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!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Multilingual Maths

I find the second hardest task to accomplish with three young children, after international travel, is the morning school run.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clock
In our household, school mornings are the most chaotic and loudest times of the day. Between DD1 lounging in bed (she is a night owl like her dad), DD2 deeply absorbed in a sticker book and DD3 playing with Ariel and claiming it is "not morling!, I despair. So from wake-up time at 7.30 and leaving the breakfast table at 8.30, I become une horloge parlante (a speaking clock), telling the time every two to twenty minutes depending on the situation.

We had a great weekend, doing gymnastics, having a school playdate over, a family cinema trip and bike/skate ride. So this morning we all took a particularly long time to get ready. After much barking encouragement, everyone was finally sat at the breakfast table, enjoying the weekend's remnants of waffles and petits pains au chocolat.

At 8.30, it was finally time to leave the table, put shoes and coats on, and convince BK3 that she needs to have a wee if she is to accompany her sisters to school.

BK1 interjects: "Das war zwanzig Minuten" (That was twenty minutes)
BabelDad: "Was war zwanzig Minuten?" (What was twenty minutes)
BK1: "Von wann Mama hat ten past eight gesagt" (From when mum said it was 8 past 10)

Turns out BK1 was doing maths in three languages. I told the time in French, she calculated mentally in English, and said the answer in German! Just like that!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Why I Don't Want My Three-Year old Child to Learn English

BK3 turned three in November, and it's official: she does not want to go to preschool.

We tried her off at one a few months ago, two mornings a week. It was an utter failure. The setting was too large with too many children. She was uneasy from the first day, but I still left her there in the hope she would take to it. I never left her crying, despite the "encouragements" from the well-meaning carers. She perceived the pressure for me to leave as me abandoning her, and decided she did not want to go anymore.

The result is that she is with me at home for the foreseeable future. I think it is a good thing in a way. Staying home with me will delay the English tide, that will undoubtedly swamp her other three languages when she starts school in one and a half year.

What of her learning English before starting school though? She can currently express herself reasonably well in English, even mixing English words when speaking with her dad or me. However, I do find myself wondering about the effect that lack of continued interaction with English speakers will have on her future linguistic abilities in English.

Then I think back to when I was a child. My parents spoke Kabyle as their mother tongue, and only learnt Arabic well into their teenage years, even adulthood. Many of my cousins and friends spoke only Kabyle at home, having a limited grasp of Arabic when they started school aged six. They all learnt Arabic without any difficulties as it was the majority language at school and outside the home. Many went on to learn French, and even English during their primary and secondary school years. One such example is my close friend N. Her mother tongue remains Kabyle, which she uses to talk to her parents and family. She is raising her own children trilingual in Arabic, French and English.

There could be many reasons why I would want BK3 to go to preschool; learning English may be the last one on the list. That is if it makes the list.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

One Person One Language

BK3 turned 3 last week, on Bonfire Night. Her multilingualism is coming in force, particularly since she started going to preschool two mornings a week, a few weeks ago. She does now often string correct sentences together in Arabic, English, German and French, albeit with loads of code-switching.

This morning at the breakfast table, BK1 is a bit moody, not having had enough sleep last night. BK3, wanting to make things better, offers her some peanut butter toast.

BabelDad: BK1 mag kein Erdnussbutterbrot     
BK3:         BK1 mag Honig?
BabelDad: Vielleicht
BK3:        BK1, t'hebbi laassal?
BK1:        Non
BK3:        Papa, Lilia mag nicht Honig

Perfect illustration of OPOL, One Person One Language!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Of Tigers and Mothers

As a university-postgraduate, white African woman, married to a German, who has lived in three different countries and speaks five languages, I should be wary of classifying people into categories, as I hardly fit in any myself.
Despite this, I find myself often trying to explain people's behaviour by their cultural heritage and attitudes attributed to their background.

I have recently met a Chinese mother who perfectly fits the tiger parent stereotype...

Siberian tiger  - Wikipedia
This mother has got three girls aged five, eight and ten. On our first encounter, she succinctly described their weekly after-school schedule:
Monday - Homework then Basket Ball
Tuesday - Gymnastics
Wednesday - Swimming
Thursday - Private tuition
Friday - Piano lessons
Saturday - BasketBall
Sunday - Chinese school
Plus daily piano practice after breakfast!

I then met a white English middle-class mother who enumerated her eight-year old daughter's after-school activities:
Monday - Irish dancing
Tuesday - Ballet
Wednesday - Irish dancing
Thursday - Piano and Gymnastics
Friday - Ballet

She did not tell me about the weekend activities, as she had spotted the look of horror my face betrayed. She immediately started justifying to me the gruelling schedule. She does not make her daughter do all these activities, her daughter asks for them. She also only has a much older son, so has got time to devote to her daughter's extracurricular endeavours.

On the other hand, the Chinese mother was happy to tell me how she makes her daughters do maths exercises while awaiting the beginning of their gymnastics lesson, how they do not need to watch TV, how education is most-important and how all her own "efforts and sacrifices are worth it in the end".

In essence, all these children have a very busy life, and they all seem happy with it. The difference lies in the image their respective mothers want to project to the outside world...



Friday, 18 October 2013

Identity Questions

On the way back from school, after the school's Eid Party, the girls were excitedly telling me all what they had been up to: henna, Eid cards, musical statues, cake...
The following conversation ensued with five-year old BK2 and eight-year old BK1.

BK2: "James and Issa say I can't be Muslim!"
Me: "Why??"
BK2: "They say I can't be Muslim because my skin is not brown!"
Me: "Oh, what did you reply?"
BK2: "I said I am Muslim, even if my skin is white!"
BK1: "That's true mum, some boys in my class believe that only people with dark skin can be Muslim"
Me: "What do you think?"
BK1: "It is not true, we are muslims and white"
BK2: "I said I am a Muslim Christian, because we celebrate Eid and Christmas, because of you and papa"
BK1: "No, we are Muslim, and we are 1/4 Algerian, 1/4 French, 1/4 German and 1/4 English!"

Conclusion: every child in this story is getting nationality, religion, culture and race mixed up!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Eid Party at School

I have been living in England for nine and a half years. I often get the question: "So what brought you here?" to which I infallibly answer: " Work...".
"Do you like it here?"
"Well, the weather is c**p, I miss my family, but people are nice".

I could also add that people are on the whole very tolerant and open-minded. This is illustrated by this letter the school sent out last week.


Our school is your bog-standard suburban state primary school with about 20% children from an ethnic minority background. 
This morning, all children wore bright party clothes instead of their navy and green uniforms. There was a palpable festive buzz in the playground. Parents were wishing their children a great Eid party. 

It was lovely! How inclusive is that?

I can hardly imagine something similar happening in a state school in other parts of the world...