Wednesday, May 25, 2011


We're in a year of transitions.

It's been about nine months since our move back to Prague, and we're all pretty much settled but not quite settled yet.

Our apartment is definitely still in transition as we work to reduce, simplify, organize, carve out some space for a very small new family member.

And I think 3 is such a year of balancing as well, so grown up compared to 1 or 2, and so small compared to the first graders K so fervently wants to join at the big school. One minute confident in her assertion that she's a big girl and CAN do lots of things, the next cuddled in my lap insisting "But I'm not a big girl any more!" and that she can't POSSIBLY do other things. K still has no problem claiming to be a baby when she's not feeling up to facing the big girl world.

K is becoming a Czech speaker, but she's not quite there yet. She's becoming multilingual, but still has some ground to travel.

She's thriving in preschool, learning and growing in knowledge - in English as well as Czech, which I wonder how she manages - all the time.

She's becoming a big sister, but she's not quite there yet either.

The baby is becoming a baby, the Slovak and I are about to expand the family by 25% and double our parenting responsibility...

Pretty much, this year is going to end in a very different place than it started. More so than most years.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Translation please!

The Slovak and I have always had a buffer between our families and our other culture, more or less by default, since we live so far away. By this I mean that we introduce certain cultural or language elements to the other side of the family, but always in a controlled and limited way and the families aren't living with The Foreign on a daily basis.

For example, my family is familiar with the Slovak/Hungarian family names we use (Apo, Babka, Dedo) and we've talked about various Foreign customs we keep and cooked Foreign food for them. At the Slovak's parents' house this past Christmas we set out a snack for Santa (and had to save it from Dedo clearing it away after 3 minutes). That kind of thing.

We don't often speak the other language when our parents are around, either, though we do when on our own or even in the next room. Or trying to make my sister uncomfortable. Because we're mature adults, we are.

...but that's all in person. A big part of our communication is obviously online, through Skype and - this is key - Facebook. Skype, of course, is still individual contact, but on Facebook all your friends see what you're saying (unless you take measures so they don't).

This becomes significant for us because both our parents have Facebook accounts and regularly look at our various updates. Obviously. We, in the meantime, have a very international circle of friends, a large number of whom speak both English and Czech or Slovak, so the conversations on our pages tend to be...multilingual.

I do a lot of conversation recording there, for instance, so a lot of my updates are half English, half CZ/SK, or all Czech, or all English except the one key word in Czech... Or else 3/4 of the comments to an English status are in CZ/SK...after all these years in Prague most of my close friends are here or in Slovakia, anyway!

Which brings us to the title of this post: the most frequent recent comment on the Slovak's and my pages is "Translation please!!" from my mother. Especially when she sees that it involves the word "K", of course. She wants to know what's going on in her granddaughter's life, or what funny thing she said today, and she can't understand the language it's in! How frustrating.

I brought it up to laugh at her on Skype the other day after several "Translation!!" comments in a row. "You don't like it when we have something on there that's not in English, do you?" She laughed and said, "It's frustrating!! The Slovak hardly ever has any English on his page any more, I just scroll down once in a while to check..." She understands that we live a multilingual life, but it's one thing to be aware of and another thing to witness.

So I go back and provide a translation when requested, though of course The Funny is sometimes lost when explained, and recently half the "translations" have been "The Slovak is talking about hockey again" (world championships in Slovakia!).

We actually get fairly regular comments from various people, asking for translations or mentioning they don't understand - or pretending they do understand - although I've been concentrating on my mom's reactions in this post because with K's recent Czech explosion this is really the first experience my family has had of what Babka and Dedo have all the time: a grandchild saying funny things (and inspiring Facebook updates) in a language they don't understand. I love that my mother wants to know even the things that are strange to her, though.

So basically, this is another stage of the grandparents learning to live with the reality of a new, Foreign element in the family. I've written about other aspects before, and no doubt will again.

This multilingual family thing, it is a balancing act. And the balancing always fascinates me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Song of the Sun (or Moon?)

It came to my attention yesterday that K's knowledge in Czech exceeds her English knowledge in at least one area. That's a first!

The area? She knows her months in Czech now, or rather, she sings a song that more or less resembles the months of the year, although she doesn't know what they signify I would say. I have mentioned individual months to her in English, like your birthday is in November, my birthday is in December, right now it is May, etc., but I haven't started teaching the months in order yet. I guess it's time now...

I realized this yesterday on the way home from preschool, listening to K sing a song she's never sung before: "červe, červe, červenec!"

I asked her, "Did you just say červenec?" (July)
"No, červená!!" (red) (first clue she doesn't understand the significance)

But then she sang it again and followed up with something like "srpy" (srpen = August), so I asked her, "And what about leden?" (January)

She instantly replied with the whole song! "leden, únor, březen, duben, květen, červen, červenec, srpen, září, říjen, listopad, prosi-prosi-prosinec"

Predictably, some of those were more recognizable than others, but if you knew what to listen for, they were all there. And if you look closely, you'll see that the initial "červe červe červenec" was actually "květen, červen, červenec"!

Then I asked her, "Do you know what those are?"
She answered, "Yes, the sun," and pointed outside. (second clue she's not totally in on what this means)

This is the fun part: I am almost certain that the sun is not a total non sequiteur in this conversation... The teacher must have told them that this song is the "měsíce" - months. The catch is that měsíc means both month and MOON, and K almost certainly knows only the second meaning. (She doesn't understand time enough to know what a "month" is in English, either, of course.) So she understood the teachers saying, this is about the moon - and then mixed up the moon and sun to tell me it's about the sun.

It's also possible they have pictures to illustrate seasons and months that involve the sun, but I'm thinking a confusion on the word měsíc is involved somehow.

The significant thing here, however, is that my daughter knows something in Czech that she doesn't yet know in English, which is an important milestone in her education. Also, it's surprising that she knew the song so completely the first time she sang it for me - usually she will sing fragments for a while before being able to produce the whole thing. Also, I totally have to figure out a song for "January, February..." to balance her knowledge out again!


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