Kids and Language

As a mother of 2 small children I am continually astounded by their language development- the words they pick up and the way they manage to play with multiple languages already. As we're currently living in Vienna they are having to master German on top of English… so here are some of my ponderings on the linguistic theme.


Off topic

School uniforms… yay or nay?

uniformMy daughter starts school this September- in Austria we’re a little later than other
countries round the world, so she’ll be 6 by the time she walks through the doors for the first time. Friends in the UK, Australia and the USA have already made the big step, fondly photographed and posted on social media by the parents. So I watch and (patiently) wait for my turn.

Am I the only mother who loves the look of the Grade 1 child in his or her new school uniform? The too big skirt and still bright-coloured jumper? The excited smile on the child’s face, as they have now graduated from Kindergarten to the ‘big girl’s school’? I remember finally being old enough to go to primary school in the UK, four long years after my sister had started. Weeks, or maybe months before the term started I had tried on my new uniform, loving the look and feel of it far more than I did once I was actually forced to wear it in class. And from then on I didn’t really think about the uniform, except on those days when we had ‘home clothes day’ and could come in looking different from usual.

There are many nay-sayers, who cannot agree with the concept of uniform- hate the colour, the style, the necessity of wearing something not their choice. So not everyone loves a uniform! But in school there are definite advantages that one can bring, and here are a few:

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Online safety

1280x720-vpfDespite our good intentions to limit television time to a minimum, most of us parents do allow our children to watch the odd show. I know that if my children are being particularly rowdy, then 30 minutes of Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol will calm them down and allow me a few minutes peace.

However, we need to be vigilant of what they are allowed to watch, especially when using sites like YouTube to access different shows. My 5-year old daughter is now able to find the YouTube app and get to her favourite shows relatively easily, which means that I slack off and cease to monitor exactly what she is clicking. But I have to be more aware and pro-active about what my children are watching, especially because I know that there are loads of dodgy sites out there just waiting for their innocent little fingers to click the link.

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What is it with males and dresses?

boy in a dressI have a beef about men and dresses. Either they love them or they hate them. No middle ground- it’s a polarising topic. Many men would run as fast as they could in the opposite direction when even the merest whiff of dresses comes up, while for other guys the chance to play dress-up is irresistible, and they will never say no when the opportunity arises…

I’m half Scottish. Need I say more?! I was brought up in a kilt- wearing environment, where at a party every single person there, male and female, would be wearing a skirt or dress (OK, OK- not a skirt, a kilt ;-)). I love the things, from the way they look and the colours they have to the way they make men behave- they bring out the gentleman in most men, and they obviously love the feeling and the comments they get from wearing one. Continue reading “What is it with males and dresses?”

When Christmas isn’t just the 25th

father-christmas-saint-02We’re at that time of year again- when you can’t enter a shop without being assaulted by festive music, the waft of cinnamon-infused everything, and hungry shoppers desperate for that last-minute bargain. Ahh, Christmas. How I have missed you.

Can I still call this time of year Christmas though? With friends from all over the world who celebrate different things from me I don’t want to insult anyone. I have even started saying ‘Happy Holidays!’ to my friends and students, complete with an American accent and lop-sided grin to go with it, as it feels so far removed from what I was brought up with and actually feel as the right expression for this season. If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings’ Day, you have a right to have it recognised. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or happy holidays are all pleasantries. There’s nothing remotely hostile in those words. Sure, they may not be the words that some would choose to receive, but they’re far from insults.

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Come on, Austria!!

smokingRant on…

Today I took my kids to Kindergarten- a task that is usually my husband’s, but he had to rush off for a meeting. It’s a task I enjoy doing- once in a while. I like it because I see the other half of the families that I see in the afternoon – it looks like our routine of Daddy-drop-off and Mummy-pick-up (or vice-versa) is repeated all over the city.

However, today I didn’t enjoy it quite so much. I was a bit shocked actually. And then I was indignant. And now I’m writing about it.

Smoking. I couldn’t believe the number of parents (I’ll assume they were) walking along the street with their children, and smoking. One even with the baby in a sling- puffing away over her head, using her as an ash tray for all I know. Ok, for most of you smokers, this was the first trip out of the house today, and you are proud to say that you don’t smoke at home any more (probably not true). So this was the first chance you had to fill your lungs with the ‘good stuff’. You just couldn’t wait to get your little ones that 500 metres down the road to drop them off first, before lighting up. Really? Really??

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Manners: the Ps & Qs of language

mannersLast month I and my children went to spend a couple of weeks at Granny’s house. While I believe that my children generally have good manners, there is plenty of room for improvement, as I saw my mother thinking when my 4-year old interrupted our conversation endlessly, and my 1- year old constantly threw his things on the floor. Obviously, it is time to serve up some etiquette lessons. But what is age-appropriate? Is my preschooler mature enough to learn to wait her turn in a conversation? Can I expect my toddler to sit still and not to play with his food?

Learning to communicate is more than just opening your mouth and babbling… manners are a key part too. As parents it’s our responsibility to teach our children what to say, and what not to say; how to behave and to avoid things we shouldn’t do. Is it harder in this international world? Some things that are acceptable in our own culture are frowned upon in another, so how do we manage to teach what they need? We need to keep the goals realistic though- we’ll never get our 2-year-olds to chew with their mouth closed! Here are some basics- things they can start to pick up at different ages:

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Making friends… from an early age

stop_your_kids_fighting_5_18v3jps-18v3jqb1I sit and watch my two children interacting with other children, at the park, at Kindy, on play-dates. While the 1-year old is still into his own things, watching the others from time to time but not really interacting, my 3-year old seems to have some good friends, and talks about them a lot- when is X coming to my house? Is Y going to be at the park? It’s breathtaking to think that while they are still so little kids can learn to forge meaningful relationships, even when they are not able to communicate fully or express themselves always as easily as they would like.

Can toddlers really make friends? Surely, they are too young (or at least so busy defending their own toys) that they haven’t the time or energy to make friends?From the age of three or four, friendships can begin to take on real meaning for children – they begin to really connect and empathise with others.

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How far would you go to learn a new language?

In our lives and culture there are certain taboos, ranging from mild to particularly offensive. Burping in public, PDAs, abortion, discussing a person’s sexual orientation- these can upset some people, and we avoid them, or at least don’t talk about them. Another of these is drug taking- seen on the whole as inappropriate or unacceptable, when in actual fact drugs are taken by a wide range of people for a number of different reasons: caffeine, nicotine, pain killers etc.

And now research has indicated that drugs may exist which would enhance and improve our ability to learn a language. Wow!! How many of us feel that we aren’t good language learners, and would like some way to get ahead with this one task. For English native speakers at least, language learning is a challenge- we are in the minority around the world of people who speak only one language, and so this would be a wonderful step forward to being able to compete on the international stage better.

But what are the moral and ethical implications of medically enhanced education? Would you take a pill if it would help your ability to learn? The British Academy and the Guardian debated this point (July 2014), and covered some very interesting areas. To watch this, the short version is here, and the long version is here.

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My daughter asked me: “Mama, what is Christmas?”christmas

Pick the correct answer:
a) a meaningless opportunity to spend more money than is sensible on objects that we probably don’t want and won’t appreciate.
b) a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to Earth to save mankind.
c) a day when a jolly fat man comes to everyone’s house to spread gifts and goodwill.

It’s a good question. And with a 3- year old in mind I’m not sure of the right answer.

But what will I tell her?

My Christmas always included a visit to Church, a walk along a very cold and windy beach while my mother and grandmother cooked the turkey, and the Queen’s speech at 3:00. These traditions probably won’t be passed on to my children, partly because we have no beach within 10 hours of home (I don’t count the Donau channel as a beach- I need the sea out there!), and my husband is about as likely to listen to the Queen as he is to play a round of golf with Kim Jong-un. But I like to think of what I will pass on, and how I will explain this season to my ever- questioning daughter.

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