If you ask my kids what’s the worst part of multicultural upbringing, they will probably complain about “funny” food from different countries; it’s not fair when Babcia makes you eat a beetroot soup and Abuelita puts a huge plate of caraotas on the same day! Yuck! Or all those exercise books in three languages when all you want to do is play with your new Lego set!
However, there’s a HUGE bonus to all that suffering: they literally get the best of both worlds when it comes to celebrations and presents. They celebrate their name day (like all Polish kids) with a huge piñata (like all Venezuelan kids). They get visits from Ratoncito Pérez (Perez the Mouse) AND Tooth Fairy….and if they’re lucky, these visits happen when we travel, so the kiddos get their teeth attractive foreign currency.
If my friends had known that I’m writing a blog post about cooking, they would probably: a) call firefighters to report a fire threat in the neighbourhood; b) post comments all over the place warn my readers of risk of food poisoning (if try to follow my recipe at home); c) make sure my kids have plenty of milk and cereals to make themselves an edible super.
Because, ladies and gentlemen, the truth is that I’m a crap cook. When I was an Erasmus student in Granada, my attempt to make pasta in a microwave made me famous all over the town (hopefully we didn’t have smart phones and YouTube accounts back in those days!). My miserable Venezuelan arepas and cachapas made me realize that my way to my husband’s heart definitely did NOT go through his stomach.
When my son Andrés was born in Spain I received congratulations cards from all over the world, in at least five languages. My family from Poland, my husband’s relatives from Venezuela and Dominican Republic, our friends from France, Italy, UK, Mexico, Brasil, Canada and many other countries, they all sent us gifts and wished us all the best on the phone, Skype and Facebook.
When he turned one, we celebrated his birthday with a dress-up Disney party in a group of family and friends from six countries. As a toddler he spent a New Year’s Eve in Paris, carried in our arms to the top of Eiffle Tower and sleeping in his buggy as we were wathcing fireworks over Notre Dame cathedra.
And it wasn’t until now, when he turned 5 that I started to think how much he’s influenced by his multicultural upbringing.
„ Zuzu, a 6 year old shepherd from Himba tribe lives in a house that’s made of clay and….cow poop”.
Andrés and Michał laughed so much that I couldn’t read on. It was the moment they fell in love that story; toilet humour never fails with preschoolers.
– Can you guess what’s Zuzu’s greatest treasure?
– A tablet! – shouted Andrés, who loved to play games on my tablet; he couldn’t imagine a major treasure for a little boy.
No, it wasn’t a tablet. Nor a computer. Nor a huge track for trains or cars. Nor a remote control car.
Zuzu’s greatest treasure was ….a wooden statue of goat made by his dad.
That got another laugh from my boys.
I continued to read about children from the little village who have to carry water from faraway wells, who have no toys and play just with things they find on the ground: rocks, wooden sticks, pieces of string….but in spite of that are happy and, as Zuzu says, “you’ll never see a sad kid in the village, everyone’s smiling”.
For Andrés and Michał, who threw tanthrums whenever somebody touched one of their toys and who wanted to possess every single toy they saw in a tv ad, that was incredible. How can children be happy if they don’t have any toys or computer games?
Though, a few things from Zuzu’s life appealed to my boys; he’s never been to school and he’s never taken a bath in his whole life.
Zuzu is one of characters of Martyna Wojciechowska’s book „Kids of the world” (“Dzieciaki świata”; link in Polish; the book has its own website with great interactive games for kids). Wojciechowska, a well-known Polish traveller, TV presenter and editor of Polish edition of „National Geographic” writes about children she met on her trips to Africa and Asia. The book was reviewed and illustrated by the author’s little daughter Marysia, what I find cool! All the stories are written from a child’s perspective, which make them more clear and appealing to young readers.
Unfortunately, this book hasn’t been translated to other languages; I hope it will be soon or otherwise I’ll translate it myself 🙂
The book depicts Zuzu, a little shepherd from Himba tribe; Mebratu, a shoeshine boy from Ethiopia; Matina, a living gooddess from Nepal; Mali, a girl from Thailand who wishes to be….a giraffe; and Lien from Vietnam, who lives on a boat.
Each story includes a short paragraph with a psychologist’s explanations and questions that help children understand the story and relate to the characters. Mebratu from Ethiopia goes running everyday as he dreams of becoming an Olympic medalist. „You need to work hard to achieve your goals; do you have a dream? Is there something you do everyday to become better at it”? The author also proposes follow-up activities for children and parents, such as going out for the whole day without any toys and playing just with „what they can find”, like Himba children.
This book inspires interest in the world, teaches young readers them values of diversity and tolerance. When describing face painting in Ethiopia, the author explains that every culture has its own definitione of beauty and everybody has to respect it. The story about Mali’s sister who prefers going to school to wearing neck rings teaches that despite tradition every child has dreams and ambitions that have to be understood and respected by their family.
My boys liked the most the stories about African boys, Zuzu and Membratu. I’m sure that the tale of Matina, who lives like a princess but dreams of being a normal girl, able to play with other children, would appeal to every little girl. Many girls would love to be „real princesses”; what may be a downside to such a lifestyle?
I would definitely recommend this book to all the parents who want to teach their children about the world in a fun and engaging way.
So, here we are back home after a 2 weeks holiday in London. The boys have had the time of their lives: there was plenty of stuff with Thomas the Tank Engine, they visited lots of cool places and – surprise of the year- fell in love in British food!
No one would guess that they were born in Spain, the Mediterranean food paradise and that they are both picky eaters. Fish& chips became their new favourite dish, they drank lots of disgusting tea with milk and they preferred cheap street food to lovely home meals cooked by my friends.
And they spoke lots of English.
As the video was recorded on a very noisy King’s Cross Square (we wanted to have red buses in the background) you can’t hear very well Andres’s answers; this is why I repeat his words. Sorry if that sounds annoying 😉
I’m very glad as they both got a grasp of the language quickly. As you can see in the Easter video , in April my older son only knew colours and numbers in English. After a few months of lessons at home and a 2 weeks stay in UK he can ask simple questions (what’s your name/how old are you), describe objects from his everyday life (food, toys) and – what makes me a very proud mum – ask for things in stores and play simple games with English speaking kids.
Even Michał, who’s not 3 yet has learnt to answer his age, say “please”, “thank you” and “bye bye”.
Would you like to help your kids to speak English abroad without spending a fortune on language summer camps?Read on and, if you like my ideas, use them on your next family trip!
These activities are based in London, but I’m sure you can do similar things in many UK cities. Good luck!
Tip 1: Activities for kids in English: events, museums, play groups.
Good news: they’re free!
British kids who spend the summer in the city can’t be bored. There are lots of cool workshops and activities organized in museums, events for families in parks or play centres.
Isn’t a storytelling session at a Transport Museum, among red buses and other cool vehicles funnier than “story time ” in the classroom at a language camp?
A good website to start is http://www.netmums.com/ , an English site where you can find activities, playgroups and events for kids in your town. You only have to register and tag the area where you’re going to stay in UK.
Here you can find a list of free child-friendly museums, outdoor play centres and other fun places.
We have joined the following activities:
– V&A Museum of Childhood: home to a great collection of kids’ toys, games and costumes. They run activities from 10.30 to 16.00 from Monday to Friday, including storytelling, have-a-go sessions and arts and crafts activities. The entrance to this museum is free for kids and adults.
The boys loved a story about animals and as the language was very simple, they didn’t find it hard to join in the activity.
– London Transport Museum : one of their favourite places in London! Can you imagine two little boys obsessed with vehicles of all kinds at a cool place where you can get on all the buses? And if it wasn’t enough, there is a lovely play area with a wooden train track to play and more buses to “drive”!
This museum is free for kids. Adults have to pay 15 pounds, but it’s an annual ticket – they don’t sell one day tickets – I absolutely recommend it if you’re staying longer in London as your kids will definitely want to come back to the museum. We have been 3 times and the boys never wanted to leave! Good news for the parents: there’s Wi-Fi in the museum and it’s located in Covent Garden, so after your trip to the museum you can explore this great area, go to the theatre or for a meal in one of numerous lovely restaurants.
We joined storytelling and arts&crafts sessions in this museum, both dedicated to Pigeons that delivered letters during the 2nd World War.
Although the topic is quite advanced for young kids, they enjoyed drawing and cutting their pigeons and participating in a very animated storytelling session, where they even got to throw small plastic balls at each other to represent the fight!
We also loved Coram’s Fields, a huge playground with a park and summer activities for kids. This centre offers different summer activities, like football, music, dancing or simply playtime for under fives. Andres and Michal enjoyed playing with new toys, chatting with lovely monitors and getting to know other kids.
A funny thing happened to us at Coram’s Fields; a little girl thought that the boys are her brothers as they were wearing same strapped t-shirts as hers and followed them all around the place!
Tip 2:Organize play dates with English-speaking families
Do you have a profile on Couchsurfing.com ? It’s a fantastic site that connects travellers with locals who offer to host them. Couchsurfing has local forums in different cities all around the world, and there are also dedicated forums for families. You can meet wonderful, open-minded people on Couchsurfing who love to travel and meet new friends.
Benefits? Kids will make new friends and so will you, moreover locals can find you cool places in the area!
I met a wonderful, very friendly, like-minded multilingual family on CouchSurfing who met us in London: Sachiko, a Japanese translator who moved to London a few months ago with her partner and her son Christopher.
Chris was 5 years old and spoke four languages. The funny thing is one of his languages was Spanish; as soon as the boys discovered that, not a single English word was said on that playdate.
But still, the three of them had a great time!
Tip 3: Motivating learning resources
Kids love picture books and colorful magazines about their favourite TV characters, like Thomas the Engine, Peppa Pig or Disney Cars. In UK you can get a lot of cheap picture books in charity shops and “one pound” stores. Go shopping with your kids and let them choose the material they like best. Watch TV in English with your kids; we became fans of a programming block on Channel 5 Milkshake! that features popular shows and music videos for children. The boys were delighted to see that Thomas the Tank Engine, Tree Fu Tom and other characters they loved “could speak English, like us, mummy”.
Tip 4: Yes, DO talk with strangers!
I taught the boys to say “hello” and “bye bye” every time we got on the train, bus, we entered a shop or a playground, not to forget “excuse me”, “please” and “thank you”. The British were delighted with their efforts and our idea of a “learning holiday” and often followed up the conversation asking about the boys’ name, age, favourite food and colours.
I’m aware that it may be a difficult exercise for introvert kids; you can start with a “hello” on the playground or at a store you visit everyday. Sometimes kids who don’t like speaking English in the classroom change their actitude completely in a “real life” situation, especially if they see positive reactions of foreigners.
A lovely lady on the train gave Andres an Angry Birds stickers book for his “excellent English skills”; another gentleman praised him with a pound.
The latter one had a dubious pleasure of meeting my son in the middle of a tantrum; Andres got hysterical at a restaurant because apparently Michal’s roast looked nicer than the one on his own plate, so I took him out for a moment. As I was waiting for him to calm down so that I could seriously talk with him about behaviour in public places, an elderly gentleman approached Andres, asked him his name and gave him “a coin for chocolate, your English is very good, boy”.
Andres immediately stopped crying, said “thank you, I love chocolate” and ran back to the restaurant to share the good news with his brother.
He thought that the coin had actually some chocolate inside.
My friends back in the restaurant decided they should all take turns to cry on the street; it could result more profitable than their London jobs.
Tip 5:You can get it if you really want…and ask for it in English
Ice cream? Orange juice? A packet of crisps? A toy car or fluffy animal in a “One Pound” store? Yes, you can….but you must ask for it in English.
Andres was used to ask for things in small stores as I often encouraged him to do that back in Poland. He knew some basic food vocabulary; that was all he needed.
And is there better motivation for a five year old than a lovely ice cream on a hot, sightseeing day?
He asked for his first “English ice cream” at Coram’s Field, on the third day of our trip. He used very simple sentences “ice cream, please” and colours instead of flavours “pink and yellow, please”, but the lady behind the counter understood him.
Some shop assistants were very helpful, asking him simple questions in English to make him speak more ( a big or a small smoothie? Pink or orange?) He was praised, encouraged to speak and he gained confidence, which was even better than sweets.
Michał reduced his store conversations to “hello”, “bye bye” and “thank you”, but he definitely understood much more; once,when Andres asked for an ice cream, he immediately shouted “two”!
How to make this exercise easier for your kids? Role play “a store” at home. It is especially motivating if you “sell” sweets 😉 With older kids, you can use plastic coins as “real money” and introduce the expression “how much is it”.
Tip 6: English is all around you
Look at billboards on the road. Read aloud signs at the museums. If you go to a zoo or a city farm, read the information about the animals to your kids and ask them if they know what the animal is called in their own language. Encourage your kids to read the signs and try to understand their meaning.
However, remember that visiting a foreign country may be an overwhelming experience for your child. Take it easy; if your kids are tired and unwilling to speak English, let them have a rest. Learning English on holiday needs to be a fun experience, not an obligation.
I always encourage families with small kids to take it easy on holidays. It is better to visit fewer museums or attractions, choose carefully those that are the most attractive for kids, and spend the rest of the day playing in the park or at the playground.
I had been to London for a few times before I had kids and I was delighted to discover the city from my boys’ perspective: beautiful parks, interactive displays for kids at museums. fun at workshops. My boys would be bored to death in British Museum, but they talk everyday about the fun we had in the “pirate place” (Diana’s Memorial Playground), play area in the Disney store or on a trip to Purley countryside, where they were running and shouting on the hills.
And, even more, I was happy to see how quickly they were learning English and, unlike many kids and adults I saw abroad, how inhibited they were to communicate with others despite a very basic grasp of vocabulary.
Have you tried to help your kids to speak a foreign language abroad? How was your experience? Do you think that bilingual children learn foreign languages more easily? Share your stories with me!
A few years ago people felt sorry for my older son; he was 3 years old and he barely could speak! While other kids were already talking a lot, he was only able to say a few words.
They thought that the “fault” was his bilingualism; he was born in Spain, so the majority language was obviously Spanish, and since he was born I only spoke Polish with him. At home we only spoke Spanish as my husband doesn’t speak Polish at all.
“Poor boy, he’s struggling so much, you’re just messing up in his head”! , some neighbours were saying. Others said he wouldn’t do well at school because of his delayed speech. Still others said there’s no even point in speaking Polish with him if the only person who spoke the language in our little town was me. “If you really have to speak other language with him, it should be English, at least it will be useful for him in the future”.
Seriously? I didn’t worry a bit. I knew from our family doctor that bilingual kids may have some speech delay and that my son was quite childish for his age, which also affected his speech development. I spoke with other parents of bilingual kids and I read many papers about the topic. So I just kept calm and so did my hubby.
And then, gradually, Andres began to speak. He spoke mostly Spanish, though; while he was able to understand every single word in Polish, he always answered in Spanish. I listened to him and I answered back in Polish. And so on, and so on.
He went to a Polish weekend school, he watched movies and we read stories in Polish.
And then we moved to Poland.
At first he kept on answering all the questions in Spanish; he thought that if mummy gets it, everybody else will, too. The preschool teachers freaked out as they didn’t understand a word from his long monologues, but he did well in the classroom as he understood all the instructions.
Then he started to use single words in Polish. And maybe after 3 weeks, when we were in a supermarket, he made his first full sentence; “Mum, we’ve already bought the cheese”. With perfect pronunciation and grammar.
Since that day, he spoke Polish better and better everyday; while he still made slight mistakes in the beginning, after a few months nobody would notice that he had been born abroad. He didn’t mix the languages anymore. He continued to speak Spanish with his Dad at home and we read a lot to expand his vocabulary in both languages.
Funny though, his younger brother, Michal, aged 2 when we moved to Poland started to speak both languages immediately, with similar fluency and no signs of speech delay.
It was then I decided to give it a start with English. If the kids already speak two languages, differentiate them clearly, can actually translate from one language to another at family meetings, then why not? Bilingual children are considered to learn foreign languages easily; so, let’s start!
I used to teach English to kids in the past, so I have lots of resources at home. We took it easy; a “class” took half an hour a day, 3 days a week. A few games, a song, simple vocabulary.
I only spoke English to the boys during the class and they were able to understand most of the instructions. We also watched excellent Super Simple Songs on YouTube, we played computer games and read simple stories in English.
At that time Andres and Michal became obsessed with a popular British show for kids “Thomas the Tank Engine”. I decided to take them for a trip to UK in the summer so that they could meet their idol in Thomas Land.
So…I told them that they have to learn English every day so that they could play with English-speaking kids on holiday, make new friends and ask for soft drinks and ice cream.
This video was recorded in April, during Easter, when the boys had been learning English for about 2 months.
This is funny how Andres confuses “morado” (purple) with “enamorado” (in love) in Spanish and then, when has to name the same colour in Polish, he translates “enamorado” to “kochany” (in love, lovely). And I have no idea why in the end they call me cucaracha (cockroach), using the Spanish word in all the Spanish versions.
Now he knows more vocabulary, he understands simple questions (what’s your name, is it big or small, how are you, can you jump/swim), etc. Both him and Michał can understand much more that they can speak.
People around are amazed by the boys’ bilingual skills; at preschool events or birthday parties Andres and Michal receive a lot of compliments, what boosts their self-confidence. But what I find more important is that despite their young age they are aware of the world they live in and very open-minded. If Andres hears a foreign language on TV, he will ask immediately what language it is and if I could show him the country on the map. When the boys see a price in the supermarket, they will happily shout it in all the three languages. The ability to understand and learn from the context also helps them at preschool; they understand non-verbal communicates very well and they are responsive to gestures and face expressions.
Tomorrow we’re leaving for London. I have organized the trip carefully; the boys are going to participate in workshops at museums, join local play groups, we’ve also arranged to meet some English-speaking families. We’re going to stay in UK for two weeks.
I’m very curious of the outcome of the boys’ first English immersion. Will they actually start to speak the language? I know that the “Polish miracle of 3 weeks” will not happen here; you can’t compare a native language (always spoken by Mummy) with a foreign language they only have learnt for a few months.
When we get back, we’ll take another video to see my boy’s progress.
Tell me about your experience with children and languages. Do you agree that bilingual children learn foreign languages easily? What problems do you encounter? If you have moved abroad, have the kids learned fast the local language? How about foreign languages at school? I’m looking forward to hearing your stories!