Sunday, 21 September 2014

From Switzerland, with Love

So, we are in Basel.

We arrived a month ago, and it's been a whirlwind of changes. First saying goodbye to my parents after a 7-week stay in Algiers. Then joining the BabelDad after such a long separation, in a dodgy B&B, plus BK1 and BK2 starting school two days later in a new country with a totally unkown language.

One month later, and here we are in our apartment, sleeping in our own beds. The older two girls are happily settled at school and seem to enjoy their new life. Sure, some things bother them. BK1 (aged 9) is not keen on the daily homework and the constant threat of getting the loathed cross on her behaviour chart (must show the teachers a copy of Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards). BK2 (aged 6) complains that the work is too easy: they are doing phonics at school, which she did in England 2 years ago.

But overall, the girls absolutely love the freedom they have here. They walk to school by themselves, a mile away, sometimes 4 times a day, crossing a main road in the process! My poor nerves!
I don't have to arrange play dates for them, they simply ask if they can go to play at so and so's place, and just go. All three girls have been spending so much time outside with other kids of the neighbourhood, scooting, cycling, climbing trees, fighting, screaming, roller-blading etc.

I feel this independence and freedom is beneficial to all of us. It relieves us, the parents, from the school run pressure. It also teaches the children self-reliance. For example, they prefer to do their homework soon after lunch so they can go off freely to play.

We miss our friends back in England. We miss the familiarity and the sense of belonging we had there. We are however enjoying our new adventure and looking forward to all the new things it brings!

View from our terrace: white specks are storks!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

BK3 Lost Her German

The Babelkids spent 7 weeks in Algeria with the Babelwife and her parents this Summer.

Towards the end of their stay, we noticed that the kids became less interested in speaking with me via skype. As an example: three days before their return, BK3 came into the room while we were skyping, only to look at the screen and almost run off.

Now they are back and we know why: she completely lost her German!

BK3 is now trying to speak with me mostly in French, but with a lot of Arabic mixed into the sentences, which means I have a very hard time understanding what she wants.

7 weeks!

It only took 7 weeks for her to pretty much revolutionize her communications. Pretty good going, I'd say.

Am I worried now? Nope. It'll come back.

I am more worried because we're in the so-called "German-speaking part" of Switzerland. My German is tuned to Northern Germany, and I can tell you that I can not understand a single word when people speak down here, unless they make an effort. I am not worried about that, of course, but I am worried because my daughters will very quickly pick up the accent and I won't understand them anymore ;-)

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Passive Exposure to Kabyle

We've been in Algiers for the last 5 weeks. Yesterday, my parents went to an all-day family function, leaving me and the Babelkids alone for the first time in ages.

Some time during the day, BK3 overheard the neighbour shouting something to her daughter, and BK3 interjected:"Mamie!". The neighbour spoke in Kabyle. Mamie speaks kabyle. So they must be the same person, or so BK3 seems to think!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

English 1 - The rest 0

She's succeeded. BK2 has succeeded in Englishising her sisters. The shift from Arabic to English started a while ago, but was mostly confined to role play. Now most conversations between the girls are in English, even serious arguments! To top it off, BK3 even speaks to us, her parents, in English!

I find myself nagging them all day: "stop speaking in English, speak Arabic!", which usually results in either silence, whispering (in English) or a short Arabic phrase followed shortly by a flow of English conversation.

How to redress the balance? Is it too late? Are they bound to think of our minority languages as confined to conversing with us? I worry particularly about Arabic, as it is mostly a spoken language at this moment in time with me being the sole source.

I wonder what effect our move to Switzerlnd will have on the sibling language.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Farewell England

As I sit here surrounded by paperwork, I suddenly realise this is my last week in England. In four days, we will say goodbye to ten years of our lives in Manchester. We're leaving dear friends behind. Our babies were all born here.

When we cam here, we thought we'd go back to southern France after a maximum of two years, once the economic situation improved. 10 years, 3 children and a few local moves later, we are now heading back to the continent. Direction: Basel. How long for? That's anybody's guess.

New adventures await us, linguistic ones not being the least. We'll be in the Swiss-speaking part of Switzerland, with large monorities of various backgrounds. It will be a chance dor the BabelKids to improve their German and be in an inherently multilingual environment. It will be interesting to watch the impact this new chapter in our lives will have on our family's languages and culture. 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Family Language Diagram Update

I feel a bit bad: we haven't updated the family language diagram for ages! I cannot even remember how long ago I touched it. Bad Babeldad!

Then again, the situation has only changed very slightly when it comes to languages. All three Babelkids are now sufficiently fluent to be able to speak pretty normally with native speakers of their four languages. English is the dominating language, by a mile, but it has always been.

So all good in the Babelhouse from a language perspective.

Small Changes

Drill down into details though, and you will notice changes.

BK2 is more and more defaulting to English, when in the past she would speak Arabic or maybe German. We now witness (and sometimes interrupt) long conversations between BK2 and BK1 entirely in English. BK2 starts it, usually.

BK3 has recently jumped onto the bandwaggon as well. And while the long days in school are a good justification for why BK2 does it, BK3 doesn't even go to pre-school yet, so she got it entirely from her sisters!

BK1 is probably the one with the most solid knowledge and command of all four languages, as she's always been. I guess the time we were able to devote to her when she was alone really paid off for her.

Slightly Bigger Change

So all is more or less as usual in our Babelfamily.

Just the right time to overthrow it all and add more complexity to the mix: we're moving to Basel, Switzerland!

This is a work-related move, of course, but we did actually chose Basel on purpose based on its proximity to France and Germany and the hope that we would come into a multilingual environment. I won't make any guesses as to what the move will do to the girls' language, but I'm sure it'll be interesting.

If you were thinking "Basel... hm... German-speaking part of Switzerland, isn't it?" then all I can say is "technically yes", which obviously means "nope!". There's a fine line between a dialect and a language, I guess. For me, personally, Swiss German is a language. I recently spent four days in Basel and quickly found that I was better off speaking English if I wanted to actually understand what people said to me. So, depending on how you see it, the girls will either pick up yet another language (and a new majority language, too!), or learn a dialect that is quite frankly very different from mine.

This blog might just come to life again in September!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

A Colourful Language

Over the last three months, I have been noting down some of the colourful phrases our three daughters come up with. Here are a few gems.

This hopefully explains why I find it impossible to say what language my children speak!

You might find the following colour key handy.
Green = ArabicRed = EnglishBlue = FrenchOrange = German

BK1 - 8 years and 10 months

When talking with me, BK1 usually uses Arabic grammar with quite a few English and French words. When conversing with her dad, she uses German with some English words/phrases.

Ich hab' das gerade ungetangled


BK2 - 5 years and 11 months

Out of the three, BK2 is undoubtedly the one who uses the most English. She has the superpower of making Arabic or German sentences using only English words! I think she wins the code-switching award hands down!

Es ist all right wir aklen mit das
Weil ich bin tired, ich bin almost super flumpy
Weil es war nothing, ich habe geninjad* around
Ich war nicht even in die cuisine

Rani un peu warm


BK3 - 3 years and 2 months

As BK3 does not attend nursery yet, she is more exposed to our minority languages than the other two were at a similar age. Still. English is ever-present thanks to her older two sisters speaking it at home while playing. She mixes slightly less English in her conversations with her dad and me. 

Ich will Glaeser cherchen
Die feuilles tahen 
das ist noch vraiment skhoun
maddirich encore

Ich will nicht laaben noch das Musik

* ungetangled and geninjad must be the ultimate rainbow words: English verbs conjugated in German!