Our Misadventures in Language Learning: Guest Post from Mud Hut Mama
While we are enjoying some extra snuggle time with the Monkeys, we are so pleased to be able to bring you a series of guest posts from some of our favorite bloggers.
Today’s post comes to you from Jody of Mud Hut Mama, an amazing woman whose parenting adventures in Malawi were part of my inspiration for starting the Multicultural Kids Blogs group. Her disarming honesty and humor, in addition to her creative ideas, make her blog a daily must-read for me. Enjoy!
I always envisioned our children growing up bilingual. My husband and I are both native English speakers but we are raising our children in rural Africa, currently Malawi, so I always pictured my kids picking up the local language from their friends and our neighbors. We moved to Malawi when I was pregnant with my second and my first was a year old and things haven’t worked out exactly as I’d planned. We live in one of three houses within a wildlife reserve and the nearest community is only a short distance away, but it is on the other side of the reserve’s fence and, because of the wildlife, it is not safe for us to walk to and since I don’t have a car it may as well be miles away.
We have a housekeeper who comes in on most days. Saliyapa started working for us when my youngest was three weeks old and, in many ways, has become a part of the family. While she is able to speak English well, she tries to only speak to my daughters in Chichewa and they have picked up quite a bit of the language from her, however, they are far from fluent. We also had a month where Sali’s sister was on school break and held a “Summer Camp” at our home. The girls’ language skills soared that month but we haven’t really been able to keep it up since then. If I knew we would be staying in Malawi, I would really push for my girls to
learn the language but my husband’s contract ends in June and we are not sure where in Africa we will end up after that.
I’ve been reading Leanna’s blog for a while now and I love the way she is raising her Monkey (maybe Monkeys by the time this is published) bilingual. I have started feeling a little desperate as my girls are ages two and three and I feel like I am wasting this wonderful stage of their lives when they have the ability to soak up languages like the little sponges that they are.
I decided they should learn French because, although not spoken where we are now, it is a very useful language to have on this continent and, because there are so many resources available for French instruction, it is a language that the girls could continue with no matter where we end up. So armed with a lot of enthusiasm and not much else I contacted an expert, Talluah over at Bilingual Babes to ask her advice on beginning French language instruction both for myself and for the girls. She gave me some wonderful information including the idea to limit all screen time to French language learning.
I loved this idea and got all excited when I looked through our DVDs and discovered that our Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVD could be played in French. The next morning when my girls asked for TV (as they do when they get up at 4:30 am) in went the DVD. They immediately caught on to the fact that something was different and I explained that Mickey Mouse was speaking another language just like Sali speaks another language and that we were going to try and learn this new language. I’m pretty sure I explained that this language was called French before I stumbled back to bed but there is a possibility that I forgot to mention that important detail.
The girls watched Mickey Mouse speak French first thing in the morning for a few days and then I discovered that our Disney Princess Sing-a-Long could also be played in French, so the following morning in went that DVD at 4:30 am. I was just about to fall back asleep when Boo came running into the bedroom shouting with excitement, “Mama, Mama! The princesses speak Mickey Mouse!” I was pretty impressed that she recognized that it was the same language but I wanted to set the record straight so I explained that both Mickey Mouse and the princesses were speaking French and that a lot of people also speak French, the language was not exclusive to Mickey Mouse or to the princesses. Boo was not having it.
We are still working on gaining French language skills but in this house French is referred to as Mickey Mouse and Boo figures that if Mickey can have his own language then so can she. She speaks her own language regularly with an imaginary friend, Mulila, who is apparently the only other person in the entire world who is fluent. The name of Boo’s language is simply language and when I ask her what she is saying she rolls her eyes and tells me, “Mama I’m speaking language,” with an exasperated sigh because of course I’m interrupting an extremely important conversation. I’m thrilled with the fact that she is so excited about learning languages but I don’t think I’ve done a great job of setting her up for success and I know I will have a lot of explaining to do if we end up in a francophone country and Mickey Mouse is not our neighbor. In fact I’m pretty sure she’ll be expecting the whole crew complete with the clubhouse.
Since I know there are many mamas of multilingual kids out there reading Leanna’s blog, I’m going to confess that I’ve shared this story to lead into a plea for help. While I know how I learn languages, I don’t have any experience with French or with learning a language at a very young age. I would love some tips on how to help children learn a new language when you are not familiar with it yourself. I’ve just ordered some of the French Bilingual Bear Books from Barefoot Books and I’m thinking of adding the Little Pim DVDs.
Have you tried either of these resources and did you like them? What has worked well for you and your children?
Thanks to Jody at Mud Hut Mama for today’s post! Jody is a stay-at-home mom, raising two girls in a wildlife reserve in Malawi. Pre-motherhood she worked with international and environmental education. Jody is homeschooling her daughters and enjoys sharing her love of other cultures, nature and conservation with them. She writes about their adventures at Mud Hut Mama.
Thank you for this opportunity to guest post and for your kind words – I’m so glad you are enjoying some extra snuggle time.
Thank YOU, Jody! It’s so nice to have some time off, plus I so enjoyed reading this post!
I loved this post! You girls are so cute:)! I have some French resources I can forward to you when I Am at home. Sweetie pies.
Thanks Becky – you might have more advice for me than you think because I’m considering trying to teach them Spanish instead – at least it’s a language I know.
Jody you’re awesome! I can’t help but laugh at the Mickey language! I literally laughed out loud and chuckled while reading your post. I totally get where you’re coming from… I too, feel at times that I’ve wasted this wonderful time of learning (mine is 4 1/2 yrs. old), but I’m still at it! I’ve read that I have until he’s 6 yrs.old to absorb another language…. so I’m hopeful!
Yes – I’ve heard that too about how open they are until about age six. Thanks so much for forwarding me some resources.
I admire your tenacity for wanting to teach your kids another language! I feel a little similar to you in that we are raising our kids bilingual in Arabic, a language I don’t speak. It’s easier I know that my husband does but my role is more limited in how I can help. So this is how I help if any of this is useful to you: check out also youtube videos in French- you can make a playlist to replace the morning movie routine once they get bored of those 2 French DVDs. And music!! My kids love their Lango French CD. You could also look into some French apps where they have to repeat words (try Lingo’s Market.) At the moment, maybe passive input is all that is realistic if you don’t have any French speakers close to you. And that is ok too because you are giving them some exposure! Also, since the kids are still young and you are only there until June, maybe you next find yourself somewhere where they are immersed in another language automatically. So don’t stress too much about it as things could really change in just a few months. I still have in the back of my mind that who knows if we will end up staying in the US or moving somewhere else where bilingualism will be more automatic and not something that takes so much work 🙂 Good luck!!
Thanks so much Stephanie. These are great suggestions and you are right – I might be jumping the gun and maybe I should just wait to see where we end up before I stress myself out too much.
Hi Jody. This is Kimberly from Queretaro, Mexico again. I enjoyed your post. Since kids that age are like sponges that never get full, I think you can expose them to French and Spanish at the same time instead of trying to figure out which one is a better choice. They may forget things as you move around and spend more time on other languages, but the seeds will have been planted.
As for Stephanie’s suggestion about using youtube videos… I remember that you mentioned once that your internet connection is slow. I recommend you download a free program called aTube Catcher so that you can download youtube videos to your computer and watch them later without that buffering lag. A video series that I liked when I was first learning French was Muzzy. I don’t know if it’s on youtube, but you can order it in various languages and it’s about the same level as Sesame Street.
Keep up the good work!
Thank you so much Kimberly – I’m going to download aTube Catcher now – I’d never heard of it and it sounds like it would be perfect for us. I think you might be on to something with exposing them to both – Boo just told me yesterday that she would like to learn Dora’s language now. I guess the fact that she’s interested and being exposed to different languages is the most important thing at this point.
This was hilarious!! Well, I guess they speak a little Chichewa, Mickey Mouse and Language, so you’re doing something right. ; ) We felt the same about Caleb taking advantage of this stage of his life and absorbing swahili, and, for the most part he did, without effort simply being immersed. I hated him a little for it. ; ) But he’s losing it now that he’s not as immersed. I really admire your efforts to teach the girls another – and very useful given your plans to say in Africa – language. I think it’ll give them a leg up if you move to a francophone country. But, from what I’ve experienced, it’ll take a lot of work to drill it in if they’re not hearing it used as a living language around them. Though books and DVDs certainly will help. Again, I’m so impressed with how intentional you are in your parenting choices. And I would love to hear more about the summer camp!! Oh, and how you’re feeling about leaving in JUNE! (so soon!)
I have to admit I get a little jealous reading your blog and hearing about how immersed in the language Caleb is. I think it’s wonderful that he is speaking swahili. I’m feeling very much in limbo – the problem is we don’t know yet if we will be staying on here or moving.
Nice post, Judy!
Our daughter knows there are different languages. And I do the same – I put the cartoons she already knows in English in Chinese and in Russian. I download them or buy them. It is fun and she often asks me to watch in either language. We also have cartoons from Russia in Russian and typical Chinese cartoons. With Chinese it is easier as she learns it at school but harder with Russian.
I am thinking of trying making 1 day a week all Russian day and start by that and speak ONLY Russian to her even around other people. I was always worried about being polite and speaking another language in front of others who don’t understand. Hence I kept switching to English with her and it became a habit and so it goes on and on. So starting with 1 day and then increasing would probably do better for her at this age (4 years old) than making attempts and explaining to her and switching from one to another.
Thank you Varya, I really like the idea of one day being the language day and that would definitely be easier to do if we picked a language that I can speak!
“The princesses speak Mickey Mouse!” LOL! This made my morning! A beautifully honest post. I will be reading the comments that come in because I know language is something we have not worked on enough. I’d love to pointers and suggestions too.
It made my morning the day she said it – even while feeling like a dismal failure – she had me laughing.
Jody! Just loved reading this about the girls and their Mickey Mouse language! I take my hat off to you girl – you’re doing a great job. Keep at it with the French and take all the advice above. It is such a beautiful language and you will get by with it just about anywhere in the world (except perhaps China!!) Bon chance mon amie! Vous etes une etoile qui brille!!
Fondest love as ever,
Thanks Careen – I wish I had your language skills!
Little Pim DVDs are wonderful! My 4 year old not only loves Little Pim the panda (she carries him everywhere), but she is also speaking Spanish. I never would have thought that this would work until I tried it. It has been incredible seeing her learn and it’s so much fun to experience with her 🙂 The books are also great and have cute little pull out tabs that we love!
Thank you Kris – that is so good to hear.
I love this post! Sadly, you are way ahead of me in terms of raising bilingual children, so I won’t offer any advice.
I highly doubt I’m ahead of you MaryAnne:-) But I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!
LOVE! “Mommy, I’m speaking language” How CUTE!
[…] you read my post about our “Misadventures in Language Learning” over at All Done Monkey, you know that I really want my girls to speak a second language […]