Joanna Anastasia

Bilingual

“A fish in foreign waters ” book review

" A fish in foreign waters" a book for bilingual children

When children’s books author Laura Caputo-Wickham asked me to review her newest book, I got really exited. You see, this book was written for bilingual children! And as you probably know, I’m raising my kids bilingually ( you can read about it here and here).

And even though here where we live ( Montreal, Canada) there are many bilingual families, sometimes we’re still attracting attention. And that makes me wonder, how my growing daughter feels about the fact, that she is a bit different. A friend told me recently that even though Lili’s vocabulary is pretty developed, she speaks in French with a bit of hesitation. And I never noticed that in a language that we speak together. So it made me think about my daughters perception of bilingualism. Is it positive? Does she see the difference between her and some of her friends as a disturbing one, or rather as an advantage?

And so, when the author of A Fish in Foreign Waters has approached me, I was really happy to see that this book addresses exactly the same issues: the differences between a bilingual kid and the peers, the feelings about belonging (or not) to the group, the family members being different (talking differently) then other people.

So we snuggled and read it aloud. Of course I had to translate it in-to our language (which is Polish) and that’s a bit of a pity, because the rhymes are really lovely. ( don’t you miss the rhymes in children’s books? There’s almost no contemporary books with nice rhymes anymore!) And even though I’m a pretty good translator, and I tried my best, it is better in original ( Laura, you rock!)

But Lili did love it. She loved the illustrations: the cute and whimsical fish family with a pet-crab, the detailed coral town, the colorful undersea party. And she loved the fact that Rosie Ray is just like her. Bilingual.

"A fish on foreign waters" a book for bilingual children

Then she wanted her dad to read it with her. They speak together in French, so he translated it in to French.And again, the lovely rhymes have suffered a bit, bit the story stayed the same.

"A fish in foreign waters" a book for bilingual kids

Then, just for fun we read it in English, as it’s written. Did I already mentioned that the rhymes are so pretty? And the melody and the rhythm of the repetition makes it a perfect bed time story too!

" A fish in foreign waters" a book for bilingual kids

So now the A Fish in Foreign Waters became her new favorite book. The one that she takes with her to the patio to read while we snack, and that she wants to read while snuggled in bed with me.

She even decided that it’s time to explain to her little sister that being bilingual is fun ( and lets be honest here, Rose just starts talking, so that conversation could wait a little!).

"A fish in foreign waters " a book for bilingual kids

They sit together on her bed, while Lili “reads” aloud ( I know, too cute!)and my heart melts.. (only to fight 3 minutes later over who’ll hold the book..)

Sisters

And I loved the lesson that it teaches them, that : “doubling the languages doubles the friends!”

"A fish in foreign waters " a book for bilingual kids

This book is a really valuable tool for parents. It’s a great conversation starter. We talked about the different languages that we speak, and how fun is it that we do have more friends because of that. We listed all the families that we know that speak in more than one language at home. We talked about how we may like different food because of the different language that we speak ( therefore the different culture that we’re from) and how it’s ok.

[bctt tweet=”Even if you don’t raise your kids bilingually, this book is great to teach them empathy @InForeignWaters “]

I also think that even if you don’t raise your kid bilingually, this book is a great way to teach empathy to your child. It’s a great way to teach them about kids who have just moved in from a different country, and how they may feel lonely or sad. And how just by being a friend at school they can help.

And I’m sure that bilingual or not, any kid will enjoy this charming story.

You can also get it on Amazon ( just click on the picture) :

Disclosure: I received this product free for review. All opinions remain my own.

Challenges while raising bilingual children

Frequently ask questions about raising bilingual kids, answered!

Since I wrote my first post about how I’m raising my bilingual children, I got so many questions that it made me realize how important it is and how difficult it can be.

First question that I was asked frequently was how do I stick to speaking only one language to my kids?

I must admit, that at the very begging, when my first born was a wee baby, it did sound weird to speak aloud in Polish to her. Especially while we where surrounded by people who didn’t understand a word I was saying and obviously she couldn’t speak or really understand me neither. So yes, I did force myself a bit during these first couple of months of her life. But as soon as I had an impression that she understood me, it felt as if we were both speaking Polish, and now it’s the only natural way for us to communicate.

And that led to a frequently raised concern: do people around us feel left out when I’m speaking the language that they don’t understand?

In all honesty I never felt that someone was feeling bad or left behind. I explained to all of the family members and close friends how important it’s for us to raise bilingual kids. Some of them are actually trying hard to learn a couple of Polish words by now! And if we’re out and people hear us, they usually get curious, but never did it happen to us that someone got upset. Also, if we’re on a play date with other kids, I sometimes speak to everyone in French or English before I’ll speak to my kids in Polish.

And how about my husband? Does he understand us? If not, doesn’t he feel left behind?

At first he didn’t understand nothing. Polish was not more than a funny sound to his ears. And now, after almost four years, he understands most of what we say. Because with babies and kids, you repeat yourself all the time! Especially at the beginning, when you say every word a billion times! So at first it was a bit hard for him, but now even though we have two languages around the kitchen table, we all understand each other very well.

Common questions about raising bilingual kids answered

And how about the way our kids see our relationship? We speak different languages is that ok?

Children don’t know what a general norm is, for them what’s happening at home is the norm. So for my kids it’s just perfectly normal that mommy speaks Polish, daddy French and that sometimes they even speak English to each other. That’s just plain and boring normal to them.

[bctt tweet=”Children don’t know what a general norm is, for them what’s happening at home is the norm. “]

Many of you asked me what to do, if until now you were switching languages, and now your toddler/ preschooler/ teen refuses to speak in your language?

The only advice I can give you is: continue speaking to them in your language. And if they ask you for something, respond only if the request is expressed in your language.

Yes, they might get upset/ angry/ shocked/ furious (depending on the character of your sweet child). But only for a while. Because your kids want to be in contact with you, and they need your love and your attention. So the good news is that they’ll do basically anything to get it.

And no, I don’t suggest you to ignore them in the middle of the night when they’re crying, or when they’re really unhappy, scared or sick and they really need you. But if they want you to give them a drink, read to them or they need 20$ for the ticket to the movies, then I think  you should hold your ground.

But the good news is that you can make it fun!

With toddlers and preschoolers start by playing with them and make them believe it’s more fun with mommy ( daddy ) when you speak your secret language ( it sounds way more fun then a second language).

Raising bilingual kids

1. Role playing. Just take out some toys and start role playing in your language. ( How are you teddy bear, do you want some chocolate?  And you little Muppet, will you play with us?) Yes, get really silly.

2. Sing! Star singing while dressing them, feeding and washing. Sing simple songs and encourage them to join in.

3. Pretend it’s a magic spell.
Explain that a fairy ( or a witch ) have put a magical spell on you and now you can speak only your language to them. But the same spell makes you give them a kiss/ sticker/ candy/10 cents (whatever you think is appropriate and will motivate your kid) every time they respond to you in your language.

With older kids you can install a jar for cents, and then every time they manage to formulate a request in your language, you put a cent in, or every time they try hard during dinner they get 25 cents ( I know, it’s technically a bribe, but that’s for a good cause).

[bctt tweet=”Make your kids believe that it’s more fun when you speak your secret language #bilingualism “]

With preteens and teens you can try involving them in the decision.

1. Explain the positives of bilingualism.Talk about the future work opportunities, travel experiences and facility in making new and exiting friends.

2. Ask them what they think could be done in your household. Get them brainstorming with you and maybe they have the solutions that you didn’t think about.

3. Propose 3 dinners a week when you talk in your language. Add special perks for motivation.Try involving more people in the language immersion. Teens want to have fun and connect with other teens so sending them for a language camp could be also a good solution. Or plan a fun vacation together or a student exchange where they could practice your language.

And some of you asked me if it’s even worth it.

Absolutely! First, because by teaching your child the language of your parents and grandparents you’re giving them the capacity to communicate with your family and a way to understand the culture that shaped you.

Second, these researches here and here show that bilingual kids are more emphatic, creative and they have more ease in learning third and more languages.

And of course, by teaching your child more than one language, you give them more opportunities for the future: work  and travel is easier when you speak more than one language!

I hope that I managed to answer all of your questions, but if there is anything else that you’d like to know about raising bilingual children, just let me know!

How to raise a bilingual child

How to raise a bilingual child

My daughter is two and a half years old, and she talks a lot! She talks, sings, screams, laughs and cries. Constantly. She gets quiet only when she eats or sleeps. I guess she started to talk using three word sentences when she had 18 months, and everyone kept telling me how amazing it was that she can speak that well for her age. Back then she knew all the farm animals, she could name any food she eat, her actions, people in our family, her toys etc..

But I was just anxious that she would never speak well my language! Because when she was saying simple phrases in French, she would be just saying words in my language. You see, I live in French speaking place, with a lot of English surrounding us as well. But my first language is Polish, and that’s how I usually dream, think and talk to my children and cats. So I worried that she would never be able to express herself in Polish as she could in French. Because as it was only me that spoke to her in Polish on a daily basis, French was everywhere else!

Now she’s three and a half years old and she talks equally well in French and Polish. It’s been a struggle, and I know that my work is not done any time soon, but I am so happy to see as she switches from one to another translating to her grandma what I’ve just told her. Here is what I’ve been doing, and what I’ll keep on doing to raise my bilingual children :

1. There is an important association: one parent, one language.
What it means is that you should always use one language while talking to your child, and never, ever switch! Children are smart creatures, and most likely they choose the easiest and most efficient way to get what they need. So if it’s easier to speak one language than the other, they won’t try particularly hard to find the word they forgot. They’ll use whatever word that comes first to mind, and if you’ll start responding to them with the other language, they’ll see that they can get what they need (communication with you) without trying to speak your language. So while speaking to your child use only one language !

2. Talk constantly, describe what you do, what is happening around you, comment on there actions and name their feelings.
Children learn to speak by listening to conversations and being a part of an exchange. So if there isn’t much conversation around, you need to make up for it! You may get crazy, and in the end of the day you may loose your voice, but keep on talking while you cut these carrots!

3. Sing!
Singing helps to memorize grammar structure and vocabulary, so sing when you dress them up, sing when you go outside, sing when you clean and bath! If you are sick and tired of songs that you know try inventing songs and rimes, use simple melodies and sing!

4. Use creative grammar!
Switch from : I do, to mommy is doing, you are doing, he is doing, we are .. And so on.. If your children don’t hear a lot of real life conversations, they won’t learn how to use grammar. So not only you need to constantly talk, but you also need to do a lot of role playing!

5. Read a lot of books. Every day.
Start early, as soon as they get interested in objects and can sit still for 3 minutes. If you don’t have baby books in your language just take any, and translate them. Look online for children books and rimes, there are plenty!

6. As soon as they start talking, respond to their requests and questions only if expressed in your language.
It’s hard, and requires a lot of patience on your part, but it’s really the only way to teach them, that when communicating with mummy we use only this language. Of course if your child is crying in the middle of the night you won’t wait until they use the right words! But when my daughter would ask me for juice in French, I would ask her if she could repeat because I didn’t understand well. At first she would slowly repeat in French, then she would almost spell it for me also in French, sometimes two or three times! It’s hard to resist laughing when your child clearly thinks that you are stupid, but you should stay calm and not give in. I assure you that finally she would come up with a Polish word!

7. Make them repeat after you and give them ready to use phrases.
When I see that my daughter clearly has no clue how to put it in words in Polish, I give her a phrase to repeat after me. I tell her that when she wants juice she should say it like this. Or if she comes to me saying something in French I will repeat after her in Polish, and usually then she repeats after me.

8. Establish a clear rule on watching children’s show at home: only in the language that needs improvement.
There are plenty of all kinds of TV shows and cartoons on YouTube in all possible languages.

9. Let your child listen to real conversations :use Skype to connect with people that can speak your language, call your family on face time. Reconnect with old friends, and ask family members to call you and to baby sit through Skype while you are in the kitchen.

10. Engage in as many social situations possible. Try finding a grocery store, a weekend school or a shop where your child may engage in a conversation in your language. Find them playmates with whom they could communicate only using your language .

Most important, stay persistent, and it will pay of !

More information at multilingualchildren.

And if you’d like to find out more about living a bilingual life check out this great book:Bilingual: Life and Reality !