Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Our potential life in America

Leslie asks:

Do you think you'd be equally diligent about teaching your daughter Slovak if you lived in the US?? (I ask because I know our future children would just NEVER learn Turkish if we lived in the US!) (I mean, I know you're in England right now, and we even will be soon, too, but I personally imagine that the US would make us EXTRA lazy!)

Honestly, I think it would make us even MORE diligent, for the reasons you mention. I agree that it would be so easy to just slide by with English, especially in an area without other Slovaks around. This time in England has showed us that at least for our family, no matter how much time Apo spends with K when he's home, it is not enough for her to keep anywhere near age level and we would have to step it up if we were staying long-term. And yet it is actually really important to both of us that K and any other children of ours would know both their heritage languages well. Really very important.

If we ever did move to the US permanently or semi-permanently, I think that I would take the plunge and go to minority language at home (CZ/SK at home, English outside) or even all CZ/SK, outside or in. I am unclear on whether this would involve me switching to speak actual Slovak. That would be less confusing in the sense that kids wouldn't have to decide whether to imitate Mama or Apo, but less workable in the sense that I would be mentally translating everything from Czech and second-guessing myself all the time. I could do that, but it would be more natural and spontaneous for me to speak Czech, which would turn us out some little Czechoslovak speakers - which, if we lived (semi-)permanently in the US, might not bother us that much.

I'm not sure how we would do it exactly, whether it would be truly all CZ/SK, all the time, or if I would move back and forth between that and English - since I wouldn't want to give up English interaction entirely - but I am fairly sure of one thing: we would be even more diligent than we are now!

Whether we would be SUCCESSFUL is of course another problem, but the desire is there.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Speak Slovak please! and How Baby K Came To Be

Lots of Slovak the past few days. With my mother-in-law here visiting, I've decided to try something new this time: speaking only CZ/SK when she's around, even to K. I'm also regularly reminding K to speak Slovak, providing words when she can't think of them and providing a running translation for Babka when K speaks English anyway. In the past I've always spoken English with K and then felt bad that Babka doesn't understand. I know there are different opinions on this issue, but that's how I feel, so I tried speaking 90% CZ/SK this time. It's actually having an effect, since Babka definitely appreciates being let in on our everyday conversation and K is surrounded by more sorely needed minority language.

She's learned (or activated) some new words, including "vý-bor-né!" (excellent!) at dinnertime, which made me pretty happy. I'm most proud of her for how well she is counting in Slovak, though! We counted yesterday several times in English and Slovak, and K counted on her own in Slovak from 1 to 5 without prompting (!!), and then 6 to 10 with prompting.

It's interesting to me that she doesn't mix the number systems together when counting, although "sedem" (7) does occasionally come out like "sevem", which is kind of funny. I've also noticed that her "ďakujem" (thank you) sounds suspiciously like "thankyouem". They do kind of sound alike, we've discovered.


I thought I'd try to answer another question today. You can find the first one here.

veronica.maria.rojasdelaparra also asks:

Also, how did you meet Apo? I'm a sucker for romantic stories!

I gave the short version of how we met in one of my first posts.

I can't say that how we met was very interesting in itself - we saw each other and didn't make much of an impression. I had just come to Prague and didn't act like his idea of an American. He had just come from some out of town team-building exercise with work and kept saying "I'm too old for this", giving me the impression he was much older than he actually was.

Sparks started flying pretty quickly - but not romantic ones! We are both sharp-tongued, sarcastic types, so the banter got sharper and sharper until we started wondering if the other one was serious. He thought I was annoying, and I certainly thought he was annoying, except...

Within a few weeks I was starting to realize that of all our friends, the two of us had the most in common, and that he had a lot of positive qualities you look for in a partner. "He'll make somebody a good husband," I told myself. "Just not me, because he's, like, rude." As time passed and I saw the books he was reading and the topics that interested him, I realized that he would make a good husband for ME - if he would just lose the attitude!

The only thing standing between us and eternal happiness was that he didn't like me. I COULD WORK WITH THAT.

I wasn't exactly pining after him, either. I was just clear-sighted enough to recognize potential compatibility when I saw it. I let it be and went on with life. In the end, it was actually him who fell in love first.

Truly all it took was for both of us to lose the attitude enough to have a normal conversation like normal people, and when we did, we started getting along pretty well. One fateful day we went for coffee together (he had just come from the dentist and was just trying to enunciate properly for the first hour or so) and romance was born. Or at least, the possibility of romance. We texted and e-mailed a lot over the summer and by fall were each fairly sure we should get married, that is if the other one wanted to. Of course, I had known that for over a year by then, but I didn't let him in on THAT detail until much closer to the wedding.

After we started getting along, we REALLY got along and arguments or other tension became pretty rare. We are sweet to each other now. And if that's not happily ever after, I don't know what is!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Extended Family and the Multilingual Child

Questions and answers, part 1! I'll try to answer these one or two at a time over the next several days.

veronica.maria.rojasdelaparra asked in the comments to my question and answer post

“I'd like to know how do you handle K's relationship with your family in the US. Have you ever visited? How do you feel about it? I ask because we visited my family (in Mexico) last Christmas when my son had just turned 2 and it was a disaster! He couldn't get used to the new environment and the new people, and I ended up feeling quite sad that my son and my mom couldn't get along as I had hoped they would. (we live in Belgium -married to the Fleming of my dreams-, BTW, so we only get so see my family every couple of years).”

We used to visit the USA about every 18 months, but when K was born it quickly became clear that my mother would never get over it if we kept her grandchild from her for that long at a time. Now we try to make it more like once a year, with three trips since last November for various unavoidable reasons (wedding and funeral). K has been to America four times so far, I think, though under normal circumstances it would have been just two. My mother has been to see us once and a few other members of the family have been at different times.

We’ve been fortunate so far that parts of my family made the effort to come see us, and that we could make the trip across the ocean ourselves, especially now before we are tied to the school schedule and can go whenever we want. Still, though, it’s obviously not enough to maintain a relationship like when you live in the same city. So far, however, our trips have always gone well.

One thing is that K is simply an outgoing, people-oriented little kid, so she is pretty agreeable to meeting new people, sitting on their laps and giving them kisses. She is also a really good traveler and (almost always) adapts well to new surroundings without too much fuss. That sort of thing just depends a lot on personality, I would think.

Another key thing is that we try to keep the grandparents’ memory alive, so to speak, even between visits. For example, we have pictures of all the extended family on display and often talk about them, and K likes to point to the pictures and name Apo, Mama, K, Grandmama, Babka, Dedo, uncles and aunts… We also talk about what is Grandmama doing right now, what we did when we visited last, anything to encourage a feeling of attachment.

Probably the most significant element, though, is SKYPE! We usually Skype with both sides of the family at least a couple of times a week, so they get to talk and, most importantly, see each other. This means that when we step off the plane in America, it’s not a total stranger greeting us, but the friendly face from the computer who watches while K sings and dances. I also let K talk on the phone when we call that way, even before she could talk and all she did was babble. That communication and especially video calling really does seem to make a difference.

Even so, K is always a little standoffish with both sets of grandparents at first, until she gets used to them. I know both grandmothers are a little sad when she doesn’t jump straight into their arms and have sleepovers with them and all that. I actually think this may improve with age, since just-turned-2 is a difficult time: old enough to object to being loved on by just anybody, and not old enough to understand the concept of “grandparents”. I wonder if your next visit will be smoother, with an older child and plenty of preparation for travel and how fun grandparents are. I think it's probably also important not to put too much pressure on your child, parents or yourself to "force" more intimacy than the child is ready for. Our families are pretty good about holding themselves back and going at K's pace, even when all the grandmothers want to do is pick her up and smother her with kisses. And just to recognize that it might take a while (a few visits/years) to build a comfortable grandparent-grandchild relationship. That may take some managing of expectations on the grandparents' part!

The good thing about relations with my side of the family is that K is most proficient in English, so my mom could understand her on our most recent visit (with some translation of “baby” English and Slovak-English the way K speaks it, of course). They were able to talk and play games, which will in turn help their next meeting to be even more fun, I think. K is old enough now to remember and start to form the emotional ties to extended family, even though I know it will never be the same as if we lived close by. That is a regret that I have, but there is no way we could satisfy both sides of the family, and we have to live our own life, too. It’s just a consequence of international living, it seems.

The flip side of that is that currently Slovak is K’s weaker language, so her Slovak grandparents really DON’T understand her. My mother-in-law is visiting now and I am providing a running translation of what K says, since K understands Babka but Babka doesn’t understand K. (And K seems DETERMINED that she will speak English to whomever she pleases, thank you very much, and that if someone doesn’t understand, then that is hardly her problem.)

Was language a factor for you? Like that your son didn’t understand Spanish well, so he – or grandma – was uncomfortable or unable to really connect? It really makes the Slovak of my dreams and I sad when we see that with his parents. Of course, part of the problem there is that they don’t understand even the Slovak that K does speak, because she talks too softly or they aren’t listening properly. It is pretty frustrating. However, we aren’t all that worried about it in the long term, since we know we’ll be moving and K will be learning Czech (close enough to understand Slovak) soon enough.

In short, I feel very fortunate that K and her grandparents on both sides have had as many opportunities to meet as they have, even though it is not as many as we could wish for. It gets harder and harder to walk away from them after a visit, knowing that K will be different next time, and that her grandparents are aging, too. I'm glad they have as good a relationship as possible under the circumstances, though, and I hope that it will continue to improve over time. I really hope that your next visit to Mexico will be more fun and relaxing for everybody!


Stay tuned for more answers next time. Thanks for asking and especially for de-lurking, since I didn't know you were there!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In which you do my job for me

So with the cleaning and mild panic that go along with my mother-in-law coming for a ten day visit tomorrow, I haven't devoted much thought to blog topics. And that, my friends, is the perfect opportunity for a question and answer session!

What have I not written about that you would like to read? What would you like to know about me, the Slovak of my dreams or Baby K? Questions about us in particular, multilingual child-rearing in general, what we had for dinner last night?

Comment with your questions and I'll write them up over the next several days. Now is the time to come out of lurktown!


Also, my mother-in-law is coming to visit! I anticipate an intensive Slovak environment for the duration, which should be good for all of us. I've tried to prepare K for speaking more Slovak, meaning I've told her that while Babka is here we will be speaking Slovak/the way Apo talks because Babka doesn't understand English/the way Mama talks. She agreed, but then she agrees with pretty much anything you say, because she is an agreeable little girl. It makes a refreshing change from the constant negativity in some of her peers, at least, though it comes with its own challenges.


Over the weekend we made some new friends with children who are 7 and 5. The 7 year old was playing with K and asked her mother, "Mummy, how do you say 'Let's go play'?" Her mother answered, "She does speak English, dear."

I could have included that in my guest post about reactions to bilingualism: K was speaking English, and I was speaking English, but since the girl heard K's father speaking something else to her, she assumed K wouldn't understand her. She's not exactly the only one to think that way, either. Either way, the two girls had a lot of fun together.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Multilingual LEGO Reading

Got Legos at home? Take a look at this simple idea from Filth Wizardry and think of the multilingual possibilities! Basically it's just putting letters or words on individual Lego bricks (with stickers or labels) and stacking the resulting words and sentences. Like a DIY magnetic poetry set, but for kids and customized to your tastes - and languages. I'm just disappointed my daughter isn't reading yet so she won't get immediate use from this. :)

There is a version for readers with sight words to build sentences, and a version for younger kids with one letter (or cluster, i.e. "ee", "th", "ck") per brick to build words. We are just starting some letter recognition when K is in the mood, and we do have a bunch of blocks, so I'm pretty sure letters will be making an appearance on her Legos sometime soon.

Since our languages use the same alphabet, we can use the same blocks for both if I add some with the added letters (š, č, ť, é, and so on) and extra v, y, z, and other letters that are used with more frequency in CZ/SK. I'm excited about the possibilities.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Reasoning Power of a Two Year Old

“Kde that??” (Where is that?)


“Kde circle?” (Where is the CD I was holding?)

“Dieťa. Uvažuj logicky. Kde si ho mala naposledy? Preberme to od začiatku.” (Child. Consider it logically. Where did you have it last? Let’s start at the beginning.)

She thought for a moment, then stiffened in realization and ran to the hallway straight to where she had stowed it in the storage compartment of her stroller.

This was about a year ago: K was 21 months old at the time. I was laughing at my husband for pulling out his uncle’s old “consider logically, retrace your steps” approach on a little child, but he (and his uncle) were right: even at less than 2 years old, K was capable of thinking and remembering more than I gave her credit for.

You’d think that would have taught me my lesson, but it didn’t. I still regularly underestimate my daughter’s abilities, as I imagine a lot of parents do. Especially now, at 2 ½, it is more effective to actually explain something than to just power through and weather the screaming. She has enough language and cognitive ability now to understand the why of something, if it is explained the right way.

For example, on one of our trips to Prague several months ago we gave K a new backpack to take on the plane for her things. She adored it and felt so important! When we got nearer to security, Apo and I started looking at each other uneasily: no way was she going to surrender that bag without a fight! I picked her up and showed her the scanners and the people in front of us. "Everyone has to put their bag on the belt," I explained. "I'll put my bag there, Apo will put his, and look, those ladies are putting their things there too." She looked thoughtful and nodded, and when it was our turn a few minutes later, she took off her backpack and placed it on the belt herself! I didn't think it would work, but it did. I don’t know why it took us so long to catch on before that! We were still in the mindset that she is a baby who won’t understand.

We are slowly moving into explanation and reasoning territory, which is terribly exciting for us parents. A few months ago, a trip to the zoo was like a big game of Spot the Animal. “There,” she pointed, and walked right on. If she didn’t see the animal, a tree or a rock was just as good. Now she can stop with us and watch the animals play, and we can explain what they are doing and why. Simple natural processes are starting to make sense to her: bees like to fly around the flowers, and sometimes they sting your finger. Birds hatch from eggs and like to fly in the sky. Red means stop, green means go. Simple things, but so exciting to discover for the first time!

K will sit still for a whole story now instead of wandering off in the middle (usually…). She is even starting to show she understands the stories by retelling them to herself while flipping through the book. She invents elaborate backstories for minor pictures in a book, like the boy on one page who is running to his mama because his finger is hurt because it got stung by a bee and his mama kisses it better and then the boy goes to play football.

I just love the thought processes caused by an active mind with a limited knowledge of the world. When K’s forehead is hot, she makes me blow on it, because that is what you do with hot things. Or earlier this week I wasn’t feeling well, so Apo and I both had to remind K several times not to jump/lean/sit on Mama’s tummy, because it hurt. She gave me a kiss on the mouth and on the stomach to make it feel better, and immediately asked, “Is it better?” I said it was. The next time Apo got onto K about jumping on me, she said indignantly, “No, it’s better! I kiss. [Turning to me, putting her hand on my arm, kissing me again] Is it better?” I had to admit that her reasoning was sound. “See?” she turned back to her father. “It’s good.”

Of course, she also tries to wear her doll’s clothes and today insisted that she had no pockets, only “vreckos” (vrecko is pocket, plus English plural), so I’m not signing her up for genius school yet. She just has the ordinary genius of all two year olds, and I love to watch it in action.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Conversations with my husband

"I like how you refer to me on there as 'the Slovak'."
"Do you mean you like it or you want me to change it?"
"I mean, you could call me 'the Stud' or something. Just if you wanted to."
"I am totally blogging this."

Sort of like the time he told me I was free to tell anyone about our, ahem, private life, provided I was sufficiently complimentary.


K brings me a Ferda Mravenec book and insists I read it to her.

"You know, you're really getting a British accent in Czech. I think I can hear it there."
[insert glare and pointed comment about who dragged who to this country]


And then the other day when I was counting from 1 to 10 in Hungarian, and K was repeating after me:

"Hey, her pronunciation is actually better than yours."


But when I felt sick this afternoon, who leaped up from his desk and came home to take care of us? It was the Devilishly Handsome, Raven-Haired Slovak of My Dreams!

(There, sweetie, what do you think of that one?)

Language 101

We are toying with the idea of doing Multilingual Living’s Language Challenge 101, a project to learn a new language as a family for 101 days. Or, you know, until I lose interest.

The most useful for our immediate future would be a concentrated dose of Czech for Baby K in preparation for moving and starting bilingual preschool, but that would be just for her, since us bigguns already speak Czech.

The Slovak suggested Hebrew or Welsh, but that sounded like a bit too much work. Then he suggested Hungarian, which was blatant cheating, since while I DO want to learn, he actually speaks it and would be just brushing up on grammar, while I know just a few words. I did pull out our Communist-era Teach Yourself Hungarian book (“We are workers. Are you workers?”) and went through a few lessons. I probably doubled my Hungarian vocabulary yesterday in an hour or two – meaning I retained five or ten words. I already knew a few things like “I don’t speak Hungarian”, “thank you” and “hello”. Really impressed the (Hungarian-speaking) extended family with those a couple of years ago, too!

I may look through the Hungarian book some more on my own, but as a family project it leaves something to be desired. I’d rather a language where we’re more on an even playing field! Or even where I have an advantage…which brings us to Spanish. We each know a bit but not too much, but I know more (somewhere in the depths of my brain). Score! And the Slovak doesn’t get to insult my pronunciation like with Hungarian.

So Spanish it is. Now to see how long we last, with work, moving, my mother-in-law coming to visit, and, perhaps most significantly, my own slacker nature. At least I can take the Spanish book with us in the car and refresh some basics while we drive!

I didn’t specifically teach K any Spanish or Hungarian vocabulary over the weekend, but I did try out a few sentences on her, which she attempted to repeat. She thought it was pretty funny, which is interesting because in the past she hasn’t reacted to us speaking other languages with any level of surprise. Now it seems that she recognizes and is amused by the fact that this is not our normal way of talking. I think that's probably progress.

But for now it's from the beginning: el español es muy fácil. We'll see about that!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Betrayed by an "Um"

Or, the importance of non-verbals in language acquisition.

I had a disturbing experience during our visit to Prague a few months ago. You see, usually, if someone asks about my background, they assume I’m:

a Czech who’s been out of the country long enough to get rusty
born abroad with Czech parents/grandparents
and so on. In order of most to least flattering.

English-speaking countries are far down the list of common guesses. Even, interestingly, when the person is holding my residence card stating my nationality in their hand (as happened with my doctor the first time anyone ever mistook me for Czech). This is an important point because it shows that my accent, while present, is somewhat difficult to define, in contrast to when I first started learning Czech and my pronunciation screamed AMERICAN IN THE ROOM. Now it is mainly my husband’s OU Sooners (college football) shirt and hat that scream American in the room. He is often stopped by Americans in Prague asking what part of Oklahoma he is from. If he were more of a smart aleck he would say Prague. Pronounced "Pray-g". Cracks me up every time.

My disturbing experience took place on the playground when a mom I was talking with asked me where I was from after just a few sentences of conversation, and without waiting for an answer, she said, “American, right?” She said her father spent several years in the United States and came back saying “uh-huh” all the time, just like I did. I really can’t remember the last time someone guessed I was an American right away during a Czech conversation.

I also recall a few years ago a colleague said to me, “You know, however good your Czech may get, I’ll always know you’re an American by the way you say ‘um’.”
My response? “Um…yeah, I should do something about that.”

I have actually worked to eliminate my “um” and “uh” and similar nonverbal giveaways, but I can’t find anything to replace them with. The Slovak is very little help, as his answer is always, “You shouldn’t say anything like that!” He was taught in school to rephrase whatever he’d just said to give himself time to regroup, rather than using a filler sound like “uh”. That is interesting advice, but it does lead to a lot of repetition. Like, saying the same thing three times in a row. And anyway, I have a deep-seated need to make some sound or hand motion when thinking (of a word or of how to answer a question, etc). I have had some success with replacing “um” and other American nonverbals with more Czechish ones (and in the above mentioned conversation I was actually intending to say “aha”), but the odd “uh-huh” still makes its way through on occasion and outs me to any careful listener. I’m also not sure what to do with “ow”, assuming I don’t want to curse, in which case I would have a wealth of colorful options at my disposal.

Who knew that grammar, vocabulary, word order, pronunciation, intonation and local cultural references, assuming I could ever get that far, weren’t enough?
Not that I don’t have plenty to work on with all of those, either! But even if you mastered all of that, you have to be the other language even when not actually talking! After all the nonverbal sounds, of course, come things like posture, volume, facial expressions, shoes (shoes are a dead giveaway for Americans, has anyone else noticed that??), and who knows what else.

I once brought a sick friend (my Czech teacher actually) TWO FLOWERS as a get-well-soon gift, and she laughed and said, “Sometimes I forget you aren’t entirely domesticated yet.” Um, okay… The ridiculous thing is, I KNEW that even numbers of flowers are for funerals. I had even advised foreign visitors of that in the past, but it never crossed my mind when going for a visit myself. It could be worse, I suppose – I have an American friend who brought his Czech wife ten red roses when she gave birth to their first child. Supposedly she practically beat him over the head with them because 1) even numbers are for funerals, and 2) where was her gold jewelry (as he should have given her according to custom)??

On the flip side, there are also Czech nonverbals that I have incorporated pretty fully into English, which I only really realized when I had to translate some of K’s utterances into “English” for my family. For instance, we say “fuj” (ew) whatever the language context, or “ham” (taking a bite) or “ňam ňam” (yum yum). Or Barany buc. I also consider “ahoj” and “čau” (both are “hi” or “bye”) to be pretty much English words at this point. I feel fairly justified in this, since the Slovak claims that “čau” (derived from “ciao”) is actually of Slovak origin.

So there you have it: my second language Achilles heel. I probably have others that I don’t even know about, but this is the main one I am fighting at the moment.

What is it that holds you back in your other language? How does non-verbal communication differ in your other language/country? What should I say instead of “uh-huh” in order not to sound too foreign?? I welcome thoughts on any of these questions!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Any thoughts on how to get the image in my sidebar to a readable size? I haven't done this before!

Family Language Diagrams

Inspired by the lovely diagrams at Multitongue Kids and other places, I thought I'd make one for our family, too. This is what actually goes on at our house right now:

As you can see, there is a whole lot more red than either shade of blue. It's not surprising that Slovak lags behind English at the moment. And of course the only Czech in our house is me talking to the Slovak. But when we move in a few months, here is how our ideal future situation might look:

A whole lot more blue obviously. It will be interesting to see if K is able to separate Slovak and Czech enough to continue speaking Slovak at home. I guess we'll see if and when the reality starts to approach the ideal! I'll have to save these and revisit them in a year or two.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Living a Czech life in Multilingual Britain

One of my favorite things about our town, other than the parks, the trees, the children’s centres, and the ten minute walk to Starbucks, is the Slovak community that has mysteriously gathered here. In our previous town, twenty minutes away, there were no parks, few trees, no playgroup (or Starbucks!) within easy walking distance, and no Slovaks! Well, just the one. Worked in the bakery. Recognized me by my “Česká republika” shirt. I am nothing if not subtle.

Then I move here, and hey! Slovaks! And playgroups! And parks! I felt like I was being let out of prison. Plus, there's a semi-active Slovak playgroup that meets at our local children's centre. And a Czech group that meets once a week in a nearby town. And a Czech Saturday school in another nearby town. If we stayed here long term, we would have more opportunity to take advantage of these resources, too. I just kick myself for not moving here in the first place so I could have had two years of Slovaks and playgroups, not just one. I met one Slovak mother at our local playgroup (overheard her speaking to her son) and she tipped me off to a particular park where a lot of Slovak (and some Czech) families go. Once I made an acquaintance or two, I was in! I am currently refraining from making a comparison to the mafia.

It is really great to have a friend or two who speak Slovak to their kids. It hasn’t magically taught my daughter Slovak, but she gets to hear more adults speaking the language than just her father, which does count for something. It has also been a lifesaver for my ability to string together a coherent sentence. My first year in England was very hard on my language – apparently talking to my husband when the mood strikes just isn’t enough. Having a friend to talk to, and bumping into the occasional mom in the coffeeshop or the park, has got me nearly at an acceptable level again.

And it isn’t just Slovaks in this town. I’ve met families from all over Europe and the world at our local playgroup. Even some of the mothers I thought were British later turn out to actually be from Spain or Finland (etc). I remember at one of our early visits getting into a conversation with a Slovak and a Portuguese woman with a British husband about raising our children with two languages, and I noticed a couple of other mothers were sort of edging their way closer. “Aha,” I thought, “you’re intrigued by our bizarre bilingual lifestyle.” At a second look, it struck me that one woman was Indian and the other was German. They didn’t think we were freaks; they were facing the same issues themselves! To me, that is just fantastic. I love that my daughter has friends from different language backgrounds, with parents who speak fluent English AND their home languages, too. That sort of integrated diversity is one thing really lacking in homogenous Czech Republic as well as our part of USA.

It’s funny how much difference a 20 minute drive makes. We couldn’t have predicted that this particular area would be the one where we can make Slovak friends on the playground. We just got lucky on the second try, I guess. Our town isn’t ideal, but the parks and the playgroups and the Slovaks make it worth it for us. We will actually miss it when we move back to Prague.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The family that sings together...

…stays…bilingual. OK, so I don’t have a catchy ending for that one. But it points us in the direction I want to go today: language learning and song.

We used to hold ourselves back from singing along with songs in the other language, because One Parent, One Language, after all. But along with our small secret revolution we relaxed about singing, as well. Now we all sing along to whatever song we’re singing, no matter what language it’s in. (Which isn’t always one of ours, since our i-pod has at least five languages on it at the moment…)

If you think about it, music is actually a perfect area in which to relax the rules without being confusing. You don’t get any more clear-cut than “now we’re singing, now we aren’t”. And if you don’t have a perfect command of the target language, songs have a set text so you don’t have to come up with your own! For example, I can sing Slovak children’s songs if I know the words, but I couldn’t have a complex conversation in Slovak and be confident it was correct, as my Slovak tends to come out as a funny mix of Slovak and Czech.

Singing is also great because it combines language and culture, if you sing the right sort of songs at least. I don’t consider the Slovak translation of “Jingle Bells” to have much cultural value, but “Narodil sa Kristus Pán” does. And I can help impart that cultural value even without speaking perfectly authentic Slovak. For that matter, I can help my husband impart that cultural value just by singing along for vocal support. He is also now free to participate in marathon sessions of "Hello K, wave hello" and "Twinkle twinkle little star".

While composing this post I popped over to Multilingual Living and saw Alice’s latest post in which she mentions song as one of the tools in her arsenal. So come on, other non-native spouses! If you want to support your family’s other language, SING! Sing a song of multilingualism!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July Carnival

This month's Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism is now up at Bringing Up Baby Bilingual! Sarah has put together a good collection of posts from a range of bloggers. Don't miss the party with the word nerds, including my post outing myself as a closet Slovak speaker.


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