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Monday, 31 December 2012

That was the year, my friends!

2012 is about to be over in just a few hours. It was an exciting year, and many things happened. It was the year where my daughter and my husband underwent surgery. The year where I went through physical therapy with Julia due to the fact that she wasn't turning around when she should have. It is also the year where she stood up unaided. The year where I found out that I was about to become a mom to three children, which still freaks me out. The year where the world somehow did not end on December 21st.

2012 was also the year in which I have figured out where this blog is going, more or less. Oh, there are more changes ahead, and I have several ideas in mind, but generally, this is more or less where I want this blog to go.

It seems to be the right direction, given the nomination and the honorary prize for the Expats Blog Award, the interviews (see here, here, and here)  and guest posts I was asked to do (see for example here)and the jump in traffic. 

I want to say thank you to all my readers, and other bloggers for the inspiration, the ideas and the motivation you’re giving me to continue writing. For the comments, likes and follows. For listening to my stories and and sharing yours. Besides, please let me know of your expectations and suggestions for this blog. I care about your opinion, so please help me out here.

But, I also want to take this opportunity to with you all a Happy New Year! I hope 2013 will have a lot of exciting things in store for us.

Meanwhile, I’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve with my parents-in-law, my husband’s brother and his wife and their little son. And, whether you’ll have a joyful or challenging New Year’s Eve, whether you will be celebrating or not, I’ll be thinking of you. 

See you next year!
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Friday, 28 December 2012

Our untraditional traditional Christmas

We just came back from a 5 days Christmas holidays in Warsaw. It consisted mainly of eating divine food, doing lots of sweet, sweet nothing and being lovingly cared for by my family. I got tons of rest that I desperately needed. I read books, and not at all the parenting type. I played with the children. I spoke with my family. Life was great.

 In this post, I wanted to tell you how my family celebrates Christmas because I think it might help many expats understand that while they may not exactly follow their country’s traditions, they can decide to make something new and unique. But first, let me tell you about a traditional Polish Christmas.

It is full of symbolism, and anticipation, and oh yes, food. Good food. The big day is already the 24th of December. Dinner starts early that day, usually when somebody notices the first star in the sky- to commemorate the Star of Bethlehem. Then, there might be prayer (or not), and we share the Holy Wafer. You can read about this tradition here.

You won’t find any meat on the table, as Christmas Eve is supposedly a fasting day. However to Polish people, this means “no meat”, and not “eat less”. In fact, the table should be full with food- fish, grains, sweets and salads, all counting up to 12 dishes- for the 12 apostles. There is more, of course but if you want to find out more about Christmas in Poland, you can find more information here.

Now, this is all great when you have a big family with at least three generations getting together for Christmas. My family has always been small. Instead of trying to make all the 12 dishes, we stick to the ones everybody loves. And while my father is the chef in my home, Christmas is the time for my mother to shine. She makes borscht, delicious beetroot soup with “uszka” - tiny little dumplings filled with wild mushrooms and onions. My brother and I help her with the production, and this year, Klara did, too! A big tradition in our family is  my father complaining about us always making not enough uszka- but hey, we already make like 150 of them. This year, we outdid ourselves, making as many as 170! There is more, food like fish with vegetables, but the borscht really is the highlight of the evening and after that, everybody is so full that they won’t have room for more food.

Another thing my mother makes is the fruitcake, which is not at all a Polish tradition. When my mother was in the States, she bought Julia Child’s cookbook, and fruitcake was one of the things she found herself making every year. I love this cake. The next day, or two days after that, she makes blini, fluffy pancake-y wonders made with buckwheat flour- they’re not a Polish tradition, either, instead they are popular in the Ukraine, Belarus or Russia (my mom has this recipe from her Ukrainian mother-in-law).

While our Christmas may not be so consistent with the Polish traditions, it has become our tradition. My parents have managed to keep it simple for Christmas, and to create a family culture, all at the same time. Maybe this approach may help many expats figure out how to best celebrate Christmas. I think that while it is important to remember one’s own roots, it is also a good idea to be flexible, practical and open to new ideas.
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Friday, 21 December 2012

10 things expats want their extended families to know

It is that time of the year again. Families everywhere will be meeting for Christmas dinners, opening presents and spending some quality time together. But for some of us, these get-togethers will be full of stress. Expectations will be high, pressure will be high. There may be conflicts and arguments. For expats, seeing extended family often means traveling, cultural clashes, and many other issues. I have put together a list of 10 points I think that expats would like their extended families to know and understand. I am very much looking forward to  spending some time with my parents, but not all families have the luck to have such a supportive family who are always there when I need them, and who understand my concerns. 

1)    We don’t always know where “home” is. Don’t assume that you do. While we are happy to visit family, we spent a long time in another country. We got used to new holidays, new traditions, and a new way to function in society. This means that we might need time to re-adapt. Also, our perception of what “home” means might have changed. This is not a bad thing, but please take into account that a simple “make yourself at home” can be viewed as an expectation we can’t always meet.

2)    We want reunions to be as pleasant as possible. We travel for hours in order to see you. Some of us have to cross the ocean and several time zones to be at this reunion. On top of that, we travel with children, and that is even more tiring. So no, a family reunion is not a good time for criticizing the way we raise our children. This is not a good time for conflicts or arguments. Remember that we are also here to rest. We go back to having a job/chores/ raising children and we can’t do it well if we’re not rested. It’s as simple as that. Also, remember that we have to go all the way back and if you don’t respect our children’s schedules, we will come back with overwhelmed, cranky children who will need ages to re-adapt. We don’t need to see everybody and his brother; we don’t need to do something exciting every day and sometimes, we want to be left alone.

3)     Don’t assume that you somehow know our children just because you see them once in a while. While you probably want to be as present as possible in your grandchildren’s lives, the distance is real. You can be the nice grandparent who gives toys and gifts and generally pampers our children, but you will not always be there for them. You may have formed opinions about our children, but they can’t match what we have learned and found out about them, also because the children may behave differently around you. 

4)    You might not understand our children. As you know, our children speak 2 or more languages. At least, at the beginning, when they mix the languages, you might not understand everything what they’re saying because you don’t speak all the languages present in our families- in my case Polish and Dutch. This is not a cause for concern. Be happy that the children have the chance to be multilingual. And, believe me, they will figure it out!

5)     Some differences are cultural differences. Before you think we’re rude, or unfriendly, think about the fact that we come from another country, or have been raised there. On the other hand, some of the things you say come across as silly or ignorant. So maybe it would be a good idea to get educated about our respective countries (the one we come from, and the one we live in, since it might not be the same country), before you say something?

6)     Don’t say any of these things unless you want to make us very, very angry. Instead, you can use these simple tips if you have any questions about our children’s multilingualism.

7)     We have to balance other languages and cultures besides yours. So, while you are an important part in our children’s multilingual education and their cultural heritage, don’t behave as if your culture was the most important in the world. Don’t speak badly of the children’s other cultures.

8)  Use technology wisely. We are so excited about all the possibilities that Skype and Facebook and other social media give us nowadays. We are glad that you do, too. But we have to find boundaries that work for us. That means that I won’t necessarily accept your Facebook request. It means that no, you can’t call me every day on Skype just to talk with the children. It means that when I say that it’s bad time to call, it is a bad time to call- and remember the time zones! As simple as that. For the grandparents on the other spectrum, please at least give it a try. You can get the chance to see your grandchildren even though they are miles away. You can read books to them, you can play games with them. It’s not difficult, just try. But not too much, please.

9)   Sometimes you’re not the best help for us, but you can help. Because you didn’t have the experience of raising children in another country, you will not always be the person we’ll turn to for advice. We need to find our own network of friends and specialists who have the knowledge and experience to really help us. We and our children may need special help- that you can’t offer. We will not always seek your opinion on certain matters. But, you can help. By being supportive and non-judgmental. By being there for us when we need you without being all up in our personal space. By just listening. So many things you actually can do!

10)  You’re doing a great job. You care about our children. You watch for them so that we can go out. You shower them with love and affection. You make sure that they are well rooted in your culture and speak your language. And while the children go through a lot of traveling to see you, they actually enjoy their time with you. Of course, there is always place for improvement, but for all what you have done for us and the children, we want to say a big, warm Thank You.

What would you like your extended family to know? Please share it in the comments!
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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Blog, life, family- Finding my balance

A while ago, I had the great luck to meet Renee Veldman-Tentori, mom to two daughters, social media expert (see her company Zestee Concepts), blogger at Dutch Australian and founder of Professional Parents. In short, she is a person I’d like to call “orchestra person”- someone who can play all the instruments- has a lot of knowledge, contacts, knows everything about everything and does everything. Renee has also developed a model for finding balance between work and family- you can check out her webinar on Nomad Parents.

She has also inspired me to write this post. Because I have it easy, much much easier than many of us moms. I can send my children to daycare, work on my blog and on the Polish blog EgoDziecka, have the time to meet friends, and spend some time with my children. I have just started to offer trainings on intercultural communication. I like it that way, and I am grateful for all these opportunities.

But even I am struggling. Even I feel that there are not enough hours in the day. Even I feel that the time I have with my children is not always “constructive”, or “quality time”. I need a whole lot of me-time. A very scary lot of me-time. I am rather sensitive to high-pitched sounds and crying or whining children are all high-pitched sounds. I also don’t like crowds and fast actions, and children have the tendency to be everywhere, all the time. So this is why I need more me-time, to calm down, to do nothing for a while, to just be quiet, and to do the simplest chores I am not always able to do when the children are at home- and I don’t want to waste quality time with the children doing chores. Cooking is the only exception.

When I first started reading blogs (starting with Dooce.com), I wondered why bloggers were so reluctant to refer to what they do as “working”. I didn’t understand it at all until I saw how much work is involved when running a blog. A lot of that is not even considered “work”. You don’t go to an office, you don’t work nine-to-five, often, you don’t get paid, you just sit at the computer all day, surfing the Internet and writing about whatever comes to your mind. Oh, and then you spend countless hours on Facebook and Twitter. Does it sound like work to you? It sounds more like fun to me. And you know what, it is fun! But it is also work because if you want to do it properly, it requires time and commitment, and hard work.

I am indeed lucky to be living in the Netherlands, where daycares have flexible schedules, where women are encouraged to work, but nobody is shamed for staying at home with their children. I am lucky to have a supportive husband who fully accepts whatever weird new plan I come up with, and who also has a job that can support the whole family. I have a cleaner who comes and helps to keep my house organized. I am hundred times lucky, and yet I am struggling, especially now that the pregnancy has thrown me slightly out-of-balance. I can’t fathom how others do it. I can’t fathom how difficult it must be for people who don’t have the resources and the support I have.

I wish that everybody would find the right balance for themselves- between having a career, having a family and having some me-time, and I wish that everybody would have the support they need to achieve it. 
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Monday, 17 December 2012

The Dutch daycare diet dilemma

In one of the Facebook groups I belong to, one of the moms voiced her concerns about the food served in Dutch daycares. She was worried that the amounts were not enough. Other concerns included the fact that the children don’t get enough fruit and vegetables; instead they are served bread with processed cheese or ham. Also, the children are too tired to eat a hot meal for dinner at home and go without the whole day.

Now, I see that the Dutch like eating bread for lunch. Sometimes, I do, too. But I really understand why people are concerned about the quality of Dutch food. In fact, I was so frustrated with not being able to find proper bread here that I started making my own.

Klara has been going to daycare since she was 6 months old. She used to eat everything. Her favourite meal was palak chicken with rice, and she loved it. She ate curries and other spicy food. When my friends complained of their children not eating vegetables, I proudly explained that my daughter ate everything. And suddenly, this changed. Klara decided that she would mostly eat pasta, rice and potatoes. And while she would eat meat and veggies on other days, I can’t help but think that this might be somehow influenced by her daycare.

A while ago I read Pamela Druckerman’s “Bringing Up Bebe” where she describes the role food plays in French culture. Even in daycares, meals are carefully planned so that the children never eat the same food twice. Teaching about food starts early- at home and daycare.

Now, I don’t see anything wrong with eating sandwiches for lunch, if all the nutritional requirements are met. I don’t see anything bad in sometimes skipping veggies, because we should look at the weekly intake and not at what the children eat every day. I also know that children can be educated but still won’t eat everything. But I am still worried.

Luckily, we are changing the children’s daycare schedule, so that they will skip lunch there. Then, I will have to figure out how to serve well balanced meals for lunch without cutting on my Polish quality time with them. Also, Klara will soon go to school where she will have hot meals during the day. But not everybody has the same possibility.

What to do in this regard? The mom who started the discussion is a part of the parent committee and has raised this as a point to discuss. To get involved in our children’s daycare is a good idea because we might get at least some influence on what happens to our children. Then, while it is important to keep cultural differences in mind, and to be respectful towards other customs, sometimes the concerns about certain aspects are valid as well, and I think this is the case in respect to food. Also, how about giving your child a packed lunch and bring some more veggies to share with other children at daycare? It also seems to me that in some daycares food is better than elsewhere: for example, my children get veggies (cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots etc.) in the afternoon, while this is not the case in many daycares.

Of course, we can’t blame everything on the “daycare diet”. Even us parents have limited control over what our children will end up eating in the end. But why not make some efforts to ensure that our children eat well-balanced, delicious, varied foods?

Do you have any ideas, suggestions or would like to share your experiences?
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Friday, 14 December 2012

Why culture is just like an elephant

A few weeks ago I gave a workshop on transcultural communication for my friends over at Delft INA. It was a great experience except for two things: I tried to put too much info on my slides and I got way too nervous and I felt like I didn’t explain everything the way I wanted to. So I’d thought I’d use this blog to do a series of posts to cover what I presented in my workshop.

I started with a definition of culture, and I’ll tell you something: I spent a whole semester at University reading, discussing and thinking about this very topic. And the only way to explain what I have learned is this story.

It talks of 6 blind men who set out to find out what an elephant is like. They managed to land on different sides of the elephant, and described what they saw. Except, being little and blind, and the elephant being a huge animal, they didn’t see that they were actually describing different sides of the same thing. It’s the same with culture.

For ages researches have been trying to describe what culture is. The definitions, points of view and approaches change all the time. For example anthropologist Edward Taylor, thought that culture is the same as civilization. Others, such as Niklas Luhmann wanted to see society as very complex systems which could nevertheless be understood, quantified and analysed, and culture was just a part of the system.

Not everybody shares this positive approach to culture. In my presentation, I included a picture of a child standing in front of a mirror. Why would I do that? Every mom knows how important the moment is when the child first recognizes himself in the mirror. It is because for the first time, the child seems himself as an individual. At the same time, however, he can see himself with other people’s eyes, and that’s where culture comes in. Culture is not only there to support you. It is also there to make sure that everybody behaves in a certain way. It is about power relationships.

Finally, I mentioned the idea of the Panopticon, a building meant mainly as a prison, where one watcher could oversee a large amount of prisoners. The watcher’s tower looms in the middle so that the watcher sees everything. It is however not clear, whether there is a watcher in the tower or not, so all the inmates behave as if there was. And here you have it: sometimes, culture is like a prison.

Does this sound familiar? That you should always behave as if somebody was watching you because otherwise you’ll get punished? That you should always fear someone who you can’t even see? Yes, this is culture at its worst- this is especially visible in religions. They can be a great way to bond with people and to create a sense of unity, but they can also be used to shame and to judge.

I like the elephant metaphor because it is very accurate. The concept of culture is big (like an elephant) and we can only describe parts of it. There are more approaches, methods, models, like the Iceberg Model or the 7 dimensions model, and many many more.

Also, just like an elephant, culture can be helpful in carrying heavy loads (such as dealing with a world that is unpredictable, or being a part of a certain society). However, just like an elephant, culture can crush you.  
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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

How to fail even more miserably at raising a multilingual child

I have just read this hilarious post over at BilingualMonkeys. So much has been written about multilingualism in a very serious, scientific tone that it’s always refreshing to find something funny about this topic.  Also, while I appreciate direct and positive advice, I also love me some irony. And, last but not least, this post has inspired me to write about more ways you can totally destroy your child’s bilingualism. First, please read Bilingual Monkey’s post, and have a laugh!

1)      Insist that everybody should speak only one language. After all, people have been doing just that and they could communicate, right? Why should you be the one to learn their language when they could and should learn yours?
2)    Do not speak about other cultures, and if you really have to, make sure that all your comments are negative. Also, always speak of your culture as the superior one. This will ensure that your child will lose all motivation to learn other languages, and have the superiority complex on top of that!
3)      Make your love for your child conditional upon the language they use- your child needs to learn that there are good languages and bad languages. So, no affection, no cuddles if the child speaks the “wrong” language.  
4)      Punish your child in your language so they will have negative memories of it. Also, connect your language to everything unpleasant. Make him do chores in your language. Make him eat broccoli in your language if you know he hates broccoli. You get the idea.
5)      Send your child to a school where diversity is not encouraged- then they will soon stop trying to talk to you in your language, and become totally monolingual! Also, if at all possible, try to keep her away from language classes.
6)      Alternatively, go the other way, and become a zealot! Force your child to learn languages, rather than finding ways for them to learn and hoping for the best. Make sure that you talk of nothing else than learning languages! Make it a chore, and make it as unpleasant as possible.
7)      Do never, ever, ever, give your child any explanation why you expect him to learn languages, or to speak to you in your language. Or, pick a language for him without explaining why you expect him to learn it (“Because I say so!” is your friend!). This way, the child will see no motivation whatsoever to learn it! Mission accomplished!
8)      Use the power of books and other media to point out the negative effects of multilingualism and diversity. If you have to, get creative and make your own story showing how a multilingual person got into troubles and only recovered after he decided to use one language only.
9)       Model “good” behaviour. This means that you have to disrespect anything and anybody from other cultures. Make fun of other languages, clothes and skin colours. Make a point of showing your child how disrespectful you are, so that you really get this point across.
10)   Do not, under any circumstances, do anything related to your culture. Do not celebrate your holidays; do not cook anything from your country, do not make any culture-related crafts. Do not visit family in your country, or don’t invite them over to your place until they learn the proper language. That way your child will be shielded from the bad influences from other cultures.

As you see, raising a monolingual child in a multilingual society also requires a lot of work! You will have to work hard to kill your child’s natural ability to learn languages. But, take heart, it can be done! Just use these simple tips! 
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Monday, 10 December 2012

Expats Blog Awards 2012

Thanks to your help, I received an honorary award from expatsblog.com, and I would like to say  a big "thank you"! Your comments and support have made this possible. You made this happen. I can't express how happy I am and what this means to me.

Netherlands expat blogs</a>

Your comments were all so wonderful, that I'm going to quote some of them here:

What I can find in Olga's blog is a huge amount of wise parents' love. Everyone should read Olga's blog and learn how to raise children wisely, which can be more problematic when you're a Pole, your husband is German and you raise your children in the Netherlands.

I've never seen a person so passionate in doing something. She's very well informed and I often ask her opinion. Her blog is absolutely a great source of information and a source of "empathy" sense for me. I feel less lost when I come to her blog. She knows what she's talking about, and she's always very caring in giving her help and opinion. Her blog has all the features to win, easy to read, well done graphically and in contents, etc...I think that explaining difficult matters in an easy way is a gift, and not everybody has this gift.

I would like to thank Olga for this Blog. She is sharing here all her precious experiences and observations. I admire her so much for her enthusiasm and her passion in bringing up her babies. I have been scared for some time thinking " what will I do with my babies in the future? I will drive them crazy with all the languages they will have to speak!" I am also expat together with my partner and, to make it more complicated, my partner was born and grew bilingual. Thanks to Olga's Blog and Tips, I think one day I can make it too!

I like Olga's blog because she gives us insight into what it is like to be a parent raising multicultural, multilingual kids in the Netherlands. Keep up the good work, our multicultural society needs blogs like yours.

This wonderful blog is always a joy to read and it has also taught me a thing or two about multilingualism. AND one doesn't have to be a parent to find many of the topics interesting!

These are such wonderful comments and there are many more! You can read all of them here
Again, thank you so much!

I would also like to take this opportunity to offer my congratulations to the other winners. I am so excited to be mentioned among these wonderful writers. So please, check them out and find yourself entertained, challenged, inspired, impressed, and more!

- Gold: Adventures in Integration
- Bronze: A Flamingo in Utrecht
- Honourary: Dutch Pancake
- Honourary: The Wooden Shoes Diaries

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Friday, 7 December 2012

The importance of quality time in multilingual families- and my struggles with it

I’ve been writing how multilingual children develop differently than other children. But it is not entirely true. Multilingual children are still children and just like all children they need tons of love and affection and attention and quality time spent with their parents. The only difference is that by spending quality time with them, we don’t only foster a positive child-parent relationship, but also convey a positive image of our language and culture.

I attended Eowyn Crisfield’s workshop on raising multilingual children, and learned that bilingual children need to spend at least 20% of their waking hours in a language in order to be able to speak it, preferably more. And this needs to be high quality language, not the “please put your jacket on, it’s cold” kind of language. It needs to be time spend reading books, singing songs, explaining the world- in other words, it needs to be quality time. 20% of a child’s waking hours are a lot of time and even more is recommended. This reminds me of the importance of being there for a child and giving them our whole undivided attention.

This is also where I struggle the most. For the last months and weeks I think I did quite well, being patient and understanding and staying calm where I could have screamed. I also did quite a good job of talking to my children and increasing their vocabulary. But this pregnancy, bundled together with sleep deprivation is already taking a toll on me. Almost every night, one of my three children wakes me up: Klara can’t sleep and I don’t know why. Julia can’t sleep because her nose is blocked. Baby Y (still in my belly) can’t sleep because he thinks that nights are for dancing. The result? I can’t sleep, and it is killing me.

So I’m trying to take it slow, and rest and not to do too much. But I am still tired. And yes, even speaking, reading books are tiring. At the moment I don’t feel like I am doing this right, because I am so tired. And the fact that my throat is sore doesn’t help, either.

But, I know it will get better. Right now, we are in the process of changing the children’s daycare schedule. Instead of me having three whole days to myself and two for the children, we are slowly moving towards sending them to daycare every day, for half a day. We are already doing this on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I notice how much better it is this way. Instead of waking up in a hurry and stressing to get the children dressed, I wake up to cuddles and lazily lying around in bed. This makes the world of a difference even though it’s only a matter of time before Klara goes to school. We take our time eating breakfast, and I use that time to read books to them. After that we read some more and talk. If Klara wants to play by herself, I read to Julia- and she’s picking up fast!

Sometimes we go to the playground. Sometimes we stay at home and do nothing much. I can do this because I know that this is my time with the girls and don’t care about chores or errands. I know I will have the rest of the day to myself- and if I don’t manage today, there will be tomorrow. Finally, I know I can do this because there are these moments, and these days that I wish would go on forever. Sometimes I wish I didn’t need to so much me-time and so much help to raise my children. But I don’t need guilt. I need strength and energy and ideas. I need to have fun. And I can’t do that if I’m overtired and cranky. And I can’t raise my children multilingually if the only thing I can say to them is that I am tired. “Better” doesn't mean “more” and it doesn’t matter if it’s undivided attention or good quality language input. 
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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Why don’t expats learn Dutch? Not because they’re too lazy!

So, a friend of mine posted this article on Facebook (thanks, Dan!), and it got me thinking about all of the reasons why expats- willingly or not- decide not to learn Dutch (or any majority language).

The usual argument is that expats don’t learn because they don’t want to, or they’re too lazy. The government usually tries to provide for possibilities for expats to learn the language, so they’ll become more integrated, but is it enough?

This of course is great news, but this also raises many questions concerned with the reasons why expats might decide not to learn a language.  Some of them might decide not to learn Dutch because they feel it’s not their home, not their culture. They are feeling left out and they don’t feel that learning Dutch is worth the effort. Is this feeling of alienation only the expats’ fault? Or maybe it’s the fact that not all culture and not all languages are equally valued in the Netherlands? Or maybe the fact that we feel that whatever we do is not enough? This is something I’ve been struggling with in the Netherland, but even more so in Germany- you can read about my experiences here.

Why are we required to speak Dutch perfectly? Why is it such a bad thing if my accent tells you that I am not Dutch? After all, the level of Dutch needed differs for everybody. Some might need to learn it in order to be able to communicate with their co-workers which requires a very high level of language skills. For others it will be enough to do their grocery shopping and run errands in Dutch so they won’t need such a high level of the language. The important thing is that your language skills meet your needs.

There might be more reasons. For example, as surprising as this may sound, Dutch is not always the best language to learn. Why? While I would whole-heartedly encourage English speakers to learn another language, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Dutch even if they are living in the Netherlands. Learning a language takes a lot of time and effort- and just like the Dutch apply status to a language, we have to figure out our language priorities.

For example, my husband already speaks German, English and French. He tried to learn Dutch but got discouraged by his bad teacher. Instead, he decided to focus on his French as he needs is for work, and dived into that. Then, he decided to learn Polish- for mine and for the children’s sake- a gesture I will always be grateful for, and a great topic for another blog post. He almost finished the course and will now continue to work on his French.

There are more reasons for NOT learning the majority language, and I haven’t even mentioned the financial side or the importance of a good teacher. But being lazy is not necessarily among them.

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Monday, 3 December 2012

Raising multilingual children with SPD

Have you heard about SPD? It stands for Sensory Processing Disorder. Each and one of us has to deal with sensory impulses, like sounds, touch, light, or even just knowing where our bodies are in space. Mostly, we deal with these impulses appropriately. Sometimes, we overact or underreact to them, and when this affects our daily life and makes functioning difficult, it is what is called Sensory Processing Disorder.

I have just read the book “The Out-of-Sync Child” by Carol Kranowitz, about children with SPD. I wanted to understand Julia’s sensitivity to certain objects, textures and sounds. I wouldn’t see a disorder in many cases she describes as such. But it got me thinking about multilingualism and disorders and since I have experience with some sensory issues (in my children and myself), I can describe my experiences here.

So how can SPD affect a child’s bilingualism? Well, let’s just say that SPD can affect all aspects of the child’s development, including speech development and including multilingualism. A child who is clumsy might avoid other people for the fear of being laughed at. A child who is a sensory thrill seeker can often be considered aggressive and a trouble-maker- and for multilingual children acceptance and the way they feel about themselves is especially crucial. Children with sensory integration issues can be more fidgety or easier to distract. As a result, parents spend more time repeating, or focusing on the most important part of what they want to say, thus reducing the quality input a child can get in a language.

Sensory integration issues might affect a child’s language apparatus, such as the muscles used for producing speech. Chewing, biting, and eating chunky food are good exercise for producing clear, understandable sounds. But what if your child rejects these kinds of food? They may end up needing speech therapy, but this is not necessarily the case. Except in multilingual children it is a more complicated choice- in which language? How to find a therapist who is sympathetic and understands how multilingual children work?

Children with sensory integration issues might feel tired at the end of the day because they need so much energy and concentration to do mundane everyday things like opening doors or getting in and out of trams. And so, they would be less likely to talk or want to be talked to- again, this results in decreased language input.

Children want to belong- and they already feel different by their sensory preferences. Multilingualism can only make a child seem weirder if others don’t speak their languages. This is not to say that parents should stop raising their children multilingually! Instead, it will require more work on the parent’s part.

There are positive aspects as well. In case of multilingual children, the fact of switching between languages is great mental gymnastics, and pronouncing the many sounds of the languages could also improve their speech. Many children with SPD are very gifted- and their gift might show the ability to learn many languages.

I haven’t found any information on SPD and multilingualism. I am not sure whether it is a disorder and I don’t always agree with Kranowitz’s diagnosis. But it might explain some preferences we or our children may have, or explain our children’s behaviour, provided that you don’t see it as a disorder, just as the fact that the child really needs certain sensory inputs.

Do you have any experiences with this? Can you share?
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