Raising a Multilingual Baby

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I’m sure this happens to all mothers (and fathers) on a regular basis (since we were pregnant, as far as I can recall): a perfect stranger tells you how to raise your child…

I often hear people’s opinion on which language I shall speak to my own child! “Don’t you think we should understand what you’re telling your child?” Well, sure. In case you are included in our conversation. Otherwise, I am speaking to my baby. Stop listening. Am I too harsh? I think somebody telling me how to teach my baby to speak is harsh!

I would like my baby to understand his own family – I am Czech and most of my family doesn’t speak or even understand English. My husband is Indian and most of the elders in his family speak Hindi. And me and him communicate mostly in English (if you don’t count that hybrid language of ours as a separate newly invented tongue:). So if we want our child to speak to all his relatives, he will have to learn our native languages. And English will come naturally, it is all around him including our home. Are you skeptical, just like that lady know-it-all in grocery store? How did you learn your language? By listening and looking around! Now it makes sense, doesn’t it?

I speak to Aditya exclusively in Czech, even in public. I don’t want to make exceptions, because then they become a habit. If somebody speaks to the baby or me in English, then of course, I reply in English. The rest is between my baby and me. My husband had to be reminded at the beginning, that he should speak to him in Hindi – he felt like I should understand everything he says. Now he gets it and actually enjoys speaking to Aditya in his native language. And I am learning Hindi like never before! See, two pupils instead of one;)

I think it is important that if a family lives in a foreign country, parents speak to their children in their native language. Around myself I see stories of regret:

One of my friend’s parents came to America from Cambodia and wished for their two daughters to speak good English, fluently and without an accent like themselves. Their daughters have been born here and only learnt English. When they were teenagers, the parents wished they spoke Cambodian at least a little, so they signed them up for classes – they still don’t speak almost any Cambodian. Every Sunday these two daughters join their parents for a lunch. They don’t talk very much – the daughters don’t understand everything their own parents say and the parents’ English isn’t good enough that they would understand everything their daughters talk about…

And another story: My grandmother’s parents worked for a few years in Canada where they learnt English. When they had an argument, they fought in English, so their daughter (grandma) wouldn’t understand. Until today she’s sorry they didn’t teach her English. She feels like her opportunities in life could have been different.

And then I see stories of success:

A Slovak friend living in India has two kids. They both speak English, Hindi and Slovak without problems. I saw their younger one when she was learning to speak. She had a cup of tea and told her mother in Slovak “hot, hot”, but her mother didn’t hear her at that moment, so she turned to her father and repeated in Hindi “hot”. Even at that age she already knew which language to use while communicating with her parents! (This is to those who say, that my child will be ‘confused’.)

I grew up in Czechoslovakia, which is now separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Each of the countries, even in union, used a different language (Czech and Slovak). Growing up, we spoke both languages. They were all around, TV was bilingual. We never considered ourselves bilingual, now I know we were, because kids who grew up in Czech Republic after the separation, don’t understand Slovak well anymore. It was easy and natural that we acquired both languages.

Babies are little geniuses when it comes to speaking. If you start early, they soak up all you offer!

There are, however two different approaches to raising bilingual/ multilingual children. You either are or are not a native speaker of the second language you want to teach your child. You can teach your child a language that is not your native, your child can actually learn a language that you don’t even speak. It’s all about the approach, but I have to stress here, if you are planning to raise your child bilingual, you will be more successful with a plan.

There are several myths about bilingualism, let’s have a look at some.

A child will become “confused” and mix languages if he learns more than one at a time.
>> Mixing is normal, just like kids like to mix games, stories and food, they will be mixing languages if they know more than one. This can actually add to their vocabulary later in life and it will definitely amplify their fantasy!

Bilingualism leads to language delay.
>> This was one I was told most about, but I never really worried. It seems like kids need to figure things out before they try them and sometimes they take longer (some kids learn to walk by trying and falling, some kids take more time and then all of a sudden start cruising along furniture; same applies to learning other things including language). Maybe your child won’t say much at first and then just spit out a whole sentence, who knows. And he doesn’t even have to be bilingual. Anyway, no scientific research actually confirms that bilingualism leads to language delay.

You have to be fluent in languages you’re trying to teach your children.
>> Even monolingual parents can raise their child bilingual. You can hire a foreign nanny, enroll them in a language program or learn a new language along with them. The key is consistency and commitment (consistency is the main reason I speak to my child Czech in nearly ANY situation).

Children just absorb language passively.
>> This is a dangerous myth, if you are really trying to teach your child a different language. To learn a language fluently, brain needs a stimulating environment, so just playing French radio will not “teach” your child French. How many times have you encountered an expat living in a foreign country for years and still barely understanding the native language? A simple immersion doesn’t mean that somebody will learn a language. Participation in the language is stimulating and only then appropriate synapses in brain can be formed.

If a child is not very intelligent, he cannot speak more languages.
>> A baby’s brain is created to learn ANY language in the world and learn multiple languages if you start early and right.

If a child doesn’t speak English by kindergarten, she or he will have difficulty at school and will have problems to read.
>> Children take much less effort to learn new things, including languages, than adults. While it is best teaching language skills before the age of 3, children are capable to adapt and learn languages well beyond 5 years of age. At that time it might be more dangerous letting your child concentrate on one language only (the official school language) and not supporting vocabulary development of the other languages your child was speaking and hearing until then.

It sounds like it is no easy feat to teach your child multiple languages, but don’t be hard on yourself. Think of  a plan and then just flow with it. Remember, you need to work smarter, not harder – it takes a village. Find a foreign language play group, hire a foreign nanny or enroll into a childcare facility that has foreign language programs or has foreign language speaking teachers.

Make it a point to get together with your foreign friends more often and let them talk to your child in their language. Let their children play with your child, they will be learning without even knowing it. Employ your language-talented family members for babysitting or find some smart programs that help children acquire richer vocabulary.

One such program, that we’re using at home, is Little Reader – your child can learn vocabulary in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Thai or Chinese (traditional or simplified), other language versions will be available with time. Although this program is made to teach children read, smaller kids will still benefit by learning new vocabulary (and learning a new language if you opt for non-English version).

What do you think? Are you going to try speaking another language at home or send your child to a language class? Give it a go, you can’t turn back time!

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Supporting Brestfeeding on Social Media

Last month one of my Facebook statuses said this:

I do it in a restaurant. On a park bench. On the back seat of the car. First time at church was weird… Of course, I prefer doing it in bed or on the sofa, but I’ve done it even while shopping or on the street.
Breastfeeding.

Lots of “likes” and comments followed!

And it was not to shock, it was just to stir a debate. Let’s support breastfeeding mothers and raise some awareness so it’s not that darn difficult in some public places! Even if you cant’ breastfeed, but want to bring attention to the subject, do something like this, please.

How do you raise awareness of motherhood-connected issues?

So Baby Boy is Supposed to Wear Blue?

When I was carrying this little bumblebee in my belly, me and my husband chose not to know if we’re expecting a boy or a girl. I am a bit old fashioned in these things – if God wanted us to know, He’d give us x-ray vision, you’d hear me saying.
“But how will you decorate the baby room?” I’d hear EVERY SINGLE TIME when people asked for the gender of the unborn baby. Well, first, this baby will not have a room (about that later:), second – I honestly failed to see a problem there… until I was a guest at a joined baby shower for two friends, who were carrying a month ahead of me. Nothing was gender neutral except for some books and toys. It seemed that every gift either had “Daddy’s little princess” smeared all over it or it had to have trucks and screwdrivers (one friend was expecting a girl, the other a boy).

I never noticed a ‘problem’ like this in Europe. Things are changing, of course, thanks to imported things that are popular in the USA, but in general, finding colourful and gender neutral clothes and decorations is not a problem. Nor it is a problem in India (my husband’s home country) – a country where any guy can pull off a pink dress shirt.

I think the big sellers and department stores are screwing with us, people. It’s like bad pharma, but in baby clothes and toys – good marketing is making victim of a nation.

And then there was my baby shower. You’ve never seen that many yellow onesies! I love yellow colour, it’s actually my (second;) favourite. But on everything, seriously? So boys have to wear blue and girls pink? And poor babies of granola parents like us have to put up with tons of yellow and green? Are there only 4 colours in this world?

Once upon a time childhood was the time of innocence. Time of play and freedom. Time where everybody wore cute white cotton dresses that mums could easily clean. Time when strangers didn’t have the need to see the gender of a baby the moment they laid their eyes on them. Time when babies and children wore baby clothes, not shrunken adult clothes.
European royalty and noble class had another reason for dressing little boys into dresses – male heirs were in danger of kidnapping for ransom. But when nobody could recognize young boys from girls at a glance, there was less chance of them being taken!
I find it interesting, that originally, when colours were introduced to baby clothing, blue was mainly reserved to little ladies, because blue is the colour of Virgin Mary, and pink was considered a strong, manly colour.
But now, when I have my own little man, I just moan every time I go baby clothes shopping. Why, why in the world, are the boy clothes so boring? And sad, colourless? Can a boy not wear flowers? I could buy many girl shirts and onesies, but many of the companies put cleverly some sort of girl detail on girls’ clothing – frills, bows, princess pictures…
Here is what I do. I always look in the girls’ section first. If the only girly detail is a bow, I buy it and cut the bow off. If there’s no specifically girly detail – well, it just became unisex.
Only one thing consoles me deeply despite boy clothes being excruciatingly boring: I have already saved so much money!
How about you? Do you have a baby boy and a problem finding fun clothes that don’t break the bank?

 

Do We Need To Make Breastfeeding Glamorous To Be Allowed To Nurse In Public?

WARNING: You might see photos of BREASTfeeding in this post!

You might have seen this photo of “another day in the office” of supermodel Gisele Bundchen before. Or maybe not. All I can say is I don’t look this glamorous when I’m nursing my son. And to be honest, I can’t even ask myself what was the last time I have had a manicure, it’s more like ‘what was the last time I even cut my nails:)’ type of a question.
So when I saw this picture I thought: “B**ch! NOT FAIR!”

 

And I wasn’t the only one. The photo stirred quite a debate – a Twitter war with potty-mouth messages and an Instagram storm of copycat pictures.
And then I got it. This is good! We should really do whatever it takes to have people talk about breastfeeding in public. Why is it still a taboo and why is it so darn difficult that it discourages young mothers to continue nursing their babies?

Please understand. I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding and you will read many posts about it in the future. But I also know some mothers have very serious reasons why they don’t or can’t breastfeed – but attacks from perfect strangers should not be among the reasons.

Lately, a few airlines got some bad press for not allowing women breastfeed during flight. Bad bad advertisement. Public took notice and nursing in public seemed to have lots of defenders. Well, media take any reason to turn the heat on – this way or the other. But unfortunately in reality, a common mother still has to jump through lots of hoops (with a baby on her breast). So as much as seeing Gisele nursing at work (if you call it that:) might have outraged some, we need to talk about breastfeeding conditions, be it in a restaurant, public park or (dare I?) at work…

I’d like you to have as much information as I can give you to make your breastfeeding journey a success! So here are some pointers:

  • La Leche League – BIG resource of information wherever in the world you are. You can find a lactation specialist who will give you support an help for free. You can also look up many questions by topic.
  • Did you know that the law is on your side? If you think you are discriminated as a breastfeeding mother, find what the law says and how to protect yourself! Find your state’s law and learn about the federal law: laws
  • If you’re pumping at work, you are protected too!
  • Medela offers not only a line of high quality pumps, but also offers support and answers here.

I’ll be revisiting the topic with tips and tricks I stumble upon during my internet combing and library raids.

Me and you will be keeping it real. And if you see a too-good-to-be-true picture of a breastfeeding supermodel mum, don’t be mad. Because also thanks to them, our small voices can get stronger!

 

 

This Baby Is Going to Grow Up

This baby is going to grow up.

One day he will be a toddler. Then a kid. And as he is meeting new milestones every day, he is “forgetting” some things in the process. And I will be missing those baby things. This post is for all the mothers, who wish their baby stays a newborn:)

How many times I heard since Aditya was born “Aaaah, I wish to have a baby again. Maybe we’ll have a second one (third/ fourth… pick what suits your situation). I just miss having a tiny baby.” Well, you had one (two/ three… pick…) and they ALL GROW UP. They do. You’ll never be stuck with a baby foreva, sister. Must I remind you??? Keep your friends close and eventually one of them will have a baby. And then you can coo and aaah, but when they start crying, you can return them back to their mama.

I have just returned from a birthday celebration. The honoree turned 5. His friends are 5 or so. When I arrived, the celebrant was crying. He wanted to open his presents. Daddy said OK, so he opened a few of them. Two more kids started crying. They wanted what he had and they wanted to play with the presents. So Mummy said “we’ll open the rest at home.” Another kid started crying. He picked the present himself and wanted to see what his friend says when he opens it. Another kid is crying because his brother is crying. So by now about half of the kids are crying. “Let’s have some more cake!”
And after the cake the kids are playing. One is crying, because another hit him. The hitter is crying because he doesn’t want to say sorry.

So this is what I’m supposed to be looking forward to? I wish this baby stayed small like this, I thought. Naaaah, do I really want to miss all the new things he will show me and teach me every single day? Nope. I can’t wait when he turns 5 and all the kids will be crying at his birthday celebration.

This baby is going to grow up. And it’s OK.