An exceptional day

2018 has just begun and I’m full of hope and I have confidence in our future bilingual journey. We have tough days but a day like today always fills me with optimism and confirms we are on the right track.

Today started as nothing special. What’s more, we woke up in Hungarian, which is always a kind of disappointment for me. Half way through the breakfast the girls asked for a book to read. I was hesitating as we were running late from the kindergarten, but I had decided to say more YESes this year so I gave in. We read 2 or 3 short stories in English and somehow we stayed in English.

E. helped L. get dressed into the thick winter clothes, directing and encouraging her to do it alone in English. We were chatting about the day all the way to the kindergarten in English. I promised E. to pick her up early, right after L.’s nap time. She was blue, she wanted to stay with us and go to the playground together.

Right after dropping E. off at the kindergarten we headed to the playground with L. who was singing : “Let’s go to the playground, playground, playground, come on and play”. (see video on this link)

She was sliding, running around, hiding in a little house with her little red nose and cold hands. The weather wasn’t too bad but a bit chilly. We played games in English like in the swing. She was holding on tight and I lifted her swing up higher and higher on the count of 5 and pretending to be aeroplanes flying high. Or she hid in the little house and I was the bear chanting Round and round the garden like a teddy bear. When I reached to the point – one step, two steps – I stepped into the house and once I tickled her at another times kissed her all around. Her laugh was the sweetest and I didn’t have enough of her “again”s.

We went to buy our lunch to the nearby take-away and slowly walked home, L. pushing her buggy or jumping in puddles and shouting out: Yipee!

After lunch L asked for Hush Little Baby and I rocked her to sleep while singing. Then I had a little me-time. I could go on with the unfinished Days of December blog post, as well as the album, plus I finally managed to sew a long forgotten button onto my husband’s coat while watching an episode of the series 24 (in English, of course).

I realised L. woke up when she was playing with a balloon in the dining room, tiptoeing in her sleeping bag and saying: funny balloon.

We quickly got ready – L. helped me choose what snacks to take – “Mommy pretzel yummie” and “fruit puree” and went to pick E. up. She was happy to see us and it was no question that she used English immediately when she heard we’d been in English with L.

The three of us visited the same playground as earlier and had the snacks on a bench before immersing ourself in playing, mainly swinging and trying a little boy’s backhoe in the sandpit. Little L. asked for the digger in English (Can I get it, excavator?) then E. instructed her to ask it in Hungarian instead (Kérem szépen) so they could try digging with the digger.

On the way home E. was holding L.’s little hand explaining her how some building had been “crashed down” (sic) by big machinery. She also pointed out a broken car to L.’ amazement. All in English.

As we were getting closer to our house they started to play a game. E. gave the instructions what to do and also demonstrated it to L. Touch this brick, step into this puddle, hug the water-spout, climb up on these steps, come down etc. L. asked E, for help who eagerly assisted her little sister: lifted her if she couldn’t reach something or held her hand to help.

At home I started to prepare for dinner while they were playing in the living-room. Together. In English. E. helped L. draw some atoms, then they had a look at the “match the lid” box. E. applied imaginary body lotion on L, which she fancied so much. Next I saw them on the floor looking at some books.

Later Daddy came home, we played a card game that E. made up (she made the cards herself in the kindergarten) then he took L. to take a bath. They kept on using English. I stayed with E. and played a few more rounds of her card game (Snap the pair) and we also looked up on the Internet some carnival costume ideas. (She wants to be an atom or some chemical element.)

When L. was ready I took E. to take a shower and her plush spider joined her too, which we scrubbed thoroughly as he was filthy.

We were still in English at the dinner table talking about our day and discussing tomorrow’s programmes.

The girls watched some videos (Blippi mainly) while I took a quick shower myself. Then in bed I read The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl, which seemed to capture E.’s imagination as this was the second time within 4 days she’d asked me to read it. (She’s asking a lot about words/expressions like baffled, famished, filthy, swoop and swear on your honour that we met while reading it.)

I could hear Daddy in our bedroom reading to Little L. in English too.

Days like today encourage me and lift me up high. I feel we are capable of anything, no obstacle can stop us on our bilingual odyssey. I needed to write down this ordinary and at the same time extraordinary day to take heart from it on the difficult days. I hope this little writing will give you hope and a little boost when you feel down and disheartened.

 

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FAQ

In the last couple of weeks I have bumped into a lot of mums who asked me similar questions about raising our daughter bilingual in a totally monolingual environment. So I collected a bunch of questions and my answers to them with some links from earlier blog posts:

  1. Do you speak to her English only?

No, I don’t. I can’t do that. My mother tongue is my mother tongue, no matter how high my level of English is. (High level of language command is relative. I always feel my English is deteriorating.)

I assigned certain times to speak English. When E. was a baby we had a timetable which meant that we used a little bit more English than Hungarian as she spent loads of time with me. Then we needed to change our schedule, still we had 50-50 % balanced language usage. (When she was around 2). Nowadays, (she’s almost 3) we are in trouble with the balance between the two languages as we do not spend so much time together therefore there is less English in her life. BUT! Her English basis is so strong that she asks for changing languages when she feels she misses one of them (it’s usually English)

Even today, whenever there are just the two of us she says: – Uh-uh, Mommy. We need to change into English. We are just two.
or
– I’ve already changed into English, because there is only Mommy and I.

 

  • When do you speak English to her and when Hungarian?

    There are many methods you can follow. What I use is a special one: I call it the timetable method. By now we don’t have a timetable any more. Whenever we can, we speak English, as the Hungarian input of the environment is too influencing.

  • When did you start talking to her in English?

    When we took her home from the hospital. At first, I was just singing songs and chanting rhymes to her in English. I wasn’t sure about what I was doing and it felt strange. Then I got some inspirations after having read some books and contacted some other moms in the same shoes. From the age of 6 months I’ve been talking to her in English just like in Hungarian.

  • Wasn’t she late with speech development?

    Not at all, although it would have been perfectly normal. She was about 1 year old when she could say 6-8 English words (and Hungarian ones too). Actually, her first word (bib) was in English. Of course, these words were fuzzy and not distinct for the untrained ears. But by the time she turned 18 months these words had become clear and a LOT more had been added to them. Not to mention, she started to build up 2-3 word sentences at that time too.

    I have to admit that the period between the age of 12 and 18 months was filled with more English sessions than Hungarian.

  • Doesn’t she mix the languages?

    She does! At first she didn’t, however, nowadays more and more. I’m not worried about it… okay… I am a little bit concerned, but I know if we keep up the balance between the languages she’ll have all the language tools in both languages to express herself. Most of the time she mixes Hungarian into her English because she doesn’t know a word or she can’t express something due to lacking a structure.

    Though it happens the other way round, too. She makes her grandparents puzzled when she asks for some stories with the telescope in it (mind you, pronounced it with a perfect British accent) or when she says she wants to play on the see-saw at the playground. Sometimes she names some bugs (bumblebees, wasps, ants) or plants (pansies, daffodils, shepherd’s-purse etc) she sees in the park in English. They can sort out this teeny-weeny language problem… for the time being.

  • What do you do when she mixes the languages?

    I keep on talking in the given language. I don’t change. And I do NOT advise you to let your child take the lead (although it is also an option.) I go on talking, let’s say, in English when she says some Hungarian words or sentences here and there. If I know she could say it in English I ask back: – What did you say? or – What’s that in English?

    If I am aware of the fact that she can’t express herself, I simply repeat in English what she said in Hungarian. Some sources suggest not to make your child repeat a word or sentence, yet sometimes I ask her to repeat just to reinforce we use English and help her fix a structure she cannot use (at all, or properly). Nonetheless, I’m not forcing it. Normally, she repeats expressions after me by herself. If she doesn’t want to, we move on.

    Also, you can pretend you do not understand what your child says, but in our case (we do not follow the One Parent One Language -OPOL-strategy; she can hear me talk both Hungarian and English) it wouldn’t work as my daughter knows that I understand and speak both. The other problem with this could be that your child can get frustrated if he or she can’t put an idea or a wish across.

  • What English activities/programmes can you take part in?

    We used to have a native British nanny for almost 2 years. I’m really grateful for her as she meant that I could have some free time (cooking, washing, ironing, shopping, cleaning etc.) while I knew English was still in focus in my daughter’s life. Now we are looking for a new nanny. If you happen to know someone in Budapest who would be interested I would appreciate it.

    I’ve organised a Mums’ English Club (MEC) in the library nearby, where mums gather with their little ones and chat in English while the kids play away. At the end of our sessions we sing some English songs for the kids. An afternoon session of MEC is badly needed but I haven’t had time to find a place where we could go free of charge.

    We’ve been taking part in the well-known Helen Doron School’s programme since E. was 10 months old. We are planning to leave it, but I’ll write about that in a later post.

    For almost a year we took part in a swimming course which was instructed both in English and Hungarian. We met there some non-Hungarian families who communicated mainly in English, so E. could hear during the swimming sessions that English is not just Mommy’s crazy language.

    We also visited Rhyme Time sessions (singing and playing in English) for a few times, but we do not go regularly.

  • Does Daddy speak English to her?

    He does. Daddy speaks a lot of languages, it’s no problem for him at all. What’s more, practising English regularly helps him improve his spoken skills as well. I suppose he also enjoys our English session;

    Again, at the beginning we did it differently. When Daddy arrived home from work we changed into Hungarian, but the whole day was in English. Nowadays, as I’m starting to work, E. is spending more time with the grandparents or she is in the nursery (not to mention that our native nanny, A. has left) we have been trying to fit in as many English sessions as we can.

    We have plenty of dinners, weekend programmes, playground visits, craft activities and bath times in English with Daddy. I’m very lucky, because my husband is very supportive concerning our bilingual project.

  • Can she say sentences?

    Haha. This has been the funniest question so far I’ve received. Sure she can. 🙂 Sometimes very complicated ones. I was really amazed when she said a passive sentence in the playground (– Look, Mommy, the other swing is taken) or when she talks to her soft toy using present perfect (– What have I told you?). One day she was replaying a Berry and Dolly episode (Gingerbread) that we watch in English.

    The following left her mouth: – I’m making gingerbread with the cookie cutter and then I’ll put it out in the winter (sic) to cold (sic). Magpie, (that is me) come and take it away.
    Later in the story: – Don’t take away that belongs to somebody else.

    Here is the episode.

    Not only her sentences but her vocabulary is also outstanding. I’m often surprised at how eloquent words she knows. The other day she called a pan saucepan. I don’t think I have ever used this word with herOr she can name different kinds of onions: leek, garlic, spring onion as well as varied expressions for the eating process: munch, chew, stuff your face, digest, feed, bite

     

  • How do you “teach” her (sic)?

    This is exactly how this question is asked most of the time.

    And the answer is : I do not teach her.

    What I do is to play with her in English just like in Hungarian. We do the daily routines in both languages. I try to prepare everyday and special activities for her which give us a chance to meet a lot of new situations:

    – experimenting,
    – prepping for holidays of the English-speaking world,
    – doing fun craft activities,
    cooking and baking
    doing housework together
    exploring nature
    reading books and singing a lot as well as watching videos

    These are just a few examples. In short, we LIVE our lives in 2 languages.

    +1. How shall WE start?

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” – Mark Twain

So just start it.

If you want to get some ideas read through the blog… HAHA. Believe me, it’ll be much easier to find your own ways. But you can get some ideas here. (Feel free to search for keywords if you’re looking for something exact)

Start with some songs that you sing to your child while changing nappies or waking him/her up.

Search some videos online around a topic (cars, shapes, animals, numbers, planets etc.) that your child is interested in and watch them together. You can also explain what you see in the videos.

Learn some rhymes/songs with sign language and play with your munchkin.

Flashcards are almost always fascinating for children, but rather time-consuming to prepare your own home-made ones. On the other hand, our own flashcards are much more attractive to my daughter. You can find really good flashcards online, which you only need to print (and perhaps laminate).
If you don’t mind spending some money, you can buy some beautiful ones.

And I haven’t mentioned the endless opportunities that books offer to speak and practise a foreign language.

Again, these are some very basic ideas to start with your little one from an early age.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me either in the comments or via email. You can come and visit  my facebook page as well.

Enjoy!

Ice experiment with tricolor beads

During winter time we had some ice fun I didn’t write about as it wasn’t really planned. But now, inspired by Yuliya, the writer of Welcome to Mummyhood, I decided to go for it again.

We’ve altered the task she introduce on her blog to suit our Hungarian National holiday and I used red, white and green IKEA beads instead of sequins.

E. filled up the ice cube tray with the beads.

Then she poured the water (the beads are so light that they were floating on the top.)

After that we put the tray into the freezer. We checked it on the same day whether it was frozen or not, but we had no luck.

We did this preparation in Hungarian and talked about the colours of the Hungarian flag and how water turns into ice under 0 Celsius degree. She listened closely and asked questions about what liquid is and what frozen means. I gave her a basic explanation.

The next day we took it out of the freezer and I set up this tray for E. We were in English this time.

She was amazed as soon as she saw the tray.

First, she was a little hesitant what to do. But then she got the hang of it.

She used all the tool (tongs, fork, spoon and ladle) I prepared for her. Picking, spooning, ladling. First, she was touching the ice cubes with her hands. Abruptly, she said: – It’s cold and wet. I don’t want to be wet. 

And she picked up her favourite tool, the tongs.

And she was bewildered by the chemical reaction.

She was playing with it for 40-45 minutes. Mostly alone or with very little assistance.

Once she tasted the baking soda. Nothing happened, of course, and when I asked her if it tasted nice, her answer was positive. Luckily, she didn’t try it again.

Before her nap time, she was asking about the ice experiment (vinegar and experiment are words that gave her a hard time to pronounce. Once she said ligament instead of vinegar… haha. So cute!)

All in all, it was a wonderful experiment, loads of fun and a lot of new vocabulary learnt in both languages. We’ll definitely do something similar again. I was thinking of volcanoes…

Here are some vocabulary/phrases connected to our experiment:

Ice experiment.pptx

Before – after: Our new calendar and weather station

I’ve already written a post about how I made our weather board which also includes some emotions too. I’ve made some changes to it and added some more details.

I wanted to include days, months and seasons as well. So I repainted the board (the old tray) like 6 times as the paint didn’t want to cover the black letters I’d written on it earlier. More or less I managed with the painting and on the top, I wrote DAY, MONTH and SEASON. I also made laminated cards. The days are hand-written both in English and in Hungarian, the months are printed but I decorated every month according to what’s typical in that month. I found 4 pictures depicting the four seasons. I printed some more varied weather pictures you can find on the link. In this way, the many sources and styles make it more eclectic and more eye-caching than one kind of template (although you can find several of them online – see links later). Of course, I laminated them all and also added sticky magnets on the back.

The weather display is in the middle and at the bottom of the board you can find the feelings.

On the side of our book case next to the weather board, I printed a monthly calendar where every day we can leave a dot with our much loved dot markers.

Before:

After:

As you can see our day turned bad (have a look at the feelings section -silly and sad… it was true for both of us… so sorry for the poor quality of the photos.
started as a fun day

making a mark
I don’t think I’ll change this calendar and weather station in the near future but here I collected some links of how others do it. There are some real professional ones among them:
Our classroom calendar – from Counting Coconuts
Alas, we do not have such a great wall to use.
Calendar Activities (Photo from Discovery Days and Montessori Moments)
Our calendar routine – from My Montessori Journey
100_2683

I really liked this one, but unfortunately the whole thing is on an A/4 sheet which would be too small for us. The design is beautiful.

Weather chart – by Rowdy in Room 300
Easy to use, colourful but it’s only weather
My weather station – by boys GERMS
It’s a showpieces, I love it! Though not for my little one. She would destroy it within seconds.
Wow!
The links above contain quite a lot of free printable materials.

Our calendar and weather display is rather modest compared to the others I linked in but it serves great fun and supports our bilingual learning process.

Finding more inspiration – MEC

When E. became 6 months old, I was on the net all the time when she was sleeping to find more inspiration on raising a child bilingual here in Hungary. I wanted to find other moms who were in the same shoes as me. And I found one on facebook: M. organised  the so-called Mums’ English Club (MEC) in her district in Budapest. It was totally free of charge. M. raises her daughter bilingual, too. MEC is and hour/hour and a half get-together where moms and their babies come together. Moms chat while the kids are playing. Baby rhymes and songs in English could be included but it’s not a must. The main point of the club is to create an English environment for the children, where they can hear that English is another, natural way of communicating with one another.

I was over the moon to find M. who is working on the same, creating as many opportunities for her daughter to be in an English-speaking environment. We corresponded a lot, she supported me, and helped me in numerous ways:

  1. M. inspired me to organise a MEC in my district
  2. She introduced me to MAKATON sign language as a possible link between Hungarian and English (I’ll write about it in details in another post)
  3. M. recommended many books for babies – self-made, translated, or originals (see a later post)
  4. She encouraged me not to give up, or shilly-shally when facing difficulties or disappointment

Thanks you, M.

You can find this group of Hungarian and non-Hungarian moms here on facebook. And this community is growing, you can find some groups in the country-side, too. It might happen that one day it’ll be a Hungary-wide project.

After all, I made a poster and advertised our MEC in the library nearby, and on the net.

Soon the first MEC took place 22 January 2012. It was an hour long and only one mom and her 11-month-old baby came. Still, it was such a victory. Something I managed to make up in order to get closer to my aim.

 

Later on, within a month, 2 other moms contacted me and by the end of February we were four moms and four kids chatting and playing and having fun in English. Now we meet on a weekly basis, if holidays, sickness do not chime in. If the above ad has drawn your attention and you feel like joining us, do not hesitate to contact me.

Unfortunately, two of the moms are going to take their children to nursery as they’re going back to work, so I need to put out some more posters in the area again to find new moms, new playmates.