How we bilingual: Part 4

Over the next bit of time, I will be sharing specific blog posts and bloggers who have helped validate what I am already doing or that have great ideas that we will be incorporating it into our great bilingual family experiment! Check out previous posts below:

This week, I want to focus on some tips and thoughts from the website and blog Multilingual Parenting. I can not remember how I found this blog, however I am glad I did, as it has many great articles, tips, and thoughts to ponder as we continue our bilingual journey.

I started off by reading the Seven Tips for Parents. I loved Rita’s ideas, and may share some takeaways in a later post. For now, I want to focus on a post in her series about passing on a non-native language, since this applies to me.

I’ve stated before that I hesitated in the beginning about teaching Mon Cœur (MC) French, since I myself am not a native French speaker. In the end, I decided to give it a go, without much research or knowledge of what and how to raise a family bilingually.

So Rita’s post about things to consider before diving in are a little late for me, but all the same, I had taken some time to still ponder these points:

What is your motivation for using a non-native language?

Rita weighs the benefits of knowing another language versus the benefits of creating a close and positive relationship with your child.

Being able to speak more than one language is a great gift, but it cannot be compared to the importance of a close connection between a parent and a child.

I have mentioned before how I do not speak in French to MC 100% of the time. When we need to have serious chats, when I want to make sure I am understood, or if one of us is feeling miserably sick or on the verge of a meltdown, I don’t force it. I use English. But when we’re doing well, I speak French.

I wrote a lot about my motivations and considerations I thought through beforehand, in my post Why bilingual? so I won’t repeat here.

However Rita presents a valid thought about the applicability of the language as part of one’s motivation to teach the non-native language. I hadn’t put too much thought into this previously. In our community, we do have some friends and colleagues who can and do speak with her in French, we have the Alliance Française which is another option, and we have our adopted families in France who are a big part of our lives and with whom we communicate regularly.

In addition, French is also an official language in 25+ countries, is either the primary or second language for many organizations, including FIFA, the Olympics, Red Cross, and the European Union, and is rated as the third top language for business by both Eton Institute (2019) and Bloomberg Businessweek (2011).

Own fluency

How fluent are you in the language? 
I have never been officially evaluated for my language proficiency level, although I just stumbled upon Lawless French and I really enjoy the website. It features a paid subscription through Kwiziq. I use the free subscription and it starts with a test to determine your level. I’m B2/ intermediate advanced; I really wish I could tell you I had a better command of French grammar. I know I can get by, and I know where I need to improve. The free lessons on the website and the free quizzes each month will help get me back on track.

Are you used to speaking the language with a child?
Rita again offers really good questions that should be considered when embarking on a bilingual journey. I will say though, even if you were to answer “no” to some of the questions, I wouldn’t let that keep you from trying. Just because you don’t know the nursery rhymes, animal sounds, etc in your target language, there are so many resources out there that can help teach you and your child.

I don’t know many kids songs in French, so I am learning les comptines (nursery rhymes) along with MC on YouTube as the occasion calls for it. All I need to do is a quick search with “comptine” and the theme or vocab in French and I’ve found a song. For example, on a recent rainy day, I wanted to teach MC a song in French, so I searched using comptine and pluie, et voilà (and there it is) three different songs with images to sing when it rains.

Emotional connection – I have learned to take one day at a time, and switch languages as needed based on how we are feeling mentally and emotionally. I am not worried right now about having deep conversations with MC about boyfriends or bullying, and I will ponder that further as we get to a more appropriate age-range.

Time – there is definitely a time commitment to raising bilingually. Gathering or creating resources, brushing up on the language, creating experiences for MC and meeting with others to speak the language together are all actions that take time. It is a worthy investment, and yet another way I can be spending my extra time now that I am at home with MC.

Expected fluency for your child – again, we’re taking it one day at a time – I’m not worried about MC being able to read or write in French right now, and when that developmental stage appears more closely in the future, then we will focus on it.

Possible negative effects – Rita raises a few different scenarios to consider. Language delays and confusion were never anything I was worried about, as a language teacher these were non-issues for me. I have not encountered anyone yet who shares an adverse reaction to me speaking French with MC, although I know that day will come. I can’t worry about it though.

Rita has two follow up posts – one that addresses family language strategies, and the third which has resources and activities, which I am currently working through. As I try these resources and find more, I’ll post back and let you know what works for us!

Are you raising bilingually, too? What resources have you found online? Share them in the comments section!

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Grateful

This week has been busy coming together with loved ones near and far. I’m grateful for:

  • beautiful days and family walks;
  • Christmas Eve service with friends;
  • cards from friends and family with annual letters and handwritten wishes;
  • the most wonderful neighbors – bringing good cheer and love;
  • time spent with family celebrating, reminiscing, smiling, laughing, and crying;
  • new quotes placed around the house to help with our growth and positive mindset;
  • technology (yes) for connecting us via video (or phone, or text) to aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to share Christmas wishes;
  • Mon Cœur’s (MC) enthusiasm, especially Christmas morn, ripping off as many shreds of paper as possible before revealing her gift;
  • Chouchou for helping continue a family tradition.

I am grateful for this and so much more, and anticipating the start of a new year and more to be grateful for…

On Christmas traditions…

As a new family, and with Mon Cœur (MC), who, at two and a half is beginning to understand the concept and spirit of Christmas, I have contemplated past traditions and wondered about starting new ones.  There are many traditions that my family has had throughout the years, which I remember fondly. 

Christmas parties

Obvious choice, right?  My mom’s parents would host an open house every year, and I remember every year getting together the day after Christmas at their house and seeing everyone: our cousins, extended family, Mom’s friends from childhood, our grandparents neighbors. Everyone was welcome, and no one was a stranger.  As kids we would run around the house chasing each other, and stop to grab a cocktail shrimp or a bit of spinach dip, some sugar cookies, or any other yummy food that was scattered throughout the house.  Older cousins would attack us with tickles until we couldn’t breathe anymore, or just listen to our young reparties (repartees) and smile and laugh.

On Dad’s side, we would get together with his mother and brothers and their family the weekend before Christmas and we would have a big feast made by our grandmother. I always enjoyed this time, because it was the one time of year we’d all get together.  I also always got to eat about a half a can of black olives, which…yum.  We’d get a handmade gift, something crocheted by our grandmother – a hat, an afghan, a scarf, etc.   

As with any family that grows and ages, traditions change…torches pass, fall, or go out, and life continues to move on.

Family histories

My dad had begun a family tradition recently, and I along with the rest of the family enjoyed and appreciated this Christmas gift every year.  Daddy had a gift with words and understood the merits of a good family story passed down.  As his mother was aging, he decided to have her share a story each year.  He would type up the story, add a family photo or recipe that corresponded to the story and would make copies for all of the family. When we got together for our annual Christmas party, Daddy would share the story aloud and pass around a copy of the letter afterwards to everyone.  

I had the chance to interview and record Daddy for a model project about three years ago, using the wonderful resources that NPR’s StoryCorps has available on their website.  It’s a project I’ve often given to classes, and one that in the end says is their favorite because of the information they glean from another generation and the bonds they create through the process.  

I wish I had assigned myself this project more often.  I never did collect enough stories from him, or our other family members who have gone before us. 

I didn’t want to lose this new tradition, so I had all intentions of contacting my Uncles to ask them each for a story.  This task has been rolling around in my brain since Thanksgiving.  It’s now eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve as It type this post and I have yet to contact one them to set up a time to chat.  I admire my father for what he was able to do to share a small slice of family history with us, and I am disappointed that I have fallen short. 

Santa Letters

Every year since before I was born, up through 2016, Santa would write and leave letters in our stockings.  Key words throughout the letter corresponded to something in the stocking and it was up to us to see how it all fit together.   It was something Daddy started when he and Mom first were married, and according to his last letter, it was something he enjoyed doing for the family and was inspired by Mom.

As a child, I remember every year loving the stocking time when we would dump out all the contents, sit surrounded by them and take our letter and try to match. I loved how Santa mentioned things that we had accomplished or done throughout the year or things that were coming up.  True to all Santa letters, it allowed Dad a chance to say what he didn’t say (or didn’t get the chance to say) throughout the year. 

As we grew older, it became more and more of a casse-tête (a brain-teaser, a puzzle) and became a source of family contention as Santa tried to continue to correspond key words to stocking items.  Things we may not need or want, but received because it helped to write the letter. 

2017 was the last year we received a Santa letter and it was a blanket memo to the whole family.  Santa was tired, and the family had exponentially grown – it had become too much…It was time for our new families (my sister’s and mine) to begin new traditions of our own…

This is our first Christmas without Daddy, and so I asked Mom for the Santa letters, I knew she had faithfully saved and organized them every year for us all.  I organized and bound the letters into folders and hesitated to read mine (and Chouchou’s).  I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but that in reading it, I would feel a part of Daddy was still with me.  I read them – and remembered details throughout the year that I had forgotten. I laughed, I cried, I felt so grateful that the time was taken to write these and that Mom had saved them all for us.

I didn’t want the Santa letter tradition to not continue.  So, in true fashion like Daddy, I sat writing Santa letters to us three this afternoon while MC napped.  It’s my first year, and I don’t feel I can even compare to Daddy’s, but it’s a tradition for us, and something that helps me to highlight fun memories and accomplishments throughout the year.

I’ve read the last letter a couple of times since, and every time I cry.  I read it knowing that a part of Daddy is still alive through these letters and memories and I lament the fact that we don’t have any real traditions of our own yet.  We try to keep up with sides of the family, bouncing between Chouchou’s family and mine every-other-year-ish.  This was the first year we were here at our home, by ourselves, and it honestly felt weird.

MC and I went to a Christmas Eve service and then when we got back home, Chouchou was home from work and we had dinner together.  MC suggested we have dinner and a movie, so we watched (to our great delight) the classics we grew up with: Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  It was a quiet Christmas Eve, and it was perfect for us this year.

A Merry Christmas to all,

Resources from StoryCorps

Great Questions: https://storycorps.org/participate/great-questions/

Educators resources: https://storycorps.org/participate/the-great-thanksgiving-listen/for-educators/

Repurposing Christmas Cards

Every year after Christmas, as we are boxing away the decorations, I take all of the holiday cards off display and I place them in an envelope and pack them away with the rest of Christmas…they take up precious room in the plastic tote that is dedicated to our Christmas decorations. After a few years’ worth of cards, it gets out of control and I have to do something with them.

It’s not like we bring them out again the following year, or that I ever do anything with them…I just can’t stand to throw away or recycle all that Christmas cheer.

When the bundle started to infringe on the precious storage space, I had to think of something to do to repurpose them without just getting rid of them. I took those cards out, looked back through them all and chose some to make a paper Christmas wreath by cutting circles and arranging them in a circle. Want to make your own? It’s easy peasy!

I liked the way it turned out, and this year when we were unboxing Christmas decorations, I realized it was again time to cull down the card collection. I found my trusty quilter’s circle templates and I used all of the sizes this year to create the wreath. This year’s wreath is extra special, as I used a stamp from a special delivery from Tokyo.

I am very nostalgic although I am averse to clutter, so I love this idea of keeping cards from friends and family while keeping the clutter down. The paper wreath is so easy to pack away and adds a little bit of Christmas cheer to a wall that may need a little bit of joy.

What do you do with your Christmas cards after the season’s over?

Christmas Crafts

I have a confession – I am horrible with thinking of good gifts for people in general. The adults I usually buy for buy what they want or need when they want or need it. The kids we usually buy for already have everything they want. As a recipient, I prefer experiences to things – fond memories with good friends are the best gift I could ask for. I think all of my adult friends would agree.

Recently we have had many birthdays we helped celebrate, and Christmas is coming up, and as per the usual, I have felt very unoriginal in my gift-giving. This year I wanted to give the kids something fun, and something that would last throughout the year.

I looked into the crates and monthly subscription boxes for kids, but that adds up quickly when you have a list of kids to buy for. Even with Black Friday deals, they were coming up around ten dollars per month per kid. As awesome an idea as they are, I feel like if I spent a little time, a little money and collected some household items, I could make my own much cheaper.

I thought what else can we give that I can buy in bulk for many kids and that will be something they receive throughout the year? I looked at kid’s magazines and found one that looked very promising: Ladybug by Cricket Media. It has received many Parent’s Choice Awards over the years and both the Ladybug and Babybug editions won the Gold Award in 2018.

I liked the pictures from the previews I could see and I liked how there were lots of visuals in Babybug to interact with and visuals to reinforce the meanings of chunks of text.

In Ladybug, I liked how there were short poems that could be read in duo, parent and child – the parent can read the poem, while tracking with their finger, and as they encounter a small picture, the child can “read” it.

So I purchased subscriptions for all of our little ladybugs, but then I pondered how can I communicate to them that this was a gift from us? I decided to let Mon Cœur (MC) do the explaining, with a fun craft. We took some postcards, construction paper, and glue. I cut out the body, wings, and head and glued it together, while she took an ink pad and her fingers to make the dots. She also went rogue, with a green marker she found: “Mommy I draw face!” she declared.

On the back, I wrote a simple little greeting from MC: “Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoy your subscription to Ladybug magazine – it’s a year of adventures and stories to share!” and I slipped them in with our Christmas cards and off they went.

Do you have fun or creative gift ideas for the young darlings in your life? Share them in the comments section!