. She won't even remember this, but I'm not just responsible for the parts of her life she remembers, am I? I have to watch and guide her and shield her from unproductive pain even if it is just transient.

She will be fine in the end, but I am not her mother just "in the end" - I am her mother now and every day until we reach that end in which we will be fine.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

one step closer to Prague

We are in the countdown, slowly disengaging from England so we can focus our energy on Czech Republic. It would have been so nice to just stay there instead of coming back here for such a short time. It's difficult to be in transition for so long. Plus, explain to a 2.75 year old child that "we are going to live here, but not right now, but soon, because first we will be here for a little bit, then go back to our old house and school and then the ujos will come and pack up our books and toys and clothes and take them here to Prague, and we will live in this house and go to the new school."

K refers to our Prague flat as the "small house" as opposed to the "big house" that is our house in England. She also knows that the place is called "Pwag", though as we walked to the market one day (15 minutes away) she said Prague was back behind us and what is THIS part called. I should teach her "Vršovice" and "Strašnice" I guess.

The first full day in Prague she gestured expansively to indicate the whole flat or city and said, "This my home."

She didn't want to leave the other day, which was surprising given all her toys and things are in England. Made me hopeful that she will take the move well, at least.

She is learning about very big girl things in Prague, like holding on in the metro and not running in front of trams. She is in charge of pushing the buttons in the lift, 0 for down and 7 for up. The first week I was still lifting her up to reach the 7, but the second week she could reach it herself. She is very concerned about having a stamped ticket for public transportation. When I was using the one-time tickets, I let her hold on to them with the instruction not to lose this because it's very important! And being very important, of course, is right up her alley. Now that I've got my long-term card I have to come up with "tickets" for K anyway. She doesn't care that you ride free up to 6 years old.

Also while in Prague she started talking a lot about her "passport" and being very concerned that if she didn't have it, they wouldn't let her on the plane. She even made a worried pretend phone call on the subject. Apo found her a novelty souvenir passport and pasted her baby picture (the same one in her real passport) in so she has a passport to play with. She was very relieved when she got it and immediately "scanned" it into the computer. Can you tell this child travels a lot?

K still spoke English to people but she seemed more receptive than before to the idea that to communicate you need to speak the way people understand. On the way to the playground I reminded her that kids here say "ahoj", not "hi", and mentioned a few other Czech-English word pairs she knows. She nodded seriously and then took off running, "ahoj deti! ahoj!"

One difference about living all on the same level (no upstairs) is that we use the whole space more of the time. K seemed to enjoy having a full length mirror in the bathroom. Occasionally I would pass by and she was growling like a monster or making faces at herself into the mirror. I guess you're never too young for that kind of thing. Also, we had to have several heart to heart chats about how just because you CAN open the refrigerator to get yourself some cheese doesn't mean you're ALLOWED to do so. (Our fridge in UK is above the freezer and she can't reach it.) That child could eat a whole box of Veselá kráva in one sitting, if I let her. That can't possibly be good for you.

Now it's back to our routine for a little bit and then off to one-hundred-spired Prague yet again.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back, briefly

We're back from our last visit to Prague before moving in, like, three weeks. Ask me if I've packed anything. Don't expect much of an answer.


While I was away, I had an article published at Multilingual Mania! It's called The Language That Speaks to My Heart and talks about how language affects (my) identity. Take a look if you haven't read it already, and I hope you like it!


We had a great week full of friends and somewhat cruddy weather that didn't manage to keep us from having fun. K was best friends over the weekend with a boy her age who only speaks Polish. It didn't stop them getting into mischief, giving each other hugs and to tell you the truth, it kind of looked like they were spooning once. I learned a little bit (more) Polish. Also Croatian and Hungarian. You don't get too much more multilingual than this past weekend!

I even made it to K's preschool informational meeting and introductory first day for new kids. My reservations about the school eased in some ways and intensified in others, leaving me firmly ambivalent. Pro: K's teachers seem nice. Con: I find it VERY, VERY DIFFICULT to overlook the mistakes they make in English. "Participating on" something or wanting "to enlight" someone my child might not notice, but "jinny pig" for "guinea pig" is a little more blatant. The lead teacher's Czech is better than her English, but she's not a native speaker. I'd say she speaks Czech approximately as well as I do, i.e. occasional mistakes and an occasionally noticeable (in her case Russian) accent. Not a deal-breaker, but they DO claim to have "native speakers" in each classroom, and I wouldn't consider myself or the teacher to be native speakers of Czech. However, the more important thing to me is that she is sweet and I think K will like her.

Also, they want to feed her seaweed. We'll see how it goes.


Related Posts with Thumbnails