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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.




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.




A recent jaw-dropping event prompts me to continue the story of my son’s adventures with bilingualism.

SCENE 1

We are spending a week and a half in Poland visiting my family. My son is now 11 months and practises his syllables such as ma-ma-ma-ma, or da-da-da-da (translates to Polish as ta-ta-ta-ta) etc. He hasn’t yet uttered anything more complex that would resemble a word, although babbling is very much on full blast.

We are enjoying some tea in my parents’ living-room with the baby playing on the floor when my parents’ cat decides to run across the room and into the hall.

Me (in Polish): Kasper, where is the cat (“kotek”) gone? Where is the cat gone?
Kasper (looking up from his building blocks and following the cat with his eyes): ko-tek
Me, Dad, Mum (jaws on the floor): ????
Dad: Did you all hear that??! This boy is a genius!

END OF SCENE

Genius or not, it was certainly amazing to hear the little boy repeat a word the meaning of which he clearly understands. Hearing the word “kotek” prompts his eyes to wonder to the cat’s usual hanging out spots – the radiator or the top of the cupboard. His pronouncing of the word must have been a bit of a fluke, but not coincidental.

A friend of mine who is raising a child bilingually in German and English said her daughter’s first word was ‘Katze’! Is this yet another proof of cats’ magical powers or some puzzling trigger in linguistic development of bilingual children?

Are there any parents out there with some interesting bilingualism stories to share? Please write in comments.

Kofi, my parents' cat, likes to keep an eye on everybody.

Kofi, my parents' cat, likes to keep an eye on everybody.




Which Word? The T-Word…

December 11th, 2008

Which Word has the pleasure of announcing the launch of a new blog on translation, technology and technology of translation. For those who worry that this sounds a bit too robotic for their liking, I rush to add that I will look at the human face of technology as I am passionate about issues relating to human-computer interaction (HCI), especially the multicultural aspect. But I must warn you, as a Pole living in the UK, I am bound to show some personal bias and also comment on the Polish-British interaction (PBI 😉 ) along the way. I hope that some of you readers will join me in this journey into the unknown! So, fasten your seatbelts – Proszę zapiąć pasy – and off we go!