Please visit my new blog at The Globetrotter Parent.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet many "transplanted" moms. Unlike "expat" moms who are just in a foreign country for a defined term, transplanted moms have effectively immigrated to the country and adopted it as their new home. Often, a transplanted mom's husband is a "local".
Of all the challenges that transplanted moms face, getting their kids to speak English often is the most difficult one to surmount.
Take Andrea. She is from the United Kingdom, married to a French guy and lives in France. They have two school-aged daughters.
"I thought raising my kids in English would be automatic," Andrea says. "It never occurred to me when they were born that they might not be bilingual."
But at age 12 and 10, Andrea's girls are nowhere near bilingual. While Andrea has consistently spoken to her daughters in English from the day they were born, her daughters, from their first word, have always spoken to their mom in French. Attempting to read an English book is too much of a chore to even bother and watching movies in anything but the dubbed "version française" is a challenge for them.
"Friends said that I should refuse to answer my girls when they asked me a question in French," Andrea says. "I called that 'language blackmail' and I refused to engage in it. Now I regret not having taken that approach."
Andrea is one of many transplanted moms who just can't get her kids to bother with English. They understand when their mom talks to them and that's about the extent of their fluency.
Here are my tips for avoiding this situation.
1. Recognize that your child needs a minimum amount of time per week exposed to English if she is going to learn to understand and speak the language fluently.
Your child is not going absorb the English language by osmosis just because one of her parents happens to be an English speaker. Most experts in multilingualism say that a child needs about 20 to 24 hours per week of exposure to English to gain true fluency. Exposure, for this purpose, includes listening to a person talk to the child in that language, listening to people talk to each other in English, hearing it on television or radio, and the child herself speaking English.
Lots of moms complain that their child does not speak English but when you get the details of the exposure the child gets, it looks something like this: the minority language parent works full time and the child is in the local school or daycare where he hears the local language all day. He only sees the minority parent a couple of hours per weekday. Part of the time at home, the minority parent is talking to his or her spouse, in the local language of course. Then on the weekend, the family is with friends and relatives and of course the local parent has to speak the local language with the friends and relatives. Then there is the TV, which broadcasts in the local language... You get the picture.
If you want your child to learn your language, you are going to have to make an effort to make it happen. This may mean ensuring that you talk to your child as much as possible when you are home (more than you normally talk), getting a English-mother-tongue babysitter to pick your child up from daycare early and spend a couple of hours with her, and/or avoiding the relatives on weekends and getting together with other English-speaking families. Bilingualism is not going to happen if you are not ensuring adequate exposure in some way.
2. Always speak to your child in English. This piece of advice sounds self-evident, yet how often I heard my Anglo-saxon mommy friends in France tell their little one to "get into the poussette" (the stroller) or that it was "time for their afternoon gouter" (snack).
It is easy to fall into the trap of using local language words for certain items but whenever you do that, you 1) send the message that using the local language with you is acceptable and 2) deny your child an important piece of vocabulary in English. Imagine your child showing up in your home country when he is older and not knowing the English word for "snack"!
3. Original version only! In our home, we have a rule that when we watch a film or television show, it has to be in original version. We watch French films in French, English films in English and Italian films in Italian. Dubbing is something you have to get used to as a child to like. Adults who watch dubbed movies do so because they grew up with dubbed movies. If your child does not grow up watching dubbed versions, there is a good chance that he or she will always prefer watching the original English version of movies and shows when he is older, even if another language is his dominant language.
4. Books, radio, DVDs...in English! Spend at least half an hour reading to your small child in English. And make it a rule that all animated DVDs are to be watched in the English version (all non-animated stuff in the original version, of course!). You don't need to iterate this rule to your child. Just make it so. He wants a DVD? It gets put on in English. If you have access to an English radio station, tune into it! And don't forget to watch the news on CNN or BBC in addition to the local news that your partner insists on watching at 20h00 every evening!
5. If your spouse understands English, consider speaking to him in English if you do not already (at least when your child is with you). It might feel artificial at first but switching to English when talking to your spouse can ramp up the English exposure for your child significantly. Remember, your spouse can still talk to you in his language. This tactic also reinforces that association your child draws between you and your mother tongue.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
It is les vacances scolaires in the French school system (16 February to 2 March!!). The Frenchman and I spent one week skiing in the Dolomites. While we were skiing, between falling down and sobbing to the poor ski instructor, "I want my mommy!", the Bambina was learning how to ski. Having clung to the Tirolian, Germanophone ski instructor for the entire five days of ski lessons, she finally decided to venture down the ski piste alone, in snow plough position, during the last fifteen minutes of the last lesson. For that, the Bambina earned a medal, which she has hung proundly on her bedroom wall.
And now, we are back home and have one more week to keep the Bambina occupied before she returns to her école maternelle. Unfortunately, most of her classmates are still on vacation and her buddies in the Italian school system are - in school. They don't get a two-week break in February.
Which leads me to ask myself: what is with the French and their two weeks' vacation from school every seven weeks? And why didn't we take this factor into account when choosing a school? I think the Italians have the right idea having school all year long with no breaks except at Christmas, Easter and the summer. Finding something for your children to do during a two-week period every seven weeks of the school year is a big pain in the behind.
Of course, were we in the socialist paradise of France, we could send the Bambina to the local centre de loisirs every day during school vacation, 0830 to 1630. It is 100 percent subsized, free, and public. God bless their socialist souls. Being stuck in the French education system in Italy definitely has its drawbacks.
Then again, being in the French school system in Italy has its advantages - the ski pistes were practically empty in the Dolomites last week...
Monday, February 25, 2008
Well, not really. In fact, we were in that very northern, mountainous part of Italy called the Sudtirol. But it might as well have been Austria. The people speak German (their mother tongue - they only learn Italian at school), the landscape and architecture look like a scene right out of the Sound of Music, the food is Austrian and the people are, well, not Italian.
"Do you prefer to speak German or Italian?" I asked the hotel owner.
"Lieber Deutsch", was his reply.
The Frenchman, in his oh so French "everything must be centralized" understanding of the world, was aghast. How can the Italians stand having people in their country for whom Italian is not their mother tongue, who prefer speck to parma ham and who seem not to care at all for the idea of, well, fitting in (or, dare we use the term, assimilating).
After all, what did the French do once they (unjustly, some would say) reacquired Alsace after World War I? Forced the German-speaking Alsacians to become French, of course! Out of the question to let the Alsacian culture survive! Now, when you meet person from Alsace, even if his last name is Steinbock or Schmidt or Apfelbaum, he is French. Alsace is awash with a kind of cultural Stockholm Syndrome - they adore their French captors to the point of denying any other possible origin of their sauerkraut and spaetzle dishes, their black forest architecture that speckles the Vosges and their "eastern" (read German) accent when they speak. So you had better not even suggest that he has anything other than French blood in his veins, because as far as he is concerned, he is the most French of all the French.
But I digress. Back to sudtirol. Sudtirol is definitely not Alsace and the Frenchman recognized this fact as soon as our tires hit the regional border. The signs are bilingual but, well, the German comes first and the Italian is often (gasp) written in smaller print. The man at the ski rental shop could speak Italian - that was clear. But he had to really think about it when he did and his first instinct was always to respond in German. I am told that the mountains a bit further to the south in the region (we were in Luson - about 100 km from the border with Austria) are more truly bilingual but you still notice the distinct Austrian flavour.
So when we returned to Rome, we had a chat with a few people here in Rome about how they feel about having non-immigrant citizens whose first language is not Italian.
The universal response went something like this: "They hate the Italians. They would rather be in Austria. And they are really ungrateful because they get more money in the form of subsidies than the entire south of Italy put together. And they collect their own taxes because of their 'special status' that they have by law". In short, they are annoying.
To which I responded: "Okay. Er, so why doesn't Italy just give the sudtirol back to Austria?"
To which they answered: "Are you kidding me? We fought wars to get that land!"
Friday, February 8, 2008
Just a couple of days ago, the Bambina and I had the pleasure of meeting Everyday Yogini and her little bambina, Clara, who happens to be just three months younger than the Bambina.
Now, apart from listening to me, the Bambina doesn't get much other exposure to English(everyone else around her speaks either French or Italian). So I have always been curious as to how developed her speech and language was for her age (in English, that is). Little Clara has spent most of the three years of her life in the United States, so I was eager to listen carefully to how Clara's speech had developed.
Conclusion: I didn't notice much difference in vocabulary but BOY, do their accents ever differ. Clara's accent is all-American. Her r's are fully rounded. Her vowels are long. She says "girl" "geeerrrrelll". A real American.
The Bambina, on the other hand, has an accent that is somewhere between New Jersey and East London. I have no idea how she ended up that way given that the person she hears speak English (that would be me) has a fairly boring run-of-the-mill English-speaking Canadian accent. Maybe from her (British English) nana, who visits periodically. The Bambina says "guhl" for "girl" and "duh-ty" for "dirty" and even "no-ooo" for "no". It's all very cute - but I hope she grows out of it. She needs to speak her native language like a normal person. I don't mind if her accent ends up being British-English, but let it be something native, not some wild concocted accent based on hearing three languages a day.
Maybe I'll send her to English summer day camp.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
One of the things that thrills me about living in Europe is that they don't do Halloween here. Now, most of my American and Canadian friends looooove Halloween. You just mention the word and they sink into the abyss of nostalgia, relaying to you a year by year account of their favourite childhood pasttime while your eyes glaze over.
Not I. Call me a party pooper by I can't get into a festival that encourages children to knock on complete stranger's doors at night, beg for candy, and then stuff themselves full of junk for the next month or two, rotting their teeth and stacking on pounds.
The one positive aspect of Halloween is the dressing up, which is why I think that carnevale is a great idea. Less sugar, less pigging out, more focus on the costumes.
Today is mardi gras and there is a festa at the Bambina's school. In preparation for this big day, I suggested to the Bambina last week that she dress up as a ballerina. Great costume for her and easy for me - she would just wear what she wears to dance class every week, with a little bit of make-up to boot! And as all of the Bambina's girlfriends planned to go as princesses, at least as a ballerina, she would distinguish herself somewhat. Perfect.
And then yesterday, when I reminded the Bambina that tomorrow was the big day and she would go to school as a ballarina, she popped the big news.
"I don't want to go as a ballarina!" she yelled.
Uh oh, I thought to myself. She wants to go as a princess. I will have to go buy a princess costume.
"I want to go as a LION!" she said.
A lion? She wants to go as a lion?
And then she roared! She really did want to go as a lion.
So I spent yesterday procuring a lion costume (borrowed from a friend) and some face paint. She refused the face paint in the end.
And today we arrived at school. Would you believe, every single other little girl in her class was dressed up as a princess? But not my Bambina. She was a lion!
Monday, January 28, 2008
For the past year and a half, we have been using the internet for free. You see, we are fortunate enough to live near enough to someone, somewhere in our building or close to it, who is using wi-fi and has not bothered to do whatever has to be done in the Options menu to ensure that the nearby leeches cannot benefit from what he or she has paid for.
This all ended two weeks ago. Whoever it was has either uped and left or has figured out that others were getting something for free and has cut the connection. Waaaah! So now, we have to (gulp) pay for our internet connection. Heaven help us. It's so unfair.
Okay, it's not unfair but it sure sucks.
Posted by The Globetrotter Parent at 4:21 PM