Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism

Step right up to the November Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, organized by L from Bilingual for Fun! Grab a cup of tea (or other hot drink of your choice, especially if you're experiencing this same snowy weather we are) and sit down for a while with us. We've got several entries this month taking a look at the adults, the children and some of the tools of bilingual families.

Smashedpea from Intrepidly Bilingual starts us off this month with a look at Him - that mysterious supporting player without whom the whole thing falls apart.

First-time contributor Tamara at Non-Native Bilingualism makes a liberating realization that I think would benefit all parents, not just the bilingual ones, in her post Mama's New Freedom.

Gen at Bilingual Families wrote about a "dormant bilingual" she met recently. This young mother would like to regain her native language after years of not speaking it, for the sake of her children. I think a lot of us living outside our native countries or languages can probably identify with this, no matter how far down the road to dormancy we may have gotten.

Then mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting addresses a topic that's been on my mind lately in Towards a Language Switch. With their upcoming move to another language environment, how and when will her child's dominant language change?

Jan at BabelKid knows where his daughter overheard something - because of the language she said it in! One of the less well-known advantages of raising your children with multiple languages, in my opinion.

Rea at Not So Spanish explores her son's expanding vocabulary in both English and Spanish in her post Big. Green. Boobie.

Sarah at Baby Bilingual spoke English to her nephew Carl - and didn't get in trouble for it! Read her post Ma'am, we heard you speaking English to that child. Hand over your mouse. From now on you're not allowed to blog about raising children bilingually! to see how and why she occasionally breaks the rules.

Maria at Fab Mums discusses one of the cornerstones of language learning for kids or adults. In her post The importance of songs in the bilingual journey from nursery rhymes to pop music she talks about the role Michael Jackson is currently playing in getting her son interested in English, his second language.

Eve from Blogging on Bilingualism posts about a SmartPlay giveaway, including an interview with the president of the company. Head over to check out the conditions to win! The giveaway ends Sunday, December 5.

Maggy from Red Ted Art discusses another cornerstone of language sharing: books. Read about her experience with a multilingual book exchange in her post Swap.

Lynn from Open Hearts, Open Minds also writes about the importance of reading in her family's language plan in her post Reading to Elliot en Español. She recommends some of her favorite children's books in Spanish and observes one of the enduring truths of reading books in translation: some of them are better than others! Here's to well translated children's books - something we're on the lookout for as well, since we live in a market with a high ratio of translation to original publications.

Finally, I was thinking along the same lines this month in my post The Three Little Pigs and Growing Up. With our recent flip-flop of community-minority language I think it's important not to ignore English too much, so this is a post all about reading to my daughter in my native language.

In putting together this carnival, I noticed that a few of us this month wrote posts not exclusively focusing on bilingualism or the 'foreign' language. I think it's an interesting point because really, bilingualism is just one aspect of our families. It may be the one that makes us stand out in public (hah!), but it isn't all we are. We are families who happen to speak two, three or four languages at home, which is just the way we live. And that, my friends, is pretty cool!

Thank you very much to all participants, contributors as well as readers. Please pass the link around and don't forget to check in for next month's carnival hosted at Multilingual Mania!

Monday, November 29, 2010

This and That

OK, I can breathe again. I'm still recovering from this weekend. As it turns out, 3rd birthday with associated outing, cake baking, present wrapping and unwrapping + (Slovak) grandmother visiting + big translation project due Monday = very late nights over the weekend for mama.


K had fun playing with Babka for the five days she was here. It was supposed to be six, but with the big snowfall predicted she decided to take the train back yesterday, instead. Possibly a good thing she did, because it started coming down yesterday and hasn't really stopped since.

At one point last week I looked over at where K and Babka were sitting in chairs (kid and adult sized), both with cushions under their bottoms. Babka because it helps her stand up from the chair, and K because, well, Babka has one, doesn't she?

K communicated with Babka occasionally in Slovak but mostly continued her English immersion policy (teaching the rest of the country English instead of learning Czech herself, that is). Several times we reminded her that Babka doesn't understand English so K needs to speak Slovak to her, and K would say the one word she needed and then go back to chattering in English.

The stubbornness, she gets it from her father.


K has been doing some stuttering lately that I don't really like. More like she just gets stuck on one word and can't get past it - "Mama, why you, why you, why you, why you, why you do that?" I noticed it before we left UK, which is a good thing because if I'd noticed it once we got here I'd probably be panicking that the shock of the move or change in language environment was giving my child a stutter. So at least I know it wasn't caused by the change of environment.

Dr. Google informed me that a lot of children actually go through a stuttering stage at about this age and that most of them grow out of it. So that's comforting. I haven't been making an issue of it, of course, but it is occasionally trying to stand there patiently and let K finish her sentence instead of jumping in and finishing it for her. I think in K's case it's probably related to the huge jump in sophistication of her speech (putting in all the connecting words, etc.) recently: she is probably getting stuck trying to get the more complicated grammar and vocabulary out. She's gone from "Mama! Hep!" to "Mama, can you help me please?" in a very short time.

Still. I'll be happy when I see that she's grown out of it.


Annnnnnd in the time it took me to write this I got another longish assignment for this week. Off to work.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cross-Cultural Thanksgiving

To start with, it's obviously not a day off here. We usually celebrate on Saturday, since employers typically don't go for "But it's a holiday in my/my spouse's country!" in our experience.

This year we celebrated with a young American family who recently moved (back) to Czech Republic and our friend A, who is originally from South America. It was a totally mixed afternoon of English and Czech, which was kind of fun. Most of the time we hang out with people who are one language or the other, so it's fun to spend time with a group that does both. Lets the Slovak and I speak our true native language: Anglo-Czecho-Slovak.

We had turkey pieces, stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts and green bean casserole. I had to make the stuffing and green bean casserole from scratch, of course, because you can't get the typical mixes and pre-made ingredients (cream of mushroom soup, French dried onions, etc.) people usually use in America. They turned out pretty yummy, though I say it myself.

My favorite moment of cultural syncretism was using rohlíky to make my home-made bread stuffing. It sounds funny, but it works!

K enjoyed playing with our friends' baby. She once referred to him as her "brother" and also has started talking about her baby dolls as her "brother" and "sister". I think she's trying to tell me something, don't you?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

3rd Birthday

I'm poking my head out from my translation cave to write a short post. Things were so quiet on the workish front around here in October that I was starting to wonder (ok, maybe more than starting) if this was all a waste of time. Then partway through November I started getting some work again and now have more than I know what to do with - at least for the moment. The good news is I've made up our preschool tuition already!

All of which is to say, I should be working on the ginormous assignment I have due on Monday, but I am totally procrastinating right now. Let's call it "multi-tasking".

Today was Baby K's third birthday. Babka came to town yesterday and couldn't wait til morning to give her birthday presents, so K got some presents last night, one present from us this morning and the rest from us along with the birthday cake this evening. In the afternoon she helped me bake her birthday cake. She was so excited to blow out her candles and eat her birthday cake...she's been asking if it's her birthday yet for almost two months. We sang her "Happy Birthday" immediately followed by "Živio" and provided bilingual commentary during the present-opening phase for the grandparents (his dad, my mom) watching us on Skype. Overall it was a good day.

My baby is officially pre-school age (though she's been attending part-time already). And I am officially no longer employed: my three year parental leave ended today, so as of tomorrow I am out in the cold. At least business has picked up a little :)

Happy Birthday, sweet Baby K.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Three Little Pigs and Growing Up

This post is part of the November Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month here at Where Going Havo?

When I imagined what it would be like to have a child, besides the predicted sleepless nights and constant asking "WHY?", I imagined putting my child to sleep at night by reading books or telling stories.

The sleepless nights never really arrived, but we've been fielding dozens of WHY questions daily for a while now. My daughter was never really interested in being read to at bedtime before, and when I offered to tell her a story she ran to the bookshelf - I said no, I'm going to TELL you the story - she looked pityingly at me and said, You need the book first, MOTHER. (Paraphrase)

However, in the last couple of weeks our nighttime routine consists of books or fairy tales until she drops off to sleep.

I couldn't be more thrilled.

We go through a wide variety of books from our bookshelves, though of course she has some favorites we tend to return to. I love that her attention span and understanding of the stories has increased, so we can even read some of the books with more sentences per page. We have a few collections of fairy tales, so I've been reading to her from those quite a bit. (I figure she needs a good background in classic fairy tales before moving on to Phase 2: Greek Mythology.)

For a while she made me tell her The Three Little Pigs every night. Sometimes I didn't even make it past the second pig before she fell asleep, but she wanted to hear it. Her favorite part is the Big Bad Wolf. She likes him in Little Red Riding Hood too, and I also inserted him into a story I made up for her about a nice Waaah (monster) who just wants to be friends with all the kids, and finally succeeds when he saves them from the Big Bad Wolf. K finds this story deeply engaging and usually demands to hear it two or three times in a row.

But my favorite part of story-telling, right at this age, is the following exchange we have during nearly every re-telling of Three Little Pigs:

Me: Once upon a time there were three little pigs whose mama loved them very much. They gave their mama a kiss and set off into the world to seek their fortune.
K, shocked: WHY??
Me: Because they were grown up and it was time to leave home.
K, deeply disturbed: Why they go away??
Me: Well, when people grow up then they sometimes want to go and have a new home and seek their fortune. You might want to seek your fortune when you grow up, too.

K allows me to continue, but she is visibly uncomfortable with the idea. She doesn't understand why anyone would leave home when they have a MAMA who LOVES them.

I have to admit that I don't like the idea, either! I pray she keeps this attitude for a long time yet. Sweet, sweet girl.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Call for Carnival Submissions

Hey, bilingual bloggers! I'm hosting the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism this month. Please send your submissions on multilingual family life to me at melissa dot dedina at gmail dot com by the 28th and I'll include them in the carnival!

Pass on the message!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Modlitba pro Melissu

Twenty one years ago today, students demonstrating on Národní Třída in Prague provided the final push that toppled the Socialist regime in Czechoslovakia. It was neither the first nor the last in a long chain of events leading to the collapse of Communism in Czechoslovakia, but November 17th is the date that went down in history.

This day is my own personal Thanksgiving. I know the American Thanksgiving is coming next week, but my thoughts turn to thankfulness every year on the 17th. Thank you to the students, thank you to the dissidents, thank you to the ordinary people who came out in so many thousands in the days and weeks following November 17, 1989. Thank you for seizing the moment for change. Thank you for having the courage to stand up for what was right. Thank you for surviving 20 years of occupation and 40 years of the workers' paradise with your Czech subversive spirit intact.

Thank you for a world in which we whiz by the border on the highway rather than being searched or even shot for daring to cross. Thank you for opening the way for a girl from the West to meet a boy from the East and stay with him. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to live where we choose, how we choose, with whom we choose.

I didn't know it then, but the students on November 17, 1989 were demonstrating for me, too. My life was set in motion that day. Whatever happens in the future, let peace remain with this country.

Ať mír dál zůstává s touto krajinou

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ways in which my daughter is already assimilating

1. She not only takes off her shoes at the door, she loudly berates visitors for not doing the same. "You no shoes here! You shoes THERE!"

2. At a restaurant, she wanted to play with the coasters but Apo told her, "Sú iba na pivko" (They're only for beer). Her instant and excited response: "I want pivko!"

3. She is proud of her beautiful country and enjoys seeing different parts of it. We went to southern Bohemia this weekend and she was suitably impressed by the castle we went on a tour of this afternoon. Kept saying "Wooooow!" as we came to each new room. The Czechs on the tour enjoyed her enjoyment!

She's already Czech, my friends. The language is just a detail.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Is Our Stop: on belonging

When we take the bus home from preschool, one of the bus stops we pass by is our last name. The feminine form, specifically, minus one diacritic. Used to have a friend who lived there.

We've been by several times, but yesterday as they announced it on the bus, K said, "[Last name]? It's our stop!!" I told her yes, it's ours, but we aren't getting off there. I laughed because I've always felt a certain affinity with it, too.

Compare that to life in any other country: no one can pronounce our name and you would certainly never name a bus stop after us. I spent so long mispronouncing my own last name for the benefit of English ears (i.e. anglicizing it so people would understand) that I accidentally did it a few times here in Prague, too.

People could usually handle K's name because we use two forms of it: we call her the CZ/SK form and we tell English speakers to call her the English form. That's one reason I call her K on this blog, actually, because both forms start with K! And then people end up calling her (Slovak) K anyway, because they hear us doing it.

You never meet another K anywhere else, but here, K is actually something like the 7th most popular name for girls (or was when she was born). We've already met multiple K's in Prague. In our search for a name to fit three languages I guess we forgot to consider she might be one of two or three K's in her kindergarten class. Not a big deal though. The point is all relevant family members can pronounce and spell it. Unlike our last name.

My point? I think it's wonderful to be in a place where people recognize your name. Where instead of, "What was her name again??" they say, "Oh, K, that's my sister's name!" I think it's great for K (and us) to see our last name as the name of a bus stop. It makes it normal. Just another name, and we're just another family.

There are enough things about us that are different; I am happy that I can bring up my daughter in a place where something as simple as her name can be "normal". I want to make this a place where she can feel like she belongs.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cross-cultural Halloween

This was our first Halloween (post-child) that we haven't spent visiting family in USA.

The first year our 11 month old went trick-or-treating in her grandmother's neighborhood dressed as a monkey. This was the remnants of an idea I had where the Slovak would dress up as a pirate and the baby would sit on his shoulder dressed as a parrot or, in Pirates of the Caribbean style, a monkey.

As it turned out I had my work cut out for me just convincing him to go out with us trick or treating, much less dress up himself. It was an uphill battle, but I like to think my rhetoric won the day:

Slovak: There is no way my child is putting on some freakish outfit and going around to strangers' houses.
Me: It's just Halloween; we did it when we were kids and it was fun.
Slovak: It's a bizarre American custom that I'm having no part of.
Me: But you love all the other American customs. You're more American than me sometimes. Why declare war this one?
Slovak: Yes, well, this is one step too far.
Me: How exactly is this different from Mikuláš? People dress up in freakish outfits and you get candy.
Slovak: That's different! Mikuláš is a TOTALLY NORMAL thing to do. Halloween is not normal.

(He grudgingly agrees to walk with us and observe, if not participate. We come back after one block and examine our haul.)

Slovak: Um, Halloween is awesome. Look at this candy!!!


OK, maybe not a victory for my persuasive skills...but chocolate speaks for itself.

The next year, we all dressed up! At almost two, K already knew about pirates (is still very into pirates, in fact), so we dressed up as a family of pirates. The Slovak put up a good show of not intending to dress up for several months in advance, but kept coming up with suggestions for how to make his pirate costume. I read between the lines and decided he didn't mind too much. When his costume got compliments at all the houses we went to (he looked very rakish and pirately) he perked up even more.

Sadly, the night ended early when K got excited (got into the spirit after a few houses), took off running and fell flat into a mud hole she couldn't see in the dark. It was an interesting addition to the costume, but we calmed her down and took her home. We were all jet-lagging anyway, since we had flown from UK the day before. Had to wake K up to get her ready in the first place!


This year, at almost three, K and her Apo dressed as Charlie and Lola. He wore a baseball shirt with CHARLIE written on the front (internet design your own shirt shop!) and she wore an outfit like the ones Lola often wears and put butterfly hairclips in her hair. A little girl dressing up as another little girl doesn't have far to go, costume-wise.

We were concerned that we wouldn't find any Halloween parties or trick-or-treating events, since it obviously isn't celebrated in this country (see the Slovak's distrustful attitude above), but I hoped that some expat group would have planned something. In the end some friends tipped us off that in a certain neighborhood on the outskirts of Prague, mostly populated by foreigners, they have trick-or-treating every year!

It was the most surreal experience. The neighborhood is new, so it was prefabricated (but huge) houses laid out like an American suburb. Hundreds of trick-or-treaters dressed up in a wide array of costumes. Every third house decorated for Halloween, some people sitting outside their houses, dressed up and giving out candy. It was like being instantly transported to America, except...I heard Hebrew, French, Spanish, German and English at least. English as a native language and English as a foreign language. Oh, and even some Czech. Prompting the following exchange at a Czech house:

Me and K: Dobrý večer, trick or treat! (good evening)
Czech lady: Dobrý večer, Happy Halloween!
Me and K: Děkujeme, na shledanou! (Thank you, bye!)
Czech lady: Na shledanou! (Bye!)

Now there's a conversation I never thought I'd have.

(Another conversation I never thought I'd have: serious consultation with husband re spelling of na shledanou. Space or no space? Neither of us was sure! Not because we can't write, but because you never write that word down: you just say it! I am fairly sure that some people write it all together but that a space is, in fact, correct.)

K had a fun time trick-or-treating, though she had a hard time with the idea of dressing up as someone else. Kept telling me, "I not Lola! I K! Apo not Charlie! He's Apo!" She also likes to say things like, "I not cute, I K!" "I not naughty, I K!" I'm thinking she has a very strong sense of self.

Happy late Halloween!


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