10 top tips for High Brow Parents

piano

As an (aspiring) intellectual, you obviously hope that your offspring will one day follow in your illustrious footsteps. You probably had them signed up to a proper RAD ballet class before they were even born, and you are in frequent contact with Cambridge, just to make sure you don’t miss the admissions deadline for their September 2020 intake.

To help you on your way, I have drawn up a list of 10 top secret, super helpful tips to help you give your children the best possible head start in life.

You’re welcome!

>>Tip 1

Never miss an opportunity to expand your child’s vocabulary. Even when you are telling them off:

You: “No, you do not have an inalienable right to after-school snacks!”
7yo: “Mummy, what is inalibabble?”
You: “I’m glad you asked.”

>>Tip 2

Any daily drama can be used to increase awareness of a larger moral, philosophical and political reality.

You: Here 7yo, you are in control of the remote.

2 mins later.

5yo: Mummeeeeeee, he is just watching what he wants and not what I want!
You: 7yo, are you using your power for good, not evil?

>>Tip 3

When your child wakes up in the night and needs soothing, you should only ever sing to them in multi-part harmony.

Every adult present should join in with their own part. If this happens in the middle of a dinner party, so much the better. Get your sheet music out or better still, improvise that second soprano or baritone part.

NB: Singing in harmony to a distressed child in the middle of the night is also the only reasonable excuse for singing Christmas carols before December.

>>Tip 4

Don’t hesitate to use a child’s own choices to increase their understanding of the forces at work in history.

You: “Why did you take that toy from your sister? That was not a kind thing to do.”
7yo: (surly) “I wanted it.”
You: “That’s what Hitler said about Poland, and look where it got him.”

>>Tip 5

Read them bedtime stories. In French. Don’t translate anything, they’ll pick it up eventually.

>>Tip 6

Every moment is a learning opportunity. Just keep answering questions and see where it leads you. Ride that wave. Follow that rabbit hole down blindly, with abandon, until you are knee-deep in an explanation of the Facts of Life, what a stroke is, how you might construct a carbon-dioxide powered car or trying to marry faith and science in the mind of a 7 year old who should be in bed.

>>Tip 7

Do not neglect the finer points of etiquette. Never mind if they are still struggling with how to pick up a carrot with their fork without using their hands, it is never too early to learn the correct placement and order in which to use cutlery for a three course meal.

>>Tip 8

Insist on extreme realism and accuracy at all times while they are playing. It is educational. They will end up unable to Do a Play without sorting out who is stage managing and who is programming the lighting desk, and composing songs that have verses, a chorus and a bridge.

>>Tip 9

Call everything by its proper, scientific name. You know you’re doing it right when this happens:

You: 7yo, where did those chocolates go?
7yo: They are going down my oesophagus.

>>Tip 10

Ask comprehension questions about everything. How else will you know if learning has taken place? Use Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide to make sure you cover all levels of learning. Just to start you off, here’s a few suggestions:

Knowledge:
“How many rabbits did we see in the pet shop today?”

Analysis:
“Think about everything you have and have not done to look after your Fairy Garden over the past three weeks. Now look at the result. What do you think might be key factors in ensuring a healthy lawn in a garden, fairy or otherwise?”

Evaluation:
“Why don’t you agree on a list of criteria for a film to watch while eating dinner and assess all the potential films you have put forward based on your criteria, to eventually come to a decision as to what you both want to watch. Hopefully before dinner is stone cold.”

 

Good luck, and keep me posted on those university applications!

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When your kids should be bilingual – but aren’t

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Giant Seagull (c) P.M. Kroonenberg

I had high hopes and big dreams.

In my head, my children would, at 3 and 5, be completely fluent in both English and Dutch.

They would speak Dutch to me (grammatical Dutch, with age appropriate vocabulary) and then switch seamlessly to English when talking to Daddy.

They would read Dutch books with me and be card-carrying Annie MG Schmidt fans. They would read Suske & Wiske and excitedly run for the latest Donald Duck magazine in Albert Heijn. Dutch shop assistants would not be able to tell that these children lived in England most of the time.

I was not so aware of the extent and level of detail of my Dream, and the height of my expectations, until I had to face up to the fact that reality was falling far, far short of them.

“Mummy, you dragen me,” was for a long time the sum total of my daughter’s Dutch. (“Dragen” means “carry”). At best, we would get one stray Dutch word in the occasional sentence. On our last visit to the Netherlands she managed to crank this up to two, running up to me crying in the playground to tell me that “those jongetjes didn’t want me to spelen.”

Bringing kids up to be bilingual is hard.

I thought it would just happen, if I spoke Dutch to them all the time.

I hadn’t realised how hard it would be to do that: speak Dutch consistently. How my day to day life meant it would sometimes be rude to (when visiting English speaking friends and their children for a play date), or unwise to (in a city tense from terrorist attacks where guttural languages sound suspicious and it is better not to sound foreign), or just too much like hard work (when you can’t think of the words because you don’t speak Dutch much yourself in daily life).

If you want to be consistent, sometimes you need to switch languages constantly, speaking English to your partner and Dutch to the kids when everyone is in the same room at the same time. It’s hard work. And confusing.

I hadn’t realised that my own Dutch would have got so rusty that it was actually harder work to speak my mother tongue than to default to English.

I hadn’t realised that being consistent would be hindered by the kids’ own choice of language, that they would choose English, and that I would absent-mindedly respond in English too.

I have found it hard to come to terms with the result of this, with the reality. That my own children speak my language like a foreigner, if at all. Living here has been an exciting adventure so far, it has made me feel special to be an immigrant here, but my children not speaking Dutch to me makes me feel suddenly isolated. I realise now that I had imagined sharing with them all the little bits of me that don’t translate into English. And I can’t.

However, on our last visit to Opa and Oma they made me see things differently.

“But you are bilingual,” my Dad said. “And you didn’t learn English until you were seven.”

That is when I saw another hidden assumption I had made. I had assumed that this was it. I had thought: they are not fluent now, and so they will never be. I have missed the boat.

Suddenly, I remembered so many other examples of bilingual friends with messy stories: some who became bilingual at 8 or 11 years old because of a move; some with parents who never did; some with siblings who became bilingual while they lagged behind; some who grew up with two languages but ended up more proficient in a third; some who had spoken another language when they were young, lost it and found it again as an adult.

For all of them, being bilingual to some extent ended up defining the course of their life. I know it did for me.

My children’s experience of growing up with English and Dutch will not be what I had planned for them. But it will have a massive impact on who they are and what they do with their lives. I will just have to be patient and watch their own, individual stories unfold.

Tell me about your experiences of bilingualism, or share your words of wisdom below in the comments!

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A little message for Opa and Oma on their mirror: “Eye luv yoo” in Dutch

The Mummy Dictionary

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It is lunch time.

“Mummy, What does ‘new’ mean?”

“That something was made or born a short time ago.”

“What does ‘old’ mean?”

“It means that something was made or born a long time ago.”

“What does ‘red’ mean?”

Briefly I consider going into light spectrum and so on, but I decide against it. “It means something has the colour red.”

“What does ‘one’ mean?”

“That there is only one of something.”

“What do two, three, four, five and all the other numbers mean?”

Now I’ve had enough.

“They are arbitrarily assigned combinations of phonemes used to signify the number of units of something present at any one time.”

Well, he was asking for it.

Clinging on to Bilingualism: “I’m wijzing at the blue auto”

IMG_3858[1]I’ve had to face facts. The kids are barely scraping by with their Dutch. As their only source of input, and an inconsistent one at that, I provide pitiful motivation for speaking Dutch, as I respond just as well to demands for juice in English. And so the idea for our Intensive Language Holiday to my parents was born. Surely 2 1/2 weeks in a purely Dutch-speaking environment should help.

One week in, the Boy is still speaking mainly English with, granted, an increasing number of Dutch words thrown in.

“I’m dol op spaghetti!” he exclaims. (I love spaghetti)
“Look Mama, I’m wijzing at it!” (wijzen = point)
“When he is worden vier then I will be vier as well!”
“We can put it in my mondje and it will be very lekker. I love that dropje!”

It’s not surprising really. Here in the Netherlands where we are all pretty well educated in Modern European Languages, requests for juice work just as well in English. Again, there is no pressing need to speak Dutch to get your needs met.

We discussed just refusing to respond to anything but Dutch, but I could picture the despairing wailing and frustrated crying that might ensue if I had to stop every excitable story the Boy started to insist he laboriously translate every single word of it into Dutch before I would listen or join in his game. I don’t want to make Dutch a chore.

Clearly, though, what we were doing was not working as well as we’d hoped.

This morning I had a little epiphany as we met Opa while we descended their Himalayan staircase. He told the Girl: “Je moet wel het hekje even open doen“, which is to say: “Don’t forget you need to open the stair gate.”

And I repeated for the Girl: “Hekje open“, “open the gate”.

She echoed: “Hekje open“.

It was then that I remembered a friend of mine with a little girl who had a speech delay. The speech therapist taught her how to talk to her daughter to help her catch up. Basically, the message was to do more “child directed speech”, as it’s called. Talk about what your child is doing at the moment in short clear sentences, modelling language they can easily mimic and pick up. Like, for example: “Open the gate”, as they open the gate.

We started to implement the new technique over breakfast. We spoke to the Girl in short sentences, stressing and repeating key words: “Juice or milk?” “Not nice?” “Yummy apple!” It worked wonders on her, and she dutifully parrotted what we said, even volunteering some Dutch words herself without prompting.

It did not seem too effective on the Boy, however, until we accidentally landed on a rhyme. This helped trigger his memory for the Dutch word he needed and he seemed delighted to have discovered that there are rhymes in his other language as well. Perhaps, I thought, he needs games, things with repeated phrases that he could start to pick up.

After breakfast we played a game with pulling and pushing Opa, sleeping and waking up, standing up and sitting down – but the commands only worked on Opa if you said them in the right language. With a lot of enthusiasm we just managed to keep it fun and light-hearted, skirting the edges of frustration with frequent successes, a lot of help and a lot of cheering when they managed to get Opa to wake up or push him back down again.

IMG_3976[1]Then while trying to distract the Girl from running around the living room like a lunatic I discovered another good game, using a Kermit the Frog puppet. I improvised a tiny interactive puppet show.

First Kermit was shy and had to be called gently. Then I changed shy to afraid as that is much easier to say in Dutch. The Boy wanted to join in and spontaneously produced an almost correct Dutch sentence saying “Maar ik ben niet bang” [“But I’m not scared”]. He said ‘scared’ instead of ‘scary’, but the idea was there. We repeated the key words a lot more times, Kermit decided The Boy was not scary and got a ‘kusje‘ (kiss).

Then Kermit was hungry and wanted something to eat. As the Lego was out, the kids started offering him Lego food items (eg. a little tile with an apple on it). Kermit started chewing and then spat it out. “Dat is geen eten, dat is Lego!” he exclaimed: That’s not food, that’s Lego. And so a game was born. In fits of giggles, the kids kept fetching Kermit more funny Lego titbits (a little broom, a small bicycle, a tiny watering can) and Kermit chewed them with enthusiasm before spitting them out in disgust and repeating: “That’s not food, that’s Lego.”

I left them to it after a while. They went off by themselves and continued finding food for Kermit and using the Dutch phrase. Slowly he started substituting other acceptable words into the grammatical construction, like “Dat is geen Lego, dat is een aap“, that’s not Lego, that’s a monkey.

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It is now almost a week since I started writing this and there is definite improvement. The Girl now shouts “Klaar!” instead of “Finished!” when she pushes her plate away at the dinner table, and the Boy was overheard in the sandpit today, talking to two random Dutch boys and telling them in Dutch to dig deeper. Their vocabulary is expanding and occasionally they will say an entire sentence in Dutch.

I think, after a doubtful start, I am ready to call this language holiday a success!

Dual-wielding Dutch and English: bilingualism second time round

Zhuzh

Zhuzh

From the start I have been dying to find out how the Girl would get on with the two languages spoken in our house. In case you are tuning in for the first time: I am Dutch and (try to) speak Dutch exclusively to the children. My husband is British and speaks English. And as we live in the UK, absolutely everybody else in the children’s every day lives speaks English too. I often feel like I am battling the tide trying to maintain Dutch – I myself have spent most of my adult life here and it takes a little effort to speak Dutch all the time, and as my friends and their children speak English, all our play dates take place in English.

I know people who have grown up in a similar bilingual set up and almost without fail, they tell me that their younger sibling barely spoke the minority language. This is not surprising, really. The second child in a bilingual family like ours grows up in a very different language environment to the first. Whereas the Boy spent 98% of his time with me, his Dutch mum, for the first 2 years of his life, and went on fairly frequent visits to the Netherlands with me where nothing but Dutch was spoken to him, the Girl has a constant confused language tutor by her side, even when we are at Opa and Oma’s house. Inevitably, and rather sadly, the Boy’s language of choice is English. Especially since starting pre-school and spending a lot of time with a group of people who just speak English, he will often answer me in English even if I start a conversation in Dutch. So of course he will always address his sister in English too.

I could see the effects in the Girl’s early vocabulary. Her first ten words or so were English: Daddy, cat, teddy, down, juice, cheese, shoes and so on. She had two Dutch words: “aai” (stroke), said running after the cat or when saying sorry to someone for yanking their hair out, and “dag” (bye), which she only used for a book I read to her in Dutch at bedtime with little animals you could tuck up in bed. “Dag!” she’d wave as the rabbit disappeared into his hole.

When children start to speak and come into contact with new words, they make several assumptions that help them learn vocabulary more quickly. One of those is that the new word refers to the whole object and not a part of it (“cat” must refer to the whole animal, not just the tail or the ears or the colour of its fur) and another is exclusivity: each object only has one label. This means that bilingual children start off learning just one word per object – which language they go for depends on what is presented to them first, but to start off with they will not absorb both “cat” and “poes“. So most bilingual children of the Girl’s age (18 months) have an expanding vocabulary that includes words in both languages, but only one word per object. In a later phase they will start to realise that Mummy speaks one language and Daddy another, and that they each have a word for “table”, “juice” and “bye bye”.

Except the Girl is already doing this now. And she has done from the beginning.

Not with every word, but from very early on I could hear her experimenting with Dutch and English words for the same concept that had a similar sound. She went through “hello” and “hallo“, as if trying to taste which version she liked best and got the most laughs. And sometimes, she kept both.

She says “neus” AND “nose”, mimicking the version that the person she is speaking to is using. I have also heard her use “voet” and “foot”.

And where she started off with just “cat”, she now also says “poes“.

She says “vast” plaintively when she can’t get out of her high chair or car seat (“I know, I did that on purpose,” I explain). But I also hear her say “stuck”.

She seems very aware of her own language learning, and when she tries out a new word and I repeat it in Dutch, she will repeat what I have said, looking at me proudly as if to say: I am saying it like you, aren’t you pleased, mama?

It isn’t just giving two labels to one object that is quite advanced about her language learning. Generally, she is speeding through the process much more quickly than her brother did. Bilingual children are on average about 3 months behind their monolingual peers when they learn to speak. I was already quite proud of the Boy, who hit each milestone exactly on cue and said his first two word sentence a few weeks before his second birthday (it may have been “bye bye baby” to his new sister…) But the Girl is blowing his progress right out of the water. Besides being an entire phase ahead in her bilingual language acquisition, she is also using personal pronouns, something her brother didn’t do until he was two. She started saying “my Daddy” at about 16 months, expressing a sentiment I had seen in her eyes from her earliest cuddles with him, when she would turn into him and glare at any bystanders who looked like they might be about to muscle in on her special time with Daddy. Also “my juice” turned out to be a necessary addition to her phrases to ward off any thirsty friends or brothers.

She also started making sentences a few months ago, waving “bye bye Daddy” when he goes to work, prodding me while I try to have a sneaky Team Umizoomi-nap saying “mama sleep!” and most recently breaking our hearts with a little sleepy monologue in the Fairy Godmother’s arms at bedtime, saying “Mama? No, mama work. Daddy? No, Daddy work.”

And so it starts. As they say, you spend ages wishing they would talk and then when they do, you wish they’d be quiet. I do love this phase. I love finding out what is in her head, how she is making sense of the world. And I feel more than a little proud of how quickly she is learning to talk, dual-wielding Dutch and English like the bilingual ninja she is.

"tat" or "poes"

“tat” or “poes”

Secrets of the  Sandpit

Overgeneralisation: the Girl strips English of excess words

Cheezh

Cheezh

I loved essay writing – in school, at uni – but I was never very good at handling “constructive criticism”. I would always get defensive and want to explain and justify myself so the teacher/tutor would understand that really I was brilliant and beyond reproach. (Hm I wonder why I write a blog…?)

A recurring theme in my feedback was overgeneralising and hyperbole. I’d make sweeping statements for effect and claim that ‘everyone felt the same fear of death’ (for instance). A piece of feedback that I have treasured for both the compliment and its cutting wit, called my analysis of Plato’s theory of forms: “A marvellous essay, marred only by a tendency to pointless overstatement.” I like to think of this as a tagline for the story of my life.

Now, my 16 month old daughter is experimenting with sweeping statements. I know that overgeneralisation is a natural stage in child language acquisition, but she is taking it to a whole new level. As soon as she discovers a new word, she goes in search of what else you can do with it. Rather than finding out how we, experienced speakers of the English language, define this new word, she sets about delimiting it herself, expecting us to keep up as she rewrites the dictionary. Or rather, rips most of the pages out to slim it down a little.

After her first word (Daddy), she discovered ‘down’. This meant: “I want to get down” but was soon expanded to mean “pick me up”, “get me out of these straps”, “lift me out of the cot” and “I want to go downstairs and watch television”. Perhaps this word is best summed up as: “Move me to where I want to be.”

Her favourite word must be “zhuzh”. This was first said with great delight while pointing at her own shoes, and later when carrying Daddy’s shoes to him to indicate that he must come on the outing too. Then it was said pointing at boots and wellies. Then it turned out to mean socks, feet and toes as well.

I kept nodding and thinking: this is textbook stuff. She is learning to assign characteristics to words. For example, “Teddy” to her means anything inanimate and huggable. She will hug any soft toy – rabbit, raccoon, pony – and say “Teddy!” What is supposed to happen next is that she will start to notice that the people around her limit the word to the bear only and have different names for the other cuddly toys. Then she might add a further note to her internal lexicon:

Teddy: inanimate, huggable, bear shaped

Also cheezh

Also cheezh

But I got a bit suspicious when the word “juuzh” showed up. It rhymed with “zhuzh”, which perhaps explained its appeal. “Juice” has been said while pointing at any bottle, any carton, any jug, any glass (full or empty), her sippy cup, water, milk, cups of tea, wine… Then came “cheezh”. She first said it while hunting through the food cupboard – which is most definitely not where I keep the cheese. I thought: maybe she means Shreddies? Cheerios? But I was soon set straight: she greets any food with a joyful shout of “cheezh!”

This is overgeneralisation taken to a bit of an extreme. I’m sure the Boy used quite a few, if not most of his words at this age, for fairly specific things.

Perhaps she is just not a details-girl. Perhaps the Girl is quite happy to paint life in broad brush strokes. She is not learning words. She is learning categories.

Even “mama” is not for me alone. I was overjoyed when she started using the name to call for me over the Christmas holidays, but when the Lodger returned from a visit to her family, she was greeted with “mama” as well, and so was my friend who looks after her on a Friday. It is clearly the umbrella term for “female who can provide me with soothing cuddles who has nice long hair I can twizzle”.

Her latest category was a source of great delight to the Boy. She pointed at a number in one of his endless number books and shouted: “Eight!”

“YES!” the Boy exclaimed, “Eight! Haha! A. is saying eight!”

Then she pointed at a 4: “Eight!” And a 9: “Eight!” Number 2 was also eight. The Boy thought it was hilarious. But she wasn’t done there. The alphabet puzzle got the “eight” treatment as well, and Surrogate Friday Mama reported that the Girl had been pointing at a handwritten note saying “eight”. We concluded it must mean “squiggle”.

It is just Daddy who gets exclusive rights to his name. She stops in her tracks when there is a sound at the front door. “Daddy!” If we walk past the study after her lunch time nap and the door is ajar, she will peek inside: “Daddy?”

I comfort myself with the thought that at least it sounds a lot like “teddy”, so there can be just as many embarrassing no-that-was-not-who-i-wanted mix ups.

Sixteen months into life, 5 months or so into discovering words, our marvellous Girl sweeps through life using only a handful of words. She doesn’t need any more. She defines them. The world is hers to shape and control.

And that is most definitely not pointless overstatement.

Definitely cheezh

Definitely cheezh

 

Life Game: The Gamers’ Dictionary

Hey there fellow Life Gamers,

I thought it was time I let you in on the secrets of Speech. I’ve started discovering in this new level that increasing your Charisma and your Influence hinges on acquiring more and more Words. You find them by interacting with NPCs and with the Brother, and when you use them on people, I find you get some interesting results. Every word you speak increases your Influence over the adults in the room and makes them go all gooey-eyed and less observant so you can eat more sofa raisins, floor food and play dough, but each particular word also turns out to have a specific extra benefit. To help you out, I have compiled a

Level 1 glossary

down – gets you lifted out of the high chair quicker
wow! – increases interaction time with the object you are admiring and the adult in the room
uh oh! – reduces the negative impact on your relationship with the Mummy when you spill something
cat – draws the brother’s attention to the cat and he will help you chase it for strokes and ear-pulling
teddy!! – exclaiming this while hugging a cuddly toy (not necessarily an actual teddy, a raccoon will do) increases your happiness
ball – gets you a ball. Trust me. This is good.
Daddy – nearest adult will usually take you to Daddy. If the nearest adult is Daddy, it gives you a massive Influence boost with him
bih-ki (biscuit) – this two syllable word will stun the Mummy and turn her into a mindless zombie for just long enough for you to command her to hand over a biscuit, even at 5.30am.
round – gets you a piece of paper and a crayon, which you can either munch on or use to draw loopy squiggles while saying “woun woun woun” some more.
ow! – this one is a trade off. When you hurt yourself, choosing “ow” over crying gets you fewer cuddles but more laughs
puh, puh, tap tap tap (pull, pull, clap clap clap) – Singing this with actions gives you a boost to your Musical and Coordination skills. Singing it within earshot of an adult, while pretending you don’t know they are listening, gives you a MASSIVE boost to your Cute levels.

That’s all I’ve got so far. HTH. If you find any more words, post them here, pref with a sound file so I know how to say them.

Thnx

TinyToddler

Me, hacking the slot machines at my local.

Me, hacking the slot machines at my local, wearing a party dress. Oh yeah.

Is my son a foreigner?

photocopierSo I am back in the ESOL* classroom after a three year hiatus and it is all coming back to me. Teaching my pre-intermediate group of immigrants is affecting me a little like looking after The Girl did in the early days. Not that they’re ringing me up in the middle of the night demanding food, but I am having a similar slow dawning of recognition: oh yes, this is what newborns/ESOL students do and need. These were the resources I used to use. This is how I solved this problem before.

One example is the mistakes they make. Each student has his or her own typical grammar errors:

“They have catch him,” says the Polish student.

“They are travel on a road,” says the Tamil speaker.

“Yesterday, I write a list and do shopping,” says my Brazilian student.

“It’s in pront of the college” says my Indonesian student.

Oh yes, I think. Pre-intermediate students may be learning about story telling in the past, but that doesn’t mean they have got all their present tenses sorted. Oh yes, I remember. I should pay attention to each student’s pronunciation difficulties and spend some time on that. I diagnose, I make notes, plan lessons. I think of ways to help them learn to use verb tenses correctly and improve their pronunciation of bilabial fricatives (‘f’ and ‘v’ to you).

But why does this all sound so familiar, even after three years’ break?

“Mummy, I need to go to toilet!” the Boy interrupts my lesson planning. I get up to help him. “NO! Mummy not come too. I go by myself.”

I find myself making a mental note: he is not using auxiliary verbs to form negatives.

A shout reaches me downstairs: “Come and see, Mummy. I did a wee wee!”

He earns a sticker for his sticker chart, and by dinner time the stickers have added up to an ice cream for dessert. The Boy is covered head to toe in sticky vanilla goo – he is in heaven.

“I’m love Megan White,” he tells me. I’ve given up trying to get him to say Magnum. The dark ones he calls: Chocolate Megan Whites. But besides this pronunciation issue I am also diagnosing an issue with present simple/present continuous confusion. I compare it in my head to his announcement to strangers before his birthday: “I going be three!” Definitely a bit of a mix up happening there.

Daddy gets home just before bedtime. There are hugs. Daddy also gets covered in ice cream.

“What did you do today?” Daddy wants to know.

“Going children’s centre. And play with Nebecca.”

Past tense, I think to myself. Understanding, yes. Using, no. Also, pronunciation of alveolar approximant.

Slowly it is beginning to dawn on me: my son is a pre-intermediate ESOL student. He would fit right in to my evening class. Have I just stumbled on a point in time where my son’s experience of Child Language Acquisition just happens to intersect the Second Language Acquisition that my students are going through?

Then there are times like this evening, when we play a game before bedtime. “I’m going to choose this one,” he says, picking up a card. “Your turn, Mummy. I can pass it to you.” He startles me then with his beautiful sentences. There may be similarities, there may be an intersection here, but the Boy is 3, not 33. His brain is designed to refine those grammar points and pronunciation issues in record time. He is soaking up idioms and phrases. He hears them once or twice, then puts them to use in real life. He is fearless. Not afraid to make mistakes, never embarrassed, he jumps right in to have a go. None of the inhibitions of an adult immigrant plague him. Before we know it he’ll be eating Magnums, while we grown ups still fondly refer to them as megan whites, clinging on to that endearing pidgin English of the toddler years.

And my students will probably still be saying “I’m like”.

Is my son a foreigner? In a way, yes he is. A fairly new arrival in the adult world, still working out how the game is played. Also, he is half Dutch.

But I think he’d get bored pretty quickly in my evening class.

ice cream

Who could get excited about an evening that does not include desserts??

*ESOL = English for Speakers of Other Languages

Virtual Birthday and Clip Show

Happy 1st birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit

Happy 1st birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit

I realised today that I missed my blog’s first birthday. It was a few days ago I think. Although I am a little late, I didn’t want to let this milestone gone by unmarked, and so I present you with the dreaded “clip show” episode. You know the one: you sit down with a mug of tea and some biscuits/chocolate/crisps/cake to enjoy your favourite show, and instead of a proper story you get little snippets of episodes gone by to remind you of what has gone before. Annoying, right? Well, buckle up because this is a ‘greatest hits’, if you will – the best, most relevant, most ignored or most read of Secrets of the Sandpit. Celebrate its birthday with me by taking a look around and reminiscing on the first year of my blog’s life. May there be many more!

Sandpit. Best thing ever.

Sandpit. Best thing ever.

So, to start at the very beginning, you can read my very first post here, in which I explain what the “sandpit” is all about. A year ago when I started this blog, the Boy would express his extreme excitement about The Best Things Ever by exclaiming “sandpit!”. In fact, if you look in the side bar you can see my running log of things that elicited this response over the past year. Faithful readers will have noticed that the list stopped growing about six months ago. He has sadly grown out of “sandpit!” and now just tells us “love-a guinea pigs” or “That’s a fun filled fest!” for special occasions. He has grown up so much over the past year, and his language has developed massively. I marvel every day at how long his sentences are getting and how complex, at his awareness of his own bilingual-ness and his ability to express his emotions in words. My Boy is three and is becoming a whole grown up little person.

My blog has changed over the past year as well. Like most people, I started writing with only a vague idea of what the ‘flavour’ would be. It began as a more durable log of funny things the Boy had said and done, not wanting all his best material to get swallowed up by Facebook. In fact, sometimes my posts were actually no more than a slightly longer status update.

Soon themes began to emerge, though:

* The Girl, who is only a month older than Secrets of the Sandpit, inspired me to  share the reality of breastfeeding in the hope of helping other Mums who were having a very tough start but nevertheless wanted to carry on, as well as pregnant women who wanted to be properly prepared.

* I started using my blog to follow my Boy’s language development, especially how he was coping with growing up bilingual.

* I also began a monthly children’s book review, as a way of sharing my love for children’s literature. The first one is here but you can read the others by clicking on ‘Children’s books‘ in the menu at the top. Keep an eye out for the next instalment this coming Monday!

* Then I went a little bit crazy and decided to reinvent education, which I got so excited about that I started a whole separate blog about it called Clean Slate. As The Caterpillar says in Alice in Wonderland, you should start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.

* Thursday became poetry day courtesy of Prose for Thought. It has become one of the highlights of my week, turning my thoughts on family, sleeplessness, changes, identity, God and Weetabix into poetry, experimenting with form, verse and imagery.

* Other voices turned up and wanted to put their two cents in, like the Boy on play, the cats on the rules of the house and the Girl, updating us on the l33t skills she is learning in Life Game.

A year in, how is Secrets of the Sandpit doing in the playground? Well, like her author, she is not the most popular kid in school, but she has a group of faithful, close friends she hangs out with on play dates and sleepovers, that she can turn to for advice and pass notes to in class when the teacher isn’t looking. She also had one amazing day of fame when my Guide to Cbeebies was picked as Mumsnet blog of the day and a gazillion people dropped by to read it.

So happy birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit! I look forward to what the next year will bring.

Thanks for the cake, it was deeeeeeeelicious.

Thanks for the cake, it was deeeeeeeelicious.

Meet all my blog-friends over at Vic Welton’s place for her weekly Post Comment Love.

The Boy speaks

A little collection of what the Boy has to say for himself. He is still speaking a lot of Dinglish – I had thought it might be sorting itself out by now, but instead it almost seems to be getting worse. As he picks up more of each language, he mashes them up more. He is also still using his “filler”-syllable, “ne”. Any part of a sentence or word he is not sure of he will fill up with “enenene”.

The Boy plays out a disturbing little scene with his breakfast items.

“Don’t be scared, sap [juice]. Enenene zorgen [I’ll take care of you]. Don’t run away.
Kiwi really scared enenene sap. Sap really sad.
Don’t be scared, apple. Don’t be scared a snijden snijden snijden [cutting cutting cutting].”

I am reading a book. The Boy takes it from me.

Boy: “Is mama’s book.”

Me: “Actually, it’s Daddy’s book. Mummy has borrowed it.”
Boy (nodding sagely): “That’s papa’s book, called ‘Papa’s Magic’. Heel veel letters [lots of letters].”

I take out a notebook to write down what he is saying. He notices: “You drawing. I’m enene reading a book. Aha! That’s the page.”

He hugs his little sister and says: “Love you.”

Compliments: He notices the Girl, puts an arm around her and says: “Beautiful baby. Got a hair and a smiley face. Blije [happy] baby.” Similarly, I was changing his nappy one day and he was gazing up at me. Then he said: “Really mooie [pretty] mama. Got some eyes, and a smiley mouth. And a red t-shirt. And trousers, and a that one [forehead] and hair and a neck.”

He loves helping in the kitchen. We are making cakes and I let him put the butter dish in the microwave to be zapped. He places it in and says “I’m really careful.” Then I give him a spoon to stir the mixture with. “I’m goed in roeren [good at stirring]”, he compliments himself.

His banana falls on the floor. “Want a nieuwe banaan!” he wails in Dinglish.

He picks up lots of phrases from TV shows or from the people around him and applies them to his own life, startling us all.

“That’s a fun filled festival!” he exclaims.

Or he invites me on a “rip roaring pirate ‘venture.”

The Girl wants to join in his game. “Noooooo!” he screeches, “Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin!”

“It’s a tough day,” he says with a happy grin.

“I go get it,” he explains to me. “You stay here.”

Finally, my favourite moment. I put him to bed for a nap, but have to come back up after ten minutes because all I can hear over the baby monitor is crashing, banging, jumping and shouting “Walk the plank! Walk the plank!” I tuck him up again, set the lullabies going. He wriggles and giggles in bed. In my calmest, most soothing tone of voice I say: “Now, you are going to have a lovely sleep.”

He responds in the most patronising tone: “Yeeeeeees Mummy.”

Dinglish is still going strong, but I think nap time might be a thing of the past.