Thursday, October 28, 2010

October Bilingualism Carnival

This month's Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism is up now! It's hosted this month by Corey over at Multilingual Living. If you make it all the way through, you can find my entry from earlier this month.

Enjoy, and keep an eye out here for next month's carnival, which I'll be hosting!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stealth Visit

This past weekend we fulfilled one of my long-time daydreams: ringing our in-laws' doorbell and announcing we'd come for a visit. I was minorly concerned that the shock might be TOO much, but after some satisfyingly dumbfounded surprise they handled it quite well.

The Slovak took a half day off work and we left right after K got out of school at lunchtime. We can make the trip in a fairly reliable 8 - 8.5 hours, which is far but not impossible. I have to reiterate once more that our daughter is a phenomenal traveler. She sleeps in the car and pretty much entertains herself while awake. We didn't even have to make any extra stops beyond what we would have made ourselves, anyway. She spent half the trip singing, "Babka, Dedo, Babka, Dedo..."

We're going back in two months for Christmas, but we haven't been to the Slovak's hometown or seen his father for over a year, so we thought an extra, surprise trip wouldn't be a bad idea. Babka and Dedo were excited to see us, by which I mainly mean their only grandchild. She got one of her birthday presents early and I only barely stopped them from giving her another. They still had to pick her up something at the toystore. It was sweet.

It was also sweet to see how easily K settled into a relationship with her grandparents: not just tolerating hugs but actually seeking them out. She would hold her arms out to Babka like, "You may pick me up and hug me now," and over Babka's shoulder I could see K's little smile that showed she was enjoying it. She was a little more reserved with Dedo, which seemed only natural as she's seen Babka as recently as July and Dedo not since her last birthday. She especially loved their dog, Sandra.

K was able to communicate better this time around, which was nice to see, at least on the level of individual words that Babka was able to understand. We still did some translating (English to Slovak, for Babka to understand) and also provided the sentences for K to say what she wanted in Slovak. Since K's method of speaking Slovak is currently to substitute Slovak nouns and occasional, haphazardly conjugated verbs into an underlying English grammar structure, she benefited from a little guidance on how to form a complete sentence. If she said something that Babka didn't understand, either Apo or I would tell her, "K, tell Babka 'Aj ja chcem pomoct' - 'prosim si dzusik' - 'kde je havo?'" -- short sentences that she understood, even though she couldn't come up with them herself. She was able to repeat whatever we suggested and her grandparents understood what she was saying. It seemed to work pretty well, actually.

The only bad thing about a fly-by visit like this is that we didn't have time to visit any of our friends while there. We saw some of them briefly, but otherwise wanted to spend as much time as possible just with the grandparents. We'll have time for visits in December, when we should stay for a week or so.

It was too short, but lots of fun. Nice hearing lots of Slovak again. K loved it. Looking forward to next time!

Monday, October 25, 2010

One Month In

It's been almost a month since we packed up and set off for lands unknown. Unknown, that is, as far as our daughter was concerned. She was born here but that doesn't mean much to her as she doesn't remember anything but England!

One month in, I'd say it's going well. K adapts well to changes and is an experienced traveler. She still asks about her friends in England, for example if they will go to her new preschool. She takes it well, though, when I explain that England is too far a commute.

She loves her bilingual preschool and has a pack of friends, both Czech and foreign. She refers to the teachers as "teta" in Slovak and "that lady" in English. Unfortunately we don't have any neighborhood friends or playgroup type activities yet, but then it took us a very long time to hit our stride when we moved to UK, too. We'll find out where the fun people are eventually!

She still speaks to people in English and seems to feel that if anyone doesn't understand her, well that is THEIR problem and has nothing to do with HER. She is, however, using more and more Slovak and Czech words when talking to Czech speakers. Last week she called me "Maminko!" - correct Czech ending and all. I still wouldn't call it a Czech explosion at this point, but that would be a little premature to expect, anyway.

K's English is still developing in amusing ways. Her imagination is wild and her use of language is more and more able to express it. She breaks out with new phrases I haven't taught her even now in a Czech environment. Most recently "ages and ages" - "I did that ages and ages [ago]." She started talking about "good choices" and "bad choices" this month - I think they must talk about that at preschool. K's approach is usually to do something naughty and then insist, "That not a bad choice." If I suggest that it was maybe not such a good choice after all, she can get kind of defensive, insisting at the top of her lungs, "I GOOD CHOICE, THAT NOT A BAD CHOICE."

We've had to work on adapting to new rules, like teaching K the rules of traveling on public transportation or other aspects of city life. I don't really like it, but I have to shush her more than I did before. Living in an apartment building you can't jump up and down repeatedly on a wooden floor without annoying the neighbors. Can't shout in the hallway, no matter how fun the echo is. Not to mention the different rules once you leave home. K is an agreeable little girl and is picking up on what is expected, but it's still an adjustment.

The adjustments aren't just on her part, either. My poor husband is going through reverse culture shock for essentially the first time (he's traveled very extensively but never lived abroad [i.e. not Czech Republic or Slovakia] before). I'm going through the adjustment, too, but as a foreigner I remember what it took to get used to life here the first time, so I can do it again. The Slovak gets worked up about things, like "The waiters! They're rude! How dare they be rude!" and I pretty much answer, "I know, they've always been rude!" The good thing is I think I'm a little more relaxed this time around, even if I do require the Slovak to give me a refresher course on random things and how they work once in a while. I never claimed to have ALL the kinks worked out. :)

All in all...not a bad start to Life In Prague, Take 2. No major breakthroughs or setbacks to report, just steady forward progress. And we have yet to get tired of fresh Czech bread for dinner.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Working Mama

I mentioned yesterday "starting a business" and was taken to task in the comments for it. So, details!

I picked up my Czech Trade License (aka self employed person's license) on Monday in part two of the Pleasantest Bureaucratic Experience Ever. Category: Translation and Interpretation.

I've done a bit of freelance translation here and there since Baby K was born, not too intensively, just kind of whoever came along. For the past six months or so, though, as I've considered what to do when my luxurious three years of parental leave runs out, I've been ramping it up a bit, updating CVs, looking for more clients, figuring out what paperwork I need, etc.

Since coming back to Prague I've started to put the plans in place, getting the trade license and everything I need to be officially self-employed as a freelance translator. Czech to English, Slovak to English. Mostly legal, since I worked in law offices in USA and CZ in my pre-child days.

It's all in the start-up stage now, trying to work out what number I need from what government office and how to generally run a business...but I think it has potential. I'm cautiously optimistic. :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Grumpy Mama

Busy week. Starting a business. Paperwork. K burned her fingers while baking muffins (really) at preschool last Friday. Took it very bravely despite three large burn blisters on her little fingers, poor thing.

Took her to the doctor to get it wrapped up. She feels like a rock star - really likes doctors. Keeps looking at her bandage and saying, "I'm very brave." Also held hand up to Charlie and Lola on TV today and said, "Look, I've got an owie hand! Oh, you can't hear me..."

I can't say that the doctor herself (at the hospital, not our pediatrician) lived up to my warm, fuzzy recent impression of Prague. So far (since first coming here) I've had mostly positive experiences with private practice doctors and mostly negative experiences with hospitals. No surprise I guess.

Lots of staying inside and watching DVDs this week, unfortunately. See above mama starting business, K burned (now bandaged) fingers. Mama not feeling that great. And Tuesday-Wednesday are our no-preschool days. We're kind of hurting without our UK playgroup routine for no-preschool days. And the two hour break I have to take in the middle of each preschool day (to go pick her up) is really wearing on my nerves and cutting into my productivity. I have to leave at 11:30, 11:40 at the latest, to make sure I'm there to pick her up for 12:30. Thus a full two hours less, practically speaking, than our Bracknell nursery pick-up (five minutes away) of 1:30. It's enough to make me consider starting to drive.

The rest of my productivity is apparently shot in the foot by the inexplicable lack of phone signal in our apartment. I knew we had reception problems in the bedrooms (baby monitor didn't work, only talk on phone in living room) but the living room used to be ok! Now half the time when I talk to someone on land line or cell phone, I can hear them but they can't hear me. And that's WHEN the cell phone even rings to let me know I have a call! I'm contemplating whether it could be a phone provider issue or if our walls are just that full of lead. Or whatever it is that screws up your phone service. I have to make my phone calls from the park outside. How ridiculous is that? Hard conditions to work under, I tell you!

And with this clearly optimistic frame of mind :) I am supposed to go out for our approximately bi-annual date while dear friend watches K at home. Too bad all I feel like doing is going out by myself for a coffee and coming back in, I don't know, three days. Or whenever we get a blessed neighborhood preschool spot so we can start living like normal people.

By which I mean people who take fifteen minutes to pick up their child from a school that is a reasonable distance away, for which privilege they pay a reasonable price. My hopes are set on next school year.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Princess and the Parek

I can think of no better place to live for a little girl who adores castles than here in Europe.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are our no-preschool days, so by Wednesday afternoon we were pretty restless. I woke K up from her nap and asked her, "Do you want to go see the castle?" Her eyes popped open instantly. When I suggested we could stop for a párek v rohlíku (hot dog in a rohlík, the long bread roll) along the way, she jumped up and started singing a song about castles and párky.

If I wrote a list of things in Prague that K loves, párky would have to be near the top. She jumped on that bandwagon after her first taste.

So we took the choo-choo, I mean tram, up to the Prague castle. On the way K entertained the woman sitting in front of us with questions to me about what we were seeing. Buses, cars, the boy walking on the sidewalk: "That's my friend my best friend! He's waiting for me!"

We got off the tram behind the castle and walked over. K was very impressed with the side view of the cathedral and insisted on being lifted up to see over the bridge railing to what was below. We admired the cathedral from the front and K commented how beautiful the castle is. To which I replied,

"Well, actually that's not a castle, it's a cathedral, a big church."
K: "Where's the castle, then?"
Me: "This is all the castle: this building here, that building over there..."
K, offended: "That's not a castle! That's a house!"

Her tastes are becoming more refined, I see. Not long ago she was satisfied with any tall, stone building!

We walked all around the cathedral, looked at St. George's Basilica and peeked into the cathedral itself (you have to pay to go all the way in now (!!), but they let you stand in the back and look around before filing back out. We looked at the stained glass and discussed what pictures and colors we could see. We looked toward the front and K was very impressed.

"Is that where the princess gets married?"
"Yes, that's where the princess gets married."
"Where's the princess??"
"She's not here right now."
"Where is she?"
"Well, she's busy. She hasn't found her prince yet. When she finds him, they'll come here and get married."
"And then dancing."
"Yes, and then there'll be dancing."

My daughter is such a girly girl that it shocks me. Where did she learn about weddings and princesses and dancing? She does love my wedding picture and calls it my "princess dress". I told her it was when I got married to Apo, and she always wants to know where SHE was that day (I guess meaning why doesn't she remember). I tell her she wasn't there, but she doesn't want to believe me. I tell her she was just a dream but I can tell she isn't convinced.

Last night she showed me an empty tin and said it was her presents. "A bracelet! Oh, it's perfect!" (Everything is perfect recently. The toilet paper with a floral pattern was, "Look, my perfect one!") K put an imaginary bracelet on herself and one on me. Then she put on her imaginary necklace and I showed her that I was already wearing one that Apo gave me. She knows that Apo gave me my (wedding and engagement) rings, too. Once we were wearing our perfect jewelry she asked if I wanted to get married. I said I am already married to Apo, but who did K want to marry? "Grandmama," she decided. I suggested that it's traditional to wait until you grow up to get married, and maybe someone outside the family would be best. K agreed that she would wait.

This girly love of weddings and pretty things is so foreign to me! At K's age I supposedly refused to wear anything except for a certain nightgown over a pair of pants. I think it's adorable, though. K is the only child I've seen who gets excited like it's Christmas morning when she gets new clothes. She always insists on trying them on right away.

When we finished at the castle, we walked through the front gates, looked over the wall to see the city from above, and made our way down the hill, across the bridge, through the winding streets of Old Town, never once finding a párek v rohlíku stand. K was asking for one every three minutes or so the whole afternoon, too! But like many fairy tales, this one has a slightly unsatisfying ending, because we never did find one and had to make do with a slice of pizza instead.

And yet, still, a lovely time was had by all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Things I've Missed About Prague

...that you just can't get anywhere else.

1. Chléb
2. Rohlíky. The perfect size for small hands. K likes to tear hers in half and hold one in each hand.
3. Cheese rohlíky.
4. Bacon and cheese rohlíky.
5. Basically anything in the bread family.
6. Iced green tea.
7. Blueberry tea.
8. Blueberry yogurt.
9. Any kind of good yogurt.
10. Bryndza (sheep cheese). It's a Slovak specialty but you can buy it in Prague.
11. Effective public transportation.
12. Automatically giving up your seat to the elderly, pregnant and small children.
13. That unmistakable Prague accent.
14. Czech evening news, including ever-present ragging on Slovakia and/or America!
15. Czech "American Idol" type shows.
16. Czech cable package including main Czech AND Slovak TV channels. (We've found that while shows dubbed into Czech sound TOTALLY NORMAL to us, we both find dubbing into Slovak to be strange and unaccustomed. Our previous Prague TV provider didn't have Slovak channels.)
17. Our friendly neighborhood pediatrician.
18. The Prague Zoo.
19. All of this.
20. And all of this.

Just a non-exhaustive list of the first things that came to mind over the last ten days in the city!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Still can't believe how easy that was...

I had the loveliest experience today at the city offices for our district of Prague today. It feels funny even to write that, because my experiences of bureaucracy are usually of the "We don't like you and are refusing your application, oh, and also, you're stupid" or at least the "Why don't you have these other three papers I never mentioned before?" variety.

I went in this morning feeling cautiously optimistic that maybe the person I talked to last week was correct in claiming that I didn't need any extra paperwork, but prepared to have this be the first of several visits, just in case. In fact I had the most pleasant, painless bureaucracy experience of my life.

I showed my IDs, paid my money, filled things out, signed them and was instructed to come back in a week to pick up my final result. Everyone I talked to was unusually helpful and friendly. All in all I'm feeling very pro-Praha 10 today!

I suspect the difference is that this was the office for residents of a certain district of Prague rather than the country-wide foreign police, for example. A higher standard of pleasantness and helpfulness may be typical for a local office. Or else Praha 10 is really just that great of a place!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What does bilingualism\multilingualism mean to you?

This post is part of the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month at Multilingual Living.

I just answered this question at the Multilingual Mania Facebook page and it started me thinking. My answer was:
"To me it means being a part of two separate worlds defined by the two languages, and belonging to them both. It's a constant challenge and a game of deep undercover, with points scored when I make a good turn of phrase or someone believes I'm a native speaker, and points lost when I lose my cover by making a silly mistake. These are the things that keep my life interesting from day to day :)"
As I've written about before, for me it's less about being two people or having two personalities and more about being one person who moves between two worlds. I think this one is key for me.

And the challenge...I do love a challenge, and this one hasn't gotten old so far. I remember my first year after university (after coming back from a three month stay in Prague) I had a job and an apartment and absolutely no challenge in my life. I was bored stiff. I read a huge number of books that year, difficult, challenging books that made me think, because I needed to use my brain. That was part of the appeal of moving to a new country and learning a new language: at first, even (especially!) grocery shopping is a challenge! I thrive on it, and I still get bored if things start getting too easy.

Along with the challenge, I love the undercover agent game aspect. I have two names (CZ/SK surnames are slightly different for women), two identity cards, two marriage licenses. I'm not quite what I seem. Still no numbered Swiss bank account or Q to give me gadgets, but it's still pretty awesome.

But then I realize, those are pretty much the same answers I could have given six or seven years ago. They relate just to me in relationship with the society around me. But they don't take into account how I've changed since then. They don't account for love, for my husband, for my daughter.

So to me, bilingualism also means love. It means I can tell my husband I love him in his own language. It means when he retreats into his own language, in laughter, in pain, in stress, in pleasure, I can follow him there. When he wants to share with me a joke or a movie from his childhood, I can appreciate it. It means I come into his world. And all of this applies equally for him to me.

Then when it comes to our daughter, bilingualism means that she is connected to her family, her extended family, generations of Slovaks and generations of Americans stretching back into the past, and the cultures that produced us all. She can share the songs, the movies, the customs, the food of both sets of grandparents. It means she has two whole worlds open to her...just as a start. Bilingualism means I serve as her interpreter when she needs one - not her as mine.

It means I can have a relationship with my in-laws, and help my daughter to do the same. It means I can support my husband when he forgets a word, my daughter when she doesn't know one.

Bilingualism makes my family possible. And you don't get any more essential than that.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guest post

So I totally forgot to link to my most recent guest post on Multilingual Mania, another addition to the Language and Identity series there. Stop by and read The Blank Page, the Fresh Start, an exploration of how learning a new language as an adult can affect your identity in the new language and as a whole.

And with that...I'm out. My bilingual child is driving me up the wall today, so I need to go count the minutes until her father gets off work!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More Encounters at the Playground

I just got back from another playground visit with K. We have to take advantage of the decent weather while it lasts! There were a bunch of kids there to play with.

One boy of about six was really intrigued by the fact that he couldn't understand K. They were taking turns on the slide and she was speaking English some.

"I go on my tummy!" she announced.
"Teď jsem jí nerozuměl," he said to me. (I didn't understand what she just said.)
"I go on my tummy!" she said on her next turn.
"To bylo to samý, co řekla před chvílí!" (That's the same thing she said before!)

I agreed with him that it was the same and that she had said she wanted to slide on her tummy. He remained intrigued and was obviously paying attention to her for the rest of the time they played. Then we bumped into each other later in the nearby farmer's market and he came up and talked to us for a minute. Very friendly boy!

I also thought it was funny that K and a slightly younger girl got into an argument about sand (the other girl thought ALL the sand was HER sand - so I didn't get involved). The girl yelled at K once in a while and K yelled back. Sometimes K yelled the same things ("MOJE!" - "No, MOJE!") and sometimes she said nonsense syllables that presumably sounded like Czech to her. K held her own, though, and they came to an agreement. K: 1, Czech: 0.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Too Sick to Blog

I wish I could offer an insightful, entertaining look into multilingual life today, but I am unfortunately prevented by the piles of boxes to unpack and piles of tissues from my fun new cold. I'm not sure which situation is more annoying.

Yesterday was K's second day of school, where she continued to make a good impression on the staff (the principal was throwing around the word "vzorná", so there you go). She was happy and engaged and made lots more friends. Whatever my reservations about the school itself, I couldn't be happier that she is starting off so well. She'll continue Thursday and Friday for her three half-days per week, which is what I'll think I'll keep it to for the time being.

Off to unpack some more...or else make myself a cup of tea with honey. One of those two.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

First fruits of life in Prague

Is it too soon for K's Czech to have improved? Because she's already using it more than before. Color me kind of impressed.

For example, K wanted our friend to come to the next room to see the toy car go.

Friend: "A tady nemůže?" (Can't it go here?)
K: "Může!" (It can!!)

With a vowel exactly in between the Czech ů and the Slovak ô.

K also declared this evening that "nemáme" (CZ we don't have) something, and earlier in the day said, "Daj šupišup!" (SK Do up your zipper!). That is her Slovak made-up word for zipper, but it's still a two-word Slovak sentence, which is still cause to be impressed in our house.

Her grandmother asked over Skype, "Ako bolo v školke?" (How was preschool?) and K offhandedly answered "Dobre!" (SK Good!) This is another word that she knows but usually you have to drag out of her, so we can see that she's already using her limited vocabulary more readily.

In words I'd just as soon she not use just yet, K told Apo, "Kecáš!!" (You're babbling / you're making that up / talking nonsense / etc.) Which just gives a nice insight into the kind of conversations we have at home, I suppose. Haha.

This evening K told me, "Mami, I want to číst (CZ read) a book." I laughed, repeated it entirely in English, then asked her how Apo says "book" and got her to say "Chci číst knížku" (CZ I want to read a book). Then I got her a book to read.

K has actually asked me to read her a certain book of stories in Czech a few times this weekend. I read it to her (in Czech) and she kept asking for "ešte" (SK more). When she was done she told me "konec" (CZ the end).

If you notice the CZ and SK labels I put on those comments, you can see that Czech is already making itself felt against the Slovak - and the English! The community language, it is strong.

K's English is still getting more and more complex and interesting to listen to. I can't begin to list all the goofy things she's said lately. She's been having a little trouble sleeping in the new place and keeps insisting, "I can't sleep very well. I have to be awake." Yesterday she came out of the bedroom claiming that, "The bed is really mean. It scratched me."

And just for something different, K has also learned a couple words of Spanish. We were walking along playing a game involving counting, doing it first like Mama (one, two, three!), then like Apo (raz, dva, tri!). Then K turned to our Czech-speaking South American friend and wanted to count like HER. So friend cooperated and said, "Uno, dos, tres!" I think K was surprised to get a different counting system, since she probably expected it to be Czech. I don't think she's heard our friend speak Spanish really. But she repeated it and can now say Uno, dos, tres! And also, inexplicably, Adios! Friend claims she didn't say it, but it's possible K remembers Apo or I saying hola and adios. Or from reading a Dora the Explorer book.

Either way, Adios!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First Day of Preschool

Yesterday was my daughter's much-anticipated first day of preschool.

We got there a couple of minutes late due to the commute (have to learn to time it right) and took K to the changing room. Each child has a little locker to store their extra clothes, coats, boots, etc., and there is an attendant there to help them if necessary, because parents are NOT ALLOWED.

In K's nursery in England we always helped her hang up her jacket on the hook in the hall and then took her straight into the classroom, so she was surprised that we were leaving her at the door already yesterday! For a minute she looked stricken - just incredibly unsure of herself, but then another little girl came in and K forgot about being scared in her haste to introduce herself. That's more like our K.

We went off, the Slovak to work (right next door!) to sort out a few introductory things, and me to the mall (three minutes away) while I waited for him. I got some work done, too, until I discovered the free wifi.

When we went back to get K after lunch, she came out of the changing room with the other half-day children. Running, singing a made-up song, waving her art project for us to look at and holding hands with another little girl. She stopped by us briefly to hand us her picture and backpack and then ran on with her friend to the playground, from which we extracted her about ten minutes later.

I think we can say it was a good day. I wasn't surprised she enjoyed it, but I was a little surprised she was so nonchalant when we picked her up, simply because when I picked her up from nursery she always made a show of crying because she missed me. At first the tears were real, then over time they got more and more perfunctory, but we never had a pickup like this one before. It was a beautiful thing to see.

After a few minutes the teacher came out and talked with me for a minute. "It's the most extraordinary thing," she said, "I've never seen a child engage so quickly before; usually they cry and cry at first..." She said K ran from place to place, looking at everything and wanting to know what was on the shelves and how it worked and that she already had a pack of friends.

I was hardly surprised to hear it, but it does please me that K's teacher seems to have a good impression of her so far. It's good to start off on the right foot!

We went home and let K take a nap, and then for the rest of the afternoon she seemed to be playing school. She kept talking about her "classroom" and I'm pretty sure she was doing circle time with her stuffed animals.

The final word on preschool was when I asked if she'd like to go back next time, and she agreed that yes, that would be acceptable. Let's hope she keeps enjoying it as much as she did her first day!


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