Wednesday 19 September 2018

Traversée du désert

No way has it been over a year since I last posted in here!

Why have I not written anything in over a year about the kids' linguistic progress, or mine, or our ever-evolving cultural identities?

Maybe because our youngest is three and it feels like we've written about this phase in the past. Been there, done that.

That's not true though. I could easily have written about:
my struggles with dative and genitive in German,
or how it is impossible to learn German in Switzerland,
or how English is clearly the mother tongue of the only one of our four children who was NOT born in the UK,
or how it feels to be living in a place where speaking three or more languages is the norm etc
The truth is I have had a busy and stressful year, with BK1 starting high school, BK3 starting primary school, BK4 starting Spielgruppe, an eye operation for me, health worries for family members, the death of a close family member, in addition to work and the daily grind of looking after a household of six.

I am a worrier at the best of times, and all these changes and events have been taking a toll on me, it seems, on my time, my energy, and my health.

So why break the silence now? Maybe in my quest for feeling better, I want to reconnect with myself and with others.

So, I will try to post more often, if anyone still reads. Actually, I might post regardless of whether anyone else reads or not. I'll do it for the same reason we started the blog, for our own records.

And if anyone else finds it remotely interesting or funny, then great!

Sunday 20 August 2017

Multiculturalism and Music

Il n'y a pas de hasard, il n'y a que des rendez-vous - Paul Eluard.

Also the first verse in Ouverture by Etienne Daho.

Babeldad is somewhere on a Swiss mountain doing what he loved doing best when we first met some sixteen years ago: looking at the night sky and photographing stars.

I, naturally, instead of going to bed early and catching up on some well-needed sleep, sit at the computer, typing furiously on the keyboard. And I listen to music.

Why Etienne Daho? Maybe because he used to live in Manchester and London. Maybe because he reminds me of some of the music I used to listen to when Babeldad and I first met. Or maybe because he was born and spent a large chunk of his childhood in Algeria, before being uprooted to France...

Music is powerful. It can bring up and trigger unexpected emotions. I do sometimes burst into tears when hearing or singing a song.

What is interesting is that being multicultural, I find myself responding to wildly different genres and languages. Below is a selection of memorable songs and artists to me, in different languages.

Dahmane El HarrachiYarrayeh (Arabic)
Abdelkader ChaouChehilet Laayani (Arabic) 
Raina RaiMimouna (Arabic)
NouaraAmmi azizen (Kabyle)
Enrico MaciasJ'ai quitté mon pays and many others
Daft PunkSomething about us
Adriano CelentanoDon't play that song (that Italian accent!)
Carlos SantanaMoonflower

And too many songs by the Beatles and the Bee Gees to list!

Do you listen to music in different languages?

Thursday 22 June 2017

An Algerian Eid in Switzerland

I wrote this post for Multicultural Kid Blogs describing how we intend to celebrate Eid in Switzerland, the Algerian way.

I'd love to hear how you plan to celebrate Eid in your corner of the world!

Wednesday 12 April 2017

What's in a Word or Four!

Our 26-month-old fourth daughter is in a unique linguistic and cultural set-up.

She was born in German-speaking Switzerland, lives in a mostly English-speaking neighbourhood and is spoken to in Arabic and French by her mother, German by her father, English by her three sisters, and Swiss/German/English by the environment.

Despite (or thanks to!) all these linguistic inputs, it is fair to say that her speech has recently exploded!

Just for fun, we started listing all the words and sentences she can say.
She can name 27 people, three dogs and one cat.
She can request songs by saying: "Timber", "Aicha", "Chebba", "Let it go".
She can say simple words such as pipi, caca, dodo, oui, bébé, no, yes, quoi, oui etc.
And she can say the following non-exhaustive list of common words and phrases.

Arabic French German English
باب (door) Nutella heiss thank you
خبز (bread) fromage Brot what the heck
تشينة (orange) banane ab go away
كلب (dog) stylo guck again
قط (cat) pardon Auto cat
برا (outside) balançoire Mund come on
ضوء (light) encore Auge sleep
صباط (shoe) bus Kopf tractor
قعدي (sit) camion Kinn mango
وعلاه (why) manteau Backe seesaw

bêtise Hals iPad

gaufre Nase ball

crème Hand thank you

glace Finger please

compote Jacke gone

debout Lampe move

poubelle Boden TV

poupée Hund hug

Schuh what did you do








The influence of the environment via German and English is staggering already. I think I am doing well though, given I am the only source of Arabic and French.

Monday 13 February 2017

Language and Cultural Identity

In the train from Switzerland to France, I overheard a woman and a man speaking English. Then I saw them: they were Asians. This made me wonder about their history. It also reminded me of this funny video and how Physical appearance is not necessarily a reflection of one's cultural identity.

My daughters, aged 11, 8 and 6 have fair skin and light hair. They speak British English between them with a Northern England accent. Anyone overhearing them would have no idea that their father is German and their mother is African

When people in Algeria first hear them speak Arabic, they usually react in three steps:
  • First, marvel at their ability to speak the local lingo, 
  • Then, make fun of their accent and how hard it is to understand them
  • Finally, denigrate Arabic as a useless language anyway.
This results in puzzled looks from my girls: "What? all those times you tell us to 'please speak Arabic', now it turns out this language is useless?" followed by utter silence.

This makes me angry. These are the very people who should praise our efforts and celebrate our achievements. It is hard to keep a minority language going, especially when only one parent speaks it, let alone with three more languages and two dialects in the mix!

So, how should you react when someone speaks your language whose physical appearance does not match the language in your mind?


  • Acknowledge one's genuine surprise - a dose of curiosity is healthy
  • Express whatever positive feelings you feel about this
  • Continue conversing in that language if both are happy to.

Do not

  • Ask where they are really from!
  • Make fun of the accent nor the language
  • Correct mistakes if you were not asked to do so explicitly

Cultural identity should never be bestowed from the outside. It is up to each person to decide what their identity is, that is if they wish to label it at all.

Take a look at the rest of the series:  A-Z of Raising Multilingual Children hosted on The Piri Piri Lexicon.

Sunday 5 February 2017

Of Multiculturalism and Colonialism

BK2, who will be nine in a couple of weeks, was asked to pick a country to research and present to her class. She chose Algeria.

She told her classmates how you could fit Switzerland 50 times in Algeria! (yes Switzerland is this small and Algeria is this big!)
She took with her Tamtunt, Baqlawa and olive oil from Kabylie to share with her classmates.
She wrote the names of a couple of her friends in Arabic.
She told her class how her great-greandmother was imprisoned and tortured during the Algerian War.
Her class re-enacted a battle during the War, where half her class was the Algerian Army and the second half was the French Army.

Her teacher gave her excellent feedback. She got top marks for her efforts.

At that moment, I felt we made the right decision to live 2 kms this side of the French-Swiss border.

Olive oil, Tamtunt and Baqlwa

I lived five years in France. I have close family and friends there. The south of France, where we started our multicultural and multilingual family, holds a special place in my heart.
But I doubt that BK2 would have felt so at ease to share this bit about her family history. I am not sure how well her choice of topic would have been received in a French school.

Her choice of topic and its reception show how she feels totally accepted for who she is. I think living in a country with four official languages, and where over a third of the population comes from an immigrant background, definitely help.

Tuesday 31 January 2017

A car to sleep?

BK4 will be two on Sunday.

She and I usually snuggle on the sofa in the evening for her to go to sleep. So, when it's bedtime, she calls to me: "come, come" pointing to the sofa, then "auto" and gets the blanket.

Hang on. A car?

Well, a blanket is couverture in French, which rhymes with voiture, Auto in German.

The workings of a multilingual mind, go figure!