This post is written the October Multilingual Kids Blogging carnival hosted by one of my favourite blogs The European Mama . The theme this month is Media. I see various forms of media as tools. And like all tools, they can be wielded skillfully and help you build something, like using a hammer to mount a blackboard. Or à la Trinity killer, you can use it to crush someone’s skull.
I apologise for the graphic nature of the last sentence but that’s really it. In most cases, it isn’t that extreme, it may just be a black and blue fingernail, but one should always think carefully about what the purpose of the media is and what you hope to achieve with its use.
When I first found myself incubating a wee one, I thought “yes, I’ll abide by The American Academy of Pediatrics’ advice and not allow my child any television before the age of two.” Then, as the stench wafting from my un-washed armpits caused my husband to dry heave when he made it home, reality set in and my desire for regular showers led me to rethink my decision. Perhaps a few soothing Baby Einstein videos wouldn’t be so bad. (AND no, I never thought nor cared for my child to be a genius. I am more of an ‘ignorance is bliss’ kind of gal). No more than 10 or 15 minutes top, I swore to myself.
Ha, as if. There’s a reason all these DVDs have a repeat button on them. And we all know kids love repetition!
I’ve always been one to rationalise. Our brain’s ability to create reasons to justify what we need never ceases to astonish me. I convinced myself the one way I could ensure adequate exposure to all three heritage languages was through the use of DVDs, programs, songs, etc. I knew that providing enough language exposure would be a challenge. And a few “Rue Sesame” episodes seemed like just the ticket. No better excuse to pop your kid in front of the boob tube.
As it turns out, my first child was a late talker and I am a worrier. I know you say all parents worry. But I fall on the extreme end of the spectrum. I cross a street by myself and see visions of an 18 wheeler careening around the corner; I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Secretly enjoying the use of TV —insert whatever gadget you wish here as this all started pre-iPad— I figured if I only got programs in Spanish and French, then any TV watching would be educational and furthering my goal of language acquisition. This seemed like a big win-win for all parties involved.
With the right discipline, or I should say wielding the tool appropriately, this would have been fine. But I couldn’t stick to this regime. All sorts of cute programs were on and I couldn’t find French or Spanish equivalents. We got rid of cable television so I would stick to DVDs. This worked for a time. Living in Brooklyn with so many spanish speakers, most DVDs had a spanish option but once we moved to South East Asia, Tamil, Mandarin and Korean were more likely language options than Spanish or French.
Then there was the problem of programs being translated but not really culturally appropriate. Sesame Street in French should really be something like Rue Roblochon. And a Spanish Peppa Pig would not be talking about gardening all the time. Maybe siestas? Or long lunches with chorizo? OK maybe not a pig eating pork sausages…
I simply gave up making an effort for a long time and showed them predominantly English programming. Perhaps I am also admitting that my house is full of TV addicts. And yes, it’s entirely my fault, along with some prone-to-addiction genes handed down. Hindsight is always 20/20. If I am honest with myself, I always knew there was a problem but chose to suppress it effectively, as so many other things, for the sake of convenience. Until now.
This is the year I’ve started homeschooling. One of my goals, in preparation for their big summer in Mexico next year, is to ramp up their Spanish. Normally if the kids see anything in English for the first time, it is nearly impossible to persuade them to watch it in another language. With one exception: Peppa Pig. They worship before the altar of this little pink porcine diva. So desperate are they to watch Peppa and George jump in muddy puddles, they will take it in any language. A newly created Spanish version is my saving grace, despite the Castilian ‘c’ pronunciation -sacrifices must be made!
With this discovery, I was permitting more TV in order to get the girls hooked. Requests for Spanish programs rose and I heard a lot of I can’t wait to speak Español. Here’s the thing: the Spanish program was great, but too much of it wasn’t. Soon, every morning, before I’d even opened my eyes, I’d feel a little finger jabbing my shoulder and a small whispering voice… “mama, can I watch a movie? please? please? please? please? Some Peppa?”.
Despite my emphatic NOs, she continued, laying on the charm thick and fast. Even saying “but I want Peppa Español mama, pleeeeease?”
One night I was putting C to bed. She’d actually watched a bit of Peppa before her shower and had her bedtime story. The lights were off, we were cuddling, and I asked her, as I always do, what song she would like me to sing. Her response? she whispered sweetly: “A movie mama. Can I have a movie?” After about five offers to sing a song, I just kissed her goodnight. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if she fell asleep the words ‘movie’ and ‘Peppa’ still on her lips.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out we needed a major intervention; that I’d used the idea of media as language reinforcement instead as ‘a buy mama x amount of Facebook minutes’, or homeschool lesson planning or whatever other black hole of activity that seems to be sucking up all my time these days.
Instead of genuinely creating a plan, using all the tools at my disposition to create an enriched linguistic environment, I fell into a classic case of plonking kids in front of TV for some peace.
I normally spend hours, no weeks and months beating myself up about these things, but it’s pointless. Instead, I’ve just instituted a clean break. Time for them to reconnect with other things, like the muddy puddles in the yard from the endless rainy season downpours, while I strategize on how I can use these things constructively and in moderation moving forward.
I’ll leave you with my favorite exchange of the week:
Me to P: ‘ello gorgeous!
C to me: NO! I’m gorgeous!
Me to C: of course, you are both gorgeous!
C to Me: No, P is Peppa pig and I am Gorgeous. (aka George)
Mystery revealed. And time to cut down on Peppa episodes. The giveaway should have been being greeted as Mummy pig a few mornings prior.
P.S. What’s the attraction with cheeky pigs?
I don’t know what the attraction is but I have a Peppa lover here too. While on holidays in Italy, L spotted an episode on TV in a cafe. She watched it (in Italian) and declared at the end she could speak Italian!
In our house TV is only ever allowed between gouter and dinner and to watch 1 program of her choice. We have managed to stick to that quite well so far.
I take my hat off. We go through phases of having it under control and not. Right now I am retaking the reigns!
The really worrying bit? Just how catchy those theme tunes are.. 11 years, 3 continents and 3 languages later, I can still sing the theme tune to Sali Mali – our own Welsh version of children’s TV. It is sung by Carys Mathews of Catatonia fame though, so at least I can claim an element of irony..?
Oh that’s fab! I find myself whistling caillou and they haven’t watched it in years. If only there was a Mumford and sons version. And on that note, I must dig out my old catatonia cd…
Thanks for sharing this! I think we are quickly sliding down the slippery slope of too much iPad time. Using it as a “language tool” is a great excuse for us, but sadly, now our 2 year old son is so adept at navigating the iPad he can find programs and apps in English besides the carefully selected German and Spanish ones. It’s getting harder to say no, so I’ve hid it up high. He still uses the iPhone when I’m getting dressed, and then…there are always the rainy days…sigh…
Take solace, many of us slip down –or in my case– catastrophically leap off the cliff. But we claw our way back until the next moment of weakness. I swear one of my 3 year old’s first words was iPad. I was mortified. I totally busted my husband using an iPad/iPhone combo to effectively ‘babysit’ the kids while he sat over a latte and burrito at Dean and Deluca. And just this morning I stuck both girls on the combo with an anatomy app, desperate for a few more minutes in bed. All of us (nearly) go there at times so don’t beat yourself up. I also hear there is some special app/program so that you can shut down your iphone to all but one folder OKd for kids. Might be worth looking into! We even managed a 3+ car hour journey without only a few stuffed animals post iPad addiction so it is never too late. Don’t despair!
I loved reading this and hearing about the challenges of finding the right sorts of programmes in the right languages. Your point about cultural differences and topics of conversation in Peppa Pig was really interesting – it’s not something I’d really thought about all that much in relation to kids’ television programmes.
Jonathan, thank you so much for your comment. I often struggle to find the time or get over my writing fears to actually sit down and blog so comments like yours really make my day. Merci Merci!!
Love this- and yes, challenging to find a balance between too much and educational! I didn’t know you were going to spend the summer in Mexico! Where??
Actually Becky we are trying to figure it out. I will have already had a number of flights by the time I get to Mexico. Thinking we will do Bangkok-Narita-LAX / or Bangkok-HK-SanFran – and then flights from there to Mexico. We’ve been toying with San Miguel de Allende since it isn’t too far from DF. With also been recommended to consider Oaxaca and Queretaro. I am thinking I want to go somewhere where A- is relatively safe, B- Houses aren’t too expensive and c-we could find a summer morning camp or something for the girls – learning spanish by sink or swim! I’d love any recommendations you have! I also saw a house or two near the beach in the Yucatan region. That would obviously be nice to get girls easily to a beach but then we have to add on yet another flight…
We rented a house in Merida this summer and it was awesome! But at the same time I love Oaxaca, love Queretaro and of course San Miguel de Allende. They would all have cursos de verano. Have you checked vacationrentals.com? Ha;)- sounds spammy but I promise I don’t work for them:). We rented a house in Merida for the summer through them for $40/day.
Love Merida. In fact that is where we got married! I think in the end it will come down a lot to price/space. Thanks so much for the site rec – about to go procrastinate now!!