Friday, May 28, 2010

I'll take preschool for 10,000, please

I filled out the application form last night for a bilingual Montessori preschool in Prague. It isn't quite ideal, but as I've mentioned, preschool spots are thin on the ground in Prague this century.

We signed K up for two days a week, and after filling out the forms I went straight to the computer to update my CV, because the fees even for two days are, er, significant. My new goal is to earn enough every month to cover preschool fees. Anything over that goes to chai lattes.

I hope everything works out. I hope Montessori isn't a totally wrong fit for us. I hope our local council OPENS SOME MORE PRESCHOOLS FOR 2011. Apparently there are a bunch of families in our same position: no public preschool available, no option but private or no preschool.

I know I could just keep K home next year, but I really think preschool is in her best interests

1) socially (she's an outgoing kid)

2) academically (she really needs to start learning Czech to be able to merge into Czech kindergarten and first grade), and

3) in order to survive to the age of four. Mama requires the occasional morning alone. Which will now apparently be spent translating up a storm to pay the blasted school fees.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Grandparents and the Cost of Bilingualism

This post is part of the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Mummy Do That!


One particularly geeky Christmas several years ago, the Slovak and I got each other dictionaries* for Christmas, totally by coincidence. I got him an Oxford dictionary for English speakers (i.e. not a translation dictionary) and he got me essentially the same thing in Czech. We were both pumped about our gifts and amused by our parallel thinking. When our parents asked us what we got each other for Christmas, though, both sides had the same reaction: fake smiles and “Oh, how…romantic”. So we explained that no, it’s a great gift, really, and they nodded doubtfully.

But it highlighted a critical element in our relationship with our families, one that takes on new dimensions now that we have a child. My family speaks only English. My husband’s family speaks Slovak and some Hungarian, learned as children and largely unused in later life. They never learned a language as an adult they way my husband and I have. Milestones that are significant to us are just white noise to them: I read a novel in my second language. I had a conversation with someone who didn’t know I was foreign. I taught a class in the second language. I came up with an awesome bilingual play on words that will lose all humor if I translate it. You know, that kind of thing.

They aren’t opposed to us speaking another language, but I think that on a basic level they don’t get it. It’s an experience they don’t share. They support us in our desire to raise our daughter speaking both her heritage languages, but it leads her somewhere they can’t follow. The same place her parents have gone before her. I think they feel this to some degree, but I know they don’t realize the extent of it.

I don’t mean that we adults need coddling for every accomplishment we make in our new world. We can share those things with others in similar circumstances. And how many of us have had that same experience, that we fit in best with other multilinguals, other third culture adults, regardless of language combinations? Learning a new language changes you, in predictable and unpredictable ways. The specific languages you speak shape who you are, the way you think about the world, the way you categorize things. The simple fact that you speak more than one shapes you as well, teaching you that not everyone thinks the same way. It doesn't change your whole personality, but it adds a side of you that is only really accessible in that language. A child raised multilingually grows up thinking all these things are natural and normal - what a wonderful gift to our children!

But now we are talking about a child and her grandparents. Grandparents who only understand part of what she can say and what she can do. Who have the persistent idea that her babble at 1.5 or 2 years old is actually fluent conversation in the other language, and feel left out that she doesn’t speak their language so well. Or, other times, thinking she can’t talk at all because they don’t recognize half her vocabulary and so don’t realize it’s there. Who can’t join in when she talks about her favorite song or cartoon character from the other language. It’s not exactly the end of the world, but it is there. Without learning the other language, they simply can’t be included in all aspects of her life. She, like her parents, is a whole person her grandparents don’t fully know, and they don’t know they don’t know it.

Don’t get me wrong: Baby K’s grandparents adore her and think she’s a genius, just like proper grandparents should. And I think this will improve some as she learns to communicate better in both languages and learns that you have to speak THIS way to Babka but THIS way to Grandmama. Of course, we are making every effort to make sure our child’s grandparents will be part of her life and that she will speak each of their languages fluently, which I suppose not all families do.** But it is still a little sad when they don’t respond to what she’s said because they don’t understand, and she doesn’t know why.

And for the rest of her life, there will be a part of her that her grandparents don’t know, and it is our fault, for moving between worlds the way we do, for not choosing just one, and for creating a sweet American-Slovak child who moves between worlds, too, who thinks everyone has a Mama and an Apo (not a Daddy) and who lives in a country far, far away.

I may not regret it enough to change any of my decisions (oh, never), but I do recognize the cost. I do.

* We have a whole shelf of dictionaries at home: English-Czech, English-Slovak, Slovak-French, English-Spanish, all sorts of combinations. In the end it turns out we never use any of them because it is too easy to turn to the other and just ask. Or I like to use the dictionary function at for a fast and dirty thesaurus.

** Actually, I know not all families do. My father-in-law has a son from his first marriage who lives in America and whose only son does not understand Slovak. So I think my in-laws are quite happy with us for teaching our child Slovak, and with me for not stealing their son away to my country. When we had been married a few years and I STILL hadn’t stolen him away from them, I think they relaxed a little about having a foreign daughter-in-law, haha.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Language update: 2.5 years

Baby K is 2.5 today. Her speech has been a lot more complex and intelligible to strangers recently. Intelligibility is a double-edged sword as it turns out, like the time she said a clear, loud “Go away!!” to the innocent old lady passing by. “Go away” is her new catch-phrase when she’s annoyed with us. This weekend she said it to me while sitting on my lap, which in my mind just perfectly captures the essence of a two year old. She is also very fond of “No touching” (she says “no chuching”). In the last day or two she's started asking, "What happened?"

Recently, she likes to sit in the stroller (she calls it “biki”) when she’s tired of walking, but only on her terms: not wearing the straps. As she gets in, she says, “K sit a biki, no straps.” Last week she paused just before getting in and looked up at us both, saying,

“No straps, ok? Mama, no straps.”
Me: “OK, no straps.”
K: “Apo, no straps.”
[silence from Apo]
K: “Apo, no straps, ok?”
Apo: “Dobre.” [ok]

When she had successfully secured agreement from both parents, she finished climbing in. This child has negotiating skills.

And then yesterday she was playing barefoot with her friend L, and I made her put her sandals back on. As I helped her get them on, she appealed to me, saying, “L no shoes.” Again: negotiating skills. Before you know it she’ll be appealing to precedent and catching us out in inconsistencies. What fascinates me about this sort of tactic is that she didn’t learn it from anyone – she’s an only child who isn’t as exposed to other children as I would like. Kids are just born knowing this kind of thing.

Her output in Slovak is still increasing, mostly on the single-word level but still with some occasional short sentences. She isn’t on board with word endings yet* and tends to repeat whichever form she’s recently heard:

Apo: “Chceš ísť do parku?” [Do you want to go to the park?]
K: “Parku! Parku!”

With verbs she has been typically using the command form (Sit! Stop!) because that’s what she hears most often (haha). I wonder if other Slovak kids typically do that at first, too. For example, she’ll say “Apo hopaj” (Apo sit) when it should be “Apo hopá” (Apo sits/is sitting). In the last month or two she’s started using infinitives some, too, showing that she knows there are at least those two forms of the verb (she’ll say either “K hopaj” or “K hopať.” On Saturday, she came upstairs to tell me, “Mama, food time. Apo variť ” (lit. “Apo to cook”).

This weekend K announced she needed to use the potty while we were driving.

Apo: K, vydrž! [Hold on! - command]
K: OK, I vydrž! [compare the correct "ja vydržím" - I hold on]

Since starting to use some Slovak verbs (usually in English sentences as above), I’ve noticed the same sort of verb endings as she uses in Slovak-only sentences, i.e. they’re a bit odd. But funny. I was very impressed though when she correctly used two word endings of the same word, without imitating something she’d just heard:

K, looking for her lost hat: “Čiapka? Čiapka? ... I find čiapku!”

The verb was English, but it shows she’s starting to get the idea of a word taking different roles in a sentence and having different endings to match. Warms my heart just thinking about it.

As far as English goes, I think she’s doing pretty well. She isn’t discussing politics with me yet, but she impressed me this weekend (at a farm) with this sentence: “I want to play on a tractor now.” Her vocabulary is growing and she is able to communicate more and more of her ideas. She has a wild imagination and is interested in monsters, pirates, babies, dinosaurs, Tinkerbell and (always) Doctor Who.

* I can sympathize. When I found out pronouns have two forms, depending on placement in the sentence and/or presence of a preposition, I considered boycotting the whole system. I’m just not going to do it! That was one step too far. (I got over it.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Preschools and a few more bilingualism resources

I met with the director of one preschool last week and am currently being blown off by the one I'm more interested in. Both are private bilingual preschools. Private because every regular preschool in our area of Prague is full. Bilingual because if I have to pay for a private school, why not go bilingual?

The theory is that this will help ease K's transition into Czech society and school system, being taught partly in Czech and partly in English, so she doesn't have the shock of all Czech, all the time when she doesn't understand the language very well. I also wonder if it may slow her acquisition of Czech, especially given the dynamic of Czech kids trying to learn English. However, I ALSO wonder if a gentler transition to a new language environment - avoiding trauma related to language or going to school - will make the slower rate of acquisition worth it in the end. Maybe we could then merge into a regular school next year.

I guess I'll have more information once school #2 bothers to respond to my e-mail. I called them last week while in Prague but they said they were out for the week and call back this week. This week's phone conversation:

"Hi, I called you last week about a place in your school..."
"OK, send us your CV."
"My what? You want me to send you my what?"
"Your CV."
"Whyyyyyyy....should I send you my CV??"
"So we can see what kind of experience you have."
"What does my CV have to do with my daughter attending your school? HOW EXCLUSIVE ARE YOU PEOPLE ANYWAY???"
" you aren't applying for a job?"
"Erm, no. Not this week."



Just a couple of links I thought might be of interest:

Multilingual Mania is a fun blog I've linked to once before. The blog author is a bilingual education coordinator in California, so it's from a US and Spanish language point of view, but you've got a lot of good information and principles on bilingual education, schools, teaching, and so on.

Multilingual Living is a very nice resource by an American mom raising her kids with her non-native German (and their dad's native German), but the site covers a whole range of family and language patterns. I was particularly intrigued by bilingual homeschooling. I can't quite picture convincing the Czech authorities to go for that, but I can at least follow this advice at home.

Also, this isn't exactly related to multilingualism, but Filth Wizardry is full of absolutely amazing projects with and for preschoolers. The rocket is so wonderful it makes me cry a little. And start saving boxes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

British Influence

I love living in the UK and it’s been a great experience for us as a family. The Slovak has had the opportunity to live in a Western country, not bad for a boy born in the workers’ paradise. I get treated like an alien invasion at passport control, but I love CBeebies and the concept of meat wrapped in pastry, so I cope. And Baby K doesn’t care one way or the other. (Except about CBeebies and meat wrapped in pastry, which she is entirely on board with.) The timing is pretty good, too, since we’ll return to Czech Republic before my maternity leave runs out* and K starts preschool.

One thing I’m not crazy about with spending our daughter’s first few years here is her accent getting muddled. I know, I know, proper English and all that, but I don’t really like mixed accents. I want my child to speak like other children from (all) her native countries, which I think is fairly reasonable.

When I agreed to move here, I told my husband that as soon as Baby K came home from the playground saying “Mummy, let’s pop round to the shop”, we have to move. She doesn’t call me Mummy yet**, but she does come home from nursery talking about playing in the garden and other Britishisms. Or at the playground, another child asked if she wanted to go fast (tall a) or slow, and she said fast (tall a), though usually she says fast (short a). She also has a couple of particular intonations that she uses all the time that she’s heard on TV and at nursery.

So when she talks about the “pahk” and “gahden” and all, is it just that she can’t say her R’s yet (true), that she can’t say two consonants together yet (true), or is it also the beginnings of a non-rhotic accent??

All in all pretty cute, frankly, but I guess what I’m saying is I don’t really want my child to sound like this guy.

* You read that right. Three years of maternity leave, baby.

** I wrote this a few weeks ago. Since then she has started to call me "Mummaaaaaaaayy" exactly like the kids at her school and her intonations are distinctly British. Cute, but it's time to move!

Monday, May 17, 2010

On praise

Well, I'm back in UK, visa in hand, after two weeks in rainy Prague. K's CZ/SK took an upswing but nothing too terribly dramatic. Sadly I forgot to keep a list of new words or anything like that.


In going through Bilingual for Fun's archives recently I happened upon this article and it reminded me of this post that I had read a while before and stuck with me. Smashedpea's daughter went on strike for days anytime someone praised her or commented positively on her German. But…praise is good, right? I pondered that one for a while.

When I started thinking about how I react to praise with regard to language, it suddenly made a bit more sense. Praise IS good. I like praise and if someone compliments my language ability it can make my day. BUT – praise also singles me out from others (native speakers). It marks me as other . It means I still have improvement to make: if I spoke perfectly, no one would compliment me because they wouldn’t know there was anything unusual about it. What praise in this case really says is, “I caught you! I notice you are foreign/different/not as good at this as me. Good job though.”

So I guess I can see quite well why a child might be embarrassed and annoyed about being singled out, maybe. There could be countless other reasons feeding into it, too.

I haven’t had a similar experience with my daughter, probably because of her age, but I know it could come up at some point. And actually, thinking about it, I don’t think that we do praise K for using Slovak. I didn’t really consider it. Writing that makes me feel like a bad mother…we do praise her for other things, really!
Maybe it’s because we don’t name the languages to her yet, so we would have to compliment her on “saying something the way Apo says it”…which sounds kind of awkward. I think I may have praised her for using language in general – thank you for using your words (and not your screams) – but not for saying something in her weaker language. Ideally, it should just be part of life, right? I guess we’ll see how far that attitude takes us.

I always notice it when she says something particularly good in Slovak, but I don’t make a big deal of it to her. Like when she said her first two-word Slovak sentence, Apo and I pointed at her and mouthed WOW at each other behind her back, and later probably put it on Facebook and told our parents and whatever. And I may have blogged about it after that. But I guess I didn’t mention it to her. So maybe I have taken smashedpea's lesson to heart.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Monolingual Reactions to a Bilingual Baby

Today's post is hosted over at Multilingual Mania. More thoughts on the baby phase and funny responses to a bilingual family. Head on over and check it out!

In the meantime, I am headed to the airport to pick up my husband from the airport and bid a thoroughly disgusted farewell to long-distance relationships, I hope for a very long time to come! And then to a meeting with a bilingual preschool for K next fall. On which, more to come.

Have a great weekend and see you back in England!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


On crowded public transport:

K: Hi peoples! Hi everybodeee!

*crickets chirp as no one reacts*

Me: K, here you have to say ahoj lidi [hi people]
K: No, I want hi! Hi peoples!


On playground or in town, often:

K: Hi, I Katie. What you name?
*crickets chirp as no one reacts*

Why she has chosen now to call herself “Katie” (she usually calls herself “Katka”, the CZ/SK version of her name) I do not know. It must be conditioning from attending nursery in UK.


On the playground, climbing up stairs with friend:

K: Three, four six, three, four,!!!!

Friend repeats

Mother: Ty se učíš počítat anglicky, jo? [You're learning to count in English, are you?]
Me: Well, sort of...


Me: Excuse me miss, what is your name?
K: Katie.
Me: Really, I thought your name was Katka?
K: I Katka.
Me: Are you Katie or Katka?
K: I Katie a Katka.
Me: Yes, you are Katie and Katka.


K misbehaves, Apo counts to three in warning:

Apo: Raz, dva… [one, two…]
K: No three, Apo! No three!


Our apartment:

Repairman asks for a whisk broom. I can’t find one and ask what it is to make sure I’ve understood correctly what he wants (I have).

Later, repairman asks for an extension cord. I have to ask what he means, since I’ve never heard the word. (Vocabulary fail, I am suitably embarrassed.)

Repairman says he is Czechoslovak and what am I? I say American. He expresses surprise as he thought I was Slovak. I am even wearing Slovakia t-shirt.

So, is this a bilingual win or bilingual fail? Fail: my subpar Czech vocabulary made him ask where I’m from. But win! Up til then he thought I was Slovak! Which is not that far from Czech in fact.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bilingual Baby Talk, or OPOL and Mixing Languages

The Slovak and I are pretty good about not mixing languages when talking to our daughter. When talking to each other we don’t limit ourselves and just go for whatever is most accurate, springs to mind first or generally sounds coolest, but we don’t do that kind of thing with Baby K.

It was easy enough when she wasn’t talking back yet. But once she started using some actual words, it became VERY HARD INDEED not to use them back to her. I challenge anyone to say boring “bread” when your daughter asks for “hebik” (her version of “chlebík”, which means bread).

You have to understand, I come from a family where we used the baby words of various siblings until, well, we still use them, so until adulthood. My mother actually tried to prevent us from saying correctly a word we had previously said cutely (note: I am not recommending that). As an example, my whole family called me not by my full name but by the baby version of it that was all my next younger brother could say. They called me that so consistently that my youngest sister was five by the time she realized my actual name was something different.

So perhaps you can appreciate how strong my first instinct is to incorporate any baby word into the family lexicon and just use it forever. I know you’re not supposed to use baby talk,* though frankly I think that has been contested and my real feeling is that it’s good to use both forms of words, the one from my language (adult English) and the one from hers (baby).**

I actually do a fair bit of using words from K’s lexicon – they’re the ones she understands, after all. Then I follow them up with proper English. My last desperate attempt at keeping at least slightly English-only is that I try to avoid using her Slovak words.

Enter hebik et al. *sigh* Parenting, it is hard. At least I manage not to speak to her in whole Czech sentences and paragraphs. That’s something, right?

Then there is Apo’s side of things – it’s much harder for him. In my case, at least most of K’s cute baby words are based on English, so I don’t have so many to avoid. He has a really hard time avoiding sentences like, “Poď, Katka, ideme robiť night-night. Dáme si jammypants.*** Neprosíš si ešte mik?” Partly it’s the cuteness factor – mik for milk is adorable – and partly it’s that he knows she understands English better than Slovak, and he wants to make sure she understands. That’s the part we need to nip in the bud. We have been pretty lucky so far that K doesn’t resist speaking Slovak to the extent she is able. Apo is making an effort to avoid the extra English since K is capable of learning the Slovak words if she doesn’t already know them.

When we move the burden will be back on me as the minority parent, of course. I think then it will still be hard to avoid throwing in words from other languages at will, but really, maybe that isn’t automatically a bad thing. We are a family with a Mama and an Apo: not a Mama and a Daddy, not a Mamka and an Ocko, not an Aňu and an Apo. These languages are part of who we are, and maybe it’s ok to use them how we want. As long as we all are able to converse in one language at a time, maybe it’s ok to alternate and combine as we like, just among our own kind.

* It has come to my attention in googling baby talk articles that people mean pretty different things when they say "baby talk". I don't mean the googoo gaga type of baby talk, although K and I do have conversations in gibberish sometimes. I mean that we use to her the forms of words that she uses herself, which I think of as baby words, or family words. I guess some people don't consider that baby talk.

** We are really quadrilingual if you think about it: English, Slovak, Czech and Baby. It’s only fair each language get some attention, right?

*** That one is English, seriously. Jammypants and jammyshirt are the two parts of your jammies. The ones you wear at night. During the day K wears things such as the Lolashirt (Charlie and Lola) or the meowmeowshirt (Hello Kitty).


As a reward for reading this far, please accept this intriguing article on the cognitive processes involved in how babies learn to talk.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A note for the non-Slavs in the room...

…a note on CZ/SK. Czech and Slovak are two separate languages spoken by two separate ethnic groups formerly within the same country, Czechoslovakia, and now in neighboring countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

They each have their own separate but similar rules on spelling, pronunciation and grammar. This makes them more different than British and American English (a popular comparison) as English is generally written the same no matter how you pronounce it, with a few exceptions. The comparison is useful, though, in the sense that British and American people can have a conversation without taking a language class or breaking out the dictionary,* yet it takes an effort to actually SPEAK like the other person. And often sounds pretty funny.

Similarly, Czechs and Slovaks understand each other pretty effortlessly and just have to ask occasionally about a word or phrase they haven’t heard. Young people who have grown up since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, when the two languages were spoken within the same country, are a little less familiar with the other language, but still don’t have much trouble.

Thus when a Czech and a Slovak meet, they just talk each in their own language and it doesn’t strike anyone as strange. Plenty of mixed marriages work this way as well, though the longer you’re in the other country the more of their words and grammar you use, until you pretty much speak the other language instead of your own.**

When the Slovak and I talk, we either both speak English or else he speaks Slovak and I speak Czech, the same as any other Czech would do with him. As a Czech-speaker married to a Slovak and a Slovak living long-term among Czechs, we both have a certain amount of influence from the other language. He will use a Czech word with Slovak endings, a Slovak word with Czech endings, or accidentally insert a ř where it doesn’t belong*** (HA ha), all without particularly noticing it. I occasionally use words I’ve learned from him and find that nope, actually, that word isn’t Czech, it’s Slovak. Like the time he convinced me my new boots were called čižmy when in fact, according to my co-workers, they are kozačky. Oops.

Currently, Baby K understands Slovak quite well, though not as well as English, and she is starting to produce more and more words in Slovak. She has no exposure to Czech (before this week) other than overhearing my comments to her father, since although in the short term it would be helpful for me to speak Czech to her, I think in the long term Czech will prevail (as the language of school and friends) and it is best for me to stay as the English parent overall. I am very interested, and slightly nervous, to see how she copes with the move to a Czech environment and, especially, pre-school, since she will sort of understand but not quite. I think I’ll try to ease her in with some playground and playgroup time before throwing her in the deep end of regular pre-school.

With all that in mind, I tend to refer to what we speak as CZ/SK (Czech/Slovak), or else just call it all Slovak or all Czech or whatever. It makes for a tricky question as far as how many languages we speak at home, though. Czech and Slovak are separate languages and our family will grow up speaking and hearing all three, so we are trilingual. Or, Czech and Slovak are so similar that realistically speaking, our kids will grow up speaking Czech instead of Slovak, so we are bilingual.

Our strong preference would be for our children to be able to speak Czech AND Slovak well, but I have never met a Czech/Slovak family where they did. On the other hand, I’ve never met a Czech/Slovak family that put nearly as much value in both languages as we do. It may be inevitable, like bringing up a British child in America who has very little chance of retaining a purely British accent over the years. So we’ll see. It would actually be easier in some ways to maintain the father-language if we lived in Germany or Japan or something. Or, for that matter, Slovakia. Or how much simpler would my life be if my husband and in-laws were Czech? But I would never exchange my Košičan for a Pražák, so there you go.

* Except for when you have to look up (or ask about) some crazy idiom you’ve never heard before, of course.

** Actually, this starts to happen just over the course of a long weekend with the in-laws in some cases.

*** A fun (to me) point about ř: Slovak doesn’t have this sound, so Slovaks (and everyone else in the world) tend to have trouble producing it. I can actually say it pretty well, thanks to extensive practice while roaming the streets of Prague my first year there. Along with pronunciation in general (ooh, and spelling) it is probably the only thing in Czech that I can do better than my husband. So, naturally, I take every opportunity to bring it up with him! He has a major advantage otherwise, as far as how do you say this and what does that mean.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

First encounters with Czech children

Well, we have a few playground trips and children’s activities under our belts now. We’ve scouted out a couple of playgrounds in the area and started to figure out where the preschools are. Of course, whether a preschool will admit K for this fall at this late date is a subject for another day and another blog post. (In the meantime, cross your fingers and hold your thumbs* that they do!)

At the playground we met twice another little girl with K’s same name, something that wouldn’t happen in England (she calls herself by the CZ/SK version of her name). I did notice something that I expect will become a theme until K learns better Czech: people ignored what she said in English, since they didn’t understand it (I expected that one) and seemed to view her as uncooperative until I stepped in (hadn’t thought of that one). People occasionally talked to her and she just stood there smiling. When they heard me speak to her quietly in English, they commented things like, “Oh, THAT’S why she wasn’t reacting!” I explained that she doesn’t understand Czech well because we have lived abroad since she was a baby. When it came to the mother who wanted to collect her child’s things and go home, and K wasn’t forking over the toy she’d found on the ground, the truth was in between – K really didn’t understand what was being said to her, and perhaps more importantly, she truly believed the toy was hers. Finders keepers and all that. As if she was letting go of that thing any time soon! She had some fun playing with a couple of other children, though, and told them goodbye in Czech when they left. I’m thinking it’s a good idea to have some chaperoned Czech-friends time before throwing her to the sharks of preschool this fall, though.

This morning we went to our first Czech playgroup. I was apprehensive since I went by the place on Monday and no one answered my repeated knocks, even though I could see them in there. I had maybe just a few paranoid thoughts about why that might be…especially when they didn’t answer my email, either! But I gathered my courage and set off this morning for the scheduled activity (though I didn’t tell K where we were going for just in case!) and they opened the doors this time. So that’s a successful day right there.

We did some exercise bouncing on a ball, which K loved. We sang some songs and said some rhymes, but unfortunately not ones that I know. The few I did know are a bit different between Slovak and Czech (I know the Slovak versions), so I didn’t even get to show off on those. I did get halfway through “Skákal pes přes oves” before going back to mumbling, because I’ve never actually learned the last part. On some of the songs that had repeated parts, I was singing along a bit and K repeated a few words, too. Enough to convince the others that she’s not ENTIRELY mute, at least.

After snacktime they did some painting. They painted a tree-shaped paper, glued flower petals on it and then glued it to a stick as the trunk. My daughter’s painting was the ugliest out of the four children’s who were there, but – but! – she was the only one who painted her own! I showed her what to do and put on a brush stroke here or there, but the other mothers actually took the brushes from their children’s hands and did the painting for them. We’re talking two shades of green with some shading thrown in. Theirs were beautiful, but the kids were kind of sitting around aimlessly poking at their papers. I sort of wondered if I’m seeing a cultural difference at work here (possible), but I commented on it to some Czech friends later and they all laughed about ambitious mothers and such, so they didn’t think it was totally normal. Either way, I’m definitely more hands-off than that!

Then in the afternoon we went shopping and found a children’s play area where we spent a couple of hours. They had a big trampoline and a ball pit and lots of cars, strollers, and kitchen and house toys. And, most important, kids! K was so happy. Both this morning and this afternoon I did the same thing as before at the playground, running interference to avoid any major failures of communication. When out among people like that, I’ve been trying to speak to K in Czech, both so others understand us and to help her understand the kinds of things other people will say to her. If necessary I repeat it to her quietly in English. Usually it means a quiet talk about sharing and taking turns that I would have to take her aside for in England, anyway. She’s using more new words slowly, but she has a long way to go before she’s at the level of her peers. I think she’ll manage it fairly soon after we move, though.

Speaking to her in Czech is a little strange when I’m used to English**, but that is my plan for when we live here, actually. I want us to speak English when we’re alone together and Czech when we are with friends or at playgroup, etc. I don’t want to be the crazy foreign mother yelling at her kids in the supermarket in English. How embarrassed they would be in front of their friends. I will yell at them in Czech like all the other mothers. :)

* See what I did there? Literally translating an expression from one language into another. My favorite is “experimental rabbit”. Figuratively means guinea pig, but experimental rabbit in English sounds a lot funnier. This is the sort of fun you can only have with other people who speak both your languages.

** Although intriguingly, she doesn't seem to think it's strange at all. Maybe she's used to hearing me speak with Apo. Or else she just accepts that periodically people burst out with things she doesn't understand. Who knows?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Visiting Prague, multi-purpose words and good manners

This is the third full day of our trip to Prague. As if in honor of the occasion, before we had even left the airport when we landed K had come up with two new Slovak words, one new English word, and a grammatically acceptable two-word Slovak phrase (ísť von – go outside). In the two days since then we noticed a significant increase in the percentage of Slovak she is speaking. It’s all things she already passively knows in Slovak, but I guess hearing Czech spoken around her inspires her to actively use her Slovak words over the English ones. I wonder how far her language spurt will take her before we leave in a couple of weeks!


Yesterday K was reading books with her new best friend (our friend who lives in our place when we’re away) and Apo came over to see what they were up to. K thought he was going to spoil their fun, though, because she said something about books and reading with her friend and then

“Go away!”

Apo: “No prosím???” [Excuse me, what did you just say???]

K: “Prosím!!” [PLEASE go away!]

“Prosím” has several meanings, see, the main one being please but others include excuse me, you’re welcome, pardon me, here you go… I guess the only one K knows is please, though, because she mistook her father’s righteous indignation for a request to be politely told to get lost. Let no one say she doesn't say please and thank you!

She got in trouble but we were laughing on the inside. Sometimes the hardest part of parenting is keeping that laughter from getting out, though!


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