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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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children

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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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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When language summer school actually works

skateboarding-to-summer-school-in-color-clip-art-gallery

A lifetime ago I worked as a teacher on a summer school- and what an amazing, fun time it was. We had kids coming from all over the world to learn English on 3- week courses, staying in schools or colleges over the south of England, with the main requirement to have a good time and speak English “B2B”: breakfast to bedtime. Of course this didn’t always work 100%, but there were some wonderful success stories too, making me realise that the trip abroad was beneficial to the kids.

My favourite story from my years in summer school is of 2 girls who met aged probably 14 – 15 one summer, at our summer school in Kent, UK. One was from Greece, and the other from Sweden. They were the only ones of their nationality, so they had no compatriots to chat with in their own language. They hit it off with each other instantly, and had to speak English with each other in order to be mutually understood. Their basic English grew quicker than most of the other students on the course, as they used it all the time. And the girls remained friends, reunited with each other every summer at the summer school, and to this day are still good friends. They went so far as to learn each other’s language- not so good for their English, but a testament to how much they meant to each other.

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Grandparents are great!

GrannyI flew back home to Vienna recently, after a week in the UK, sans famille. It was a lovely flying experience: I had a good wander round the airport shops without being nagged to buy this and that, I sat back in my seat and dozed a bit, I ate my meal at the same time as everyone else, without spills or whines (just wine!). Travelling without kids- what a luxury!

But when I looked across the aisle I saw a mum who had it even better than me. She was travelling with her son, yes, but also with her mother. Granny sat in the middle seat, mum in the aisle, and the 6-ish year old in the window seat. The whole way through the flight Granny looked after the son- she played with him, read to him, took him to the loo and helped him with his food. Mum did exactly the same as me: flew as if she was alone. Jealous much?!

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Is the Internet good or bad for our children?

child-using-computerThese days it seems that almost from birth, children are immersed in a digitally rich environment, from tablets to desktops and texting to social networks. Despite efforts to keep technology away from children, there is no way that any parent can stop it all from becoming part of a child’s life, or at least maybe at first, but not once they reach 5 or older. But if we step back a little bit, we can see that there are advantages to allowing some access to technology. Digital technologies have potential benefits in the areas of cognitive, social and physical development. They have huge appeal for children, and this can be harnessed to help children socialise, develop and learn. Kids who are old enough to swipe a screen can have access to the world.

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Repetition: the mother of all learning!

fish gameI sit in the living room watching my husband playing with my son. It’s the fishing game, with a number of different coloured fish and a magnetic fishing rod. “Blue! Get the blue one! No, that’s white. This one’s the blue one!” Click. “Yes. Blue. A blue fish!”

We have played this game a hundred times- my son loves the colours, the simple action, the easy success. It might drive me mad, but for him it’s wonderful! And it’s a great way to learn, as the instructions are simple and repetitive, and the vocabulary is useful and visually clear. It’s the same with books, songs and television shows geared towards the youngest of learners- lots of repetitive actions, sounds and colours for them to learn to associate with.

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Keeping the languages separate

mixingMany children in a bilingual household come out with the cutest of sentences: “Je cherche mes trousers, Maman”… “Este es una bed… mi baby puede dormir aquí”. It sounds so sweet, but is it what we really want to hear?

Although I previously wrote a post on mixing languages (see my post: “Do I confuse my kids?“), for many parents it’s frustrating to have their children speak to them in a jumble of their two mother tongues. Generally children learn to sort them out on their own, especially when there are clear-cut situations when they use each language, such as in my situation, where it’s English at home, German at Kindy, or with many of my friends here in Austria where they have one language with Daddy, and the other with Mummy. Kids learn to code switch well in this kind of situation (See: “How do they know: kids and code-switching“), their brains are very flexible, so once they learn two (or more) languages properly, they will have no problem whatsoever switching between them.

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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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