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.