Polinglish: Our Bilingual Journey Thus Far

polish-books

My son is about to turn 3, so for about half of his life he has been talking. During this time, I have learned why raising your child to be bilingual is commonly referred to as a journey. Like a journey (whether physical, mental, spiritual, etc.), teaching my son Polish has been filled with highs and lows, disappointments and achievements. Yet I am truly impressed, proud, and in awe of my son’s bilingual development.

My son switches between languages, a process called code switching, without hesitation and has associated each language with certain people. He will tell me about how the słońce świeci, only to repeat to my husband that the sun is shining. My son also started to associate language with people, and knows to speak Polish to me, my parents, and family members, and English to his dad, day care mates, children he meets at the playground, people we encounter at the store, etc.

When at a loss for vocabulary (in either language), my son will mix languages to get his point across. According to the American Speak Language Hearing Association, “From time to time, children may mix grammar rules, or they might use words from both languages in the same sentence. This is a normal part of bilingual language development.”

My son does it when he is uncertain of a word for a specific object or action in a particular language but knows it in the other language. Hence, when telling me how he climbed on the couch and fell and hurt his knee, he will say “climbed” in English (as he either doesn’t know the word, forgot it, or has difficulty pronouncing it in Polish) and the rest of the sentence in Polish.

Then there are the times when my son will go from speaking only Polish to me, to only responding in English. I get really discouraged during such days, but I know that during such times I have to put on an even bigger smile and continue speaking more Polish to him.

When my son does respond to me in English or using a combination of both Polish and English, I use the following strategies, as suggested by Polish linguist Elżbieta Ławczys, to encourage my son to speak Polish:

  • Repeat/paraphrase in Polish what was said. Hence, when he tells me he tripped on his toy and hurt his knee, I will respond along the lines of, “Oh no! You tripped on your train and hurt your knee? Let me kiss it and make it feel better. You need to clean up all of yours toys so they are out of the way. Lets go put them away together” in Polish.
  • Ask questions. When my son tells me that he would like a juice, I ask him, “You want a juice? Would you like apple juice or orange juice? Apple/orange juice is really good. Would you like something to eat as well?”
  • Remind child to use the appropriate language. I don’t do this too often, but I do kindly remind him that mama speaks Polish and ask him if he can tell me in Polish what he wants to say. If he resists, I don’t push and just revert to the two steps above. I do also remind him that other people (like the lady at church who picked up his toy) speak English so that he has to say thank you instead of dziękuję.

I also use the above approach when my son says something in Polish incorrectly. I don’t interrupt, correct, or laugh at him. Instead, I repeat what he said either by paraphrasing or asking a question.

I have noticed that my son is more prone to speak English when he is very tired. I think that the combination of being tired and wanting to express himself as quickly and effortlessly as possible makes him choose the language with which he has the most exposure. This doesn’t surprise me at all, as I personally revert to English when writing, thinking, counting, etc. because it is easier and faster for me. However, I am trying to break that habit and have made it a conscious effort to write all the things I would normally write in English (shopping/to do lists, recipes, etc.) in Polish.

Aside from learning to be more patient and not grow discouraged, an equally important lesson I have learned while on this bilingual journey has to do with perspective. When my son does respond only in English, as discouraging as it may be, I have to remind myself that this is not a setback or disappointment but a normal part of a child’s bilingual development and a learning opportunity. Those moments, along with the progress that my son makes, are truly fascinating to witness, and leave me in even greater awe and fill me with pride every time he makes strides in his Polish language acquisition.

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Putting Names to Faces

Photo Book 2By the time I moved permanently with my parents to the United States when I was six years old, the names and faces of my closest relatives, along with shared memories, were fixed in my brain. As an immigrant, it was, and continues to be, difficult being away from my family, especially my cousins. However, summers spent in Poland refreshed my memories of my loved ones, and continued to nurture the bond that never ceased even while miles apart.

One of the hardest parts about starting my family was the fact that my child will not get to know my wonderful and loving family in Poland as well as I do. We were extremely fortunate to travel to Poland this past summer, which allowed my husband and son to meet my family. My son took to his Polish family extremely quickly, and kept asking for them long after we returned home. Luckily, technology has been a blessing and allowed us to talk to my family in Poland in real time and help my son associate names with faces. I recently came across a great product to help my son remember his family in Poland: mini board books by Pinhole Press.

The mini books are personalized board books designed to help children learn family names and/or first words. I created a book for my son for Easter.  I called it, “Moja Polska Rodzina” (My Polish Family), and it features photos of his immediate family from Poland.  He loved it, as did my parents and family friends with whom we celebrated the holiday. My son even took it to daycare the next day. It warms my heart to hear him reading it, getting excited over the faces he recognizes.

Photo Book

Creating the board book is easy. It took me 10 minutes to create and order once I picked out the photos I wanted to use. To create the book, upload photos from your computer, Facebook, or Instagram to the Pinhole Press website, and then drag and drop your photos into the book. You can customize the text on the page next to the photo page. You can choose from 18 font colors and three font sizes (small, medium, and large). You cannot change the font type. Each text page is a different color. Although you cannot change the color of the pages, you can rearrange the order of the pages. Each book is coil bound and contains your choice of durable glossy/coated or matte pages.

I absolutely love this book. The only problem we encountered was the coil binding coming loose from the pages. That was easily fixed by crimping the end of the coil more. Other than that, the only drawback is the price: $34.99. However, if you are willing to splurge, the book is totally worth it!

Disclosure: I received a free mini book from Pinhole Press for the purpose of my review. I only paid for the shipping. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Cooking Up Language: Learning Vocabulary in the Kitchen

Cooking to post

I’m constantly looking for ways to incorporate vocabulary building into everyday tasks.

My toddler is very curious as to what my husband and I are doing, and loves pulling up a chair next to the kitchen counter or sink to “help.”

Allowing your child to help you cook is an excellent way to teach/review vocabulary and concepts in the target language, as well as involve him in the cooking and cleanup process.

Here are 3 reasons why you should involve your kids in the kitchen:

  1. Builds vocabulary. My son gets really excited when he gets to add ingredients to a bowl or stir them with the wooden spoon. As he adds ingredients to the bowl, I say the word for the ingredient and ask him to repeat it. I also include vocabulary for various food textures. Similarly, I state verbs as we transition from mixing and stirring to pouring and cooking. The funnier the voice I use to say the word, the greater the chance of my son repeating the word. During our time in the kitchen, my son is learning words for food, utensils, and actions associated with cooking and cleanup.
  2. Allows your child to use his senses. Cooking exposes kids to a variety of foods that they can taste, smell, and touch. My son is usually unwilling to try new foods, but enjoys smelling and squishing food in various states. For me, cooking together gives me another opportunity to offer/present new foods for my son to (hopefully) try.
  3. Provides hands-on learning. Kids acquire and retain knowledge through play, and allowing them to be a part of the cooking process provides them with hands-on learning.

Be sure to adapt the cooking to your child’s age and level of interest. Here is a handy chart of how to include kids in the kitchen based on age. If you have a toddler like I do, this is not the time to make fancy meals. Start small—bake muffins or assemble homemade pizza. My 2-year-old son loves dumping ingredients into a bowl and mixing them together, as well as adding toppings to our make-ahead breakfast burritos.

Most importantly, allow your child (and yourself) to have fun and make a mess!*

*Extra kitchen towels highly suggested. 🙂

Daddy Doesn’t Speak Polish: Tips for Monolingual Parents

Tips for monolingual parents

It is often assumed that raising your child to be bilingual is the responsibility of the parent whose native language is being taught. Although majority of the work does fall on the bilingual parent, the role of the monolingual parent cannot be overlooked. Just like with any undertaking, raising your child to be bilingual is a team effort.

My husband’s Polish is limited to what he has learned since our son was born. However, he takes steps to be an active part of my son’s Polish acquisition, all while being patient and understanding, and having a positive attitude.

Here are four ways monolingual parents can be proactive in their child’s language acquisition:

  1. Try to learn the language. My husband has made an effort to learn more Polish words. Whether it is through daily “Polish Word of the Day” emails or attempting to read Polish language flashcards with my son, his actions show me and my son that he cares and is serious about us being a bilingual family. Most importantly, he uses the few Polish words that he knows when speaking to our son. Whether he is asking for a buzi (kiss) each morning before leaving to work, or saying prosze (here you go) when handing our son his food, he is helping reinforce already-learned vocabulary and make it a natural part of our family life. Husband tip: Learn to ask, “what is this?” It gets your child thinking and talking and is a great cover up for when you don’t know the word for a specific object. And if that doesn’t play out well, know how to ask “where is mama?”
  2. Use language materials with your child. My husband will watch Polish children’s programming and play children’s Polish language learning apps with our son. He will also play Polish music in the background as my son plays. He does this both when I am and am not present. This increase my son’s exposure to Polish (especially when I am not around), and makes the presence of the Polish language once again a normal part of our family life.
  3. Encourage bilingualism. Encourage your child to use the language, even if they revert to the majority language. As they get older, some children may refuse to speak the minority language. Encouragement from the monolingual parent can sometimes be a greater motivator for the child than from the bilingual parent (who can be seen as expecting the child to be bilingual). Become their student and let them teach you new words/phrases; young children especially like playing the role of a teacher. Make bilingualism a source of pride. Tell them how cool and special they are for knowing how to speak not one but two (or three, etc.) languages. Praise their efforts and accomplishments. My son beams when he can repeat a newly-learned word. Let your child hear you tell other adults how proud you are to raise him bilingual. Also, make your children aware of the benefits of being bilingual.
  4. Support your bilingual spouse. Raising your kids to be bilingual is a feat, especially when your child has very limited exposure to the language outside of your bilingual spouse. Your bilingual spouse may feel frustrated, inadequate, or like a failure at times. Strongly encourage your spouse to not give up.

Excellent Language App for Kids: Toddler-tested, Mother-approved

I recently discovered a great language resource for kids: Gus on the Go.

Gus on the Go follows an owl as he sets off on a vocabulary adventure featured in 10 interactive lessons (i.e., animals, modes of transportation, food, etc.). Each lesson is followed by a review that asks to identify items. If you tap the incorrect picture, the correct answer becomes highlighted and the audio of the word replays to reinforce the picture with the word. After each review, there’s an interactive game that features the vocabulary words and pictures.

Each language app is country-specific; for example, the Polish language app features a map of Poland and Gus flying to a different Polish city.  The app is recommended for children ages 2 through 6, and is available in 20+ languages and for iOs and Android.

My son recently started playing with the app. He really enjoys tapping on the pictures, especially of the farm animals, and listening to the audio. The audio is very clear and of a native speaker.  He laughs at the sounds and, best of all, actually repeats the words (he went through a period of not repeating any words when asked).  Although my son still hasn’t gotten the concept of the games, he is slowly figuring out the review portion of each lesson. I really like that the app features no English text or audio.

I have also taken advantage of the free printables that the program’s web site offers.gus on the go

The free printables include number flashcards, a zoo animal fortune teller (to practice animal vocabulary), and a transportation wheel. I put the printed number flashcards in small magnetic photo pockets and stuck them to our refrigerator. My son plays with/looks at them while I cook dinner. The flashcards also feature animals on them so they are great for practicing animal vocabulary as well.

The app and printables are available in the following languages:

  • Armenian (Eastern and Western)
  • Cantonese
  • Croatian
  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Hebrew
  • Hindi
  • Hungarian
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Norwegian
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Swedish
  • Tagalog
  • Taiwanese
  • Taiwanese Mandarin
  • Vietnamese

Enjoy!

 

All opinions shared on this blog are entirely my own. I did not receive any payment or compensation for this review.

Trip to the Motherland

travel 2This summer our family was able to experience one of the greatest family trips and language/cultural emersion opportunities: a trip to Poland.

We spent 2 weeks in Poland and it was wonderful in every regard. I got to see my family whom I haven’t seen in over 6 years. I got to see and celebrate my remarkable younger cousin/brother-from-a-different-mother get married to his beautiful bride. I got to show my son and husband my motherland. And most importantly, I got to see my worlds combine when my family in Poland and my son and husband met one another. Just thinking of that moment would make my ugly cry from happiness weeks before our trip.

My son handled the flight like a champ! I was expecting the worst and packed everything but the kitchen sink, but ended up not using majority of the items (check out my suggested carry-on packing list so you won’t make the same mistakes I did). When we finally met up with my family, my son was a little timid but by no means freighted of his surroundings. Although he wanted to be held either by me or my mom, he was going up to my cousins and aunt after settling in at my aunt’s house (which was filled with balloons and toys just for him). One playful toss up in the air from my younger cousin and my son was sold on his uncle.

katedraI was pleasantly surprised how quickly my son adjusted to the trip. My son walked around town like he owned the place and interacted with my family members as if he has known them for years. The neighborhood playground became his favorite place to play. He felt comfortable around all of his aunts and uncles (who spoiled him rotten) that he would at times cry and run to the door when they left.

Aside from being constantly showered with attention and affection, my son enjoyed straight-from-the-bakery rolls and different soups daily. And we can’t forget that time where I asked my grandma if she could make him a couple of apple pancakes and she comes out holding a huge platter that could feed our entire family. “Everything for the little guy” was the motto of our stay.

I fully embraced and basked in the fact that my son would be immersed in the Polish language 24/7. Granted it was only for 2 weeks, but that is a lot more than he gets at home. However, a strange thing happened a week into our stay. Although my son understood everything that was said to him and even started repeating some Polish words, he suddenly began speaking in English! And this was before my English-speaking husband joined us. When he wanted to go outside, he would call for his shoes instead of buty like he has in the past. The trip was quite the cultural and language exchange, as my grandma can now say “shoes” and “ball.” 🙂

My husband and I were also very fortunate to be able to sightsee. En route to Krakow, we toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and toured/paid our respects at the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum. IMG_2824While in Krakow, we visited the Wawel Cathedral and Castle, and had dinner in the Old Town (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

IMG_3030A couple of days later we drove to the opposite side of Poland to Gdansk. There, we visited Westerplatte (where World War II began), the highly interactive and recommended Solidarity Museum, and Old Town, where we climbed over 400 steps to the tower at St. Mary’s Church and then had lunch and dinner in two of the many cute restaurants that line the gorgeous streets.

I was worried about how the trip will be for my husband given that he doesn’t speak Polish. It can be frustrating and exhausting for the non-language speaker to be surrounded by a language one doesn’t understand for 24/7. Similarly, it can be exhausted for the bilingual person to constantly have to translate conversations and have all forms of communication go through you. Yet everyone, from my husband to my non-English speaking relatives, were very understanding and patient, which helped make the situations more pleasant.

During our trip I was able to stock up on a lot of Polish children’s books, toys, games, and DVDs. My son is too young for majority of them (like this adorable map puzzle), and can’t quite sit still to watch a movie, but I look forward to him playing with the games and watching the movies in the future. He does, however, love to dance with his little Polish speaking puppy.

Although we have been back home for less than a month, I already can’t wait to be back in Poland.