Raising A Bilingual Baby

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I grew up speaking four different languages and I understood atleast six languages in India. Everybody in my country is pretty much multilingual. You learn English in school, Hindi is our national language spoken quite widely by people, Marathi is our state language again spoken by the people of the state and taught in school very extensively and then if you happen to have a different mother tongue which I did, Bengali, you would learn that from errmm your mother!

So you see why it is so important for me that my child is atleast bilingual. I failed at it with Reuben and Irene. That is because they were proficient in Korean and I was not. I was trying to teach them English when they came to England because that was a priority at the time. And by the time I realised that it would be nice if they could speak my language, they were quite a bit older and I was relatively younger and unprepared for the challenge.

With baby Ro, I had nine whole months to decide and prepare myself for the challenge ahead. You see in India it is easy to pick up languages because you hear all these languages around you all the time but here English is so widely spoken and you yourself are so used to speaking in English that when you have to speak to somebody who is not capable of reciprocating in the same language as you, it is difficult to even talk in your own language, let alone speak with the intention of teaching it to somebody else.

However, I have chosen to teach my baby my mother tongue, and I have no idea whether he will eventually learn my language or not, that fear will live with me until he can speak properly in both English and my mother tongue, Bengali.

At present, Roshan understands a lot of what I say and sometimes will respond more to words spoken in Bengali than in English but at 14 months whatever he says is nothing more than babbles and sometimes plain gibberish. He calls his father “baba” and then refers to our dog Rustle as “Bubba”. Now we can differentiate what he means because we put his gibberish into context but how much of it is language is a mystery.

I have read no books and have no friends in a similar situation as mine who could inspire me. I am doing everything by instinct and trial and error. It is definitely a challenge but we are plodding along slowly. Here are some of the ways in which I try to teach my baby to be bilingual:

One Parent, One language

I try and speak to Roshan in Bengali. The idea is that one parent speaks to the baby in one language exclusively. Slowly the child associate that parent with the language and starts engaging in the language he associates that parent with.

For me , exclusivity is difficult because of my other two children. When there is nobody home, I speak to Roshan in Bengali but when the kids or Ed is home, I am speaking in English majority of the time and end up communicating with Roshan in English.

One thing I have started doing though is, as soon as I speak to Roshan in English, I then very quickly translate it into bengali in the hope that he picks up the language.

Reading books

This one is my favourite and quite difficult. Ideally, I’d buy books in bengali for Roshan but it is very difficult to get hold of in the UK. So I try to translate any book that we have into bengali for him.

Singing songs

I sing a lot to Roshan. And eventhough I don’t know a lot of bengali songs myself, I sometimes make up songs in my language. We have a bathtime song, poo-time song and even nappy change song. Words keep changing because, well I make it as I go along.

Skyping family

I skype my mother, practically everyday. My mother lives in a joint family and everybody tries to come and speak to Roshan. Everybody speaks to him in Bengali. I try to create a sense of community for my baby in those 20 minutes of skype time.

Watching films and listening to music

We don’t watch a lot of tv but every now and again I try and put on music videos that are in bengali. Roshan enjoys hindi songs more though.

I also try and put on bengali songs for him whilst we are playing, eating or just lounging. Again, Roshan prefers his dad’s hip hop more!

Selective Response

Roshan is too young for this. But the idea is when he can start talking, I am going to insist that he speaks to me in bengali if he wants to get a response. Initially I will translate his request into bengali and ask him to repeat it just how we teach our children to say “please’ and “thank you”. In time, he will develop an association and understand that if he wants mummy’s attention he needs to speak in bengali.

I think this one might seem a bit brutal but is essential because baby will try to avoid speaking in the language he finds hard to come up with words in. In order to encourage him this method will come handy.

Translate and repeat

As mentioned above, as a parent you might have to translate and make them repeat. Children are going to find it very hard to learn a language that they are not listening to around them. It will be especially difficult to find certain words and they’d be tempted to use the words in a language that they are used to listening to more. In order to help them find words more easily this method will be helpful.

I already do it with Roshan. I ask him to repeat words and phrases after me and eventhough he can’t quite speak the words he has mastered the art of mimicking the tone of the words or phrases, which I think is a step forward already.

Patience & Persevere

Please be patient. I have no experience but I think as a parent if I persevere, baby Ro will activate his subconscious and learn the language eventually.

There might be a phase where baby Ro might only reciprocate in English and that might be an excuse for me to stop speaking to him in Bengali. But if I persevere and carry on speaking to him in Bengali he might get over his phase and start speaking to me in my language.

I have seen some children do that. Some children speak in English in public out of embarrassment to their parents whilst the parents still carry o Hunn speaking in some native language. Same children, go home and speak very eloquently in their mother tongue.  

Have you raised a bilingual child? Do you have any tips for me?

 

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My Last Mother’s Day As A Mother Of Two

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This year’s Mother Day is very special and emotional for me. It is my last one as a mother of two. I found myself in the laps of motherhood at the young age of 22 years. My kids were not born from my womb and all my instincts had to come from my heart.

Four years old Reuben (now 9 yrs old) and two years old Irene (now 7 yrs old), left their biological mum and came to England to live with their dad and dad’s friend (myself). Little did I know then, that my life was about to change for good! Little did I know that I was venturing into a big new world of motherhood.

These kids and I have been through a lot. To begin with, we couldn’t speak eachother’s language yet we somehow spent days on end in our little quirky flat in the beautiful sea side town of Broadstairs. We spoke a lot through cuddles, kisses and many other sweet gestures and activities like cooking, baking, taking long walks, playing etc. I tried to impress them by cooking their favourite meals and they kept me sweet by eating it all (even on days it wasn’t really that good).

I remember how one day whilst we were engrossed dancing in our living room with loud music on, the phone rang. When I answered somehow my entire world seemed to have been on the verge of collapsing. After 6 months of no contact, their mother chose to call. I answered the phone and had no idea how to speak to her. When she asked who I was? I suddenly had an identity crisis (identifying myself as their dad’s gf might set her off or lose custody was my fear). I passed on the phone quickly to Reuben. He denied recognising the person on the phone (his mum). He kept asking me who she was and I kept reassuring him that it was his mother. He was polite to her but brutally honest about the fact that he couldn’t remember her. She hung up! And we stopped the music. We went for a walk after that but strangely kids never mentioned anything about the phone call. Throughout the walk, I kept thinking how much in love I had fallen with these two kids in such a small amount of time. How my heart ached to hear their mothers voice, the fear that she might want them back? I felt like I was on some sort of crossroads. I felt insecure but guilty of being selfish. It was a good thing if their mother wanted to be a part of their lives, yet I desired otherwise because I wanted to be their mother.

Those days are long gone, we never heard back from their mother ever again. Almost six years together, my insecurities have almost gone yet from time to time I wonder how incapable we are of controlling the future. How someday, these two will grow up and might want to reunite or reconnect with their mother. What if they decide to leave me and become hers all over again? I know it is a bit shallow of me to be so insecure. But hey ho, all I can do is try my best to give them the best and be the best I can to them. And in return all I can do is appreciate each day I get with them saying “I love you mum”.

But things are about to change, I will be giving birth this year. Now that is nerve-wrecking as heck! But I feel so confident and ready this time around for this child. And that is because of my two loving children Reuben and Irene. I surely raise them and teach them to live well and love all (including their estranged mum) but in many ways, they teach me everyday how to give, how to forgive and how to live. If I know anything about motherhood today, that is because of the kids I have been raising. If it wasn’t for these two putting up with all my failures as a mother (which I have had many), I wouldn’t have had a chance to learn and improve my role as a mother well.

This third child of mine will not only have a confident mother but also a very nurturing pair of siblings. I hope I can teach the baby to realise how special it is to be born in this family of ours!

Mummy, what is this?!

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Every mother tries her best to keep her monthly menstrual phase a secret from her children for as long as possible. It is one of those topics like how and where do babies come from? that you want to avoid.

When I was a kid, I had a habit of playing shops with mum’s wardrobe. My mother was very patient and let me open her wardrobe and pretend to sell her saree’s to imaginary customers. Now one fine day, I found out her bag of sanitary pads wedged in between a pile of saree’s!!

Something similar happened to me a couple of years ago, when my children were 4 and 6 years old. Because they were very young, I resorted to the answer that my mother gave me when I was little. And since I have two children, one takes the new found item to the other creating two curious bambinos. One would happily settle for, “it is a mummy thing, will tell you more when you are a bit older”, but the younger one couldn’t understand that nor could she accept that as a convincing answer. So I shared my mum’s wisdom!

Me: Irene, it is like a band-aid that only mummy needs when she bleeds.

She seemed convinced enough to leave me alone and carried on drawing.

Oh, that went well!! Success!! My mother was right. I didn’t lie but I didn’t tell the truth either. Now after two years, last week Irene fell over and had a big cut (not that big, more like a long paper cut). So she came to me asking for a plaster. I said, I don’t have any we’ll get some new ones when we pop out to the shops.

But no, she didn’t stop at that. She wanted a plaster by hook or by crook.  History repeated itself after ten years. My daughter did the same thing that I did to my mother.

Irene (came hurriedly from the bathroom): Mum, look I found your band-aid. This will do for now, wouldn’t it? We can get you some more, ok?!

Me: No. Not ok!!

Right!! That’s exactly right. It was me who told her it was a plaster, she forgot the minor detail that it was ONLY for mummy.

Now, Irene is horrified of blood and so there was no way I could have told her what kind of bleeding it is for, so I re-instated the fact that it is only for mummy’s and for special kind of bleeding only. I will tell you more when I can ok? That was that for Irene!

But my Reuben is older now, at eight years he understands and senses things to be much more fishy than what is said. He asked me,

Reuben: “Mum, I never see you use them yet you buy new packets all the time.”

hmmmmmmmmm….

I took the risk of explaining him more, because he is older and less squeamish. I simply told him that mummy has an egg in her tummy and when that egg doesn’t turn into a baby, it comes out in the form of blood. I use these during those days. It only lasts for 5 to 7 days, not all the time. Well, he already knows where babies come from, so I reckoned it won’t be too hard for him to take this detail in.

So last week, I was shopping and I brought another pack of sanitary pads, to which my VERY LOUD Reuben said, “Mummy are your eggs hatching now?!!”

Only two people stared!!! Hmmmmmmm. Sigh!!

Confessions of a Naughty Momma & a Sneaky Wife

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Every mommy and wife has her dirty little secrets that you hide from your children and your husband at times. I always wondered if anyone out there shares the same secrets like I do…

1. I sometimes eat all the tasty and nasty snacks from the cupboard when the kids are asleep. Sometimes I eat them on my bed. I do it surreptitiously only because I don’t let the kids have any snacks just before dinner or bed!

2. There are days I don’t dress up and lounge about in my pyjamas.

3. I send the kids upstairs to play in the name of “work”, when actually I am watching some tele or facebooking.

4. I let the dogs on the bed for cuddles when husband isn’t home (I change the sheets to hide furry evidence)

5. I give my children calpol despite my husbands disagreement, because I just don’t want to deal with temperature for more than one day.

6. I shop secretly, and when my husband asks, I say, “I got it from a second hand shop.” (not that he ever would question my spending, but there is an element of fun in the lack of total transparency :p )

7. I get the kids to tidy up their own room, by luring them to watch TOP GEAR 😦

8. I sometimes don’t clean my teeth before going to bed.

9. Last but not the least, I used to shower twice a day or atleast once in the morning, but these days it is the other way round. I shower just in the evenings, after the kids have gone to bed. It is so peaceful, quiet, no one is banging the door, calling me to go upstairs, nobody is getting their fingers caught in the door, no one is kicking someone…warm water washing my days sins away!!!!!!!!!!

I would have never thought of doing such things before having the kids in my life, but they change everything. Yes, they do!

What are your naughty parent secrets?

I pierced my daughters ears!!

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It wasn’t until I came to England that I realised that piercing a child’s ears was such a big thing and that for most people, it needed to be their children’s decision and choice! I got both my ears pierced when I was literally 15 days old.

Back home in India, that age is considered the best because kids are wrapped up so well that there is less movement which meant less chances of getting it infected! Also the ears lobes are softer and easier to pierce causing much less pain than when you grow up!

Now my husband and I had no problems in regards to what constitute decisions children should and shouldn’t make. We both are very strong minded parents and although we respect their rights, we also believe that certain things are best left up to the parents to decide.

So when my five-year-old step-daughter asked me if she could get her ears pierced, I was convinced (simply because I always wondered why didn’t she have one already?) But daddy needed some thinking and convincing, of course!

For some fathers, I reckon it is firstly hard to let his little princess go through it! It seems like a painful process than it actually is! In our case, my husband just hadn’t thought about it much but was aware of not wanting to exacerbate an already pronounced consciousness about personal appearance!

“Do you really want our daughter to be conscious of her being a girly girl at this age?” My husband asked. I said: “I don’t see why not, I wore earrings all my life but lived like a tomboy? Apart from the earrings it was sometimes hard to say I was a girl”

Well, ok this gender discrimination thing is a hard one to crack. But once your child goes to school, no matter what you do they will start defining themselves into categories of being a girl or a boy, princess or a pirate! Honestly, we cannot control it that much. I want to dress up my daughter, I want her to wear earrings and accessorise her and dress her up in beautiful frocks! But I also teach her good dressing sense, that is, when it is appropriate to wear trousers instead of a skirt! It is about finding and teaching a balance in their mind.

“Pretty” – Yes I want my daughter to look and feel pretty. I am blessed with two beautiful children but even if they weren’t, I’d still make an effort to make them feel confident in who they are and appreciate how they look or what they have. If they need help to feel confident/pretty or simply feel like  a woman by getting earrings – I will allow that (after explaining pros and cons)! But “when” is up to me until they are 18.

What I don’t want my daughter to learn is to disapprove people who are less fortunate with anything or in any regard! And certainly not compete with the other gender in an unhealthy manner. And I want my son to respect women of any size or shape or status or needs; and to not take a women’s strength for granted!

My son saw my 5 year old pierce her ears (she is one proud girl!), and said, “Can I get mine done too?” I said, “Sure, maybe when you are a bit older, boys tend to wait a fair bit longer.” (if it was up to my son, he’d also wear a bindi to school)

Yes, it is gender discrimination but there you go. Certain things are a go and certain things are simply no-go and the answers to “why” is a girl-boy thing I am afraid!

What do you think? When would you allow your daughter or son to get their ears pierced?