Thursday, 28 July 2011

"My mum won't understand if I write it like that"

Although I didn't keep track of Lily's language development from the beginning there are still so many things I could write about. 

  • Lily took 2 years to start speaking Finnish despite understanding most things after a couple of month in daycare (Lily can be very stubborn (I have no idea where she gets it from...I don't know anyone like that, do you?), she one told me, after I had told her it would take a lot of time and practice to learn to ride her bike, that first she will learn to do that then maybe she will learn to speak Finnish).
  • She very rarely codeswitches or borrows words from the other languages, I suspect it is to do with the fact that rather than being in a multilingual environment, she has been in multiple monolingual environments (probably also because up until last year, Gabor and I were pretty "strict" with the one person/one language thing and rarely codeswitched ourselves.).
  • One of the few multilingual settings I can think of is when she and Gabor would go to the library and Gabor would read to her in Finnish, she would ask questions about the story in English and he would answer them in Hungarian.

Just a month ago before we returned to Finland, Lily had almost completely forgotten Finnish. She hadn't had to use the language in a year and Gábor and I don't really speak well enough to encourage her to. I knew that one and a half months would probably be enough time for her to remember the language before she would start school (in Finnish), I knew it, but somehow hadn't really believed it I guess since I am utterly amazed at how quickly she picked it up again. After literally only 2 or 3 days playing with some old friends and she was chatting away almost like we had never been away (almost) - in some ways even better. In the first 3 years we lived in Finland, Lily never spoke a single word of Finnish to an adult. Not even a "Kiitos" or a "Hej hej", but now she is talking her friends’ parents and even family friends in Finnish.

When I was packing up our things for the move I came across some old pictures and cards that Lily had made. I took some picture of then because they give a really sweet example of how one language can influence another and of overcorrection. Both these are from before Lily had had any formal schooling or teaching so are completely here own writing systems.

The first is a Fathers Day picture for Gábor. The letter "f" doesn't really exist in Finnish so because of the similarities in the f and v phonemes, Lily would represent them both with "v". I tried to explain that there is a slight difference in the sounds (again, it would have been useful to have paid more attention in phonetics) and that in English "f" is used to represent the sound at the start of "fathers".
Valarste - Father's Day (November 2009).

However 6 months later, when Mothers day came around I realised there had been some misunderstanding. When I picked her up from päiväkoti (daycare) she and Jonna (her carer) handed me the card bellow. "Hyfää Äitienpäiffa". Jonna had tried to tell Lily that the correct way would be "Hyvää Äitienpäivää" with v's. Lily to ld her "no, my mum won't understand if I write it like that.".

Hyfää Äitienpäiffa - Hyvää Äitienpäivää (May 2010)
Often people’s responses to Lily’s language abilities are along the lines of “wow, that’s incredible” or “she so smart”.  And yes, I think she is incredible and smart, but I am her parent, I’m not exactly objective. The truth is Lily isn’t able to speak three languages because she is super smart; she can speak three languages because she has been exposed to tree languages and because she can recognise that there is a need for her to know all three languages in her life environment. There is also some truth to her being super smart though; there is even a connection between her intelligence and her multilingualism. It’s not that she is smart so can speak lots of languages; rather she speaks lots of languages which makes her smart.  

There are loads of cognitive benefits which go way beyond the “it will make learning other languages easier” that people take for granted. It can improve the ability to recognise patterns and structures in general; it can also improve the ability for abstract thought and creativity. Bi/multilingual children can recognise earlier that not everyone thinks alike and therefore a likely more interculturally competent and since they are aware of the differing language needs of others around them they also become more aware of the needs of others in general. So yes Lily is wonderful (perhaps I should say marvellous – it’s her favourite word at the moment), yea Lily is marvellous, but part of that marvelousness comes from being multilingual.


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Trippin’ – 20th-22nd June

Stop 3 - Velka Domasa, Slovakia & Stop 4 – Lublin, Poland

Slovakia had some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery which mesmerised me as a gazed at it out of the car window (no, I have no photos – I was mesmerised, I told you). Mountains, forest, dramatic dark clouds and sunshine breaking through. Spectacular. The scene we were confronted with next however, was gut wrenching.

I was shocked by the poverty I saw in the village in Hungary where Gábor uses to work; poverty that I had never seen in Europe before but even that was paled by the full on shanty town we drove though when we left the mountains in Slovakia. It was comparable to those that I saw in India – but this is Europe! This is Schengen area! This is the bloody Euro zone which supposedly has strict economic criteria for joining! We had to stop the car; I couldn’t breath.  I made a note of the name of the town so that I will remember the people, remember the place and remember that poverty and suffering is not something that happens somewhere else or that you can take a break from. It is here in my home and here in the middle of my holiday.

One I had collected myself we drove on. We were heading to Velka Domasa, to the lakeside, to relax. We just spent the last week in Szeged, packing up our apartment, carrying all our stuff downstairs and loading it onto the truck, doing the moving out clean (Gábor spent 3 years as a cleaner, often cleaning apartments that had not been cleaned properly when people move out – he has very high standards), preparing for the trip and saying goodbye. We were exhausted and were looking forward to spending a couple of days by the lake recuperating.

We had checked out the area and it looked fairly nice (although our Slovak is pretty poor so we were just gauging by the pictures) and there were quite a few campsites marked on our map so we didn’t bother with finding a specific place we would just see when we got there...Well when we got there we found that he lake was a reservoir, the beach was clay and that the campsites were non-existent. Oh yeah, and it started raining as soon as we stopped the car. We found a little patch of grass with a view of the water, although we may have been trespassing but everywhere was closed so there was no one around to complain. We got our water canister filled at the bar a little way around the lake and Gábor stet off to find an ATM in the village to buy some milk for Ernest. There was no ATM (the closest one was 20km away) but a friendly bar tender gave us a couple of cartons of milk and some chocolate too. There is nothing ike the kindness of strangers to brighten your day. The sun coming out helps to brighten thing too.

Things went right back to being sucky though when I realised that the trusty little digital camera was no more(Farewell you were a good friend) and suckier still when I found that my SLR was broken too. The part that the lens screws into had broken off from the main body. I was completely cameraless. My photo challenge plan was utterly screwed. Oh, and it started to rain again.

Not the R&R we were hoping for so we decided to move on to Lubin in Poland in the morning.

Lubin we really had planed. We had found a perfect little campsite; lakeside again, forest, nature walks, just south of the city. Great for our resting place, one day chilling in the campsite and take a little walk and one day to explore the city. Great plan – but for some reason our great plans weren’t going to...well...plan. The campsite so longer existed. It had been turned into a car park. After a little bit of enquiring we found out there was another campsite on the other side of the lake but were told “it’s really bad”. We took this with a pinch of salt; we like simple sites (all we need is a spot where the nature is cared for and we can get clean water) and know that many people want a bit more than we do. But this place was really bad, it was dirty and dangerous. The grounds were set up for caravans but the only place they had to empty their “black water” tanks was the same place ay you got the drinking  water from. We had to sleep there that night though as it was too late in the day to find somewhere else.

We were getting more and more tired with each day that passed and we still hadn’t stopped to recover from the moving. We were too tired to drive on another stretch the next day so decided to stay in Lublin but sleep in the hostel in town and eat out rather than cook. We had a lovely day in Lublin, the old town is charming. It is a contender for the European culture capital for 2016 and they really are making a lot of effort to win it. And after sleeping in a bed we were a bit more rested and ready to move on to Bialowieska where we planed to stay in this perfect little forest campsite...

Gábor's posts about these days:

20th June -  Hungary to Slovakia
21st June - Crappy Campsite
22nd June - Lublin
22nd June - Lublin revised


Monday, 25 July 2011

Mbukka-mbukka? (Can I have a piece of that cubumber please?)

Last semester I did a course on bilingualism which I found fascinating – not only because I am raising bi(multi)lingual children but that was a huge part of it. While doing the course I realise how useful it would have been to keep a record of Lily’s language (speech) development. I figured that here is as good a place as any to keep a record of Ernő’s not least because it will show his development in the context of the events in our lives (not that I think you are particularly interested in the details of what words Ernest says when). I am starting a bit late though since he has been using words for quite some time now.

Side note:           The main textbook for the course was :
                               Grosjean, Francois (1982) Life with Two Languages Harvard University Press
 I know it’s old but my lecturer claimed that no better, comprehensive book on the topic has be written since. Grosjean has a current academic blog with more up to date articles, since many of you have multilingual children too you might find it interesting.

What he calls/called us:

“Apa” (Hungarian for dad) was the first word he used to address both Gábor and I; I really meant “Parent or other grown up person, I need your help”. Since he was saying “Apa”, I also tried to encourage him to say “Mum”. I don’t know if he thought I was correcting him or if he just thought two different words was unnecessary, but “Mum” completely replaced “Apa”. Soon after that though he noticed that the other kids in the park called their grown up “Anya” (Hungarian for mum) so, since Gábor was the one who took him to the park most often, Gábor became “Anya”. And this is how it was for quite some time; a language destination but not a gender destination.  Gábor has recently become “Apa” again.

Since being back in Finland Ernest has pick up another word from the other children. He uses it when he is stuck in the swing or when he falls over. The word is “Aiti” (Finnish for mum).

“L” is pretty difficult to say so Lily is “Ee-ee”. Ernő likes to help us cook dinner and is pretty perceptive when it comes to knowing when the food is just about ready. He sets of to find his sister “Ee-ee! Ee-ee!” and drags her to the bathroom to wash hands. While he knows that his name is Ernest or Ernő he never really refers to himself yet, however he does say “Ernő” although he normally uses it when someone is doing something that he doesn’t like or misbehaving.

One of his first words (if not the first (I told you I should have started this earlier, I am already forgetting specifics)) was “tessék” (it’s a Hungarian word that you can use to mean “there you go” ie. when you are giving something to someone, or it can be used to mean “here you are” for example the stall holders in the market use it to call in customers). Ernest uses it when playing these games of passing items back and forth to mean “there you go” or “can I have that now?” or “thank you”. The other day though because I was responding to his handing me things with “thank you” he started to use “tes-you” with me.

“Tessék” (or tes-you) only means “can I have that?” in the context of these games though, in other circumstances he says “dub-a-day” (now is where it would be useful to have stuck with the phonetic transcription classes (if any linguist friends want to help out with this project skype me or something)), that is unless what he wants is a fruit or vegetable when he uses “mbukka-mbukka”, which we suspect stems from uborka and paprika (cucumber and pepper in Hungarian in case you couldn’t guess).

I have also recently noticed him starting to differentiate between “bye bye”, “pá pá” and “hej hej”, he hasn’t completely figured out who to use which one with and when but clearly knows they are the same/same but different.

This is of course not the full extent of his vocabulary (more an introduction) but this (I hope) will be an ongoing project.


HELP: Does any one have access to “The International Journal of Bilingualism” from 1997? There is an article I would really like to read, “Language Contact in Bilingual Two-Year-Olds and Code-Switching: Language Encounters of a Different Kind?” ,but the subscription through Oulu University only goes back as far as 2003.

This post has been included in September's Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, please check out the other articles on the carnival list.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Settling in @ home

We get the keys to our new apartment in 6 days and I am really looking forward to it. The place is huge, it’s 85m2 (our last apartment in Oulu was 65m2 and the one in Szeged was just over 50 and only one bedroom so I was a bit concerned how we were going to fill it. Based on the last week though I don’t think we will have any trouble. We took a trip to the recycling centre, spent 60€ on furniture (including delivery and got 3 beds (one double, single and one loft bed for Lily), a writing desk for Lily, a cute little telephone table, a shelf unit, a bunch of lamps (since all the student housing in Oulu now come without light fittings). There may have been other things, I can’t remember, we will see when the stuff gets delivered next week. 

We have also rescued a chair and a sofa bed from the bin. The chair reminds me of the one in van Gogh's bedroom and the sofa bed seems to be more comfortable than the one we spent all year sleeping on in Szeged. With a good clean and a little bit of gluing both of them will be perfect.

I am still on the hunt for some dining chairs though, we only have 3 and we are now 4 people and we like to have people over to eat often. One of the neighbours has 2 chairs identical to the ones we already have but is using them as garden chairs. You can’t believe how tempted I am to steal them in the middle of the night. I am considering offering to buy them but then that would completely eliminate the possibility for night time burglary.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Trippin' - 20th June

Aggtelek to...some lake in Eastern Slovakia that I can't remember the name of right now

We were in no rush to leave Aggtelek, we were only planning on driving a few hours to a lakeside in Slovakia and although the weather had improved it wasn't exactly swimming weather, so we had a relaxed morning and took a walk over the hills (rather than into them like the day before).

I don't know if the trail had a name but surely it should be called "Butterfly walk" (or something more imaginative but butterfly related). I have never seen so many butterflies in their natural habitat before; we had to watch where we stepped - they where everywhere. The photos don't show it so well, like I said yesterday, the zoom was playing up.

The abundance of butterflies probably had something to do with the abundance of wild flowers.

Gábor tends to avoid using the camera, but sensing that it was coming to the end of its life, he took up the challenge and took up the camera (meaning that for once I feature in the friend Gail has a fear that if something were to happen to her there would be no pictures of her with her son, as time passes and I have so few pictures of me with my kids I start to understand her fear...maybe I told this before...I have a very bad memory and tend to repeat myself...or ramble; I ramble a lot too, like now for example...sorry).

Frankly I think he did great.

Perhaps he could do with a little praise from people to encourage him to do it more often...well maybe it will take more than praise, a new camera might be necessary since later that day the camera gave up on us.  

Before we set out I made Lily an explorers utility belt, complete with, sketch book, crayon (for rubbing), pencil, magnifying glass, pocket knife, matches (yes, I put a knife and matches in the hand of my 7 year old) and colour scavenger hunt cards (might do a crafty post on the bely and cards at some point).

After our walk it was time to leave Hungary after spending a year there and head to Slovakia, adding a new country to the list of countries I've visited. I will save the tales of Slovakia for tomorrows installment and leave you with one image of the lake of the very last taken with our camera.

From this point on all pictures are from Gábor's phone or Lily's mp4 player.

Gábor's blog of the day as always has more pictures, more videos and more languages (his blog is in booth English and Hungarian).

Trippin' - 19th June

Stop 2 - Aggtelek, Hungary

After the beautiful sunshine of the day before, the sudden change to cold drizzle was a bit of a shock. So...on our fist day of our camping road trip we cheated and opted for a wooden hut rather than a tent pitch. To be fair it really was a BIG drop in temperature; we had had weeks of well over 30oC it went down to about 12oC.

Our little hut was in Aggtelek, still within Hungary (but only just), a national park with some spectacular caves. Gábor and the kids had gone to some caves in the Buda hills (I missed out because I had been left behind in Szeged for the weekend to study). Lily loved them; Ernest however, was not so keen. So we decided that only Lily and I would take the tour of the caves while Gábor and Ernest did their own thing. There was one small flaw in this plan though; the tour was of course in Hungarian. Normally on these kinds of tours kids might need a little bit of a simplified (or elabourated) explanation from their parents to accompany that of the guide but (even after a year of studying Hungarian) my language skills were not quite up to. In fact I had to use Lily as a translator but she wasn’t able to translate most of it. - Well how many 7 year old do you know that can translate the history of cave exploration and the scientific explanations of the formation of stalagmites and stalactites.

We bought a book but with having a new adventure every day we haven’t had time to give it a proper read. We will.

But anyway, I can’t tell you an awful lot about them. Big caves, fairly impressive, smell kind of musty.

It was on this day that the first signs of the coming disaster arose. The zoom on the digital camera was having “issues”.

Gábor has a post about this day too, with more pictures and video of what him and Ernest got up to when we were in the caves.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Trippin' - June 18th

 Stop 1 - Budapest Pride

Photos courtesy of Marianna Kiss

Since we were spending our last day in Budapest at the Pride March, we invited each of Gábor’s family members if they wanted to join us and take one last opportunity to spend time with the kids before we leave Hungary. Each politely (well…) offered their excuse and passed; “I don’t like crowds”, “Marches remind me of the old communist days”, “I just don’t think it is the right way to go about things”. Each of them however suggested, indirectly (or even directly), that we best not take the children (“I can look after the kids while you go though”). None of them understand that  the main reasons we go is FOR our children.

In Hungary today racist and homophobic sentiment has become as much a feature in small talk as the weather. Support for Hitler, advocating genocide; it all slips of the tongue as easily as “It’s a lovely day for it”. But what I found even worse than people making these kinds of statements was how rare it is that people stand up and speak out against them. Perhaps it is a legacy of Hungary’s history of dictatorial rule, but it seems that when hate and violence is being promoted you either join in or keep you head down so you can live a comfortable life. For us, Gay Pride is one of the best ways of demonstrating to our children that it is not OK just to keep quiet, rather we should stand up and make ourselves heard. But unlike them we will not shout in anger, hate and aggression, but with joy, love and celebration.

Photos courtesy of ontd-political

The idea of SOLIDARITY is important to Gábor and I and we hope that what ever our children grow up to believe in, I want them see the importance of showing solidarity for our fellow humans. 

There are some who claim that LGBT have equal rights and what they ask for is “special right”. Frankly I find this insulting and clearly untrue. Consider my life:

·         I was able to marry the person I loved,
·         I was could start a family without having to justify my decision to any one,
·         I can raise my children without public scrutiny,
·         I have the security of knowing that if anything were to happen to me my children will be taken care of by my partner,
·         I moved country and got my resident permit on “family ties”,
·         I can contemplate increasing my family some day by adopting or fostering.

There are so many more aspects of my life that would be more difficult or impossible, even in Europe, if Gábor had been a woman.

Some than argue that these are not rights, rather they are “privileges”.  I don’t care what you call them “rights” or “privileges”, if they are granted by  the state then in a fair and democratic society they need to be granted to all. So, until they are, then my children (until they are old enough to make the decision for themselves) and I will march right alongside LGBTA at pride marches wherever we happen to be.

But besides lessons about Justice and Solidarity I want to give them the opportunity to learn about themselves. Our society today offers such a narrow definition of “girl” and “boy”, I would argue that, despite the best efforts of feminists, it is even worse than when I was growing up 25 years ago. Participating in Gay Pride is one that I see we can counter this and give my children a broader concept of “girl” and “boy”. There are so may different types of “men” and “women” that hopefully Ernest and Lily will understand that there is nothing they need to conform to they just need to be themselves and that they will be loved and supported by us no matter who they are.

There was a beautiful scene towards the end of the parade. Ernest started playing with and chasing his balloon down the long rainbow silk; so joyful, so oblivious to the looks or judgement from others (including the mass of photographers who also spotted this perfect photo moment).  

This scene (and the pride march in general) epitomises my greatest wishes for my children’s life:

Be Happy. Be Free. Be Colourful.

 Csanádi Márton - Photo Journalist

Click the link for some more spectaculat pictures of the parade.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Oh how I have missed the sauna; the deep, deep clean feeling, the shedding of every last flake of dead skin. Every pore is unclogged and every single cell feels alive.
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