Friday, April 30, 2010

Recognizing words

Now that K’s Slovak vocabulary is starting to take off, there is no telling which language any new word she says will be in. Fair enough. Even though the Slovak and I understand each other’s languages without a problem, it is still difficult to recognize a K word that may bear only passing resemblance to the real word, especially now that it could easily be in either language.

I used to be the one to recognize all her new words and "translate" them for Apo so he knew what to listen for. Even when she said something in Slovak, I would have to hit him on the arm and say, "She said havo! Let her know you heard!" before he realized what she’d said. Makes sense, since I spend all day with her.

But a couple of times recently she’s gotten me. Recently she ran upstairs to me and said, "Mama, I want obe!" and no amount of repeating clued me in until Apo came in and told me she meant obliecť sa (to get dressed). I didn’t know she knew that word! And I challenge you to get "obliecť sa" from "obe" on the first few repetitions! Now she says it all the time, though she has also learned "get dressed". Or also that same week, she said what sounded like two words, pa pot, and it took me a minute to realize that in context she must mean papať (to eat). She gets credit for trying but half a letter grade off for appalling pronunciation.

And that’s the words we WERE able to categorize. Then there are words that are impossible to determine as Slovak or English, even though it is clear what they mean. I remember the first was daki or diki (she said both), which meant thank you, at something under 18 months. But was it an attempt at English "thank you" or Slovak "ďakujem"? Or maybe "vďaka" or "díky" (both mean “thanks”)? It was really somewhere in the middle of all of them. "Biki" also came to life probably as an attempt at Slovak "bicykel" (bicycle), but that's a guess. K uses it for bikes and strollers both - pretty much anything with wheels (but no engine).

Recently we’ve also run into language mixing mid-word, like "stroms". I laughed and told her they are either trees or stromy, but definitely never stroms. You can see she is internalizing some English grammar patterns, though. And around the same time she came out with "môjn" – a perfectly logical combination of môj and mine, I suppose. Clearly it means "mine" – but is it English or Slovak?

I have to say I had never considered that Slovak and English sound alike until trying to decipher my child’s language. But, having met my daughter, they totally do!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Some bilingualism resources

I thought I would highlight some of the links I'm about to add to my sidebar. Some of the sites I found while obsessively googling bilingual and trilingual child-rearing back in those pre-BabyK days were actually useful and made their way into my bookmarks. :)

Multilingual Children is one of my favorite general sites. It has a range of informative articles and a forum with some great family stories and discussion.

The Bilingual for Fun blog is not currently active I believe, but L - an Italian raising her child with English - has some more really interesting articles if you click around a bit. I've been reading through some of them this week.

This blog is a bit more technical and research- and news-oriented. It deals a lot with America and Spanish, but also discusses other languages and countries. And of course many things can be generalized to any language/country combination.

More good articles if you go here. I've only read a few so far.

Or then there is this site that I have only found just this minute so will be reading through in the near future.

I've also put up several individual blogs that I really like for your browsing pleasure:

Sarah is raising her son Griffin with non-native French in America. As a former French teacher she has lots of information on language learning and bilingual upbringing of children. I love the profiles she posts of multilingual families and their circumstances, what works for them, etc.

Eve is an American raising two French-speaking children with her French husband in America. She also has a great list of resources as well as valuable insights (to me) as a mother of older children.

Emi is a Japanese mom married to a Chinese dad raising a trilingual, tricultural son in Hawaii. I find her descriptions of her 2-year-old son learning to read Japanese and English to be particularly interesting. I've also gotten some cool activity ideas from her.

Sarah is a British mother raising an English-Italian son in Italy with her Italian husband. I just started reading her recently, but she is pretty funny. And spot on. My favorite so far was this guest post she wrote about realizing your child's cultural outlook is completely different from yours. Being seen as Other, the Foreigner, by your own child. I laughed, I cried. I think about this topic sometimes, as the Foreign Mother in our long-term family plan. Check it out.

L is an American married to a Japanese dad raising kids in Tokyo. Her thoughts/experiences on culture shock and reverse culture shock are pretty interesting, if you go back through her archives. Not to mention the cultural differences and misunderstandings between Japan and America.

This blog is by a German mom married to an American, trying to convince her children to speak German while living in America. I like reading about what works for her and what doesn't, since I know I may face a similar situation later myself.

Clo is an Italian mother married to a Belgian father, who speak English together between the parents, living in France. Check out that family language diagram! Her transcripts of family conversations are great.

Here is another German married to American, living in UK, with thoughts on intercultural relationships in general as well as raising children. I liked the one about in-laws...

Jan and Souad are German and Algerian (Arabic and French) raising their family in UK. They also have a pretty sweet family language diagram. Both parents blog so it's great to get both perspectives.

Reb is raising an American-French family in France. Reading about her family I can see what my own might be like in a couple of years. Also, her baby is cute.

I'll try to do a post eventually linking to some specific articles on various topics that I thought were particularly useful. I may make it a weekly thing. Happy reading!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Status Report: Baby K at 29 months

Baby K was born in November 2007 in Prague. We started out immediately with OPOL: I spoke only English with her (at home; sometimes I spoke Czech to her around people*) and my husband spoke only Slovak with her, and we parents spoke English or CZ/SK (me Czech, him Slovak) depending on the situation and our mood. This is still how we do things, with very few exceptions. When K was 5 months old, we moved to UK for two years for work (we’re still here and planning to return to Prague later this year).

This means that K has, as far as she can remember, been in a predominantly English environment with her only Slovak input from her father, who spends all day at work, and the occasional visit from family or friends. And a couple of CDs of children’s songs. She spends her days with her American-accented mother and everyone else around is British. Predictably. So English, in one form or another, is pretty dominant at the moment. It will be interesting to see how that starts to change when we move and she goes to Czech preschool.

K started talking a little bit late, but slowly built up a vocabulary and by 20 months was putting together her first two-word sentences in English. They increased in complexity pretty quickly and now, at 29 months, she uses sentences several words long, just missing the connecty words like prepositions and articles. She uses “a” (Slovak “and”) as a placeholder for all those in-between words. Just this week I heard her say her first entirely Slovak sentences. Two words each and not at all conjugated, but no English in sight. She may have said some before that I didn’t pay attention to, but these were the first I picked up on.

She is starting to get a grip on some grammatical features in English, like adding –ing onto verbs: “Mama come” is “Mama, come here!” and “Mama coming” is “Mama is coming now”. She has also worked out –s for plurals and verbs, and sometimes just because. “Where are we goings?” indeed. She is also – oh happy two-year-old – very big on possessives. K’s! Mama’s! Apo’s! Mines! No yours! She does not yet make any grammatical distinctions in Slovak (which has many more of them).

Apo and I are both pretty consistent in sticking to just one language, but Baby K still doesn’t really distinguish between languages. She is just becoming aware that the different words she knows for things can be sorted into two groups, I think. We have started asking her “How does Apo/Mama say that?” For the first time this month she looked at me, looked at Apo, and then came up with the right answer. She’s starting to get it I’d say. But she still has no problem addressing either of us in whichever language she pleases. That’s fine – we’re the only ones around at the moment who understand both languages, anyway. When she breaks out the Slovak on her nursery teacher, or English on her Slovak grandparents, she just gets blank looks, though. I am reasonably confident this will sort itself out as she learns to talk better, though. I’ll let you know…

* Like the whole three days in the hospital before we took her home. True story.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Family


I first visited Prague in 2002, after I finished university. I don’t think I was entirely clear what country Prague was in (*whispers* it’s the Czech Republic), but it looked pretty on the internet and they had a teacher training program so I could support myself teaching English. Prague won the mental coin toss over Moscow and Budapest to determine where I would go.

Growing up we did a lot of moving around with my father’s work: Asia, Europe, Alaska, mainland USA. With that background, after spending five years in America finishing up high school and attending university, I was feeling pretty hemmed in. I knew I liked Europe and wanted to see if I could learn a language for real, not just in the laboratory setting of school. (I could.) I thought I might fit in better as a foreigner in a foreign country, instead of a foreigner in my own country. (I did.)

I stayed for 3 months in 2002 before coming to a few realizations:

* Not so many schools are hiring teachers in February
* People who are terrified of speaking in front of groups of people should think twice before becoming teachers
* I don’t really like teaching, anyway
* I DO like Prague
* This certain Slovak person would make a great husband for someone, or me
* Definitely me, if he would just lose the attitude (his version of this story involves attitude on MY side, but that is just silly)
* Consonant clusters are, like, hard. Also, the endings of words change. This made me deeply uncomfortable. (Now it seems natural.)

So I went back to USA for a year to regroup, and moved to Prague (what would end up being) permanently in 2003. I learned to teach. I practiced consonant clusters, and spent a lot of time repeating ř, ř, ř, ř. I got the Slovak to lose the attitude and realize we were meant for each other. I learned Czech. We got married. I learned better Czech. I started working as a proofreader and translator. I had a baby. I luxuriated in three years of maternity leave, the last two spent in England with the Slovak’s job. We plan to move back to Prague later this year.

As to particulars:

Nationality: American
Mother tongue: English
Other languages: 5 years of school Spanish and 2 years of school Russian, good and buried under a nice fat layer of fluent Czech with Slovak influence.


Apo (Daddy)

The Slovak is an only child who grew up in the place he was born. Moving to Prague after university was his first move. (It was my…25th? Ish?) He grew up speaking Slovak and Hungarian as mother tongues, but was never formally educated in Hungarian and spoke it less and less as he got older. He studied Russian in school, as you did in those days, though to be fair this mostly consisted of memorizing the words that were different from Slovak and pronouncing the rest with a Russian accent. This is still his method of speaking Russian. (It works.) He learned English and French in school and on his own, English in particular from American students staying in his town. This – not, as often believed, his marriage to an American – is the origin of his convincing American accent in English. He moved to Prague in 2000 in search of work and met the love of his life two years later. We married in 2004 and embarked on Project: Multilingual Baby in 2007.


Nationality: Slovak
Mother tongue: Slovak with Czech influence
Other Languages: fluent English, rusty Hungarian, French and Russian


Baby K

Baby K doesn’t have much of a life story at this point. She was born in Czech Republic with two citizenships, neither of them Czech. At four months she flew on an airplane for the first time, to England, where she spent the next two years. She speaks English and Slovak, with English dominant and Slovak lagging behind. Hard to avoid, since the community language is English and her only source of Slovak is her father, who works all day. She enjoys Charlie and Lola, science fiction and chai lattes.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Where going havo?

Ever since I married a man from another country* I have been looking forward to raising a bilingual family. Trilingual, even, since my husband is from a neighboring country with a different, but mutually intelligible, language that we hope to also pass on. I will admit to a certain amount of concerned internet research even before I conceived, until I came to the conclusion that yes, it is possible to raise a multilingual child, and yes, I can do it too.

Then Baby K was born – November 2007 – and Project: Teach the Baby to Talk began. It started showing some results when she showed she understood some words (some English, some Slovak), then managed to actually say a few (some English, some Slovak), and finally, coming up on two years old, started stringing together some two-word sentences (just English). Soon after those first English phrases, we were walking in the park with the Slovak grandparents and Baby K, riding on her Apo’s (Daddy’s) shoulders, pointed to a dog passing on a leash and said, “Where going havo?” (Where is the doggie going?) **

We burst out laughing. We translated for the monolingual grandparents to explain the laughter. Her first bilingual sentence. We realized: Yes, we can raise a bilingual child. Yes, it’s started already. And yes, it’s going to get pretty mixed up along the way!

* Thereby breaking the first rule I received from my mother and grandmother when I announced I was going to the Czech Republic. Breaking the first directly led to breaking the second: Don’t you dare stay over there!

** Or maybe “Where going, havo?” – Where are you going, doggie? She wasn’t very clear in her punctuation.


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