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Saturday, 31 August 2013

A Belated Very Special Friday with Amanda of Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Amanda is a fellow expat in the Netherlands. She is married to a Dutch man, and together they raise three bilingual boys, one of whom is a SHC (Highly Sensitive Child). She also has three children, just like me. Amanda writes about her life in the Netherlands in her blog, Expat Life With a Double Buggy, and also has her own writing business over at The Writing Well. This, as she says, is a little bit different than the things she usually writes, but it is so great that I just had to share this. And you know what? These are exactly the words I need to hear right now. Thank you, Amanda. You wrote this post a while ago, but it couldn't be more appropriate for me at this time. 

It finally feels like my time has come. A new era of me has begun. After three years of doing things almost exclusively in my “mama” role the last month or two have been more about me.

It’s been more about writing and blogging, getting ideas onto paper. About interacting, at least virtually, with other ‘big people’ in daytime hours instead of solely with those aged six and under (give or take a teacher or two a day).

It’s also been more about feeling better about myself. I’ve joined a gym and am striving to drop a few kilos (read a few kilos as ‘more than I want to talk about’). After three pregnancies it feels time to reclaim my body back, feel comfortable in my own skin and get my energy levels up.

The last six years have been filled with pregnancies, newborn baby boys, breastfeeding, the delight of first words and first steps, first days at nursery school and a first day at junior school. They have been jam-packed with discovery, exploration and finding our way through parenthood. They are years full of precious moments, tucked away in the pockets of our hearts and minds for safekeeping. But things are changing. Whilst we have lots more firsts to come, my beautiful little family has entered a new phase.

My eldest two sons can now do so much for themselves. They get themselves dressed in the morning, laying out their clothes the night before to make life easier. Sometimes I don’t even need to turn a T-shirt, or a pair of underpants or trousers around the right way before we leave the house. They put their own Weetabix in their breakfast bowls, pour their own milk and clear away their bowls and beakers when they are done eating. I just have to wipe up the cereal crumbs and milk droplets from the dining table and kitchen work surface after breakfast. Even my one year old feeds himself his own breakfast now, leaving my hands free to actually spoon breakfast into my own mouth in the mornings. Putting coats and shoes on for the school run is getting easier each morning as they help each other and become more competent in putting arms in sleeves and doing zips and buttons up. Getting out of the front door is less and less like a military operation as each day passes. Sometimes we even get a full nights sleep.

When my third son was born (nineteen months ago now) everyone around me said hang on in there, it’ll be tough and it will only get easier once your little one turns four. Luckily, I haven’t had to wait that long. Life is already getting easier. Everyone was right; it has been tough. But there’s breathing space in our days again.

Of course with three children (aged six, three and one) I remain a full time mother and I wouldn’t want it any other way, but little windows of life outside parenting are opening up again. There are refreshing breezes blowing the cobwebs away from my creative mind. The areas of life that had been covered in dustsheets are suddenly seeing the light of day once more.

And you know what? That time to write, that time to delve into my creativity, that time to ‘empty my bucket’, time to go to the gym, time to challenge myself physically and mentally? It turns out that that time allows me to be a better mother.

Amanda is British but has called the Netherlands home since 2000. She lives in a void between being British and being Dutch. She is 'mama' to three boys aged six and under. All three were born in the Netherlands and have dual nationality but the reality is they are more Cloggie than Brit..... and that makes life interesting. Motherhood abroad throws up challenges, questions and amazing memories. You can find Amanda here: 

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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Labelling expats: what should we call ourselves?

Expat, immigrant, foreigner, citizen of the world? You must have heard one of these at least several times. Each of these labels has different associations. But neither of these is perfect. Why?

First of all, let’s look at the names. You must have heard the name “immigrant”. It means, basically: someone “moving from one specific region into a country or region to which they are not native in order to settle there” (Wikipedia). So, an immigrant is somebody who comes to another country in order to live there. Theoretically, anybody who thinks of moving somewhere permanently could call themselves an immigrant. But would we? No, because we tend to think of people from low-status countries who come to a country where they either work illegally or for much lower wages. Hence the tendency to try to use other descriptions. But isn’t it very patronizing? It’s like to say: “we are better than these people so let’s not call ourselves the same way”. I’ve also heard the word “in-migrant” as opposed to “immigrant”, but does it change anything? It is not words we should change. It’s our beliefs. According to this definition, I am an immigrant. That is fine with me.

Many embraced the term “expat”. It refers to somebody who is temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing (quote from Wikipedia). Many people I know (including myself) refer to themselves an expat, in need of a better word. I, however have problems with this term. First, if you look at this word, you will see the “ex” in there. Yes, the same “ex” as in “ex-boyfriend” or “ex-girlfriend”. It would mean that our home country is an ex-home, a home that is no longer ours. Which is not true for many of us. Then, there is the fact that the stereotypes about expats is that they wouldn’t stay somewhere for a longer time, and often tend to move from place to place. This may be true for some of us, but not for people like me who came to the Netherlands to stay. And, last but not least, I have problems with this term because of another stereotype: that expats form a parallel culture and don’t “integrate”. While this may be true for some, it is definitely not the case for others.

So, how about citizen of the world? This sounds so positive, so encouraging. It gives us a feeling that there are no limits, that we feel at home everywhere, that we accept and embrace other cultures. But this is not always the case. We do not feel at home everywhere. While for me home means being somewhere with the people I love, there are physical places where I feel strange, and out of sync.

Another very controversial label is “foreigner”. Alarmed by the negative portrayal of “foreigners” in the media and in politics, in Germany and the Netherlands there have been attempts to change this to “person with a migration background”. Does it help? It doesn’t. It’s just not the “bad foreigner” who stole the car, now it’s the equally bad “person with migration background”. Of course, the problem with the word foreigner is that many people from other countries who consider themselves fully integrated into their new culture are still considered being “foreigners” because of their skin colour or language (even though they speak perfect Dutch or German). But for the rest, what’s so bad about being a foreigner? What’s so bad about not belonging to a certain culture? Some people want to belong, others don’t. They just belong elsewhere. But calling everybody a foreigner or even patronizingly assuming that not belonging somewhere, or being different is automatically a bad thing just isn’t fair.

So as you see, none of these labels do us justice, and there are many others. But the fact is that you would find that no expat/foreigner/immigrant story is like another. So, while labels like “expat” could be helpful in trying to explain what you are in one single word, they just don’t cover everybody’s experience.

What you call yourself could depend on where you come from, how you feel about your home culture and your host culture. The fact is that everybody creates their own culture. Maybe we should create a whole new word for what we are? Is it even possible with the millions individual stories and experiences?

What do you think?
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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

School time...

"I WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL,  SO THAT I CAN LEARN WHAT I DON'T KNOW" | Generated image from olga generated with the Imgflip Meme Generator

This is what my daughter said about going to school...I hope she will not be dissapointed...
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Monday, 26 August 2013

Avocado Boats

My name is Olga and I am an avocadict. That is, a person addicted to avocados. I love their smooth texture, their creamy taste and that wonderful shade of green. In fact, I love everything about avocados. I've been known to use them for cooking (with pasta), to make guacamole, or just eat them with a spoon with salt and some tabasco sauce. 

Here's a fun, pretty way to serve- and later eat avocados. I call them avocado boats.

You will need (serves 4):

4 ripe avocados
1 big tomatoe or 2 smaller ones
1 garlic clove
some olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh mint leaves
tabasco sauce/chili peppers (optional)

Cut the avocados in halves and remove the pits. Using a spoon, remove the flesh and put it into a bowl. Be careful not to destroy the shells and don't throw them away- you will use them to serve the avocados in. Cut into pieces and mash.

Cut the tomatoes, garlic, mint leaves, and chili peppers if you're using them into very little pieces and add to the avocado. Add olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix thouroghly.

Fill the avocado shells with the mixture. If you like, you can decorate your boats anyway you like. 
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Friday, 23 August 2013

A Very Special Friday with Emilie of Nomad Photos

I am not sure you know that I love taking photos, of pretty much everything: my children and nature are my very favourite objects. Photography is something I'd like to pursue a little bit more.  I always read blog posts and articles about taking better pictures and I take a lot of my own, trying out different settings, and situations. These tips, of course are very helpful.

But you know what is even more awesome? When one of your friends is a super-talented photographer. In this post, I'd like you to meet Emilie Yane Lopes, who is the genius behind Nomad Photos and a also a fabulous web designer. Here, she gives easy-to-follow tips on how to take great pictures of a baby... and isn't her baby girl cute?

5 Tips for Photographing Your Baby

From the moment our little ones are born, we want to document and remember their every development. Those precious first days, their sweet expressions when awake (and asleep), those first smiles… all of these are moments that you want to capture and share. But how often do you find that you get excited to take a photo, prepare your baby, set up your camera, and then baby is unhappy or tired. Or you manage to take lots of photos only to realize that they are a bit fuzzy or dark. Despite the fact that they don't even have to try to look stunningly beautiful, photographing baby can be more challenging than you would expect. With these 5 simple tips, you can improve the quality of your photos and hopefully be encouraged to use your camera often because, as we all know, those babies grow up too fast!

1. Find the Light
Whether you are using a professional or phone camera, lighting can make a world of difference. If You can find a great and free source of light in your own home-- windows. It doesn't need to be direct sun shining in, in fact, soft but bright light is best. I've taken countless photos of my daughter in my bedroom because my bed is next to a big window. Try to face your baby towards the light and see how it illuminates her face. A soft light smoothes out the skin, brightens the eyes and brings out the natural beauty.

2. Timing
Especially with newborns, there seems to be a time of the day when they are in the best mood. For us, it was in the mornings just after waking up. Knowing this, I would prepare everything, the clothes, the blanket, the camera, and after feeding my baby, we would try to do a few photos. Babies get tired after a short time, so don't overdo it. You can also get some wonderful shots of baby wrapped up and asleep. Sleeping babies are also a bit more cooperative! Set yourself up for success by choosing a time to take photos when baby is most agreeable.

3. Experiment
In order to get a great shot, it takes practice and experimentation. Try different settings to see where you get the best lighting and background. Also try shooting from different angles-- straight on, from the side, from behind, from above, or from down low. Experiment by zooming in on details like just baby's face, hands or feet. Try both natural and "posed" photos.

4. Say Cheese!
I love capturing those natural moments when baby is staring lovingly at mama or papa, concentrating on a toy, or just pondering the meaning of life, but it's also nice to capture those big grins. Telling a baby to smile doesn't work very well with small babies. But smiling at mama or papa comes easily. If you want baby to smile looking at the camera, then someone needs to stand just behind the photographer. If it's just you taking the photo by yourself (which is often the case for me), I have found a trick that works. I first point the camera at the baby making sure the focus is on her, then while keeping my hands still on the camera, I look over that camera and smile at her while I press the shoot button. It's almost like playing peekaboo with the camera, and baby loves it! It takes a little practice to make sure the photo isn't totally sideways and cut off, but give it a shot, you might be surprised!

5. Try, Try and Try Again
Taking digital photos has afforded us the luxury of taking as many photos as we want and then picking and choosing our favorites. When it comes to photographing babies, this is definitely an advantage. One moment they are content and still, the next, smiling, yawning, or rolling over. You can take many photos in a row of your baby doing all of these things, so just go ahead! You will be surprised by which ones turn out to be favorites or when you get a facial expression that looks exactly like mama or papa. Really great photos happen at that one brilliant moment, but you have to be there ready with your camera to catch it! If baby is not in the mood for photos, don't be discouraged, just try again later. Make it fun and soon baby will be a natural in front of the camera.

My last advice is to be in some of the photos together with your baby. You want to take photos of your baby to look back on, but baby will also one day want to look back and see how happy and proud mama and papa were during this time.


Emilie Yane Lopes is a photographer at Nomad Photos and mother of 6-month old Juliette. 
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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

6 Reasons this expat blogger is looking forward to autumn

I don’t really like autumn. It is cold. In the Netherlands, it is also humid and rainy, the kind of weather that leaves you shaking with cold no matter how many layers of clothing you’re wearing. I don’t enjoy autumn but at times like this, but I like to remind myself of all the things I can look forward to.

1)      School-time

My daughter is starting school in September, and contrary to my initial fears of sending my 4-year old to school, I am actually getting excited for her. She is excited! She counts the days until school! I believe that while daycare is great for her, it is getting somewhat boring. She is ready to move on. She is ready for a new environment, for new friends and for new things to learn. I am also looking forward to K’s dance school classes because she enjoys them so much, and I was very impressed with the performance she and her group gave last June. For me, dancing school also means having dinner with friends and some great time.

2)      Going back to work

This one is for me. M has just started daycare, so I am considering going back to work. While I love being a SAHM, I took great pleasure in the intercultural communications trainings I gave last year. I never thought that standing in front of an audience can be so thrilling. If you have seen me, you know what I am talking about: I am 1,60cm tall (when I’m wearing a hat), my voice is small and quiet. But when I told that couple in Amsterdam about living in Germany, they listened. And they asked questions and they seemed very satisfied with my performance. Also, as a mom of two girls, I would love to model a family dynamics in which I am not only at home but have my own life. And then, there is the pleasure that comes with making at least some money all for myself.

3)      Festivals and conferences

A lot to look forward to: the Feel at Home in the Hague Fair. Expatica’s I Am Not a Tourist fair in Amsterdam. Meet The Blogger Conference in Amsterdam. The Strandwalfestival in Rijswijk! Especially September is packed with great events and I can’t wait to attend at least some of these!

4)      One-on-one time with my little girl.

So far, our daycare schedule has been great so far. We send the children there in the afternoon so that I can wake up peacefully (stress in the morning doesn’t become me, and leaves me tired and  literally sick the whole day). But the school is in the morning and we didn’t change the daycare schedule. Which means that I will have approximately 2 hours a day all by myself. But it also means that I will have more time with my little girl, because my eldest child’s vibrant personality makes it somewhat difficult to concentrate on my other children. Especially J. as the middle child, could definitely benefit from this, and I always enjoy the sweet company of my girl.

5)      Food

Harvest has been plentiful this year. We had more sour cherries, plums, and red currents than we could imagine. They were delicious, and I was busy making preserves, cakes and or just freezing the fruit for later. We have even more coming: tomatoes, pears and apples and hazelnuts- all of them also delicious and healthy! I love that we have just started M. on solids and he can get fresh baby food from our own garden. I love pumpkin and there is no better time for this yummy veggie-I buy Hokkaido pumpkins- small and very orange, giving soups and pies a wonderful colour. Furthermore, there is delicious Dutch dish, called “snert” or “erwtensoup” and it is basically a rich and delicious pea soup, served only during autumn and winter.

6)      The weather

This may seem like such a contradiction, but please hear me out. First I do not so much enjoy the weather, but I definitely enjoy wearing clothes that come with such weather: cuddly sweaters, long-sleeved tees and warm shawls. They make me feel comfy and safe. I love the feeling of sitting on my couch dressed in warm clothes and read a book and drink a cup of tea or hot chocolate. And while the weather can be tricky at this part of the year, September and sometimes October are warm and sunny. Later, during usually cold and depressing November, if there is just the smallest flicker of sunshine the world becomes a much better place if it’s just for a day.

What are you looking forward to this autumn?
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Monday, 19 August 2013

Multilingualism and identity issues in “Scrubs”

Maybe you’d be interested in knowing that when I first came to the Netherlands, my brother has infected us with a love of TV series.

There are many we watch, but I think that the series to best tackle the cultural (or otherwise personal) identity crisis is “Scrubs”. We have just watched the episode entitled: “My identity crisis”. “Scrubs” features a biracial, bicultural marriage between Turk (who is black) and Carla (who is Latina). They also have a child. Carla is disappointed that her daughter looks exactly like Turk and is determined to pass on her legacy to her children. However, imagine her terror when she has a dream in English when she only dreams in Spanish. She is afraid to lose her identity and doesn’t know who she is anymore.

“Scrubs” even discusses bilingualism. Carla wants to speak Spanish to her daughter but Turk is anxious about it because he doesn’t speak it himself and always refers to Izzy as “his African princess”. Carla then only speaks Spanish when Turk is not around, but is not happy with this arrangement. However, after Turk explains to her that she is still Latina, she has the same dream again- even though it’s a nightmare because her friends want to kill her, she is delighted to dream in Spanish. At the end of this episode, we see Turk listening to Spanish language podcasts.

In the episode, called “My Bad Too”, this topic is discussed further. Turk has learned Spanish and wants to impress Carla by giving her his gift of language for their anniversary. He is curious what she will give to him, and suggest that she makes him brinner (breakfast for dinner). Carla refuses, until Turk catches her talking on the phone in Spanish, complaining about his messiness. He then cleans up and she makes him brinner.

Impressed by this gift, Turk tells her that there is nothing that he can do to top brinner, and so keeps his knowledge of Spanish a secret. Also, he discovers that because Carla doesn’t know that he can speak Spanish, it gives him a certain power over her.

Eventually, Carla finds out, but instead of being angry, she forgives him. The two then use their knowledge of Spanish to talk about other people behind their backs- not a very kind gesture, but it allows them to bond. Turk then admits that knowing Spanish was a good decision and it greatly improved their relationship.

I am very happy that bilingualism and cultural identity issues were discussed on “Scrubs”, which is a highly popular series, and that this topic was shown in such a positive light. I think the discussed episodes did a great job of showing what identity crisis can feel like and what bilingual families face on a daily basis, especially when one of the parents can’t speak the other’s language.

I wish we had more series discussing these topics in such an eloquent manner!  
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Friday, 16 August 2013

A Very Special Friday with Eowyn of On Raising Bilingual Children

When I first attended Eowyn's workshop at the Little Kid Info Fair 2011, I was impressed by and fascinated about what she had to say about bilingualism. She really has great knowledge of this topic! She is also one of the fiercest bilingualism advocates I know. I was very honoured when Eowyn agreed to take part in this series and wrote this great post.  While I would say that focusing on the baby phase as the most crucial is somewhat extreme because it doesn't acknowledge the fact that we learn our whole lives, but if you have ever wondered, just like me, how to talk to that little creature that only cries and poops. well here are some great tips.

BFLA: How important is early input?

A common question for parents raising kids with two languages is how early is it necessary to start? The answer is that it is never too early to start talking to your baby, and to concentrate on providing good quality language input. In fact, at birth, a baby can recognize and respond to his/her mother’s language, so they are listening even before they are born!

The first year of life (some researchers even say the first six months!) is critical for language acquisition. Babies spend the first year of life figuring out and classifying which sounds are important for meaning in the languages they are exposed to regularly.  For bilingual babies, this means that they need to get enough input from both parents, not just from the primary caregiver.

However, it isn’t always easy for parents to figure out *how* to speak to this little baby, who does not respond in any meaningful way. I often call the first weeks/months of life the “potted plant” stage. They don’t do much except accept (or demand!) care – feed them, water them, keep them clean. For a parent who is a “talker” it’s not hard to provide a baby with adequate amounts of “infant-directed speech” (IDS), which is the building block for language acquisition. But for a parent who is not naturally verbose, it’s important to develop good techniques and habits to ensure that your baby gets ”enough” of your language.  And then, it’s important to ensure that your baby gets the right kind of input as well. There are certain aspects of IDS that are crucial to language acquisition, so it’s not as simple as just “talking a lot”. 

Here are some of the main criteria for IDS:

-          Exaggerated pitch and tone
-          Specific linguistic content: simplified and familiar words
-          Repetition (night night)
-          Specific patterns of input

Most parents fall naturally into IDS when they interact with their babies, it’s the way humans speak to infants in their care. And the basic patterns of IDS give babies exactly what they need for acquiring language. Not only is the speech type designed to be accessible, but it is also designed to be repetitive. Babies acquire language by engaging in a complex series of statistical calculations, to do with the sounds and meanings of each language.  These statistical analyse become more and more accurate as they are exposed to more examples of language to analyse. So for this aspect of language acquisition, “enough” is very important.

The best way for babies to maximize their learning is through social interactions; they pay more attention to people who care for them, and the more they pay attention, the more they learn. So appropriate IDS cannot come from just anybody, and it certainly can’t come from a computer program, or a DVD (sorry Baby Einstein). The people who are most important in this process are the parents, and secondarily, caregivers and extended family. So, for the parent who is “not a talker”, the task at hand is greater – you must become a talker, to allow your baby to access your language fully.

In my experience, fathers are more likely to struggle with this, and also fathers are more likely to spend less time with their small babies due to work hours, which is not a good combination. The task for fathers passing on a minority language then, is ever greater. So, what’s a guy to do? Here are some suggestions to help the less talkative parent succeed in their linguistic role:

-          Create linguistic routines every morning and every evening, focusing on daily activities
-        Practice being a commentator on your own life – it may not be football, but it’s interesting to your baby
-          Spend time reading (every day) and interacting with books with your baby. Read the words, talk about the pictures, ask questions – and then answer them yourself until your baby can do it for you
-      Find a toy that you can bear to play with every day, and use it to interact with your baby about concepts such as colour, movement and sound
-     Use children’s rhymes or songs to encourage basic intonations and repetitive phases. If you don’t remember then from your childhood, get some CDs…

The bottom line is, every parent must find ways to engage in meaningful linguistic communication with their baby, for the purposes of language acquisition. But it’s even more important in bilingual families, where each parent is responsible for passing on one language, and so rather than sharing the job, each parent is working alone. If you are passing on a minority language to your baby, and are struggling to be a “talker”, keep in mind how important these weeks and months are for your baby’s ultimate attainment in your language, and act accordingly. 

Eowyn Crisfield is a Canadian-educated expert in teaching English as a second/foreign language, teacher-training and bilingualism, with a BA in TESL/TEFL and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Concordia University. Over the last 19 years she has lived and worked in France, the US and the Netherlands. Since 2003, she has specialised in the area of parent and teacher education for bilingualism.
Eowyn is a strong supporter of early bilingualism, and believes that all parents, especially expats, should understand the advantages of bilingualism and best practice for raising bilingual children. For parents who move abroad, or who move often, it is important to understand the linguistic and social consequences of the language choices we make for our children.  Eowyn has innovated a family-language planning system that helps families plan for successful bilingualism for their children, from birth to university, taking into account a variety of life situations. Check out Eowyn's blog on bilingualism!

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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

9 Reasons I love Dutch

When I came here, I didn’t really like how Dutch sounded. However, my German in-laws and other German people told me that it sounded cute but I never understood what they found cute about Dutch. To my ears, it sounded hard and rude. However, once I started learning it, I begun to take pleasure in learning this language, and found many things I actually got to love about it. Here are these things:

1)      It’s similar to German

For a fluent German speaker like me learning Dutch isn’t really hard. In fact, German and Dutch have the same roots, and are closer together than German and English. Also, it was a great feeling to be able to talk so quickly after starting to learn Dutch, and a further motivation to deepen my knowledge of this language. What also helped was the fact that I could already read Dutch before I started learning it because of my German.

2)      It isn’t German

I said that Dutch and German are similar, but they’re not the same language. In Dutch, many words are more similar to English than they are to German. Some Dutch words are of French origin. The word order in a sentence is slightly different from German. I sometimes found myself coming from my Dutch class and speaking German with the Dutch word order (“ Ich habe das lassen machen”, instead of “ich habe das machen lassen”). I found the pronunciation difficult- take for example the “ui” (a British woman once explained that pronouncing this “ui”- sound in words like “huis”, “uit” is like speaking very posh English), “g” (pronounced like a very throaty “ch”) and remembering that “u” is like the German “ü”, and “oe” is actually: “oo”. But these differences posed enough of a challenge to make learning the language fun and engaging.

3)      Because of the word “lekker”.

The word “lekker” is, in my opinion, the coolest of all Dutch words. It definitely beats “gezellig”. It actually means “delicious” but is used in the meaning of: “things you like with your body”. And when you think of things you like with your body, it makes total sense that sleeping, being warm, or playing can be “lekker” as well. In Polish, you can also “sleep deliciously”, just like in Dutch. A friend of mine has started a campaign to include it in the English language. So if you see a child sleeping soundly in her stroller, say “she seems really lekker warm in there”. If you like your food, say it’s “lekker”. Please spread the word and receive my lekkerest thanks.

4)      Because of the diminutives

When I started learning English, one of the things I missed were the diminutives. You know, ways to make a word sound cuter and smaller. Polish has many of these, sometimes even changing the meaning of that word. For example, “maszyna” means “machine”, but for a coffee machine we’d say “maszynka do kawy”- a little coffee machine (and it’s not because the coffee machine is a little one, but because a machine that makes coffee is smaller than other types of machines). In Polish, there are many ways to make diminutives, in Dutch there is one way: by adding “-tje” to the end of the word. The Dutch, just like the Polish add diminutives to everything (one funny thing about Polish is that it’s possible to diminutives to adjectives: “what a little-tje cat-tje). While the Dutch don’t extend diminutives to adjectives, they still speak of “dagje uit”- a little day trip, “kopje” (a cup of coffee), and so on. So if you’re missing a little suffix to add to a word to make it cuter, you can use “tje!”.

5)      Because it makes a distinction between “familie” and “gezin”.

Some of you, especially when you have been brought up in a family full of aunts, uncles and grandparents, you may see the whole family as a unity where everyone has a place and everybody helps each other out, like the proverbial village. My family, however, consisted of my parents, my brother and myself, so I see family as  mostly parents and children, with the rest playing an important but more detached role.  So imagine my shock when I met my husband whose family isn’t really so big but it’s bigger than mine with all the aunts and uncles and this or that relative, all wanting to play a part in my life- especially since I had children. I sometimes find them too noisy and miss the privacy that comes with having a small family. This is why I love the distinction between “gezin” and “ familie” so much. The difference is “gezin” is mostly mom, dad and children. This is what I am used to and this is what I can understand. “Familie” is the whole family, including extended family. It means extended family is still family but there is more distance.

6)      It’s concise and to-the-point

I already wrote a blog post about how liberating it is to a shy person not to care about whether or not you will offend the other person. If a language doesn’t have a high threshold to start speaking, you will also find it more satisfying because you’ll start speaking it faster. In Dutch, you can say: “Pass me the bread”, and not be considered rude if your tone of voice is pleasant enough. The Dutch will accept “Ja, hoor” for an answer to a question. Fine with me- and I am still considered very kind and polite because oI say "thank you" and “please”, a lot even if I don’t overdo it anymore like I did in the past.

7)      You can turn practically anything into a verb

Dutch shares this characteristic with English. You can verb anything (see what I did here?). In Dutch you can say: “tennissen”- to play tennis, “internetten”- to use the Internet. You can turn practically anything into a verb. And I love it. Life is so much easier when you can just verb things. 

8)      My mother spoke it

My mother lived in the Netherlands as a child and she can understand a lot of Dutch, and still speaks it a little. Later, her Dutch got replaced by German, but I suppose if she would live here, she would re-learn it. But I realized that for me, Dutch is also an important language because of this- it is one of our family languages.

9)      My children speak it

This is actually the ultimate reason why I love Dutch. I feel extremely proud when I hear my children speaking or singing in this language. It sounds so cute, said in their little voices. What is more, children can be a powerful motivator to learn a language. One of my reasons for learning Dutch was the fact that I knew that my children will speak it. I am also learning Dutch songs and pomes from my children. K is now 4 years old and she corrects me or my husband when we make a mistake. I don’t have any problems with this. I know that when it comes to Dutch, she is the expert and can teach me a lot.

What about you? What are the things you like about the language you’re learning?

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Monday, 12 August 2013

“Family on the Loose” by Ashley Steel and Bill Richards- a Review!

Parents who travel a lot are always on the lookout for great advice on travelling with their children. And nowhere is this information bundled together so well as in Ashley Steel’s and Bill Richard's new book.

“Family on the Loose” is packed with advice and information on how to make travelling with children more pleasant. It is divided into three parts, respectively dealing with the time before the trip, the trip itself and the time after coming back home.

In the first part, the book describes everything that needs to be done and prepared for a successful trip. It especially focuses on helping children learn to pack themselves. That part also tackles things like choosing your destination or means of travel and answers questions such as: should we travel alone or with other families? How to find the cheapest plane ticket or hotel, and many more questions that will surely be of interest for travelling families. It helps you get the children excited about the trip with preparation tips, craft ideas, learning useful vocabulary and expressions and above all, putting your children in control of the trip (make it age-appropriate, of course). There is a whole subchapter devoted to choosing the right kind of luggage! And all this great information is not everything because the book also offers printable lists of things to pack (yes, even for children who can’t read just yet!), a list of things to do in advance and a sample budget spread sheet.

The second part deals with the travel itself, from the moment you get on an airplane (it is a book for families who choose far away destination, for longer-term travelling), you arrive at your destination. This part is all about making the travel as pleasant as possible. Here, I found tips I would never consider before: pyjamas as traveling clothes? Yes, please, especially for children. Of course, you would probably think of packing snacks, but plane gifts? The idea is awesome! Plane gifts are things to keep children occupied on planes that are meticulously wrapped and then slowly handed to the children during the flight. I liked the part about getting bumped from a flight on purpose- this way you get to see a destination you wouldn’t have considered before!

The book then takes you to your destinations and suggests fun activities to do, such as a city scavenger hunt or travel bingo! It also explains safety rules, how to help children tackle money for souvenirs, and using local transport. I loved the subchapter called: “Learning as you go”, devoted to making the trip not only fun but also educational. The tip about giving the children your camera is awesome! There is also a subchapter about journaling your experience. Ashley and Bill provide useful and inspiring travelling quotes, and help parents motivate their children to keep a journal. You will find even more awesome printables at the end of this chapter!

The third part is particularly awesome because it focuses on making travel memories last long after you and your children came back home. This part is often forgotten in travel books because they focus more on preparing the trip and actually going to the destination. Not this book! I never knew there were so many great things to do after coming home! Reading and writing about the country you visited is great, but how about looking at your own city through a tourist’s eyes and treating it the same way as some exotic location? I also love the “dessert around the world idea”, it’s all about desserts from as many countries as possible! I believe the closing words are the most important here: “Never stop exploring!”

“Family on the Loose” is an extremely helpful book, and it’s fun to read, too! It is mostly for families who want to travel for longer periods of time and visit multiple countries at one go, but I am sure short-term travellers (for example us expats when we want to go on holiday or visit our families) can also benefit from it. Also check out the great tips for fostering understanding and acceptance of all cultures!

Bill Richards and Ashley Steel are the authors of "Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids", from Rumble Books. The book is packed with bulleted lists of travel tips, fill-in pages for packing and journaling, ideas for inflight entertainment, strategies for browsing museums with kids, and much more. It is unlike other family travel books in that it is not about where to go. "Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids" details how to make any family trip smarter and more fun! Check out Ashley's and Bill's website and buy their book!
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Friday, 9 August 2013

A Very Special Friday with Aneta of Bilingual Znaczy Dwujezyczny

In this installment of my Very Special Friday series, I would love for you to meet Aneta. She is Polish and lives with her British husband in the United Kingdom. We met through a Facebook group for Polish parents raising their children with two or more languages, and I greatly enjoy reading her blog, it's full of very useful information. Aneta is also atrained speech therapist, and a bilingualism enthusiast. For example, she translated "I Want To be Bilingual" from Bilingual Monkeys into Polish in order to bring information about multilingualism to a Polish audience, in Polish. Great job, Aneta! Hope you'll enjoy this post! PS, if you're wondering what her blog name means, it says, in Polish: "Bilingual (in English) means Bilingual (in Polish)".

Bilingualism equals diversity

Raising my children bilingually means a lot to me, and to be honest, there simply hasn’t been any other option for our family. Being Polish married to an Englishman and living in England means I’m in a minority here, but when the children were born I put my foot down and with the support of my husband and family we now have two beautifully bilingual and bicultural kids. Of course at the age of 8 and 4 their language development is far from finished! The most recent development in this area is us changing the wife-husband language from English to Polish in order to maximise the children’s exposure to the minority language. Not easy, but believe me, it helps! As a result of this change our two littleuns already use more Polish between each other.

On my blog some time ago I wrote about how maps and geography are close to our hearts. It’s been like this ever since I can remember. Both children have classroom style maps on their walls and often look at them analysing countries, capitals, flags, mountains, rivers and oceans. This interest is totally natural to them and I believe it’s a result of their bilingual and bicultural upbringing. They genuinely want to learn more languages and discover more cultures. Even though their first encounter of air travel happened at the age of three months, and they visit lots of different places by car on a regular basis, these trips mainly concerned our two countries. Still, just like speaking two languages makes learning further languages easier, constant travelling between Poland and England seems to create this hunger to see more counties. I’ll take it further: having experienced two different cuisines, sets of customs, traditions and holidays makes children eager to get to know yet another and another culture. Travelling further away is not possible for us at the moment, but there is nothing to stop us from starting our preparations already!

So this is how, apart from roast dinner, fish and chips, bigos and pierogi, dishes from Turkey, India, China, Thailand, Hungary, Spain and Italy frequently land on our table. Unbelievable how welcoming and open minded children are to all these new and exotic flavours.  We also keep adding more!

I believe this openness to other cultures and keen interest in them is not just the result of our bilingual family lifestyle. Just living in an ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse country such as the United Kingdom plays its part here too. My husband classes himself as British but his Italian origin is really close to his heart and he often talks about how he regrets how the Italian language has been lost in his family over the generations. Luckily the tradition of delicious Italian cooking has been passed on! Our neighbours are part Egyptian and their youngest daughter gets on really well with mine. Some other friends of ours are half Irish, Japanese and Philippine. Being surrounded by such diversity makes it quite ordinary. I have to admit it also makes being half Polish much easier - it’s just normal!

Recently we came across this charming book by Yugoslavia born author-illustrator Manja Stojic called “Hello World!” that totally captivated our kid’s imagination. On every page there is a beautiful picture of a child and underneath the word “hello” in their native language. The whole book contains greetings in 43 languages! When reading it we’re not trying to memorise all these hellos (feel free to do it if you wish) but just enjoying the huge diversity of races and languages in this world. Amazing how children naturally compare and analyse these greetings. It felt like quite a discovery when they gathered that “hello” sounds nearly the same in English and Dutch. Then straight to the map to check the geographical distance between these two countries. Serbian “Zdravo!”, Russian “Zdravstvuite!” or Czech “Ahoj!” may be very different from Polish “Cześć!” but they still sound very familiar to us due to being from the same Slavic language family. Again the children notice or sense it without any formal linguistic training just the experience with two languages.

Books like this really power children’s imagination. Just like Albert Einstein said:

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." 

Aneta Nott-BowerAneta is a speech threapist and a mother to two bilingual and bicultural children. She shares her experience and knowledge at Bilingual Znaczy Dwujęzyczny.
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Friday, 2 August 2013

A Very Special Friday with Molly of The Marketing Salon

You have already met Molly and maybe even won a copy of her book in my last giveaway. Molly is a walking social media encyclopaedia and whenever I have a question, she is kind enough to answer it. She helped me a lot with getting more readers for this blog and her advice is always helpful. Actually, one of the items on Molly's to-do-list is "fix Olga's blog" (which I did, I think, but then I am affraid means moving to Wordpress which I have in mind but no time for).  But you must admit that it's better now, isn't it? As for reward, I pay Molly handsomly in cookies, cake and homemade hot chocolate. 

Social media for bloggers

With around 200 million blogs in existence, bloggers carry a lot of weight in the online world. Consumers say bloggers influence purchasing decisions more than Facebook and Twitter. You can’t influence those decisions or be a part of the conversation unless people know that your blog exists. And social media is a great way to expand your influence, increase your traffic and improve your relationship with your readers.

Have Dedicated Pages For Your Blog

While you can promote your content via your personal channels, you should create pages for your blog specifically. First, you want to make it as easy for people to follow you as possible and you don’t want to have to friend everyone on Facebook or adjust security settings to do so. Secondly, people who follow your blog may not care about your vacation photos or what you’re eating for dinner. They are likely to stop following if they are inundated with content they aren’t interested in.

Using Auto-Updating Features

In order to populate those channels, you need to share your blog’s content. Few people have the time or energy to do that by hand and fortunately, most social media sites offer a solution. Most blogging software applications allow you to automatically share your posts on your social media channels. You can find these options on the settings or by searching online for help.

You can dictate what text goes along with the updates, whether or not images are shown, etc. Play around with the settings until you find something you like. Make sure that you aren’t also connecting your social media sites together as well, or you’ll end up with your blog updating Facebook and Twitter and Twitter also updating Facebook and creating double posts.

RSS Feeds

Many people use aggregators to read online content. These are sites like Google Reader and Feedly which bring content from different sites all to one site. Some bloggers don’t like RSS feeds because it drives traffic away from your site. They assume that without an RSS feed, readers will be forced to come directly to their site. However, it’s more likely, that they will simply lose those readers.

If you blog in different languages, create an RSS feed for both. This can also be useful if you blog about different topics. If you post your recipes as well as offering parenting advice, you can allow people to subscribe to just your food posts, just your parenting posts, or both.

Social Media Buttons

And how will your current readers find your social media pages? Get some social media icons for your site and post them in a prominent locations (the upper right hand corner is a common location.) There are thousands of icon sets out there to match any design aesthetic. (Here’s a start.)

Test your links and be sure to have them open in a different tab when they are clicked on. You don’t want to direct people away from the blog itself. And make sure you link to your RSS feed.


Encouraging others to share your content on social media is an easy way to spread the word about your blog. The easier you make it for people to share your content, the more likely they are to do so.

There are plenty of sharebar plugins for Wordpress and Blogger or you can create your own using your own icons. Don’t overcrowd the space with too many icons, however. Focus on the sites which your readers are active on.

For Further Reading

From the Social Media Examiner, some advice on using Tumblr.
A philosophical approach to social media and blogging.
Mashable's (a great source for social media information) social media tips for bloggers.
From Time, business blogging.

Molly Quell is a social media and online marketing consultant who blogs at The Marketing Salon and has just published her first book on social media, The Five Biggest Mistakes.

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