Monday, August 31, 2009

language and connections


i'll admit it, since i took this photo of pretty purple chain onboard the ship last friday, i've been wracking my brain for a use for it. and then, this morning, a use for it fell into my lap. my blog friend Ju tweeted about an interesting post on raising a bilingual child on mummy do that! cartside, who i didn't know until the tweet, has assembled a wonderful collection of links to people who are blogging about raising bilingual children. you know, people like me. only strangely, it had never occurred to me to seek out blogs where people were writing about that. i've just sort of been fumbling along on my own. and i've only written about it once, over here on sabin and addie's blog. but what does any of that have to do with big-ass piece of purple chain, you ask? well, it's all about the connections, isn't it? and nothing says connection better than chains.

but this is actually about raising a bilingual child, so i'll get back to that now...

sabin is 8 and has lived her entire life in denmark. i have always spoken english to her and with her and so did her father until she started school. we discovered that she had some trouble cracking the code of reading in danish and we decided it would help her if her dad spoke danish to her a bit more often. and in all honesty, it did help.

sabin was slower to begin speaking than other children in her kindergarten, but i'm not sure we can blame that entirely on the two languages, it could very well be part of her personality, which is one in which she hangs back and observes before she jumps in. she also is a real perfectionist and doesn't want to make mistakes, so that may have been a factor as well. she wanted to be sure of herself in both languages before venturing out.

danish is difficult, in that the spelling has little or nothing discernible to do with the pronunciation, so cracking the reading code is difficult. that was surely compounded somewhat by my speaking and reading to her in english at home. and all of the english she hears on a daily basis on television and in music - because denmark doesn't dub extensively (the market's simply not large enough). we were fortunate that her school, which is a public one (not in the english sense of private), was very on top of the situation and she has had several rounds of extra reading help to help her crack the code. one of these was the fantastic reading recovery program, which completely did the trick last year. she's now reading very well in danish and using her reading strategies to quickly pick up reading in english.

and she's started to have english now at school, now that she's in the 3rd grade. it undoubtedly handicaps her a bit to be way ahead of the other kids because sometimes restrictions are placed on how much she's allowed to come forward with. for example, on the first day, the kids were asked to name the words they already knew in english. and sabin was only allowed to say two, which in my view, was fair enough. her teacher is great and super aware of sabin's needs, since she raised bilingual children herself. she's giving sabin as much extra work to keep her challenged as she seems to want, so she's not really being held back too much by the others being total beginners.

i actually don't worry that much about her ending up fluent in english, she already is from a speaking and understanding standpoint. and it's been our belief all along that she needs a native language. since she's growing up in denmark, danish is her native language.

some of the things i worry most about are cultural aspects. we do our best to give her a taste of the other half of her - american culture. and because so much of our television here is american and so much of the music and films american, she gets some taste of that. she's been the US lots of times and spent five weeks there a year ago in the summer, hanging out with her aunt and cousins, so she has also had the chance to partake of swimming lessons and T-ball and a fishing derby at the lake up close. but the fact is, she's a little danish girl and her main cultural grounding will be in denmark, regardless of what passports she carries (she has both).

i think raising a child to be bilingual is such a gift. i'm hopeful that she will inherit her father's ability to code switch flawlessly between languages and she seems to have that to an extent, tho' she sometimes does some really cute direct translation of danish words into english. and there are certain mistakes she makes consistently - like not saying "without," she only says "out" because that's how it is in danish. she doesn't understand that she also needs the "with" part of it, since that feels like the opposite to her. so she'll ask for a toast with nutella out butter.

we've been reading the junie b. jones books and junie b. makes a lot of grammar mistakes, so i keep talking to her about them, since i'm not sure she gets the nuances of that well enough and i don't want her to think that junie b. speaks correctly. so far, she seems to understand it and she just finds junie b.'s view on the world amusing, so the language doesn't matter that much.

it's interesting raising a bilingual child and my hope is that it makes her more able to understand and get along across cultures. and i think that it's really wonderful, through the miracle of the blogosphere, to have suddenly found a whole lot of other people who are thinking and writing about their challenges with raising bilingual children, too. see, you can learn things on twitter.

23 comments:

Char said...

I've never thought about the challenges of it really - I've always thought of her as an American child. Weird isn't, I guess because I hear what I imagine to be your voice as I read your blogs. Probably sounds nothing like it really. *insert laugh*

It's odd, as much as I love reading - reading was very difficult for me until the 4th grade. Until I struggled mightily and really struggled with spelling. Then, it suddenly clicked and I was off and running.

Katie said...

I think it's so great that you're raising her to be bilingual! Now that I am (slowly) trying to teach myself Italian, I wish all the time that my parents had tried to teach me another language when I was at an age where it's easier. My mother was fluent in Afrikaans, for instance. That would have been cool :(

Love those purple chains!

Esmerelda said...

My mother forbade my Baba teaching me Slovak because she endured lots of trouble at school with kids mocking her (my mom didn't actually learn English until she showed up the first day of school. I can imagine that would be shocking - walking in and everybody speaking another language). She thought the other kids would mock me. I wish she knew how much I would have loved it....

MissBuckle said...

Bilingual myself, and my go-to language used to be English even though I've lived longer in Norway. Now I'm not so sure as I spend my working days writing in Norwegian.

Complicated. I'm definitely more confident when I speak English.

Fidgeting Gidget said...

Being bilingual is such a wonderful gift! I wish I could have that luxury....although I took 5 years of Spanish in H.S., I never took it from a native speaker and I've never had the chance to live anywhere that had Spanish as its official language, and the years have slowly eroded all of my ability to speak. I think that this will be a huge advantage to Sabin as she grows up, and I think that it is wonderful that you and your husband are so conscious of teaching her both languages. Kudos!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for all the links. Always looking for extra info to help the boys with their languages.

Maria-Thérèse said...

I'm glad she doesn't seem to be bored at school already but I wonder what they'll do when she's older or when she has a new teacher?

That thing about "out" makes perfect sense to me. Very clever.

I thought the first photo was of a purple pretzel / kringla - it scared me a little! :D

Wanda said...

Love the "big ass chain".

Chiara.u said...

don't give up! children are like sponges and is a wonderful thing to be bilingual!!
there's a little award for you if you like :)
see you soon!

Vancouver's Enviro Girl said...

What you are doing for Sabin is wonderful! I always wanted to be bilingual (except in French because I resented being forced to learn it) and being able to switch between the two has always been something I am envious of. Here, it is Mandarin and English that I hear being intermingled all the time.

Vancouver's Enviro Girl said...

PS: Am in LOVE with that purple chain. There is something so incredibly fabulous about a huge MANLY ship having a purple chain.

heidikins said...

At first glance I thought that chain was a giant purple pretzel with globs of shining frosting...and I'll admit, I was a little grossed out.

That being said, I really wish I had been raised bilingually, my dad speaks German, lived there for several years and I don't remember him ever teaching me more than a handful of words. I can sing "Silent Night" in German and name the cutlery on the dinner table...that's it. Very sad.

Kudos to you, and Sabin.

xox

kristina said...

thanks for the interesting read! :-) I teach a course on language development and bilingualism, and we often have very interesting discussions about bilingualism. living in Sweden it's easy to forget that being bilingual is not an exception, it's the norm (in the world, that is).

Bill Stankus said...

Awesome topic.

My grandparents were immigrants from Lithuania and my father and his siblings were born and raised in the U.S. My dad told me he grew up speaking both Lithuanian and English - his neighbor was a mix of Russians, Czechs, Polish and a few others and he also came to have a sidewalk understanding of those languages.

My grandfather knew some English because he worked with English speaking people but my stay-at-home grandmother never did learn or speak English.

My dad fully assimilated into the American culture mostly likely in his early teens. In his adult years, when we visited his parents (my grandparents) he was clumsy with Lithuanian or unable to converse in it and he would often ask what certain words meant while he stumbled in conversation with his parents.

Furthermore, my parents wanted some distance from the insular and clannish family “old” ways so they moved West. I grew up in California and I don’t know a Lithuanian word or anything else about that country, except what I’ve read in books and newspapers. Does this bother me? Have I ever feel some need to know the Lithuanian language? Not at all.

Knowing other languages is a terrific thing - but there’s a caveat - the assimilation of language as speech is not the same as learning language accompanied with the cultural values and customs from which it comes.

Georgie K. Buttons said...

I wish my dad had spoken to me in Spanish when I was little (he lived in Argentina for two years). Then my classes would have been so much easier. Not to mention I could eavesdrop without people knowing. Seriously, I'm the total white girl, minus the blonde hair.

marinik said...

I'm trying my best too with the boys not only to speak the language but to learn about their culture and heritage as well... tough job
hey Julie stop by my corner today :)

Ju said...

Wow, that a was quick post response! How do you ever manage to write so much about so many subjects? You must have a clone.
But I'm glad you also raised the subject. It seems that for some families, billinguality comes as natural as breathing while others struggle a bit. In my modest opinions, bilingual families should not give up even if their kids don't seem to respond much to one of the languages. Eventually, things will make sense.

Ju:)

Bee said...

I'm intrigued that Sabin's school used the Reading Recovery program as I thought it was "designed" specifically for the English language.

When I was studying the acquisition of language, one of the things that intrigued me most was the fact that our phonemic awareness (ability to detect/hear the smallest "units" of sound) is keenest before the age of two. There are some languages/sounds we can never learn to speak (or even hear, actually) if we miss the window as young children.

Lucky, lucky speaker of more than one language!

Stacey Childs said...

My favourite bi-lingual experience (at a zoo) "Look there's a phoque in the water!"

(Phoque = seal = pronounced f*&k)

Thanks kid.

Kamana said...

i'm trying to raise my kids bilingual too. even though english is not my native language, its the one that i am most comfortable using (both for speech and writing). we use both languages at home, because i want to give them the confidence to use english (which they have to in school, although the teaching is just atrocious).

jane said...

great post! sara and daniel are both bilingual. i decided from day one that i would always speak to them in english and jorge in spanish. i´ve always considered it my gift to them- and am so glad i didn´t give in on the days when they would refuse to speak to me in english because "spanish was easier" hang in there! and thanks for visiting this month! your comments are always fun! besos-jane

cheekyketek said...

We're hoping to put the girls in bilingual school in Zurich, but since we're not bilingual, I don't know how much it will have a lasting impact on their lives. I'll have to come back to these links in 4 months ....

B said...

I find this fascinating! For what I see with my friends' children here in England most bilingual children realize early on that they are speaking two languages and can even translate from one to the other. I hope to raise my future children as bilingual, it's an amazing gift, specially because I know how difficult it is to learn another language later in life! :)