Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Arabic "Camp"!

The girls have just gone back to school after their two-week long Herbstferien (Autumn holidays).

For the last ten days, I have been teaching BK1 (10.5 years old) and BK2 (7.5 years old) how to read and write in Arabic. We have been doing between 10 and 30 minutes every day, following the Algerian textbook for 6-year olds. I can already see a lot of progress: BK1's reading and writing are improving, and BK2 has started to read too!

Here you can hear both girls reading (deciphering) a sentence, without me first reading it to them.

You can hear BK4 babbling (shouting!) in the background. It's hard going, I was in my bathrobe, and BK3 was on the iPad. But hey it works somehow.

I hope we can keep the momentum now that the girls are back in school. We'll have to downscale the frequency and duration of lessons. Now that they have gained confidence in their skills though, I am hoping we will manage a weekly session, life permitting.

You know what the best thing is? BK1 said our daily lessons have been FUN!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

BK1 can read Arabic!

When we landed at Algiers Airport a few weeks ago, I noticed BK1 (10 years old) looking at the signs in Arabic. I said to her casually that I was hoping she'd be able to read Arabic by the end of our 6-week stay. She then squinted at the sign and spelled out "ma-t-a-r م ط أ ر " (airport), just like that. Turns out she could already read!

During our stay with my parents, particularly at mealtimes, BK1 would decipher the Arabic writing on bottles of water, lemonade etc. Granted, she has a limited grasp of what the words she is reading mean, but still! How many 10-year olds are there who can read in 4 languages?

Compared to our friends' son, who at 10 years of age passed his Arabic GCSEs successfully, grasping how to read is neither here nor there. However, compare that to the vast numbers of kids of a similar age, born to both Algerian parents and who are unable to speak colloquial Arabic, let alone read or write classical Arabic, and I feel sort of ... satisfied.

Yes, the road is long before BK1 achieves some literacy in Arabic, but we're on it :)

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Fresh Swiss Air

Since our move to Switzerland last year, the children have been spending a lot of time outside. I mean they already did back in England, particularly in our lovely ex-garden and national parks during the weekend.

However, being outdoors here has taken a whole new dimension. Some of it is undoubtedly 'cause the weather in Basel is slightly better than in Manchester.

Walking to school 

BK1 (10) and BK2 (7) walk to school in the morning and come back home for lunch, everyday. Twice or three times a week they do so again in the afternoon. The school is a mere mile away!
On those all-day school days, they sometimes take the (public) bus to school though, in order to be back in time.

Playing outside

We're lucky to be living in a green neighbourhood, with a play area, a bicycle track and trees to climb. BK3 (4) being with me at home usually has at least one bike/scooter ride a day.
After school, the girls play with the neighbourhood kids, outside of course.

School trips

BK2 has been on 13 school outings, that's one every 3 weeks! BK2's class climbed a hill and of course lit a fire to cook their lunch. They've been to the outdoor pool, the zoo, the forest, water tower and ice skating. Kids usually either walk or take public transport.

BK1 was not left out, as she's been on numerous times hiking, ice skating, to the zoo and forest.

All in all, I can safely say I am happy with the amount of fresh Swiss air the children get!

Friday, 12 June 2015

We Said Hello to Basel 10 Months Ago

I haven't spoken classical Arabic in ages. Today I did, and of all people, with a Scot!

This dad from school speaks classical Arabic (fus'ha) fluently. I felt all rusty when I conversed with him!

We moved to the area 10 months ago, and I can honestly say it's a great place for our family: yesterday I shopped in Germany, today I nipped to France, we speak English with our neighbours, the girls speak German at school and are exposed to Swiss on a daily basis.

BK2 (age 7) is in a music class, and today they gave a concert in a local tram station. The children sang in Swiss, German, English, Amharic and Spanish.

I think our life can hardly be more multicultural/multilingual than it is currently!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

BabelKid 4 is Here!

And it's a girl! She arrived on the 5th of February, and is being adored by her sisters.

Number trivia

BK4 is:
Our fourth child and daughter
My third home birth after a Caesarean (hbac)
My second water birth
My first birth in Switzerland

Birth in Switzerland, a multilingual affair

Like many people in the area, my midwife speaks four languages: Swiss German, High German (Hoch Deutsch), French and English. So for the first time, I was able to communicate with my midwife in a native language. 

As it turned out, I found myself saying some things in English during the birth, mantras I learned to help me through labour like "Let my monkey do it" or "My body's not a lemon", or simply invoking the Lord. Both the midwife and the BabelDad seemed surprised that I would speak in English while in the throes of labour.

Maybe instead of asking what languages multilingual women dream in, we should ask them what languages they labour in. We may be surprised by the results!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

What's in a Name?

A lot, particularly when your parents come from two completely different cultures and backgrounds.

We are expecting our fourth child February time. Yep, we look forward to being blessed with a fourth BabelKid in a month or so.

What we don't enjoy is the search for a name. Our quest is complicated further by an indecisive mother and a name-giving-phobic father. BabelDad had so much trouble naming his cat that the latter was forever known as Kater!

So, instead of leaving it to BabelDad, and ending up with Baby, Junge or Mädchen as a name for our child, I am perusing various websites and books. looking for a more socially acceptable alternative.

Many parents agree that naming a boy is somewhat more challenging than deciding on a name for a girl. So imagine how hard it must be for us, having already exhausted our girls' list three times already!

I trust we will find a name, hopefully in time. We were spoilt in the UK, as parents usually have up to 6 weeks before registering the birth of their offspring, as opposed to 3 days in Switzerland!

Sunday, 4 January 2015


The Babelkids only ever learned German because we tried to be an OPOL family. I spoke German with them in an environment that was otherwise very English and had Arabic and French sprinkled in. Exposure to a language via the breadwinner is always problematic, I guess.

So when they speak German, they code-switch a lot. They use English words, often with German grammar.

Today on Google+, I came across this thought experiment by Jakub Marian: "Germanish". As he puts it: "Just as a funny mental exercise, I wanted to try to see what English would look like if it used German grammar, but with English vocabulary preserved as much as possible. The result is a constructed language which I call Germanish.ust as a funny mental exercise, I wanted to try to see what English would look like if it used German grammar, but with English vocabulary preserved as much as possible. The result is a constructed language which I call Germanishust as a funny mental exercise, I wanted to try to see what English would look like if it used German grammar, but with English vocabulary preserved as much as possible. The result is a constructed language which I call Germanish"

This is actually very close to how my kids speak at times, especially BK3.