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.

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.

Bilingual Fears and Mama Guilt

When I was on maternity leave, my son was with me all day, every day.  I was constantly talking, singing, and reading to him in Polish.  My husband and I noticed that our son seemed to respond more to Polish than English.  For example, at his first birthday party, our son stared blankly at his guests who were singing “Happy Birthday.”  Yet his face lit up and he started clapping as soon as the guests started singing the Polish birthday song (“Sto Lat”).

I don’t know if my son was more responsive to Polish because he was more familiar with Polish sounds or because the language sounded like the one mama speaks.  Either way, during that time, I felt like I had this whole bilingualism thing figured out—I was exposing my son to the Polish language and I was seeing him react to it. Simple, right?

Not quite.

Going back to work full time was an emotional struggle.  I tend to suffer from major mommy guilt over everything, so returning to work wasn’t any different.  Aside from feeling guilty for being away from my son for hours during the day, five times a week, I worried that this separation will negatively affect our bilingual efforts.  I felt, and still occasionally feel, that I was/am failing him and sabotaging his bilingualism by taking away his sole connection to the language (me).  I worry that our limited time together during the work week is not enough to sustain his Polish acquisition.

By no means am I going to go back on my promise to raise my son bilingual.  I just hope that I won’t become too discouraged when I see the effects of his English surroundings potentially overshadowing his Polish skills.  I know that sounds crazy and irrational given that we live in the United States and my son’s father is monolingual.  However, every time my son turns to give me a kiss when I ask him to give me buzi or races to the bathroom when I tell him it is time for his kąpiel, I know that undertaking this bilingual journey will be worth it, no matter how challenging it may be in the coming years.