Monday, 30 April 2012

What if? Part 2- Living in France

We never intended to stay in Britain. We never intended for our girls to be born in England, and become English.

We left southern France on a rainy February morning, as if to prepare us for the gloomy weather in Northern England.
When we packed our car that morning, we were convinced we would be back in two years time.

Here we are, eight years later, still in England, with three children, new friends and a new house. Une nouvelle vie, quoi.

Currently, the girls speak Arabic, French, German and English with varying degrees of fluency.

How would have our linguistic situation differed had we been able to stay in France?

To start with, there would obviously have been no English, whatsoever.
Even though we lived in a highly international area, with some stubbornyl-refusing-to-learn-French British expats, French would have been the majority language.

BabelDad and me speaking French at home would have meant the double presence of French inside and outside the home. This would have ruled out MLAH.

Knowing BabelDad, he would have stuck to OPOL. The girls would probably have had some proficiency in German, albeit less than what they currently exhibit.

As for Arabic, I believe that the girls' proficiency would have been pretty low. The reasons, as I see them, are two-fold.

First, I would have greatly struggled to do OPOL. As a virtually-native French speaker myself, I would have had to rigidly speak Arabic with the exclusion of any French. Mission: Impossible.

Second, Arabic in France is un-glamorous, to say the least.  Arabic is associated with a civilisation that "has less value than France's, a civilisation that enslaves women, disrespects individual and political liberties and allows tyranny".

It would have been difficult to normalise the use of Arabic outside the home in this climate.

I can easily imagine how desperate-to-blend-in children would not want to use a language with such a negative stigma attached to it.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The mysterios poem

higher and higher and higher they flew.
bigger and bigger and bigger the bomb grew.
over the sea and over the hills,
calling their teddys teddy sills.
The centipede said "I want food"
but the others said he was very rude.

The people in the city stared,
and the president of the city glared.
He sent his army to fight,
but they had to do it with all their might.

meanwhile on the bomb they all looked to the floor,
but then they heard a terifing roar.
It sounded like a dragon
roaring and being dragged into a wagon.

Just then came a plane,
which was called a super Jane.
She cut through the seagull string
and sent them tumbling through the wind.

when they actually reached the floor,
they could still hear the terifying roar.

It was the dragon who wanted to be their freind.

ps: BK1, aged 7, wrote this poem at home over two days. She had just finished reading  James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. She said of Roald Dahl: "Yekteb exciting, ma usich bezzef wow words, just a few". (he writes in an exciting way, he does not use many wow words, just a few).
Later on she said writing a rhyming poem had been hard work, next time she will write a non-rhyming one.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

This multilingual thing...*

I am struggling to cope with the amount of English that is pouring out of BK2. She now even, sometimes, talks to me in 100% English sentences. Earlier,  she went: "You forgot to do your hood zip". It felt as if my child was  talking to someone else...

She usually, at least, uses Arabic syntax. Not this time. I had to ask her to say it again in our language, to which she replied she does not know how. So, I had to help her figure out the words, before I repeated the complete sentence in Arabic/French.

Later, BK2 saw a bird in the garden:
BK2: "Hawlik a robin" (there's a robin)
Me: "Un rouge-gorge" (lit. a red-throat, robin in French)
BK2, seriously: "Non, un orange-gorge" (No, an orange-throat)

This multilingual thing can be really hard, challenging and frustrating at times.
And so rewarding.

* The title of this post was inspired by Fiona from Living in the Land of Chocolate ;-)

Friday, 20 April 2012

Spring (or not) in t'north

I am sat in the living room, looking out into our lovely garden, even Michael Rosen commented on how beautiful it is, and ... chuck chuck chuck, hailstone. This must be the fifth time in ten days. Why, oh why can spring not simply be warm and sunny? Granted, the people are nice in the north of england, but my, the weather is absolutely awful!

I have been blessed to have spent  most of my life in two of the sunniest places in the world. I do wonder what evil I committed in my past to now be punished, by not seeing natural light for three consecutive weeks, in the middle of spring!

April 2011
April 2012

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

"We're Going on a Bear Hunt"

We're still slightly floored... Michael Rosen and his producer Beth O'Dea just left our house about an hour ago.

Michael interviewed us for an upcoming episode of Word of Mouth on BBC Radio 4.
We're obviously really looking forward to listening to the result!


Plus the girls like "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" as much as we do.

Friday, 13 April 2012

What if? Part 1 - Home Ed

Two days ago, we were at a lovely birthday party, surrounded with friends. We got to talk about languages. Somebody mentioned the 6-year old son of an acquaintance. The little boy, whose parents are Irish, has a strong Irish accent himself, even though he was born and bred in England. My friends reckon this is because the little boy is home-educated.

I have contemplated home education in the past. To be perfectly honest, I am still not completely at terms with our decision to send our girls to school, full-time. But this would be the subject for another post.

So, what if we home-educated BK1? How would our linguistic situation differ?

To start with, there would be less English spoken at home, particularly between BK1 and BK2. Since BK1 started school in 2009, English has flooded in and we are struggling to slow down the deluge.

Then, I think BK1's accent would be tinted with mine. Before BK1 started school, I almost always read books to her in French, even when the books were written in English. This was not sustainable as she started to learn to read and write. Had BK1 been home-schooled, she would probably have picked more of my accent, as I would have been her main source of English reading.

I am pretty sure that if BK1 were home-educated, her literacy skills in Arabic, French and German would shoot up. She already attempts to write letters and shopping lists in French. And she is currently reading "Onkel Florians Fliegender Flohmarkt"! So imagine all the time she would be able to spend reading and writing Arabic, and exploring French and German literature...

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Don't Speak English!

Are you an expat? Do you live in an English-speaking country? Want your children to blend in? Want them to integrate perfectly?

Here's my advice: do not speak English with them!

We visited BK1's school assembly a couple of weeks ago. The children had prepared a travel agency scenario and were presenting facts about a couple of countries. They dressed up and moved around, dancing or pretending to be a giant Chinese dragon. It was fun.

The interesting bit from the point of view of this blog: In BK1's class she is not the only child from a non-native English family. There are a couple of others from Indian or Pakistani backgrounds. Comparing how those children speak, I have to say BK1 is the only one who does not have any accent.

Well, she has an accent which apparently is clearly local, but the others speak with pretty strong Indian or Pakistani accents.

I reckon there is a multitude of possible reasons for that, but my personal opinion is: it's because the parents speak English at home and we don't.

Going back to the beginning of our journey. We never thought about it a lot, really. For both the Babelmum and myself, it was always obvious that we would use our mother tongue when speaking with our children. In our specific case, that leads to a combination of OPOL and ML@H, and that works fine. It also meant that we never thought about speaking English with our little ones. They would pick that up.

And they did. So much so that English is now their main language and that someone from around here can tell they live here. "Here" meaning Stockport, as opposed to the bigger bucket "Manchester" or "The North".

I know at least some of the other expat parents speak English with their kids. They do so with an accent, which is totally normal because they didn't learn English when they were young.

The problem is that they're passing their accent on to their kids, effectively negating the very reason why they're speaking English in the first place!

So, if you want your child to blend in, leave the task to the experts, let your child learn the language from the locals. Or from CBeebies, if you must.

Of course, the same goes for any language. If you are an expat living in a country that speaks a different language, use your own when you speak with your kids. Do what you do best.

Friday, 6 April 2012

German wins?

So BK3 has decided that she should maybe start using words. Or rather a word.

For quite some time, she has been nodding or shaking her head in order to signal "yes" or "no", but apart from "mama" (means all sorts of things and sometimes refers to the Babelmum), "papa" (means all sorts of things and sometimes refers to me) and "miam miam" ("feed me!" or "I'm eating"), she hasn't been too vocal.

But then, all of a sudden, she stood in front of me, raised her arms and said what BK2 would say: "ARMIE! ARMIE!" which is derived from the German "Arm" and means "Carry me!".

Hm? What? English? No way! "Arm" is totally a German word.