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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Multilingualism in my family

This was my first post on multilingualism. I was just starting to read on this topic, and wanted to introduce it by sharing my family's multilingual story. I've come a long way since.My girl daughter talks more and more, and uses full sentences. The little girl is still little, but she says "mama", and "papa". I loved translating this post, because then I see the progress that we have made.

- K. do you want some bread?- I ask my elder daughter, using the cute version of her name. She jumps enthusiastically up and down, and answers. „Ja, ja!”. She is only two (now three!), but already she's been confronted with three languages. I speak Polish with her, my husband uses German, and Dutch is spoken on the streets. Our friends speak English, and some of them are French-speakers. What comes out of such a language mix? Isn't it too much? I have been thinking about this a lot. In our case, three languages are of crucial importance: Polish, German and Dutch. We want our daughters to communicate in all those languages, but we also expect them to be triliterate, which means being able to read and write in three languages. How can we achieve this? 

Unfortunately, research on multilingualism is scarce, although studies on bilingualism can be found easily. After a long search I  found „Living Languages: Multilinguality Across the Lifespan”, in which author Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa describes her own experience of raising multilingual children, but she also presents all the research on this topic. This book is not perfect, but it does describe the many methods and approaches to raising multilingual children.

We have picked the OPOL (One Person, One Language) method, by which one language is attached to one person. There are others, for example the ml@h (Minority language at Home), where the language is attached to a place. Another approach would be to pick a time where one language is spoken (for example, we speak one language on Mondays or during dinnertime. The rest of the week (or day), another language is used). When I lived in Germany I went to a German daycare. My parents used Polish when addressing me at home, and we spoke German on the streets. When we came back to Poland, my parents proclaimed Sundays to be German days, but only at home.

We try to give our children the opportunity to speak all three languages. Having family in Poland and Germany helps a lot. The girls go to a Dutch daycare, so that they can learn Dutch. There are many schools that support multilingual education, and  checking them out is a good idea.  We are considering sending our big girl to such a school. Because Dutch children start school when they're 4 years old, the nurse at the Consultatiebureau suggested to us that we send her to preschool, with a stronger focus on Dutch. The nurse explained that multilingual children start speaking later and face more problems at school because of that. We declined. First, 4 years is really early for going to school, and I am not sure whether I support such a system. And by that I mean I am not willing to send my daughter to any kind of school if it isn't necessary. Also, I am not worried about her Dutch. She will speak it, sooner or later. I think she will have less contact with Polish, and right now, this is now the language worth concentrating on. Also, it is true that multilingual children face problems at school, but they then usually catch up very quickly. They also have a bigger capacity for abstract thinking, and can learn languages faster.

We are really lucky. Both of our families are multilingual. My mother speaks English as well as she speaks Polish. She also knows French, German, and understands Russian and Spanish. My father's French is as good as his Polish, and he also knows English and German, and understands Spanish, Italian and Russian. TV and radio,  in other homes considered to be "background media", in my home they were used for learning languages. My father watches the news in Polish, German and French, he enjoys watching Italian cooking programs, listens to the BBC in English. As a child, I watched cartoons and children's programs, and films in German. My mother "limited herself" to reading women's magazines in German and French, and listening to the BBC. My husband's parents speak fluent French, some English, and my husband's uncle and his children speak German and Farsi. 

I think my big girl (I can only write about her, because right now, the little one only says 2 words ) has a pretty good vocabulary, for a multilingual two year old, and she understand even more. I think she is doing fine, and is very communicative. But she is still little, and only at the beginning of her multilingual journey. Together, we will face many challenges and problems, but also joy and instances of success. I think we're doing fine. 

For further readings: Tokuhama-Espinosa, Tracey: „Living Languages: Multilingualism Across the Lifespan”, (2008), WestportCT; Praeger Publishers.

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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Traveling with kids

Traveling is not what it used to be. No spontaneous vacation, not packing-at-the- last- minute. We have children now, and traveling has become more difficult. We have to pack more stuff, not to mention the huge red double stroller. It has also become more expensive, the hotels became better. It is more difficult, but it is possible. 

Before I had children I thought that traveling with them will not be possible at all. I thought it was stressfull for children and parents alike. We have always traveled a lot, very often with very little preparation. When I was pregnant, I spend my time going between Hamburg, Bremen and Delft. This worked, but I was worried about my child. Since I was feeling quite well, and had no complaints, I just went. I even flew to Warsaw a few times. This can't really be described as vacation, but it was possible. 

When my first daughter was born, I could forget about traveling. I was too tired and I was thinking that maybe my traveling days are over. But when she was 6 weeks old, we moved from Germany to the Netherlands. I recovered, and she became a lot more quiet. I could relax more, go shopping and for long walks. And then my husband needed vacation. We decided to go to Nice, France. We stayed there for 3 days and I was surprised. Klara took it really well! When she cried on the plane, she got a pacifier or I nursed her. But mostly, she slept. We managed to see a lot.

Encouraged by this positive experiences, we decided to go to Spain. Then to Malta. This was followed by a trip to France (again) and the UK and then Spain again. Visiting family in Poland and Germany can't really be considered vacation. Neither can our short train trips to Dutch cities close to Delft. But we went there and it was good! We took her everywhere, and I have never heard a better art review than my daughter's short "Ga!" applied to a Picasso painting. 

Then I was pregnant again and my daughter would not be carried around everywhere anymore. Now she could run and we had to wrap our lives around her needs. Again, I thought "my traveling days are over". We then took the train to Germany to visit family there. she could play in the train, and my little girl was still little and didn't really mind where she was as long as we were with her. I thought: "OK, we can go by train, but flying would be difficult". 

And then we flew to Warsaw. Both girls survived the flight really well. The elder was in a good mood and slept through the whole flight back to the Netherlands. The little one was also happy, and slept as well. This was our first flight together. And it was possible.So were our next trips. What a relief!
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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A day with my two girls

I lie in my bed and think of the day ahead. Tomorrow is Thursday. Every Tuesday and Thursday I spend with my two girls.

I used to dread those days. I worried how Earth am I going to do things around the house and run errands, and cook, and take care of two little children at the same time? The answer came quickly: I am not going to. Because it is not possible, not at the expense of my children. So instead of trying to get everything done, I focus on what really counts: my children. In the end I have come to enjoy, even to love those days.

Every Tuesday and Thursday I spend my time cuddling, playing, nursing, reading books, singing, and listening to music. Often even literally rolling on the floor laughing. We go out for walks, we eat, we drink, we rest. They sleep, I rest some more. Those days are just for us, and I have learned to appreciate them. There are good days, and not-so-good days, and sometimes my goal for the day is to get everybody dressed, fed, and alive without losing my own sanity in the process. But more often than not, those days are wonderful. I look at my children, and every day I notice something new. That Klara can now put her shoes on by herself or learned a new word, and that Julia is becoming more and more responsive.

With two little ones in the house, my expectations of what I should be doing have lowered considerably. I managed to vacuum clean? Cool. That, and laundry? Wow. That, and cooking a simple dinner? I am awesome. That, and preparing dinner from scratch, and not something I just improvised from some things I happened to have at home? I am the Housewife Goddess impersonated. I take it slow because I have a long day ahead of me, and I need all my energy. For us.

I love those days for yet another reason. Because soon my children will grow up, and go to school, and my time with them will be less and less. So I try to make the best out of it now. And I hope they’re enjoying spending those days with me as much as I do. I do chores on other days, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. That’s when Klara goes to her day-care centre, and that’s when  I cook, I do shopping, I clean the house. I care for Julia, but soon she will join her big sister in the day-care centre, and I’ll have those days to myself. But Tuesdays, and Thursdays are for my children.

As I lie in my bed, and think about tomorrow, I smile. Because I know that it will be a great day.  
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Friday, 8 July 2011

Why this blog?

My name is Olga. I live in the Netherlands with my husband and two daughters. I speak at least three languages, every day, especially Polish (with my children and family), German (with my husband) and English. I thought his blog would be a great opportunity to share my personal stories, and write about things that interest me at the moment: parenting, multilingualism, and the experience of living in another country.

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