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.


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