Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bilingualism or Genetics or...?

Last week, after two years of yearning, we finally made it to the North Umpqua River in Southern Oregon. It was a wonderful trip, despite the severe lack of sunshine--full of giggles, rivers and free camping. The double downpours and thunderstorms only enhanced our trip, making us even happier about our bomber tent and our wonderful pop-top camper!

As much as I could wax on about Rujada Campground and Hills Creek Reservoir and Scaredman Creek, the intention for this entry was to share the impression that hit me on Sunday morning after telling Kaya to eat at the table. My thinking was this--and I told her as such: Setz dich am Tisch hin, damit du deine Haferflocken darauf setzen kannst. Dann bekommst du kein Essen auf deine Jacke. [Sit at the table so you can set your oats on it--then you won't get oatmeal all over your front.] She, however, was really wanting to sit on the bench facing the fire (can ya blame 'er?!), so she resisted my 'advice' and came up with the idea to simply hold her bowl up to her chin. I was so impressed. Granted, it's an idea that many of us would come up with--at least those of us who may feel concern about spilling food down our fronts--but I find myself continually surprised, and impressed, when Kaya does such things as a mere three and half year old. Watching her eat in this way reminded me of the bilingual benefit that I've read about--and similarly witnessed in Kaya before--regarding resourcefulness. Not so impressive on it's own, but combined with the other line-up of things she did on this trip, definitely worth writing home about.

While searching for paper towels in the back of the van, for example, Kaya noticed that the Gorilla Tape was falling out of the cubby. As Geoff went looking for the tape in the right-hand cubby, he couldn't find it, despite his confidence that he had put it back there after using it. After checking the left cubby, however, he found it, and after asking us if we knew how it got there, Kaya told Geoff that she'd moved it because "it was falling out, and it fit better on the other side." Initially, I was thinking this 'incident' might be attributed more to Kaya's tendency to be 'thorough' and 'particular'...but Geoff insisted that there's an air of resourcefulness about the whole thing, too.

While we are camping, as much as we play a lot with Kaya, there are also many moments when she just does her own thing, creating this or that out of who knows what. Sunday morning was no exception. As I was returning to our campsite (beautiful #9 at Rujada!!), I noticed Kaya standing at the picnic table, Baby Stella in front of her on the bench. When I looked more closely, I noticed that Stella was lying on a paper-towel-diaper, with Kaya poised in the diaper-changing position. I love how she creates wipes and diapers out of all sorts of things--whatever she can find in her vicinity, which in this case happened to be paper towels from the back of the van! Later, with those same paper towels, she created a blanket for Stella, wanting to make sure that her beloved baby stays warm while we're in the wilds. She brought her to me, at one point, asking me, "Mama, willst du sie kuscheln?" [Mama, do you want to snuggle her?]

Later in the trip is when I began to wonder: is Kaya so resourceful because she's bilingual, or because Geoff has this innate ability to pull things out of the garbage and re-use them? OK, OK, so maybe I'm not married to an official dumpster diver, but in general, he's quite the resourceful hunk, and this week, he was quite adept at turning other people's trash into our camping treasure! Every time he'd return from the water fountain, he'd bring something back that someone else had deemed useless. The chair, for example...nothing that a little twine couldn't fix! That thing made for great comfort around our fires--and reminded us that we want to bring our own camp chairs next trip. And then there was the raft. Who's to say you can't fashion a Gorilla Tape patch and go sailing on the lake?!

Kaya couldn't wait to get in that boat, and had the biggest smiles when she finally made it in on Hills Creek Reservoir! If the photo were bigger, I'd include the one of her jumping off the dock into the lake, with the sun setting on the hills behind her. It was an epic photo, and surely more an en epic experience for the two of them ("Es war kalt, als ich hineingesprungen habe," [It was cold when I jumped in] Kaya told me a few days later. 

A 5-day camping trip wouldn't be the same without doing a little fishing, too. Good thing Geoff found one of those in the garbage can, too! We didn't exactly go fishing in the water, but we did create a little p-cord line and do our best to teach Kaya a few moves. She had as about as much fun with that pole as she did with the broken light-up hula hoop that entertained her for hours in the evenings. Granted, it didn't look like a hula hoop when it finally made it our way, but I think it was even better in pieces! Kaya turned them into wagons, at one point, which were pulling both Kensa and Kahlua (neither of whom were with us on the trip!). 
So, who knows. The verdict is still out: is Geoff responsible for all this ingenuity that we get to observe in our daughter, or is it those two languages that are now a big part of her life? Or perhaps, like everything else in life, it's a fine balance of the two...and then some. 

Have you observed similar other benefits of bilingualism in Kaya or in your children? I'd love to hear your stories below!! Thanks!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sorta Lost in Translation

This morning, as we were snuggling in bed, I noticed Kaya singing what sounded like a song under her breath. I didn't dare move, much less make a peep, should she grow frustrated as she often has about my commenting on her singing (I swear, I only ever say nice things!!). As I listened more closely, I noticed she was singing a song about a little duck...and a mama duck...and it "kak-kak-kak"ing. She'd told me a few days ago that, at camp, they'd sung a song about some little ducklings. But her camp is at the community center--in English--and she was singing her little song this morning in German. 

Huh? What?

I continue to listen in and, alas, it is the little duckling song. Granted, until this afternoon, I'd never heard the duckling song in its original, but I was clear--this was that duckling song.

"Singst du das Entchenlied?" [Are you singing the duck song?] I finally asked her, overcoming my fear of the "ehhhhhhhhhh!!!!!" response.
"Ja..." she replied, shyly.

I was really pushing my luck by asking another question, but my curiosity was killing me.
"Hast du das ins Deutsch uebersetzt?" [Did you translate that into German?] I queried, knowing full-well the answer to my question.
"Ja..." she replied, somehow avoiding any sarcasm that would have been well-deserved for such a question.

Dying to capture this footage on film, I dared to ask her my next question:
"Kann ich von dir ein Video machen?" [Can I make a video of you?]
"Ja..." she said, and perked up to be a film star, bedhead and all.

And with that, I busted out my handy smart phone and began to record:

Kaya: Qak, qak, qak, qak, qak...die Enten geheh ueber die Vaterstagen...sie gehen ueber die Vaters tagen...all die Vaterstagen...[kak, kak, kak, kak, kack...the ducks go over the father days...they go over the father days...all the father days...]
Mama: Gibt es mehr von dem Lied? [Is there more to the song?]
Kaya: Was? [What?]
Mama: Gibt es mehr von dem Lied? [Is there more to the song?]
Kaya: Ja, aber...aber es ist in Englisch. [Yeah, but...but it's in English.]
Mama: OK. Willst du das mir singen? Hast du dieses deutsche Lied uebersetzt? [OK. Do you want to sing it for me? Did you translate this song?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah
Mama: Und wo hast du dieses Lied gelernt? [And where did you learn this song?]
Kaya: Ehh...Ich weiss nicht. [Uhh...I don't know.]
Mama: War das in dem Kinderlager? [Was it at camp?]
Kaya: Nein, sie haben nicht in Deutsch gesungen.  [No, they didn't sing in German.]
Mama: Ja, stimmt. sie singen auf Englisch, oder. [Yes, that's right. They sing in English, don't they.]
Kaya: Ja. Aber sie, die Kinder..ah..muessen Englisch sprechen, damit sie...die Kinder verstehen. [Yeah. But they...the kids...uh...have to speak English, so that they...can...understand the kids.]
Mama: OK. Uh-huh. Danke, dass du das fuer mich gesungen hast. Danke. [OK. Right. Thanks for singing me that song.]
Kaya: ...drei kleine Enten gehen ueber die Vatertage, all die Vaterstage, die Enten gehen ueber die Vatertage...all...die Vaterstage. Quak...die Mama und Dada die Ententage...qak, qak, qak, an ihre Freunde, qak.  [3 little ducks go over the father days, all the father days, the ducks go over the father days...all...the father days. Quack...the mama and dada the duck days...kak, kak, kack, to their friends.]

Generally, I sing to Kaya in German, as well as read to her and speak to her exclusively in that language. There is one song--Close Your Eyes--that I sing only in English, and will sing songs to her with Geoff in English, at times, too--but for the most part, Kaya knows that, from me, she gets German. And that's her modus operatus with me, too--German. So, it really shouldn't be much of a surprise that she translated this song...but I still find myself feeling flabbergasted. I suppose because she wasn't singing it 'for me' perse, but was singing it around me, while I was just lying there with her. Or perhaps that's what I'm missing...maybe she was singing it for me!?  Either way, I'm so impressed with this little makes me very happy, indeed. 

As you'll notice below, it's nothing near a direct translation, but instead, a solid mix of her tendency to make up her own songs, with her her understanding that, from mama, with mama, and around is in German (I know they are supposed to begin to realize at some point--maybe after 4?--that I do speak English and "HEY, that means that you could speak English with me!"...but we're clearly not there yet, fortunately!). 

Let's see if I can remember the lyrics in English...I asked Teacher Emily to sing it for me when I arrived this morning and I ended up getting a sweet little performance from the rest of the class:

(to the tune of "Mama's gonna by you a rocking bird")

5 little ducks went out one day, (show 5 fingers)
over the mountains and far away, (arms go up and down)
mama duck called them 'quack-quack-quack', 
only 4 little ducks came wandering back. 

4 little ducks went out one day...
3 little ducks...
2 little...
Poppa duck called them QUACK-QUACK-QUACK...
5 little ducks came wandering back...!

Thanks for singin' along. As a bi/multilingual, what language do you use to sing to your kids?
What about reading?
Would love to hear any comments you have!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The July Carnival is Here!

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, to the oh-so-beloved, international Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism!! So glad you've joined us--we're super excited to have you along. From Switzerland to Singapore, from Norway to France, parents from all over the planet have come 'together' this month to share their passion, their quandaries and their insights on raising bi/multilingual children. Native and non-native speakers, using a variety of methods, in a plethora of's ingenious, this carnival idea, and I'm honored and excited to be able to host it this month. 

When I first bumped into the Carnival, I was quite confused. I thought it was, as I jestingly introduced it above, like a conference-carnival that I had to sign up for, a place I might need to fly or drive or take the train to, a ticket that I needed to purchase if I wanted to participate and 'go on the rides'.  Quite to the contrary, I could enjoy the carnival from the comfort of my own whatever--read it when, where and as often as I like, with endless options to comment and ponder and find inspiration along the way.

Thus, I encourage you to dive into this-here carnival, and wish for you the same inspiration, and optimally, the same level of community that I've found here over the past few years. All these people, writers and readers alike, coming together for essentially one purpose, or at least a number of mini-purposes around the same topic--it's fascinating to me, and continues to remind me of how, despite the differences in our details, we are all so similar, so connected, and working towards a common good. 

With that said, let me introduce you to this month's themes and their passionate contributors, who hail from 9 distinct countries and at least 4 different states in the U.S. 

Non-Native Speakers (and their Mix of Topics)
An obvious entry into our carnival this month are the 5 tips that Nichola shares with us at Our Non-Native Bilingual Adventure. While her tips are particularly helpful for those of us on the non-native journey with our children, they are clearly solid enough to be packed into anyone's language toolkit. 

Linda, at My Bilingual Kids, speaks to the idea of 'balanced bilingualism' and the effect that summer holidays have, both on the language that children choose to use, as well as the pressure that we often feel to 'educate' in our parenting.

The summer theme continues at Open Hearts, Open Minds, in Lynne's post about Elliot's use of 'fanish'. She expresses feeling disheartened at his tendency to speak English, while simultaneously feeling hopeful about re-committing and finding more resources in a new area.

As a native German speaker, who professes to feel more comfortable now with English, Maggy, of Life at the Zoo, doesn't officially fit the non-native bill, but has expressed similar challenges and frustrations in her previous posts. This week, however, has been a good language week, as the kids are inserting more German words into their English sentences. The question still remains, however...local or German school?

On my own blog, I share some thoughts around the idea of inclusion, and the unique dynamic that is created in play when people don't understand the minority language and thus, may feel like a 3rd wheel. How can we include the important people in our lives without minimizing our children's bilingual experience?

Media and Other Learning Resources 
A third German speaker in the bunch, and also a non-native speaker, Kate, of German in the Afternoon, makes some confessions surrounding the use of multi-media--both on the ground and in the air. Guilty or not, she shares with the rest of us some ideas that we might employ around watching what when and with whom. 

While she's doesn't seem to be a non-native speaker herself (speaking as such with her children), Catherine of b small publishing has shared some ideas for those people, in particular, who may wonder if it can be effective to 'teach' your children another language when you aren't a specialist yourself.

Annabelle, of Gato and Canard, writes on a similar topic, addressing the use of the IPad as a solid tool for developing language awareness. Despite her initial hesitancy to allow two year old LJ to use it, she found that it did seem to increase her daughter's awareness of who speaks French.

From Dominique's Desk, we are reminded of the importance of and the value in creating multilingual learning environments at home. While so many of us may focus on just the spoken language, Dominique's post serves as inspiration to gather all sorts of materials for our lingual journeys.

From another corner in Asia, while hailing from Canada, we hear from Jenn at Perogies and Gyoza about her quandary of supporting American or Canadian English, as well as the challenges she's having in finding workbooks to support her decision.

Little Anectodes of Success
While Living in the Land of Chocolate, Fiona shares an endearing anecdote about her girls, and the benefits of late immersion that she's now seeing after 2 years--a great reminder for the rest of us that good things take time...

Another little story of success is shared by Roxana, one of the co-founders of SpanglishBaby. She's very excited to see the benefits of ML@H (minority language at home) with her daughter, Vanessa.

On their vacation back 'home' to New Jersey, Rebecca, of Uh-oh Spaghettios, tells the cute story of how Max's wiring between French and English gets a little caddywompus--or perhaps not, for a near-3 year old. Many of us, like Rebecca, would surely love to be inside those little lingual brains of our children!

And on the subject of returning home, Leanna, of All Done Monkey, shares her thoughts on the immersion experience of her little Monkey while visiting Papa's homeland of Costa Rica. While not a non-native speaker of English, Leanna experiences a bit of the non-native as she chooses to speak Spanish with her son while she's there. Her thoughts provide a lot of fodder for the rest of us to consider on a variety of topics surrounding bi/multilingualism.

Thank-you, to both readers and contributors alike! This wouldn't be what it is without you.  If you are interested in keeping in touch with all things bilingual, head on over to the Bilingual Blogging Carnival page, where you can sign up for the newsletter, read all the bilingual carnivals to date, find details on how to submit your post to the next host, or even offer to host the carnival in the future. Next month's carnival location has yet to be announced, but I hope to see you there! I also hope that you enjoyed this month's carnival, and would be so excited to read a comment from you when you get a chance (it's a great way to increase traffic to your blog, too, as so many carnival go-ers read the comments and end up clicking your link when they want to know more!). 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bilingual Play & the 3rd Wheel Syndrome

In just a few days, I finally get to host the international blogging carnival, and I'm so excited. Naturally, I've been wracking my brain to come up with a topic that would be best suited to share with whatever readers, new and old, who are interested in multilingual parenting topics. It's been so long since I've written (once again!), and I'm thus, quite tempted to just give a little update about the Kaya-meister, and our lives with and around her. But for those who don't know her, I'm thinking something more general, more all-encompassing, something that might be more easily applied to others' lingual lives, might be better and more interesting. So here we go, let's see what I can create...

Kaya and I just got home from a little jaunt over to our neighbor's house after walking home from camp. This neighbor isn't just "any old neighbor", but rather a woman who has grown near and dear to all of us in our family after the role she played while my mom was dying. Lena, though she has no children of her own, is quite the mother-figure, and is a wonderful fill-in Nana now that Mom is gone. I love watching her with Kaya, in the way she plays, banters, questions, wonders, and just generally enjoys everything Kaya--just like my mom did.

This afternoon was no different. We stopped by to share some hummus and falafel chips (my new favorite!!) in the much-loved, and very rare, Portland sunshine. Lena was eager to visit, especially once she heard that Kaya was quite excited to stop by 'Tante Lena's' and say hi (Lena doesn't speak German, but she loved the idea of being called 'Tante' [aunt], so the name just stuck...). We grabbed a seat in the fenced patio, Kaya initially eager to stay in her jogger as she played her shy card. Within minutes, however, Lena had Kaya out of her shell and giggles were abounding. The beloved game was a hand-washing one: Kaya would 'wash' Lena's hands with 'water' and 'soap' while Lena 'lathered up' waiting for Kaya to 'rinse'. But Kaya didn't want to rinse fact, she quickly figured out that the game was much more fun if she let Lena's hands stay soapy. Lena grew quite disappointed, sad I might even say, that she had to just sit there with soap on her hands. Kaya just giggled, ran away, soon to return with an "OK, I'll wash yoh hends off".

The other game that Kaya loved was hiding the carrots that Tante Lena was so intent to eat.
"You want to keep them from me because I'm such a pig, huh?" Lena questioned of Kaya.
"Yeah," she'd respond, stashing the carrots in the top of the stroller.
"Oh, I'm so hungry," Lena would cry. "Can't I have some carrots?!"
"No," Kaya would respond, giggling even louder.

At one point, I began to get meta about the whole thing, recalling that I was still seeking a topic for the upcoming Carnival. It hit me that the situation I was just observing--with observing being the key word--is pretty typical of many situations I find myself in with Kaya, particularly lately, or so it feels. With Kaya and I speaking only German with each other, and English with most everyone else, it makes for a unique dynamic in play. When I do choose to contribute, vs. just observing from within, it becomes a fine balance between translator and "Mitspieler" [one who plays along with]. Some people are quite proactive about asking me what it was that I just said--with short, simple statements, it's pretty easy to interpret, particularly with voice tone and body language. With those who ask, I'm always more than willing to share what just transpired. In fact, I almost always love to share with others what we're talking about--it just often feels awkward to find that balance, that 'spot' in the conversation to insert the English interpretation. Often, especially with those who aren't as proactive about asking, I tend not to share what we're talking about leaving the other/s in the dark about what is being talked about on the other side of the table. I'm not quite sure what to think of this, at this point...part of me is tempted to ask others how they feel about it when they are in that situation with us. The other part of me, however, almost doesn't want to know because I'm not sure I want to feel the obligation to continuously interpret our conversations, 'littering' our interactions with English. This is the beauty of a blog entry: I write this here in hopes that those of you out there, on both 'sides' of the situation will share your input to inspire the rest of us...

When Kaya was younger, in her pre-language stage, and we spent a lot of time in English-speaking playgroups in the community, I remember feeling very awkward about speaking German in front of others. I did it because I was committed to it, and felt confident that I wanted to stick to OPOL [One Parent, One Language], but I found I would keep my voice down, and even would say less to avoid bringing attention to myself. I felt afraid that others would think I was righteous, thinking our way--the bilingual way--was better. I also felt awkward, as a non-native, speaking German with my daughter. I can't remember how long it took me--I'd have to look back at my posts--but it was a lot longer than I remember thinking it would take for me to truly become at ease with German as our language.

Now that I'm completely comfortable with it, I'm noticing these other pieces. I'm no longer self-conscious about speaking German (at least in front of English speakers), but I do find myself being aware and somewhat sensitive to them not being able to understand us (for the most part). Fortunately, after 3 1/2 yrs of speaking German with Kaya, my husband, Geoff, can understand and thus follow along with 95% of what is said. That's a huge relief; I can't imagine it for me otherwise. But around others--especially family and friends, who are important in our lives--I've been thinking about three interesting concepts lately.

First of all, as I was alluding to above, I tend to observe more than I play, more than I think I otherwise would, were Kaya and I to be communicating in the common language. There definitely seems to be a disconnect, a scattered-ness and lack of flow when I participate with Kaya and our English-speaking people. This disconnect might be due, in part, to Kaya's manner of response, which is the second thing I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Kaya is very clear that, when she's speaking to Dada, she's speaking to Dada--and I better not respond in German (or at all!) without expecting an "ehhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!" in response. The same goes for her communication with me--Geoff has come to expect the same response with English. Granted, it doesn't mean we don't try it--it's pretty hard to avoid, especially as she gets older and begins to 'mom and pop' (asking me for one thing after she's already asked him...). I also get a similar response when she's playing alone in English (she plays in both languages)--if I respond to her in German, she makes a similar noise, though not quite as adamantly.

This separate-ness definitely has its pros and cons. On the one hand, I love that I get to 'check out', to a certain extent, when Kaya is speaking to Geoff. It's like I can relax, knowing that he is 'responsible' for answering or responding to her question or need. It's a similar feeling to asking Kaya who she wants to take her to the bathroom--me or Dada. Sweet, she wants Dada! On the flip side, however, I'm noticing a bit of sadness on my part, a feeling of being 'left-out', of wishing that we could all just play together, smoothly, easily, and that I could just speak my native language with my daughter with words that have been flowing off of my tongue for 36 some-odd years (as opposed to just 15-ish). Wishing that, when I did communicate with Kaya, others didn't feel left out, didn't feel in the dark or wishing the situation were otherwise.

At this point, now that Kaya's been speaking exclusively German with me for 12 months and some change, I have no doubts about whether I should continue to speak German with her. I've seen enough of the benefits, and even moreso, have complete faith in the research that I've seen, to know that it will be worth it for her life. That's what my head says, anyway. But my heart does worry, at times, grows fearful that my relationship with my daughter will suffer; that we won't be able to ever communicate to the same extent that we would if it were my native language (if you were ever looking for a reason to hone your language skills, here's one!); that, over time, German will become the more challenging language for her to speak, and she'll just choose to communicate with others over Mama. My head is telling my heart to quit the silly-talk. Nothing like a mother's bond, it says. And you don't have to worry about then, it says. Be in the now.

Before we left Lena's place, Lena asked me which language Kaya liked speaking better. I wasn't sure, and told her to ask her.
"Kaya, which language do you like speaking better, English or German?" Lena asked her.
After a short pause, Kaya responded with a tone of confidence, "Both."

I know there are many of you out there, native and non-native alike, who continue to deal with similar thoughts, feelings, and situations regarding the OPOL and non-community language dynamic in play and social situations. What do you do? How do you feel about it? Have you gotten feedback from others about what they think or feel? I wrote about this topic because I'm so curious about your thoughts, your experiences, and anything else you're willing to share around this topic. I hope you'll take a minute to share, and/or pass this post along to someone else who might.

Thanks for being part of our journey!