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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.

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Speech development

Dealing with a late bloomer

late-bloomer-quotes-4Slow to speak, slow to walk, reluctant to write…

And that’s just my son! OK, I’m exaggerating here- I mean he’s only 3, so the lack of ability at writing is acceptable! (I am joking, BTW!) Each child has it’s own clock, set to it’s own time, and nothing (much) that we can do will change this. However, that doesn’t stop our internal discussions with ourselves, wondering when the next milestone will be reached.

I’m as guilty of this as the next Mum- with two children it’s impossible not to ask the million questions like: “Wasn’t Gen singing ’round and round the garden’ by now? What’s wrong with Sam? Is he EVER going to get there?!”

It’s the waiting game that’s so hard. Although we all know that we shouldn’t be pushing our children beyond their limitations, the sigh of relief when they do finally manage to do what their peers have been winging for months is huge. And it doesn’t help when there are often comparisons from other parents on Facebook etc- posting pictures of their little wonder typing on the pad,  singing etc… reinforcing our fears that our darlings are delayed in some way.

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Thinking games that are easy in any language

Contemplative young girl  looks up.Sometimes our children need a bit of encouragement to use language in a creative way, especially when it’s the minority language. Practicing a language can quickly feel like work, unless you manage to create situations that are fun and subtle. Thinking games for kids are some of the easiest activities you can find, and can fill in ‘dead time’, like when you’re waiting in line, or driving in the car with kids who cannot keep still or stop asking “Are we nearly there yet?” We have played “I spy with my little eye…”? in the car on our journeys until I could strangle the next person thinking of the word “car”… so here are some ideas which can be played in any language, and which while away a good few dull minutes:

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Talking: how much is enough?

should-my-toddler-be-speaking-yetMy son, at 25 months, is not a natural talker. Strange, being brought up in a family with a chatterbox sister and very talkative Mum and Dad, that he hasn’t mastered the art more easily. At around the 20-month point I started thinking about whether this was normal or not, and now, 5 months later, I still ponder on the question of whether he’s a slow starter, or whether I should be thinking about professional help.

I read about this a lot in various forums: parents being recommended speech therapy for their kids because the majority or minority language isn’t on a par with the other kids in the playgroup. Since when did we get so keen on comparing? Weren’t we all taught that it wasn’t healthy to measure our children according to their peers, in terms of growth, number of teeth, ability to do long division etc? So why now does it matter if language production is a few months behind little Johnny at Kindy?

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‘Magical thinking’, or just lies?

children-lying“Sammy, did you do a poo?” (I can smell him from the other side of the room)

“No, mama.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, mama!” (Fervent shaking of the head)

“Shall I check?”

Silence. Sammy waddles away to hide, trousers hanging out behind him.

This is the norm with my toddler at the moment, and for that matter with my 4-year old. I’m not talking about the poo, but the lying.

Continue reading “‘Magical thinking’, or just lies?”

It’s not just foreign languages that are foreign!

accentYou say “potay-toe”, I say “potah-toe”… let’s not call the whole thing off, but work on getting the message across as well as possible… at least for the kids to be able to follow our conversations!

The issue here is that despite our mutual mother tongue- English- I and my husband are from opposite sides of the world, and have very different pronunciation (not to mention vocabulary) for so many things. His Australian accent, while not strong, is still there; and my British accent is, well, decidedly British. I never really noticed it until I realised how it would affect my kids: my pre-schooler asked one morning “Mama, can I have yo-gurt /ˈjoʊ.ɡɚt/ today”… the o as in Oh my God! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: vitamin, castle and other everyday words just have different pronunciation… my husband, children and I also have to navigate through pavement vs footpath; aubergine vs eggplant;  red/ green pepper vs capsicum etc. without even starting on the cultural issues of Marmite vs Vegemite or (proper) football vs Aussie rules, etc…

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Do I confuse my kids?

Bilingual_kidMy son is only 1  1/2, but already has a thousand nicknames. It seems to run in our family, the nickname thing. I have been Gorg all my life, and my sister is Monster (you have to know her to understand!). But how does Sausage/ Bumble/  Fattypuff/ Sassafras/ Saskie know his REAL name? He does though- somehow he manages it- picking the right word from plenty of options.

Kids thrive on consistency, and are often better behaved when they have a good routine to follow. By that count, the language that we teach and model for them should follow the same consistent path, and by that I mean hearing one language spoken to them, so that they can learn to speak it properly themselves. However, this is fraught with difficulties and obstacles, when you consider that many families these days have two home languages (as with many of my friends here in Vienna who have an Austrian parent and an English-speaking parent), or if not that then two accents/ dialects for the same language (as with me and my husband).

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Getting your toddler to speak… temptation and treats!

images (3)Some friends recently came to me to ask about how to teach a language (in this case English) to their 2- year olds. Interesting, I thought, especially as my 20- month old still doesn’t really speak very much- he hums his way through a lot of songs, but words aren’t his forté. However, as he has plenty of friends who are speaking quite a lot, I started to think of ways that I could “tempt” him to speak. We all need a little encouragement from time to time… maybe some of these will work (without being too cruel to be kind):

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Encouraging your children to speak

No matter whMother helping daughter with homeworkat language your kids are speaking, be it their mother tongue (or one of them) or a foreign language, sometimes conversation just doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Especially when you reach the tween years it seems, children change their desire to confide in parents, preferring to chat with friends or go to the internet for answers. But children at a much younger age can also respond well to encouragement, and by encouraging more conversation children learn new words and concepts, develop active listening skills, learn to problem solve and make connections, and most importantly, become independent learners.

How do we go about creating conversation? When I go to a restaurant with my family we are ‘that family’: the one which makes all the noise and usually has a ring of empty tables around us- the 5- metre exclusion zone for people who don’t want the loud neighbours. But despite the fact that “shh” is my most often- used word, I would prefer to be ‘that family’ than the one which sits in silence, with not even the parents engaging in conversation, or the couple who sit in silence (maybe companionable silence, but still silence) for the full length of the meal.

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What language do you speak at the dinner table?

article-2337808-1A2F6E23000005DC-845_634x478I’ve always wondered, how do multi- language families communicate? Stupid question? Bear with me… I think I have a point.

As you settle into your happy family life with the first- born, joyously listening to him/ her speak to you in your language and your partner in another, you think your multilingual family has found the right balance.  And then you realise that baby number two is on the way, and everything you planned so perfectly may not go the way you had hoped! Every parent with two or more kids will tell you that dealing with two kids is much more complex, it’s not really one + one… and a question you never really thought of before comes up: what language will the siblings speak to each other?

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