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Edinburgh hosted this October a new event – the Kite and Trumpet Festival – celebrating Polish art, design and theatre dedicated to children. As a parent of two bilingual children I was overjoyed. The programme was fantastic and offered 11 days of arts and crafts workshops, theatre productions and daily access to a Playroom, or “Bawialnia”, featuring educational toys and beautiful books by Polish designers and writers/illustrators.

The majority of events took place at the Summerhall, while some were held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and North Edinburgh Arts. We particularly enjoyed the preserve making workshop with Polish illustrator Katarzyna Bogucka followed by a free tasting of Polish pierogi. We had a dab at letter writing with a real goose feather and ink (messy!) and explored the meaning of bilingualism with experts from the Bilingualism Matters Centre at the Edinburgh University.

We also attended a theatre performance by a group from my home city – Teatr Pinokio – which was shown in conjunction with the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. The Storytelling Machine was very funny and entertaining both in English and Polish.

I feel incredibly lucky to be living in a city with access to so much culture in my own language and my children’s second language. I really hope that Kite and Trumpet festival returns again next year!




Bilingualism Matters

October 19th, 2017

Last Tuesday, I took my kids to a workshop for bilingual children, which was held at the Summerhall as part of the Kite and Trumpet Festival of Polish Art for Children. The workshop was run by Bilingualism Matters – a Centre at the University of Edinburgh.

The workshop was full of fun, but at the same time a great trigger for discussion with children about the importance of keeping their second (and third) language alive by any means available.

I particularly liked the balloon metaphor – language being like a balloon, which can float away if we do not anchor it with various ways of using the language, such as speaking, singing, playing, reading and keeping in touch with family abroad. I have never openly spoken to my children about language loss – it was always implicit in my efforts to encourage contact with Polish by various means. The workshop has helped make them more aware of this challenge. Raising bilingual children is not easy, so I welcome the support offered to parents through events like this and the opportunity to meet other parents facing the same obstacles as myself.




Art in Translation

March 5th, 2013

Last year I had a wonderful opportunity to work for an award-winning online journal Art in Translation, founded at the Visual Arts Research Institute (VARIE) of the University of Edinburgh. The journal is a highly applaudable initiative which serves the art historical community through making foreign research more readily accessible, but also elevates the role of translators in the process. Their own mission statement reads:

“Art in Translation (AIT) is the first journal that takes as its mission the publication of quality English language translation of the most interesting articles on visual culture presently available only in their source language. (…) It will introduce the English-speaking readership to new areas of scholarship that share as their main qualities their excellence and originality.”

One such article is Stanisław Czekalski’s “The Internationale of Automobile Salons and the Hagiography of Revolution. Mieczysław Szczuka at the Crossroads of New Art” (June 2012 issue of the journal). The author looks at the Constructivist movement in Poland in the 1920s and the dilemma of artists such as Szczuka, who were caught between political ideology and the need for artistic freedom, between communist propaganda and Western commercialism.

It was a great pleasure to work on the English translation of the above text. It is always very gratifying to work on a project, which allows one to learn, and not just linguistically. It also allowed me to work in tandem with my husband, who happens to be an art historian and a native speaker of English, and therefore a perfect proofreader of my translation.

As a side-mention, an important source of existing English translations, which I used in my work, was this anthology: Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds), Art in Theory 1900-2000. An Anthology of Changing Ideas (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003).




On British Irreverence

December 18th, 2011

I have recently re-watched the British animated film “Father Christmas” (1991), which is based on two graphic novels by Raymond Briggs – “Father Christmas” (1973) and “Father Christmas Goes on Holiday” (1975).

As on the first viewing of the film, I was amazed at the subversive interpretation of this classic children’s character – Santa is a grumpy old man, who likes his liquor and complains about his job. He goes on holidays to France, then Scotland and Las Vegas, where he over-indulges on drink, food and partying before returning home to read his post and prepare for his busies day of the year. We never hear him say “Merry Christmas” – instead he calls it “Bloomin’ Christmas” – and that’s the curse word (milder version of “bloody”) he uses in every sentence in the film.

Raymond Briggs Father Christmas

Brigg’s Santa is not unlikeable and he has a good heart, but he is depicted as much more human than the St Nicholas I had grown up with in Poland. Watching this animation, my reaction was a totally mixed one including disbelief (are you for real?), confusion (but you can’t do this!), amusement (this is funny!), guilt (I shouldn’t be seeing Santa’s naked bottom!) and awe (you couldn’t get away with this in Poland!). It also brought home the fact that, despite seeing myself as an open-minded person, I have been brought up with a certain model of the world and that it is hard to see beyond that experience.

This irreverence and taboo breaking seems to me a very British thing: from King Henry VIII’s break up with the Catholic church to comedy shows of today (“Father Ted” is a good example) – Brits seem to be always questioning authority and testing the limits of what is allowed and what isn’t. “Father Christmas” made me realise that there is a big difference in mentality between Britain and Poland, with the latter one desperately trying to hold onto its national heroes and traditional figures of authority (political, religious or cultural) and maintain their special status – above everyone else. In Britain, nothing is really off-limits – one can make jokes about the Queen, the Prime Minister, the Church, the politicians and Santa Clause. After all, we are all only human!

“So jump up on my sleigh and we’re all on our way to another bloomin’ Christmas!”

Raymond Briggs - Father Christmas




Adventures with Bilingualism

November 19th, 2011

Kasper is now 3,5 years old and his linguistic explorations continue to amaze and entertain us in both languages. I speak mostly Polish to him, while the shared language at our home and in the nursery is English. It is proving more and more difficult to keep the two languages separate, but also to use Polish consistently on my part. The English-language surroundings are becoming more prominent, as Kasper is becoming increasingly more interactive, conversational and interested in socialising with his peers (as well as snails, dogs, cats, sheep and any other creatures we encounter on a regular basis).

Kasper’s vocabulary is expanding every day and his sentences are becoming more complex and grammatically correct. Since starting the nursery, his English stock of phrases has been enriched by typical play/interaction vocabulary, which indicates acquiring new social skills of negotiation and rule-making:
-What colour do you want? (dividing up the toys to ensure everyone knows whose in charge of which train)
-That’s wrong. This way! (verbalising rules of the game)

At the same time, he is learning to express his feelings (-Kasper is very cross! or in Polish – Kasper gniewa) and his wishes (-I don’t like that! or in Polish –Nie lubię. Coś innego (Something else)).

Kasper continues to mix up both languages, although he will make entirely English or entirely Polish sentences. He will also make phrases using both languages and inflect English words with Polish endings (e.g. meerkatów, even though he knows very well the Polish term “surykatka“). His grasp of grammar in both languages is becoming more and more apparent, however, it also reveals the limitations of learning Polish mainly from one source of language. Kasper often uses the feminine form when referring to himself (Polish verbs contain this information in their endings, while English ones don’t), and would say –Zrobiłam / Posprzątałam / Wstałam…I am trying to signal to him that there is a difference between the way boys and girls express stuff, but hope that he will naturally pick up some cues from his Polish cousins.

Kasper likes to repeat new words and Polish pronunciation poses no difficulty to him, but sometimes he gets the words wrong. Recently, as a result of learning the word “policja” (the police) and Alicja (my name) – he started mispronouncing “ulica” (street/road) as “ulicja”, a word he previously used correctly. When practising the correct pronunciation, he sometimes loses his patience with me and mocks me and my didactic tone of voice. Similarly, he used to be able to say “babcia Jadzia” referring to his Polish great grandmother, but in recent days has started saying “babcia dziadzia” (it’s easier), which I find hilarious (sounds like he was saying “grandfather’s grandmother”), but also a little embarrassing in front of my grandma.

We have just spent some time in Poland, which I think charged his Polish language batteries a bit. Kasper managed to communicate very well with my family, although confusions are still inevitable and we, the parents, remain the only people on the planet who really get the more obscure utterings and references in this 3,5-year-old’s code, whether in English or in Polish or both.




I think it is high time to update you on Kasper’s progress with language learning – we have gone a long way since I last blogged about this.

A bit of background information: Kasper is growing up with a Polish mum and an English dad. He is spending quite a lot of time with me at home and so his Polish is getting rather good, but we are looking at nurseries here in Scotland and I expect a linguistic revolution to take place in his little world. But let me give you some examples of his vocabulary and grasp of grammar as it stands right now.

Kasper’s vocabulary has become quite extensive with some words which are familiar to him in both languages, and some only in one. Some words he prefers to use in one language – often according to a first-come first-served principle – but knows them in both languages. For example, we will look at a book he associates with me (Polish) and he will name all animals in Polish, but he will call a butterfly ‘a butterfly’ in English. I rarely ever get him to say it in Polish ‘motyl’, as the word he learnt first seems to be more obvious or more readily ‘available’. This works both ways, as there are Polish words that he rarely replaces with English equivalents.

Kasper is clearly aware that some people might prefer one language (word) to the other. He tends to switch to Polish when we talk to my parents on Skype, and to English when we visit his English Nana. The need to be understood is quite paramount. I overheard him once saying to my father ‘Press! Press!’ trying to express how much he wants to press the button to call the lift, and when he could see that grandfather did not understand him – he added ‘Guzik!’ (button). Alles klar.

At the same time, Kasper will quite happily mix both languages making such wonderful utterances as ‘Piesek go jeść’ (doggy go eat), ‘będzie fun’ (it will be fun), ‘Going na basen in the car ala splash.’ (going to the swimming pool in the car to have a splash) and ‘duży castle’ (big castle) or ‘lots of klocków’ (lots of bricks). The amazing thing is that he will (sometimes) decline the Polish words according to the rules of Polish grammar. The example above, ‘lots of klocków’, in Polish would be said ‘dużo klocków’, while ‘klocki’ is the nominative form. Here he uses ‘lots of’ instead of Polish ‘dużo’ but declines the Polish noun correctly. Amazing!

Kasper is clearly picking up some grammar rules in both languages – he will use English plural -s, which sometimes proves tricky when he says ‘sheeps’. Sometimes, the language boundaries can get blurred here too, as when he exclaimed ‘Piękne górys’ (beautiful mountains). The Polish noun ‘góry’ is already plural, but just to be on the safe side Kasper added the English -s to make sure it is definitely so.

While Kasper is only beginning to use full sentences (still relatively simple), his vocabulary is quite rich. He does not shy away from having a try saying such difficult Polish words as ‘dżdżownica’ (worm), ‘gąsienica’ (caterpillar), ‘ośmiornica’ (octopus) or ‘pszczoła’ (bee). Now your turn – have a go!




This post is now slightly overdue, but just wanted to comment on one aspect of living abroad – voting from abroad.

Back in July this year, we had a presidential election in Poland, obviously quite a serious one following the tragic death of the president and many other high ranking officials in a plane crash in April.

I was listening to the radio on the election day and heard of Polish families living in the United States travelling for hundreds of miles in order to be able to cast their vote in the large US cities. Compared to that my 15 minute bus trip to the Polish Embassy in Berlin was such a trivial affair – not really worth mentioning. It did make me wonder however what I would do in such situation and if my patriotic feelings were strong enough to warrant making a much bigger effort (not to mention the expense). The answer, is no, my emotional attachment to the Polish political machinery has its limitations, and rationally thinking – there is enough Poles living in Poland to allow them to make those decisions themselves.

However, this does not stop me from voting whenever possible – I did vote in London in 2007 when to my horror I discovered the biggest queue ever going round the Polish Embassy building in London. It took me 5 hours to finally get to vote, but somehow once there in the queue with fellow Polish voter-wannabes it felt impossible to back out. Also, it was probably the one time when I really felt part of the Polish community in Great Britain and derived some comfort from that. It felt good to cast my vote that day – particularly as it did bring a change of government – and it reminded me why we shouldn’t take our civil rights lightly or for granted.




Polish Tragedy in Smolensk

April 14th, 2010

Poland mourns the loss of president and country officials

On the 10th of April 2010 the presidential plane crashed while attempting to land in Smolensk, Russia, killing 96 people including the Polish president, Lech Kaczyński, and his wife, Maria Kaczyńska, senior country officials, MPs, the military chiefs and priests. The purpose of the visit in Russia was the 70th anniversary of the Katyń massacre of 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals by Soviet forces during WWII.

I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims of this terrible crash and to all Polish nationals at home and abroad grieving for the loss of lives and talent. We all unite in mourning – my thoughts are with you.




This is now long overdue, back in May I promised a sequel to my earlier post What Poles Could Learn from the Brits, and here it comes – the chance to retaliate and pick on the Brits, or “Angole” – as we call them in Polish slang.

Fiat 126p - Polish 'Maluch'

Going through my list of points to mention in relation to this, I can’t help but think that they all seem to revolve around the ‘fun’ department. Now, Poles may be a melancholic and disgruntled folk on an every day basis, but we sure know how to have fun when it comes to it. For example, parties held at home are so much better than pub get-togethers. Yes, you do have to make some effort preparing them and with cleaning up, but the atmosphere is also so much better. And no one worries about catching the last bus at 11pm – that’s when the party really gets going. At 3am, any sofa or armchair is as good as your own bed, so why not stay for breakfast as well…

Polish parties can also be completely spontaneous. You drop in at your friends after work for a quick chat, and before you notice the table magically fills with some nice nibbles and snacks (Poles are good at making party food out of nothing), a chilled bottle of vodka and you find yourself talking until the early hours about life, the universe and the meaning of friendship.

Not far off partying, is dancing. Brits could definitely learn from Poles how to dance. It is one of the most important social skills for every man (particularly for men, as it comes more naturally to women) to learn a few basic dance steps. Guys who can dance (as in, lead their dance partner) are really in high demand amongst women and so they would only be doing themselves a favour by changing their reticent British attitude. It is somehow embarrassing in Britain for men to dance, but excellence in swinging with your beer glass just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Talking of beer, I am a great fan of the British ale, even though it does take some getting used to. But when it comes to lager beer (Polish equivalent of ‘piwo jasne‘) the Brits have just no clue. Carling? Fosters? That’s perhaps good for rinsing your teeth, but surely not for enjoyment as an ‘alcoholic’ drink? Why take a bland beer from Australia (brewed under license in the UK) as one of your staple pub drinks, when you could be importing the best from the masters of brewing on the ‘continent’? Germany, the Czech Republic or Poland would be far better suppliers of good quality lager. The trouble with the Brits is that drinking beer in this country is not about enjoyment, refreshment on a hot sunny day or the quality of taste – it is about the number of pints you can manage per hour. No offence to my British friends, there are of course exceptions.

Another observation that springs to mind, is the question of elegance. Poles tend to be more elegant than Brits in general, but also dress up for many special occasions to mark their importance. Christmases, Easters, birthdays and baptisms all warrant putting on a special dress in a woman’s case, or wearing a suit and a tie in a man’s case. In Britain, the only occasion where I have seen people make a real effort to dress up are weddings. Don’t you all British girls and women just die waiting to show off your evening dresses a bit more often? Is a Christmas family dinner nothing more than yet another meal so ‘I might as well wear the same T-shirt that I had on when washing my car this morning’? Brits should definitely learn how to make special occasions special.

OK, I think I am done with my tirade. Got it off my chest and I feel much better now. I hope none of my British family members and friends take any of what I have said above personally. I love you as you are and you have welcomed me in your country, but as an expat I do miss Polishness and want to celebrate what is good about it. Just like you would miss you baked beans for breakfast in Poland.