Milk, Wheat and Word Construction.

I was at a loss for words as I pondered what to write for the Bilingual Carnival hosted this month by Gato and Canard. I decided to join the corporate ranks and experiment in the art of outsourcing read I contacted our host to ask her if there was anything in particular she would be interested in. She responded that she would like a post on WORDS. Yes I found this funny given I had none in my mind but then something happened. I remembered a post I’ve wanted to write for the last eight months but have never been able to get around to, until now.

When we visited some of my family in France last summer, I had huge hopes and perhaps even expectations —always a dangerous thing— of how my oldest daughter’s spoken French would emerge. Despite only spending just under 3 weeks and having her Spanish-speaking father and English-speaking Grandfather around, I felt confident that given her understanding of French, the words would suddenly come spilling out.

I can assure you this did not happen. Fortunately the disappointment was lessened by my enjoyment of a particularly cold summer —we live in the tropics so this is good news to me— coupled with other family dramas that moved language acquisition right to the bottom of my list of worries. But before my attention was absorbed with more pressing matters, I did manage to jot down one of my favorite linguistic anecdotes to date.

Towards the end of our drive from Paris Charles de Gaulle to southern Normandy where we were initially staying, we passed a number of wheat fields. Having lived in New York City, Singapore and traveled to Mexico where the only fields my eldest had seen were brown, of shopping malls and a blue-green one of agave. I was excited to point out the fields of wheat and explain what they were. My relationship with nature and particularly my understanding of where food comes from had nearly always originated during my summer holidays in France as a child; I looked forward to sharing this with P.

Me: “Regarde le champ de Blé!” [Look at the wheat field!]

P: “du lait?” [milk?]

Me: “Non, du BLÉ” [No, wheat]

P: “oui LAIT!” [ yes milk]

Me “Non, B-B-B + lé. BLÉ” [No + attempt to sound out wheat in French]

P: “Oui, B-B-B + lait”

Me, now ecstatic: “OUI! BLÉ!”

P: “OUI! B-B-B- MILK!”

Ok, I can see how that would make sense to her.

Word construction is a funny thing. Most of us don’t think about it much except perhaps during SATs, in the US anyway and maybe when our children start speaking. But there is a whole other level of fun that happens with many multilingual kids as they work to tease out sounds, words and separate languages.

I hope you will share your favorite creative word or sentence construction!

January Carnival: It’s time for an injection of cultural color & fun!

Every month, a group of dedicated bloggers comes together to publish a carnival devoted to multilingualism. Click here for more information or to host a carnival on your site.

As always I am grateful to be a part of this group. This month has a spectacular selection of posts. It seems like the new year has inspired many to take stock of the tools that help us keep the languages flowing. I hope you will enjoy this carnival as much as I did pulling it together. A big thanks to Letizia at Bilingue per Gioco, the founder of the carnival and the person who really helps keep it all running smoothly.

Tools of the Trade

Amanda from An Educator’s Spin on it shares her craftiness and resourcefulness in her journey to raise her children bilingual. An incredible feat given that she isn’t bilingual but is herself learning Russian as she goes along. A truly inspiring post.

Mummy do that talks about the challenges of being responsible for the minority language and her discovery of a wonderful local resource. Her post on “The Language Hub” includes a wonderful interview with the Hub’s director, hopefully inspiring some budding entrepreneurs out there to open their own versions?

Jen from Perogies & Gyoza also stresses using what is around you to help reinforce the language in her post on Environmental Print. I am realizing how little I know about other languages – like how Japanese school children learn three different sets of characters also known as syllabaries. (and yes I DID have to look it up).

Maria from Busy as a Bee in Paris shares how families who eat and read together stay trilingual together!

And following tips for reinforcing languages at home, Sarah from Bilingual Baby gives us Auto-Immersion, a post full of fabulous suggestions on how to reinforce language during car trips (or other travel),which also doubles as a great suggestions just to keep the kids busy!

Wrapping up the tools section, Bonne Maman from Our Non-Native Bilingual Adventure shares her latest creation a non-native language crib-sheet. It is ready-made for Franglais users or a good template for anyone else wishing to set one up in their tongues.

On Culture

Babel Kid reminds us that learning a language is more than just knowing words. In her post Tataouine-les-Bains, Babel Mum shares an adorable anecdote reminding us how much culture plays into our understanding of language.

Annabelle from Gato & Canard ponders multilingual identities and how where you are born is not automatically where you are from.

In her post Code Switching and Sign Language, Giovanna from Italobimbi tells us about code-blending or speaking two languages simultaneously, one of which is a recognized sign language such as ASL.

Keeping Faith and Letting Go

In Help Me: My Child is too Darn Stubborn, Intrepidly Bilingual tells us how they have tried to work around their eldest’s refusal to read and write in German and puts out a call for advice: Push, Resign, Persuade…do you hold the answer?

Roxana from Spanglish Baby shares her concerns in Will My Grandchildren Speak Spanish after reading a recent Pew report with surprising numbers illustrating the decline in language proficiency for later generations. Right now, I am still focused on how this question applies to my kids vs my grandkids. No doubt I will eventually worry about that too.

Lynn’s post entitled Bilingual Parenting without a Recipe is a joy to read especially for those of us who struggle with consistency or have chosen a more hap hazard approach to our bilingual parenting. It is incredibly refreshing to see someone who doesn’t appear to obsess about language acquisition but is going with the flow and pleased with the results. I can definitely learn from this post.

In the Binky Fairy, Tamara from Non Native Bilingualism tells us of the story of how the schnulli (possibly the best word for pacifier ever!) fairy helped their daughter give up her pacifier. No matter the language, this is always an emotional challenge for everyone involved.

Finally we spend so much time worrying about how our kids will learn/maintain/embrace languages and do this often as an outsider since many of us have long ago acquired ours. In When Relocation Adds a New Language to the Mix, I ponder the impact of imposing all these languages and look forward to putting myself in the hot-seat as I try to acquire a new language as well.

Happy Lunar New Year: May the Dragon bring us all strength.

Minotaurs and Merlions: P’s Very Un-Darwinian Language Evolution.

Pea’s evolving language never ceases to amaze and amuse me.  I know kids brains are supposed to be all pliable and sponge-like with an incredible capability to sort and slot all sorts of information but there are times when I feel even I am pushing the limits.

My poor child was subjected to a number of waves of different dominant languages from English to Spanish to French, back to English with quite a bit of Mandarin in the last few months. Lately, her exposure to Spanish has fallen to a record low.

How I would portray P’s Spanish since moving to Singapore

Given P’s linguistic history, it’s no wonder her languages are a bit all over the place. Even following OPOL for the most part, the variation in exposures has fluctuated so much. I find it interesting that the words that seem to be sticking in French are verbs and she has fought again and again the use of french pronouns. I’m curious if that is a pattern in kids who mix. I expected nouns to be the first words to change since you don’t need to conjugate them. I’ve definitely noticed her avoid articles like Le and La, replacing them in stead with The.

Some of her linguistic concoctions:

Fading like a Dodo bird
She systematically used the Spanish word for with i.e. con. I loved hearing her say ‘i go con you’  and long to hear her speak con me that way.

Rising in numbers like Singaporean mozzies after a rainstorm

You plie it

‘You fold it’ AKA my toddler ordering me to clean up after myself. I blame her OCD father

 I mélange it

‘I stir it’ AKA my control freak toddler ordering me away from her yogurt and honey.

 I don’t want baby Claude to dérange me

‘I don’t want baby Claude to bother me’ AKA ‘I need you to both stay seated next to me while I colour, paint, play, etc and simultaneously take baby Claude away to another room. I don’t care if they haven’t figured out cloning. You are omnipotent so make it happen.’

My sirene goes under the water

‘My mermaid goes under the water’  Yes well she’s half fish so she would wouldn’t she. And now if only you would go under the water; I’ve spent a freaking fortune on those swimming lessons.

Finally my favorite category – the bilingual hybrid.
Please meet Tiny. Tiny is P’s Perroque. (half Parrot half Peroquet)

Sometimes, she really amazes me. Just when I’ve given up on the idea that she will act as my interpreter when we visit my lovely Mexican Mother-in-Law, she’ll point out a random object like a crane and say “that’s grua in Español”.

My heart soars!

So like any good parent, I offer her some gateau. “No Maman, I want cake! That’s pastel in Español”.

Two steps forward, one step back. Even sponges reach saturation point. I trust someday these languages will work together.

“Por Favor LAH” : Singlish, Ebonics, and the role of different dialects

Out of the mouth of my babe came Singlish. I knew it was only a matter of time.

I am really torn by this. Part of me would LOVE for Pacifique to be able to slip in and out of as many languages as possible and having a creole as one of them would be cool albeit not terribly useful unless she wants to be a standup comedian and/or plans on spending lots of time in SouthEast Asia.

I do find it quite funny when she has little Ang moh friends over for play dates. At this point, all of them attend local daycares and nurseries so lots of them have totally taken on the Singaporean accent with bits of Singlish interspersed. And yet deep down something inside of me screams NOOOOOOOOOOO. I don’t know why. It don’t know that it is a rational feeling especially given that I think this famous ‘Winglish” kid is AWESOME. Click here for more. Perhaps it is my perpetual worry of not being able to expose the girls to enough of our “heritage” languages -in my case French and husband’s Mexican. Perhaps it is the worry that in addition to not having great French or Spanish, they won’t end up having excellent English.

And the concern about English isn’t just shared by expats. I have some local friends who are concerned as well though they appear to be in the minority if the commenters on this article written about Singapore’s Speak Good English Movement are an accurate reflection.

I think, though my position is still a work in process, that I embrace dialects and creoles as long as they have their cultural place but that ultimately in a competitive global economy, if you want to succeed you need to be able to speak proper English, especially if your country claims it as its or one of its official languages. I don’t think given what we know about multilingualism and children’s abilities to learn languages that we should dumb them down and not push them to do better or use it as an out for academic failings. The controversies over Ebonics comes to mind here.

Ok there is a lot more to be said, read and researched on this topic and this post was initially only going to be a three-liner. So I’ll leave you with this question: What do you get when you cross Spanish with Singlish?

Spinglish? Sipanglish?

And for a quick Singlish tutorial click here: Singlish 101