Friday, September 28, 2012

Really, I can't be helpful ALL the time

At two months shy of five years old, my daughter is pretty good at speaking correctly, but she does still sometimes have trouble with irregular forms. At times like that I have to choose between letting it go and offering her the correct form. Sometimes, though, I do this instead:

K: ...mouses.
Apo (in Slovak): Actually in English it's one 'mouse', but two or more 'mice'. It's irregular.
Me (in English): Yeah, and it's one 'house' and lots of 'hice'.
Apo (shaking head, to K): Houses.
Me: And one 'louse' and lots of 'lice'. Ooh, and one 'rouse' and lots of 'rice'.
Apo (to me): Wait, really?

Ha! I got him.


This week K had her first ballet lesson. She loves dancing, pink, princesses and anything girly, so she was PUMPED. A day or two before, the Slovak told me she prayed at bedtime "...aby na mě nic neskočilo, abych nebyla nemocná a mohla jít na balet." (so that nothing jumps on me so I won't be sick and can go to ballet) After a minute he realized she meant "aby na mě nic nelezlo" (climbing, not jumping), from něco na mě leze (I'm coming down with something).

You probably have to speak Czech to find that very funny...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just One of the Kids

I asked K if they're still having English class at her school this year, and she said yes, in fact she helps teach it. I know she doesn't usually attend the class, so I wondered about this (entirely made up, part made up?) until I realized she was confusing "English class" (with native English teacher) and singing songs as a class in English with the regular teacher. I guess she feels that knowing all the songs makes her a co-teacher.

She has also told me that we have to stop talking a couple of times as we stand at the school door waiting to go in -

"We have to stop talking now.
"We do?"
You can't speak English to me in there."
"Oh, really? Why not?"
"Because...they don't understand English."
"I see. Tak můžeme mluvit česky."
(visible relief from K)

Although oddly she has no problem speaking some English with me when I come to pick her up or once we are inside. It seems like a reminder to herself as much as to me: time to change gears.

K's teachers have reported that she is much more assertive (but not too assertive - I asked) than in the past, that she is physically and emotionally well balanced, bounced back from the birth of her baby brother last year, and generally doing well in school.

A lot of this comes down to her increased comfort and confidence in Czech. Before, the language barrier meant she held back and kept her head low, but now it is essentially gone and her real personality can show.

I'm very pleased. What a change from this!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Adventures in reading

I've mentioned before that the four year old has been slowly learning to read. I say slowly because her interest comes and goes and I almost never initiate anything - I will provide the knowledge when asked but I don't want to push her to be an early reader.

K knows most of the letters and their sounds and is starting to grasp the concept of sounding things out. Sometimes this leads to amusing (for me) and amazing (for her) conversations like this one from July:

"Mommy, you know what heart starts with? S."
"What does heart start with? Hhhhhhhhhheart. H."
"No, but srdíčko."
"Right, srdíčko starts with S, but heart starts with H."
"But it's the same."
"It means the same, but in English heart starts with H, and in Czech srdíčko starts with S. Sometimes a word starts with one sound in one language and another sound in another language."
K: Mind. Officially. Blown.

Or this: "Mommy, you know what starts with P? 'Puter. ... And S starts with ponožka." [sock]

We also pay attention to environmental print, which is kind of challenging since a lot of it is in Czech (I'm focusing on English for now) and a lot is company names (advertisements) and other things she wouldn't understand. You do find a good deal of English out and about, though, such as on the bus:

"K, do you see that word over the door there, the one that begins with S? Can you read what it says?"
"Sopka." [volcano]
"Wait, it says STOP."

I realized some time after making note of that exchange that she was probably trying to say "stopka" (borrowed from English obviously, I think they covered this one in school). It's not as hard to tell what language she's speaking these days as it used to be, but she still trips us up from time to time.

One thing I've noticed as we slowly work towards real reading is that K seems to "get" new concepts when she's ready for them, not after a certain amount of exposure. Just like with learning to talk in the first place, no matter how many times I said BALL while holding the ball, she did not have a clue what I wanted from her. She didn't get the correspondence between letters and their sounds (bee makes b sound, em makes m sound) until she was ready. I guess there's some cognitive switch and before it flips there's really not much point hitting the flash cards!

Or maybe my daughter is just stubborn, who knows... In any case, that's part of why I try to follow her lead. It has worked well so far, so I'm sure it will work with reading, too.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Conversations and Czechoanglicisms

We try to use environmental print in our slow meander towards reading, which sometimes leads to K sounding out things like this: "M-A-T-T-O-N-I. Flavored water."


More adventures in geography:

(looking at maps)
Me: And this one is called Poland.
K: Who lives there? ...I know! Polar bears.
Me: No, polar bears don't live in Poland. Though now that you mention it that does kind of make sense, doesn't it?


K also comes up with some creative new words sometimes. The Slovak likes "zavřátko" (closer thingy) and "začínátko" (starter thingy) so much that he uses them himself.

She also persistently says "Co je to na?" (word for word: what - is - this - for) instead of "na co to je". She has similar language interference going in the other direction, but this sentence is particularly common.


And some untranslateable grammar humor to finish off:

Apo malému: Ty si malá potvorka...
K: On není potvorka, Apo, on je kluk. On je potvor.
Apo: No, logicky vzato asi máš pravdu.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I Want to Go There! Just Kidding Edition

So today's post was supposed to be about our long weekend in sunny Venice - our first vacation in two years. Family visits don't count. We do love to travel, so we were all pumped.

Everything was set, bags packed, excitement at a peak, prepped K looking at pictures of Venice and informing her that she already knows one word of Italian: čau/ciao, flying out Friday at noon, when...K woke up in the middle of the night with a stomach bug. Poor child had never actually thrown up in her life (even as a baby, she spit up a total of 3-5 times ever), so I had to explain what was happening and that it is a normal phenomenon. She also wanted to know how to say "throw up" in both Czech and English.

I took her to the doctor early Friday morning but it was pretty clear - no flying for us. The doctor said a three-day bug is going around at the moment and she'd probably be fine by Monday. So we let the airplane take off without us. Sigh.

The Slovak took Baby M out for a walk late Friday morning while I took care of sick K. She was very pathetic - still not convinced she wasn't dying. (On the way to the doctor's earlier I realized she thought we were going to the hospital for in-patient care.) She took a long nap and woke up after noon, when we were waving goodbye to our Venice-bound airplane.

When the plane took off, she was still sick. We definitely couldn't have traveled. And yet, like magic, when the plane landed an hour later K was JUST FINE. Looks like it was a 12 hour bug, just long enough to keep us home. Weep. She spent the rest of the weekend running around perky while the Slovak and I came down with bad colds and tried to pretend we were in Italy.

The bad news is we lost the price of the plane tickets (no changes). The good news is we didn't have to pay for the accommodation, so it could have been a lot worse, right? The other bad news is, obviously, we didn't go to Venice.

And now I suspect we never will! You see, six years ago we also had purchased plane tickets to Venice for the weekend. A week or two before the trip they canceled the flight (the only Prague-Venice flight) so we ended up going to Budapest instead. We've been looking forward to trying again ever since then. Now, though, we're kind of nervous as to what might happen to us next time we try to go. Maybe Venice just doesn't want us!

I think we are going to travel everywhere else in Europe and never, ever see Venice except for in pictures. I can live with that. As it stands now, though...I still really need a vacation. In fact, our bags are still packed. We may still be in denial.

Someone take me somewhere fun!

Monday, September 17, 2012

English culture through song and rhyme

One thing I have really enjoyed doing with K in the last year is learning (remembering) old songs and nursery rhymes.

The Slovak has always sung her a lot of SK folk songs, since he knows more of them than classic children's songs. We did learn a lot of SK children's songs from CDs, though, and K learns even more CZ ones at school.

She would come home singing a fragment of a song and want me to finish it with her, not accepting "I don't know the rest of that song" as an answer. For instance, I knew the first line of "Skákal pes" but not the rest, so I couldn't help her get past that first line. She did not understand that there could be a song I don't know. After a while I had the (belated) good idea of looking it up online, and found it straight away of course. The look on her face when I started singing the whole song - awed. "HOW DID YOU DO THAT??" she wanted to know. Internet access + ability to read = superpower.

I always get kind of a kick out of a Slovak-American kid singing "Já jsem muzikant a přicházím k vám z české země" or "Okolo Hradce" or other very Czech songs. The first one is a call and response song that involves pretending to play on various instruments (drum, piano, violin), though the Slovak and I have improved it by adding verses like "na ukulele", "na zadek" and "na nervy".

For a long time K's going-to-bed song was "V hlbokej doline", every night, all five verses. The Slovak started singing it to her when she was very small and eventually she didn't want anything but that. I always thought it was a funny choice for a lullaby as it is really not for children. I also wondered how many Americans (or, indeed, Slovaks) there are out there who sing "V hlbokej doline" to their child every night. She made me laugh once when I asked what the song is about (to see if she knew) and she answered, "um, a doll" - it does mention "panenka" but in reference to the maiden in this case, not a doll.

The Slovak also taught K a song in eastern dialect called "Dža volky". It is very fun to sing because it gets progressively faster on each repetition. K can go longer than I can, and the Slovak can go longest of all. She once requested that song by calling it "the song with those wolves", which took me a minute to process because the song is actually about oxen (volky) while wolves is vlky (vlci). But she really thought she was singing a song about wolves hitched up to a wagon, I guess. (haha)

Between school and the Slovak's rich repertoire of SK (and the occasional Russian) songs, K knows a whole bunch of CZ and SK songs. Whether she understands all the words is obviously a different story. At some point, though, I realized that we hadn't really moved beyond "Twinkle Twinkle" and "Wind the Bobbin Up" in English. And of course I couldn't allow that to continue...

I started refreshing myself on all the nursery rhymes I could remember and teaching them to K. She has a good memory and enjoys reciting them for whoever will listen.

Just like in Slovak, she doesn't always understand all the words or concepts, but it is a good vocabulary enhancer. She can never remember that Jack and Jill "fetched a pail of water" - usually it is something like "went up the hill to get a package of little water". I tried to explain about wells and pails and indoor plumbing but I think packages of bottled water from the store is still more familiar to her!

She also started asking me to sing her "one of YOUR songs Mommy, a NEW song" several months ago, so I sang her every bedtime-appropriate song I could think of and then some. I often couldn't remember the words so had to look them up during the day so I'd have something new to sing at night. I was debating what kind of songs to claim as "my" songs - songs from musicals? Movies? Radiohead didn't seem very appropriate somehow.

I decided to take the opportunity of introducing some English folk songs, along with the occasional spiritual or other song (Over the Rainbow, Sarah McLachlan's Ice Cream). Pretty much anything I think might have some cultural or historical value or just that she will enjoy. We do several every night at bedtime. K's favorites are I Gave My Love a Cherry, Danny Boy, Greensleeves, The Water Is Wide, Wayfaring Stranger, Early One Morning, Black Black Black, He's Gone Away...

She makes up her own songs as she's playing during the day and I love hearing how they include "parsley, sage, rosemary and time" or other lines or melodic influences from these traditional songs. Pretty much if I notice that all her songs start to be about her lost love and sung in a minor key I'll know my work here is done.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Conversations with my daughter, part ??

From August:

K: Mommy, how do you say forever in Czech?
Me: What do you want to say?
K: I just want to say 'how do you say forever in Czech'.
Matus (in SK): Because there are a lot of ways to say that in Czech depending on what you want to say exactly [we both list several words or phrases that mean 'forever'] Me: that's why I was asking what you want to say.
K: I really didn't want to say anything exactly, I just wanted to say 'how do you say forever in Czech'.

Poor child. She asks for a simple translation and can't get a straight answer. That's what comes of having a translator as a mother, I suppose. Context!


"Mommy, can I watch My Little Pony? Say no-or-yes."
"But I want to watch ponies!"
"You told me to say no."
"I told you to say no or yes."
"Yeah, and I chose no."
"OK. (thinks for a minute) Mommy, can I watch ponies? Say yes."

I choose to believe that me being deliberately difficult is encouraging my daughter to develop reasoning skills. Being funny is just a by-product.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

About That Baby

At nearly eleven months, baby M is just starting to indicate he may understand a few words and signs. He can sign "milk" and "more" (sometimes, when he feels like it) and seems to recognize "food" and "drink".

Now that he is responding to the first few signs we have started using more, like "Apo" and "Mommy". This time around, of course, we also need a sign for "sister"! The ASL sign requires too much dexterity I thought so we decided to make up our own. K wanted to know what her sign is. I suggested a one-hand-clapping to indicate spanking, but she didn't like that idea. Then Apo suggested patting the chest over the heart and it was settled.

K had to be reminded of a few of the signs (remembered some), but she is now very helpful in using them with M. She is a very solicitous big sister, when she isn't taking his toys away or telling him off for taking hers. She speaks to him in both English and Czech, but most often English (babies speak English natively, she feels).

I find myself using more of a mix of English and Czech with M than I did with K at his age, mainly because our environment (including the home, since K uses it) has a lot more Czech in it. It's still predominantly English from me, though, just interspersed with a bit of Czech when Czechs are around.

M can also wave, clap, blow raspberries and stick out his tongue (along with other, non-communication-related things, obviously). The last is a bit of a relief as he was born with a tongue tie. The other day he waved after hearing me say "hi" (I didn't wave), showing he recognizes the word by itself, too. He also seems to understand no/nie.

All of this is a slight improvement on communicating with K, who didn't start using any signs or understanding any words until after she was a year old. In general he is faster at some things and slower at others than she was, which makes sense since they are different people.

We're curious to see how his language balance and preferences will compare with his sister's, given the different dynamics in the family and surroundings now. Interested to see what happens next!

Monday, September 10, 2012


At the end of this month it will be two years since we moved back to Prague. It's gone pretty well, but not so perfectly that we're not open to the idea of a change.

K is four (and a half, she would want me to add) and fluent in Czech. She has trouble with a few sounds and she's still working the kinks out of her grammar, but a lot of children her age do the same. She loves her school and has become very Czech in some funny ways. She mixes Slovak into her Czech a lot and does not distinguish between the two very well, but I imagine that will come with time and continued exposure. The languages are really so similar that it would take a great deal of linguistic sophistication to draw the line between the two clearly.

M is ten months and the chillest baby ever. He is not yet walking, but that doesn't stop him from getting into everything in reach. He is a champion climber. He is starting to babble (ba, da) and can wave, clap, use a bit of baby signing and seems to recognize a few words but it's hard to tell. I feel like at this age K was making more sounds but understanding less, but we'll just have to wait and see what the next year brings as far as actual speech development for him.

I am confronting the classic problem of balancing two children and working from home and finding that anything else (blogging, playdates, housework...) tends to go by the wayside. The good news is I have enough business to work full time if I chose, but the bad news is I really can't until M is big enough to go to preschool. I'm really missing England and its nurseries right about now (before three years old you have to make private arrangements here, and I don't really want to hire a nanny). I wouldn't want to put him in full time, but two mornings a week or so would give me some time to work - and think - in peace. I think I'm getting grumpier in my old age. (Insert the Slovak nodding emphatically here.)

I need to let loose of the idea that each post has to be a production, because I would probably have time for mini-posts. I am active on Facebook, after all. :) But I always feel like if I don't have time to cover everything that has happened since my last post then I might as well not write at all, so the more time passes the harder it is to write.

It's not that we aren't still bilingual, though - in fact, things have been pretty peaceful on that front. K has a great command of Czech, occasionally uses a word I don't know, frequently comes home singing songs I don't know, and has developed a fascination with Hungarian in the last week so now knows several words in Hungarian. A girl from Hungary started at her preschool and K wants to talk to her, even more when she found out that the Slovak actually knows that language. So now she can say szia, igen, nem and koszi. (Pardon the spelling.) So we may be embarking on another language mini-adventure.

We have also recently started reading Little House in the Big Woods (first chapter book) and I'm building up K's repertoire of nursery rhymes and folk songs in English, since she knows a bunch in Czech and Slovak. She has a great memory for lyrics and the beginnings of an ear for music.

The Slovak is also doing fine - he had a hard time adjusting to living here again (reverse culture shock, his first experience with it) and still gets worked up about things once in a while, but in general he likes his job and likes talking to his daughter in his native language (um, more or less). I'm sure he will also be delighted to see this post, because he frequently hassles me about when I'm going to write again. And yet he seems oddly unwilling to do a guest post; he prefers me to do the work so he can read it. :)

So here you go, sweetie.


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