Thursday, 26 July 2012

Blogging Carnival On Bilingualism

I have finally taken the leap and joined the blogging carnival on bilingualism, at least in the form of contributing a post. The July carnival is hosted at Non-native bilingualism and the topic this month is (unsurprisingly) non-native bilingualism, which naturally explains why I decided to get involved. From what I can gather raising bilingual (or multilingual) kids can earn you raised eyebrows in the best of families/circles of friends, but never are they arched higher than when it is revealed that you are doing so in a language that is not strictly speaking your mother tongue. It has been a great relief to me to discover that I am not the only one out there who is endeavouring such a feat.

My own contribution discusses what happens to my kids' language when school is out for the summer.

The carnival features new topics each month and is a well of information and inspiration to anyone interested in enriching their children's, and their own, lives with the love and knowledge of more than one language. Check it out! ;)

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Summer English

Ben and a friend at end of year excursion to Sverresborg Folk Museum

Ben, Nic and Christi attend English immersion school, where all subjects are taught in English, except for Norwegian (4 hours a week). They are expected to speak English in the classroom, but obviously speak a bit of Norwegian in the playground, though this depends on the make-up of the class. If there are students who don’t speak Norwegian very well, they tend to stick with English in the playground as well. This is very much the case in Nic’s class, as I have observed at birthday parties, where the kids all speak English to each other the entire time. (On a side note this has been a bit of an issue in the past when Nic has wanted to invite both people from his class and other friends from outside of school to his parties, though that is a topic for another post.)

As I pick them up from school in the afternoon we tend to chat in English as well, and then, somewhere along the way in the car from school to our house the conversation usually fades into Norwegian. Now a days that’s usually down to Ben screaming from the back seat “si det på noooorsk!!” (say it in Norwegian). At home no two days are the same, but usually we’ll chat in Norwegian until homework time, when discussion will once again fade back into English.

The point I’m trying to make is this; on any given day my children tend to want to speak more Norwegian than English at home, probably because they need the respite after a day of English only in school. This obviously, in one way takes a bit of pressure off of me as a non native bilingual parent, because even on days when I hardly speak any English I know that they will have had their fill. On the other hand I should be careful to rest on my laurels, for exactly the same reason, because the resources they get in school are not the same as the ones I can provide. In school they will cover subjects and even play, but they won’t experience dinner time conversation, chatting at bed time or even being told to tidy their room or brush their teeth. To become balanced bilinguals they need all of this, both the academic and social vocabulary they get to practice in school AND being nagged by their mum J

So, with this in mind it is always interesting to see what happens when the summer holidays are upon us. My English weary kids will go a week or so, tops, speaking a lot of Norwegian every day, before they tire of that and revert to English. And this is the beauty of it; it is always the kids who initiate it.  This is true for Nicholas and Christie, but I have not yet noticed Ben do this as much. Last summer  I finally went all in with the bilingual parenting idea, hoping I could help Ben stay with the programme over the  holidays. And he was so motivated and did so well. This summer, though, he seems less motivated, while at the same time having achieved a much higher level of proficiency. I have no doubt now that should he forget anything over the summer it will all come flooding back to him in August. Still, there is that ‘balanced bilingual’ idea, and having the older kids being so ready to keep it English will help both me and Ben to stay on track.

Once again a bit of a rambling post but I hope I got my points across J

Sunday, 20 May 2012


A few weeks back I wrote a post describing how well Ben was doing with his languages, and now, not long after, he has taken to speaking to me almost exclusively in Norwegian. :-/ I have read tons of posts and articles by other parents discussing what to do with children who didn’t want to speak in the minority language and counted myself lucky that this has never been a real problem for us. Today alone I have taken myself in asking Ben three times to please reply in English. The first two times I asked it as a favour, the third time I ordered him to. Now, I know this won’t be the way to go but I got desperate.  My plan B was always to just ignore it if the kids spoke Norwegian and keep talking to them in English and eventually they would go back to speaking to me in English again. This may still be my best bet but I’m just scared all of a sudden that all my efforts are going to waste.

On the other hand, Christi does talk a lot of English, so maybe a period of resistance doesn’t spell the end of our bilingual adventure. After all, Ben will continue English schooling for the next 10 years, and he may just be tired now and wants communication to be less hard work. English is not his native language and Norwegian does come easier.

I just don’t know quite how to handle it…

Also, this comes at the same time as I have decided to make more of an effort with the 180 challenge over at The Spanish studies have gone fairly well for me personally but I’ve lost the kids by being too unstructured.  Yesterday I vowed to get the children more involved and try some of the 10 minutes a day ideas, but with Ben seemingly exhausted by juggling two languages insisting on a third would surely be foolish. Perhaps I’ll involve Christi and Nic to begin with and leave Ben out for a bit. Or just put on a Pocoyo video and he can watch if he wants to…

As for the older kids and Spanish they are doing well despite us not focusing on studying it together. Christi just wrote a catchy song about looking for her shorts, and she keeps singing it around the house. “Donde están mis pantalónes cortos? Están aquí? No! Están allí? No!”  J And Nic is showing an affinity with languages, and new vocabulary in particular. The other day I told him “Tienes que hacer los deberes ahora!”, to which he replied “Huh??” Me: “You have to do your homework now!”  A few minutes later as he sat down with his work he asked me whether “ahora” meant “now”. I said yes, and asked him how he knew. He said that “ahora” was the last word of the Spanish sentence and when I translated it the last word of the English one was “now”.   J

Friday, 4 May 2012

Greetings from the wayside

Aye, it is true, I have fallen off the wagon again...kinda.

Of course there is still bilingualism going on but the Spanish has taken a bit of a knock in our busy daily life. I'm still reading my Spanish novels for learners (I'm on my final Lola Lago story and I love them! I wish there were more) I have not been speaking enough lately and especially so with the kids. Though Ben did come home from school boasting about how he and Sebastian (from Columbia) had been talking Spanish together. I was a bit puzzled as Ben doesn't really know enough Spanish to talk to anyone, so I asked him what he had been saying. "Stupido!", he said with a cheeky grin. I didn't want to rain on his parade so I just told him he might do better choosing words that didn't resemble English and obviously also that it wasn't very nice calling people stupido. I guess I'll have to teach him some friendlier phrases. NOT that it was me who taught him stupido! I blame Sebastian.

As for English I've been lazy at home. I speak more Norwegian and less English these days, or have done so up until recently. It may have something to do with the fact that we've been travelling a lot lately, visiting family, and for some reason it can still feel a bit awkward to be using English with the kids. But now I will have to get better at it because we just had the news that Ben was offered a place in Y2 at Birralee International, and that he qualified as "a child of Norwegian [or foreign] origin with English as a first language". To be honest I cannot quite remember what I put in the application, though I do seem to recall that I really stressed how comfortable he was with English and that we speak it a lot at home. So I better turn my white lie into a reality before we get busted. LOL. Nah, en serio, we do speak a lot of English at home I just need to be more consistent! :)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Ben becomes bilingual

My decision to learn Spanish and teach my kids some along the way had sort of made me think less about the way we use English in our family. Like I’ve said in earlier posts I’m the one who uses it most with the kids, though by no means one hundred percent of the time. I think my earlier “guesstimate” was 40/60 English/Norwegian. However, I have been more conscious about using English ever since last summer so the usage may well be closer to 80 percent some days.

A few days ago my husband commented on how Ben now switches between Norwegian and English depending on whom he’s addressing. Ben was outside helping his dad clear the snow from our drive and they were chattering away in Norwegian. When Ben was ready to go inside, the moment he opened the front door and called for me he switched to English, calling “Mum?!” I thought it was funny when he mentioned it, and didn’t think much more of it.

Then, two days ago we had a parent-teacher conference with Ben’s teacher and she told us that he is getting on fabulously with English, and even better he uses it when he plays as well now. Most of the Norwegian native-speakers will use English in the classroom and Norwegian for play. For me this shows that he is finding it natural to use English and isn’t doing it to please me or the teachers, but that he himself, probably subconsciously, chooses to use it.

So, yesterday I was in the sofa chatting with him, in English, and he asked me something I couldn’t answer so I said; “Why don’t you ask Dad?” He said “ok”, and turned around calling “Pappa!!”, and then proceeded to ask the question in Norwegian.

This makes me even more motivated to keep talking English to the children, though the other two will rarely instigate an English conversation even if they will answer me back in English if I start. On the other hand, the success with Ben makes me feel more uneasy about the Spanish project. I’m nervous about rocking the boat and have a feeling that I may be asking too much.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Language Challenge 180

I’m quite excited about the Language Challenge 180, which is a challenge over 180 days, to either get serious about the language(s) you are learning or refreshing and building on the second language skills you already have. I suppose I could have focused on English for this, but as we have so much English around us anyway it made more sense to work on our Spanish. This challenge is set up by and there are some 650 families/people participating in it. It is great to have someone send you e-mails twice a week to ask how you’re doing and give you that little nudge that can be, and often is, much needed. In addition we now have the opportunity to share experiences and resources with other learners, and also native speakers, which is great!

For us this first week has been less organized than I would have liked, simply because I haven’t had the time to fill in the forms that we got, which are meant to help us get a clear view of our targets and resources, but never the less, it has been a good week for Spanish for most of us. Ben let me read to him from the bilingual story books (“Ricitos de oro y los tres osos” and “El gato con botas”) and even wanted to play “Done está?”, which is a vocabulary building game we play using “My first 1000 words in Spanish”. And for Christi I managed to find two different Spanish teen magazines, both with One Direction on the front of their March issues, but unfortunately I don’t how to get hold of them. :P I need a Spanish connection, i.e. someone who can physically go to a kiosk and get the mags and send them to me.

As for my own learning this week hasn’t been great. I’m very busy reading for my half term tests in pedagogy and didactics, but as soon as they’re done it’s all Spanish all the time, because on Monday 19th I have a compulsory oral test in Spanish for my university course. If I don’t pass that one I won’t be able to sit the exam in May.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The monolingual family problem

In our own little pleasant bubble at home being bilingual, and learning a third language, isn’t a problem. Within the family we have reached an agreement without really ever discussing it, that speaking Norwegian and English works for us. We don’t have a strict OPOL deal, seeing as none of us are native speakers, although I speak a lot of English with the kids and DH speaks mainly Norwegian but will also speak some English when it feels natural. In fact whenever someone speaks English around him he tends to just flip over without thinking about it. In our world there is nothing wrong with that. In fact it is normal. If no-one ever spoke a different language it would seem strange.

In addition to our two main languages there is now also Spanish. We are still at a stage where it is more of a hobby. We are learning together. I will admit that the whole thing was my idea, and still it is I who is the most motivated and who is racing ahead. Still, I meant to share this with the children in particular, and I didn’t even (wrong as it may be) ask my husband what he thought of it. He just came home from work to a house full of Spanish labels and a wife who would ask his children what they wanted for breakfast in Spanish. He didn’t make a fuss. Maybe he thought it would blow over. Maybe he was genuinely interested to see where this would take us. He did make it clear, however, that he had no intention of learning Spanish. I said fine. A month later I asked him a few questions:

Me: How do you say kitchen in Spanish?
Him: Cocina
Me: And living room?
Him: Sala. (pause) Taza is toilet because I’m always staring at that label. Is lavabo soap or sink?
Me: Sink… Soap is jabón.
Him: Oh, I see. It’s just the label was next to the soap and I thought the drawing on it was a soap dispenser.

So much for not learning Spanish! And apparently I teach Spanish (even subliminally) better than I draw. The point is that at our house it’s normal to play around with languages, learning new ones and using them. The problems lie with the extended family.

My family might think I’m slightly weird for raising the children bilingually, but they are very supportive of the idea of sending them to English immersion school. - Now as for the other side... not so much. But there is a good reason for this. My husband’s parents do not speak English, while mine do. They can read a few words but they are not able to read a longer text or follow a conversation, let alone be part of one. We were visiting them over the half term break and I/we got told off for speaking English. It was not so much a “would you please refrain from speaking a language I don’t understand” as an accusation that we no longer knew how to talk Norwegian.

I kind of understand how it could come across a bit rude to speak in a language my MIL didn’t understand but at the same time this conversation, between me and Christi, took place in a different room when she just happened to walk in. I wouldn’t sit down in front of them and chatter away in English, although if the kids ask me a question in English I will usually answer back in English before switching to Norwegian. To me this is just how we speak in our family, but to them it is akin to an insult, something we do deliberately to keep them in the dark. I don’t quite know what to do about this now. I would like to just keep doing it like we do it at home, but curtailing it a bit during meal times when we are all together. Or we could simply speak Norwegian for the whole time while we are here. It’s not like the kids will forget English within 4 days. I’m sure that would be the best thing to do, but I would like them to know that our desire to have our kids grow up as bilinguals doesn’t grow out of a wish to be better than others, which is what it seems to imply to them.