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?

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