Hezbollah, the Cumin-timer, and the Box

At the Singapore airport last Sunday. We had South-Indian food for lunch, and North-Indian for dinner. I also got four Rasgulla, a Bengali paneer (home-made cottage cheese) based dessert.

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Me: Do you want to try this Leila? It’s called Rasgulla. I used to eat a lot of this when I was little. Really yummy.

Leila: Did you made the Hezbollah by yourself when you was little?

Me: WHAT? No Nani (grandma) used to make it for us a lot. Here, you want to try the rasgulla?

Leila: Yes, I want one Hezbollah.

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——-

Me: Leila is the humidifier on? Can you check please.
Leila: Yes mum, the cumin-timer is on.
Me: It’s a hu-mi-di-fi-er.
Leila: Difier.

——-

Maher: Vous voulez aller a Starbuck avec moi, les gars? Comme ca on laisse maman faire son “practice”?

Leila: Starbox. C’est un “box” papa.

Me: Come on guys, it’s Starbucks.

Leila looking at me from the corner of her eyes: Ok papa, let’s go to Star BOX.

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How to Make Rasgulla: Indian Dessert Recipe

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Frenglish

“We speak Frenglish,” Rahul and Leila say as they squeal with laughter at the discovery of this new “word”.

They often use both French and English words in their sentences. Although we are a OPOL (One Person One Language) family, and are pretty consistent with it, the kids are now mixing up both French and English words in the same sentence.

Sometimes, they even use French sentence structure in English, like Maher does when he speaks English. I don’t remember what is correct anymore myself.

Frenglish –
“Papa is travailling.”

“I am cherching the ball.”

“Can you leve up your arms.”

“I want to aller to the pont now.”

“Can you go avec moi?”

“Who c’est ca?”

And then Rahul hesitated with “what” in the two languages.

Quat?”

A Bilingual Family Shifts Easily Between Languages
Bilingual Brains are Better
Myths About Bilingual Children
Montreal Comedian Sugar Sammy on Multilingualism
Franglais

Papa speaks Francais

Early one morning a couple of weeks ago.

Leila: Where’s papa?

Me: He’s on a plane, going to Houston, in America.

Rahul: Like the pilgrims?

Me: Yah, to America like the pilgrims. But he’s on a plane, not a boat, so he’ll be there by tomorrow.

Leila: Can you be papa?

Me: What do you mean can I be papa?

Leila: Papa talks French. You talk French.

Me: Woah. Oh. Tu veux que je parle en Francais avec vous?

They both look up at me, eyes gleaming. And smile.

Rahul: Papa talks Francais.

Me: D’accord, on peut parler en Francais.

Leila: Papa. Papa, I want to go to Etats Unis.

Me: On va aller aux Etats Unis bientot cherie. T’en fait pas…..

(Ten minutes of French later)

Me: Ok guys, come on, let’s go downstairs for breakfast.

Leila: Nooooo, you are papaaaa…you talk French.

Me: Ah, oui. J’ai oublie.

Rahul: No talk Francais mama. Talk Anglais. Waaaa. You are mama now.

Translating Bullshit into Bullshit

Rahul and Leila chopping play dough vegetables.

Maher: Qu’est ce que tu cuisine Leila?

Leila: Uhhh, I’m cooking mothika.

Maher: Ah bon. C’est quoi “mothika”?

Leila: Papa, ummm, en francais c’est lita.

Wemember Me

First day back in Chengdu after a month.

Leila hesitates before descending a slope.

Leila: Mum. [Re] Member me, I fall down here?

Me: How the hell did you remember that? I remember Leila!  A few months ago, you fell down this steep slope.

Leila: I cry mummy.

Me: You’re bigger now. You can do it this time.

——————————

Maher buys bread at a bakery / café. We wait outside, with Rahul asleep in the stroller.

Leila: [Re] Member me, yesterday, I eat cake with you here. Inside.

Me: Oh yes now I remember! You and I came here one afternoon.  Many months ago.  We shared a piece of cake.  You chose it.  We sat there. (I point at the corner table.)

Leila: Big cushion, mama.

Me: Yes that’s right! We put a big cushion on the chair so you could reach the plate.

Leila: No Wrahul, No papa.

Me: That’s right, it was just the two of us. You and me together.  Rahul was at home with papa.  And before we left, you chose a cake for them.  And the ayi
(aunt – lady behind the counter), packed it in a box.

——————

As we walk by our favorite Japanese restaurant.

Leila: Hey mum! Wemember me, Wrahul, you, papa, Imad, Pascaline, Liu Yan, Marwan go here to eat. We sit down. We eat a lot.

Me: Yes my love, we ate here many times. We sat together and ate lots of noodles, fish, and spinach.

Leila: Many times.

—————————————

Leila looks at the weighing scale.

Leila: Wemember me, I baby, I lie down here. And Rahul also.

Maher: Oui, bien sur mon bebe, je me rapelle!

Leila: Wrahul cwy, Leila cwy.

Maher: Oui c’est vrai, quand vous etiez tout petits vous pleuriez quand on vous pesait.

—————————————-

At a fountain in our housing complex.

Leila: You wemember me, Leila and Wrahul sitting here, on the step. Wrahul stick. Leila eating.

Me: Yes I remember baby girl. You were sitting next to each other. Rahul was playing with a stick.

Leila Baby

Maher: Qu’est-ce que tu fais mon petit bebe Rahul?

Rahul: Rahul grand, papa.

Maher: C’est vrai, tu est mon grand garcon, et Leila c’est ma grande fille.

Rahul peeking at Leila from the corner of his eyes: Leila petit bebe, Rahul grand!

Leila: NON! Leila non petit bebe, Leila grande.

Oh Boy!

“Rahul is a sweetheart! He let Leila have the train,” I declare proudly as he hands back her toy upon request.

“Thanks Rahul.” I continue.

“Afu BOY,” he quickly corrects me, worried. (He calls himself Afu; the Sichuanese version of his Chinese name.)

“Yes. Afu boy.” I confirm, without going into how he can also be a sweetheart!

“Leila girl,” he double-checks.

“Yes. Leila girl.”

He looks up, eyes shining, up to something. “Afu GIRL!”

“Afu girl? Nnnnnno, Afu boy!” I reply with a chuckle.

He bursts out laughing.

The 4 of us are downstairs, L on her train, R on his duck-car, ayi (meaning aunt, what he calls their nanny) and me.

He continues with some powerful declarations of identity: “Afu zizi.” (A cute way for children to say penis in French.)

“Leila kiki.” (A cute way for children to say vagina in French.)

“Yes honey, you’re right. You have a zizi, and Leila has a kiki.”

Then he goes wild: “Papa zizi. Mama kiki. Ayi kiki. Shu shu zizi.” (Shu shu is uncle in Mandarin, what the children call any young man they need to address.)

Our uncontrollable, loud laughter attracts some attention.

“It’s a good thing the Chinese people don’t understand him,” ayi says between squeals of laughter; her face red as a tomato.

Competitive Advantage: A Guest Post by Desi of Valentine 4

As Part of the series: A Monday Morning Guest Post in Multicultural Mothering.

Desi posted this on her blog yesterday; it’s the second time she has written about the controversial book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, by Amy Chua, a book I have heard a lot about and . Check out her post for the interesting discussion that follows. http://thevalentine4.com/2011/11/13/competitive-advantage/

————————————-Competitive Advantage———————————

I’ve written about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, before. http://thevalentine4.com/2011/08/21/on-tigers-and-happiness/

I found the book fascinating, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was Chau’s first chapter assertion that her parenting methods were “Chinese” by title, and “immigrant” by definition. I don’t get that. I mean, I am a (sort of) first generation Canadian. My mum was born here, but my father is from Nigeria. On some archetypal level, I think I might understand the immigrant drive for their children to achieve.

Maybe. I’m not clear on how that drive is significantly different from every parent’s desire for their kids to succeed.

I did do very well in school. And I also have an intimate understanding of what it was to be a visible minority in a predominantly white community. People look at you. People pay attention to what you are doing. They talk about it. And, though I took my share of racist insults, the vast majority of my classmates and administrators were by no means cruel. Just sort of separate. In the friends but not best friends, seeing each other but not dating, helpful but not involved, sort of way.

Or maybe it was just me.

Chau’s kids were academic achievers. Homework always completed, they did the bonus questions for extra marks, and studied hard all the rest of the time. And that’s my point, I guess. She approached parenting with the expectation that her children would do well. She put them through more grueling hours of practice and revision than I would. She committed more means and time to finding good private tutors than I would. She punished them more severely for low effort than I would. But our expectations of our children’s successes are not dissimilar. Like basketball players in the inner cities, like hockey players in rural towns, they practiced a lot as an extension of community. And excelled.

My kids will do well in school. I believe that firmly. I expect that of them. We are an afterschooling home with learning resources everywhere, and education in all its forms are integral enough to be family values, around here. I have no beef with rote learning, standardized testing, or memorization. I think we need to know the information in order to interpret it, and while these methods do not give us “knowledge”, they do imbed the data from which meaningful interpretations can be made. I think that kids’ work should be graded, that poor effort should be investigated and remedied, and that competition is only harmful when tied to self-worth.

I am aware that these are not necessarily popular views. If the backlash on Chau’s book is any indicator, these are very unpopular views.

But then I think of articles I’ve read about adults in their twenties and thirties who don’t know how to be happy, and all of the books and films devoted to defining and improving “happiness”. I think of parents calling into universities to argue on behalf of their adult children, data on the dangers of “over-praising”, reports about the growth of experiential learning, pioneering research into inquiry based learning, the Waldorf and Montessori approaches to teaching young children…. And a woman overheard on a call-in radio show who believes very firmly that all children in elementary school should be protected from standardized testing, grading, competitive sports, and measurable academic achievement. I think about the free-range kids movement, and the exponential growth of Kumon and Sylvan learning centres. About a dear friend’s conclusion that “the smart kids will do well in any school”. I think about the open concept approach of our most recent “student-led teacher conference”, and the parents who had no choice but to hear how my daughter is thriving in school. (Seriously. How is that helpful to anyone?)

On some level, it feels like we’re rushing madly off in all directions. And for some of us, that means bringing at least part of our children’s formal education back home.

One final admission: My family is using Rosetta Stone to study French, while our daughter attends a French Immersion school. She loves going through the program on my computer, and is always thoroughly annoyed with me when I tell her she has to stop. We’re doing this, in large part, because we like to learn new things together. But the other part? The minor part? The less socially acceptable, teensy bit embarrassing part?

We’re doing this because there are francophone children in her classroom, and I expect her to keep up with them.

I’m skeptical that this has anything to do with my ethnic background or “immigrant status”. I haven’t yet met a parent, regardless of parenting style or doctrine, who did not want more for their children than they themselves have. Though the individual definition of “more” does vary.

What do you think? This post is scattered like my thoughts are, I know. How would you piece it all together?

© Desi Valentine 2011. All rights reserved. Text and images are not to be reproduced or replicated without my written consent. Contact me at desivalentine4 at gmail dot com

Only French?: A Guest Post by Pascaline

(As part of the series: A Monday Morning Guest Post in Multicultural Mothering)

Pascaline: Born in Greece, I grew up in a bilingual French / Greek environment. I lived between Greece, Africa and France. My husband, “I”, French of Lebanese and Syrian origin is also multilingual: French/English/Arabic, and has lived in France, Africa and Canada. We are both what some people call, “Third culture kids,” our parents being expats for most of our childhood. In 2008 when we decided to move to China, we became expats ourselves.

In January 2011, I gave birth to a baby girl, N.

——————————————- Only French? ————————————————–

“What languages do you talk to your baby?” I am often asked after introducing our family. Immediately, I feel awkward,”We speak French.”

“Only French?” is the standard reply.

I feel guilty.

My husband and I speak 3 languages fluently. We both speak French at home. I speak Greek with my family; he speaks Arabic with his. We speak English with our friends; we live in China, so Chinese is always around.

So, “Only French?” makes me feel really guilty.

Am I a denying my daughter precious knowledge?

Long gone is the time language specialists believed that having more than one language around babies “pollutes” their abilities and results in poor command of the language. Complaints or disadvantages ranged from: the bilingual child speaks later and less than others of the same age, he will have difficulty in his language development, and he will never be able to speak one language properly.

Today the (same?) specialists say that bilingual children are more creative, more open and flexible than others. Being bilingual is to be equally comfortable in both languages and have references in two cultures allowing to understand and accept differences.

So many advantages, so why is it so hard? Let’s be honest, to raise a child with two or more languages requires hard work. It’s easy to give in to pressure from the majority language – French for us – and forget the minority languages (Greek and Arabic). Both my husband and I learned our second languages in an unusual way.

My husband learned basic Arabic from listening to his mother – since he was a baby – talking to her friends on the phone or over cups of coffee. At first, he had a basic understanding, and then by interacting with people who speak Arabic, his ability to understand and speak has developed more naturally.

I was bilingual until the age of 7; my mother spoke Greek to us. When she passed away however, French became the only language at home. I completely forgot Greek. At the age of 12, we moved to Greece and I had to take Greek classes – beginner’s level. Despite that, I discovered that it was easier for me to learn Greek compared to my French classmates, I didn’t remember a single word from my childhood, but I was able to speak and write faster than the others, and I didn’t have a French accent!

I want to talk to my daughter in Greek. I want her to learn about Greek culture (and no it’s not only about the lousy financial situation, riots and paying of taxes for many generations). I want to find those sweet Greek words and I want to sing those Greek lullabies from my childhood. Later, it will be up to her to choose: to either develop it, or to drop it. But at least I would have given her the basis for a good start.

A close friend told me that in order to maintain the minority language to a satisfactory level, we have to offer the child a rich and stimulating environment in that language – books, songs, friends.

I bought Greek Childrens books, but I always pick the French and English ones. The animals in the Greek books look at me strangely.

When I play lullabies for my daughter, even the Spanish songs sound better; the Greek ones are awkward.

Greek family and friends? As most people living away from their countries, we see them once a year, not long enough for our daughter to learn anything. And where we live now, we speak English with our friends.

So we have the books and the songs and a few friends, but with a common family language (French) and a social language (English), where can poor little Greek fit in? She hears a lot of French, some English, and some Chinese, but we speak only French to her.

And I still feel guilty.

Greek just doesn’t come naturally.

How did you introduce a minority language to your kids? How did you deal with it?

Related article – Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/health/views/11klass.html?_r=2: