Language Exposure: Live Life…But in Polish

I am a working mom, so time, especially with my son, is precious. Almost every minute spent away from my family and work is spent doing or thinking about things that are necessary for our household (e.g., groceries, errands, laundry, meal planning. Thank goodness for online shopping!) so that I can focus solely on quality time with my son when we get home. Yet even those hours don’t seem like enough, a sentiment I am sure I share with other working moms.

So when I read on various outlets dedicated to bilingualism that a child must be exposed to the minority language for 30 percent of their waking time, I had a mini panic attack. After all, 30 percent seemed like a lot when you constantly feel like you do not spend enough time with your child in general, let alone spend that time talking (but according to my husband, I talk A LOT ;)).

After quickly crunching numbers, I concluded that during the workweek, my son’s exposure to Polish (time spent with me and listening to Polish audio books) is slightly under 30 percent, yet during the course of the entire week, that number increases significantly, putting my son’s Polish/English exposure at almost 50/50.

This qualitative approach to bilingualism makes sense. The more time, effort, and value you put into something the more benefits you reap. This applies to sports, studies, even monetary savings, and language acquisition is no different. Hence in order for children to benefit, “they must use both languages regularly,” which means that parents “should be serious and committed to raising children bilingually,” argues Fred Genesse, professor of psychology at McGill University.

Seriously committed I am, which is what makes me feel that I am not doing enough and creates additional pressure given that I am my son’s sole source of Polish on a daily basis. One bilingual educator suggested creating a pie chart of your child’s minority language exposure (hours per week) and routinely reassessing the results. Our son is only 16 months old, so this approach (as useful as it will probably be in the future) seems a bit much. Perhaps as our son gets older and learns to not only show preference but also argue for his preference that I will need to start reassessing his minority language exposure/activities.

As important as quantity of exposure is, I find this mathematical approach to bilingualism impersonal. Furthermore, solely focusing on the amount of exposure can be limiting and lead to bilingual efforts becoming stagnant. I can imagine that a child who has a lot of exposure to a minority language yet feels like he is being drilled will have a good understanding of the minority language yet will not be as open to communicating in the language.

Hence quality exposure is just as important, if not complimentary to, quantity of exposure.

My husband and I expose our son to the same experiences to which most American parents expose their children: we read books, play at the park, dance to children’s music, point out objects when we are out and about. I just do it all in Polish to increase my son’s exposure to the language. We try to keep his exposure to things as active/varied as possible so that he is learning and having fun. But when life happens and dinner needs to me ready ASAP, I will allow our son to watch Polish movies or children’s songs on YouTube. And that’s okay—passive exposure makes up a small percentage of his waking hours and he is getting some exposure to the Polish language.

For now, I try to keep a simple approach when it comes to our bilingualism journey: live life…but in Polish.


Śmigus-Dyngus: Celebrating Easter Monday with a Water Fight

SmingusDingusEvery year on Easter Monday, Poles, especially young girls, are on the lookout. Perhaps they choose to wear a raincoat that day. Or they decide to not venture out of the house. Because not even a raincoat or a sturdy umbrella can save them from Śmigus-Dyngus.

Śmigus-Dyngus, also known as lany poniedziałek (Wet Monday), is a celebration held on Easter Monday where people drench their friends with water. Yes folks, Poland engages in a huge water fight.

Traditionally, boys would seek out their female friends. The celebration has pagan roots and ties with the end of winter, with water ensuring fertility in the upcoming spring. Once Christianity established in the county, the purification element of water was added to the celebration’s symbolism.

As a kid, my cousins and I would fill multiple egg-shaped squirt guns and go at it, squirting everyone from our friends to family. Not even babcia was safe.

The average Pole uses 5 liters (approximately 1.3 gallons) of water for drenching on Easter Monday, according to news sources. Seems quite wasteful given we are experiencing a drought in California, but I digress.  There are even laws associated with Śmigus-Dyngus. A person can be fined between 500 to 5,000 złotych (approximately $134-$1,340) if they drench strangers/passersby, homes, vehicles (e.g, cars, buses, trams), etc. After all, it is supposed to be a fun and lighthearted event, not an opportunity for vandalism.

At our house, my son and I celebrated Śmigus-Dyngus by patiently waiting with a squirt gun in hand for daddy to return home. Once he pulled into the driveway, we greeted him with smiles and a squirt of water to the face! He did not see it coming! Daddy did get us back—especially me, even though it was our son who squirted him in the face. Our son held the squirt gun; I just held him and may or may not have guided his little hand…

I hope everyone had a fun Easter!

Święconka: Celebrating Easter the Polish Way

One of my favorite Polish Easter traditions is Święconka—the blessing of the food to be eaten on Easter Sunday. I love everything about it—the preparation, the going to church for the blessing, and the eating!


The tradition of blessing food on Holy Saturday first appeared in Poland in the 14th century. In those days, the priest would come to people’s home for the blessing. It wasn’t until centuries later that the tradition evolved to what it is today—the faithful bringing baskets to church.

Traditional items for the Easter basket include:

  • colored/decorated eggs (pisanki)—symbolize new life and the Resurrection
  • butter—traditionally molded into a lamb, represent Jesus Christ
  • bread—symbolizes Jesus as the Bread of Life
  • sausage—symbolizes prosperity
  • horseradish—symbolizes the bitterness of Jesus’ sacrifice
  • salt—symbolizes purification

Many families also include cakes and other sweets. I included a couple of toddler snack bars so my son can enjoy a blessed treat on Easter morning. 🙂

My favorite part of the basket is definitely the pisanki—traditional Polish Easter eggs. Their vibrant colors and impressive designs (created by hand) are stunning. The designs vary by technique and the region of Poland. Each is impressive in its own right.

My great-grandmother and grandmother used to dye eggs in onion peels, which would give the eggs a rich reddish-brown tint. They would then create skrobanki by scratching the surface of the egg to reveal the white eggshell. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my grandmother’s pisanki artistry skills. Luckily for me, I came across these gems. Traditional looking pisanki in 3 seconds–the answer for the artistically challenged like me.

I hope you all have a blessed Easter!