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.


  1. Heh, it's funny that you bring this up now - 'cause I've been thinking about it again, too. Whatever it was that made her so, erm, difficult with praise, is completely gone. I no longer praise her all that much (I only ever got into it because I had finally gotten her to actually speak German), but now she's the one that comments on how bad or good her German is, usually matter-of factly, but sometimes inviting praise.

    Looking back on it now I think it was 'growing pains' for her - she probably did feel singled out (after all, she also doesn't get praised for speaking English), but I have a strong feeling that it was also her reaction to no longer getting away with speaking English only. Stubborn little freak that she is :)

    Baby K seems to be doing just fine, so you must be doing something right! And please refrain from sending me her future therapy bills involving claims she wasn't praised enough :)

  2. It sounds like her confidence has really taken off - that's great! And as far as therapy bills go, I'm sure this isn't the only way in which I am ruining future teenage-K's life. Might as well add one more thing to the list. :) You know, right after being SO EMBARRASSING and totally not getting her...

  3. Sorry, to make things a little more complicated for you, here's something I forgot to mention that might just confuse you a little more :)

    My younger one actually does respond very well to praise for speaking German. Especially when it comes in the form of high fives. He's never refused to speak German the way his big sister did, so there really was no need to start praising him - but it happened sort of inadvertently, maybe because kids in North American society get praised all the time for just about anything (at least that's my impression) and now his enthusiasm when praised seems to be acting like positive reinforcement on us, I don't know.

    But there you go. Just to muddle things up a bit more for you - glad to be of service :)

  4. I guess that's the classic lesson of parenting more than one child: they're all different! I guess it reminds us that parenting isn't a science, the kids themselves determine a lot of how they turn out. :)



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