Friday, November 2, 2012

Raising a bilingual child. Part II

The other day I was trying to translate a couple Russian expressions for someone and that got me thinking about Allie again and how in the world I would ever teach her certain things and expressions in Russian and, more importantly, how I would explain them to her. Both expressions I was translating for my friend are used when someone asks you a question that you don't want to answer. The literal translation for the first one is:
"If you know too much, you'll age too soon"
and the second one is even better:
"Curious Barbara got her nose ripped off at the market" (I know...)

There are a lot more... Lots about work, or how to get out of doing work, for example
"Work is not a wolf and won't escape into the woods"

Those will be the things hard to teach, or explain. But it's ok, I just need t get the basics down at least and teach Allie to express herself in Russian, as well as she can in English.

At almost 2 years old she knows a lot of words in English and she can say certain sentences. She knows how to say many words in Russian (while she understands everything I say in Russian), but doesn't talk in Russian sentences. It's funny when she starts mixing the two languages. When I pick her up from the daycare, she says "Mama, пойдём home" (let's go home). Or when the kids in our neighborhood were trick-or-treating the other day she was saying "I want more детки" (I want more kids).

But no language mixes happen when she feels frustrated... Like the other day she was climbing up the small hill that our house is sitting on and slipped and fell and went "Oh maaaaan!" :) This is when I thought I need to teach her to say some word of frustration in Russian, but it's kind of weird to teach negative words...

A particular challenge when trying to teach Russian is that Russian language is a real difficult language. Most words are longer and harder to pronounce than in English. I remember when Allie learnt to say "dog", which was one of her first words, I was teaching her a Russian version, which is "sabaka". So I kept repeating "sabaka' whenever we would see a dog, and Allie would stay strongly committed to "dog". And then MJ made a good point "If she has a choice between saying "dog" and "sabaka", which one do you think she's going to think is easier?" That's true and "sabaka" is not even the best example. And what makes it even worse is that when you talk to a child in Russian (or I guess not only in Russian, I wonder if this is really about all languages), you instinctively use the cute little versions of all words (like in English you would say "doggy" instead of "dog" while talking to a child). So when you do that in Russian, you make most words twice as long as they were before becoming cute...  So this is how "a doll" becomes "kukla" which with the cute ending becomes "kukalka" and how "a box" becomes "karobka which for the babies turns into "karobachka" and so on. 

So in addition to some tips that I mentioned last time when talking about raising a bilingual child, here are a few more I thought of (sorry for not providing any references, these are really just  bits and pieces from much read, heard and witnessed personally).

  • I mentioned reading books in Russian before. But the older Allie gets, the more interactive our Russian reading sessions become. I ask her questions about a book that we're reading "Who is this?", "What color is it?", "What does it say?" You can talk about characters, colors, shapes, sizes and so on. These dialogues are probably one of the best teaching techniques. 
  • I find that counting really works, too. We count everything: duckies in the tub during the bath time, blueberries she eats for dessert, cars driving by that we see out of our window... She can count to ten now and is motivated to learn what she is counting. So it's especially good to count new things.
  • Music. I already mentioned music, but also signing is great. Songs rhyme and rhymes are easier to remember, so it's easier to remember the words if they come from a song. Having Russian music on the background is a good idea and recently I've discovered Tune In app, so we listen to the Russian radio stations for kids. They have songs, stories, kids' talk shows.
  • Clearly, the best way to raise Allie bilingual is to expose her to playing with Russian-speaking kids, but like I said before it's not easily done in our area. But here is the progress made in this regard: my friend told me about a daycare/ inside playground in the neighboring town that is owned by a Russian lady. While the daycare is by no means for the Russian kids only, I was told that they have quite a few Russian families there. So the owner offered to organize some Russian playdate groups during weekends, maybe once or twice per month. They would host them right at the daycare, since they are opened on weekends anyway. I was so excited to hear that and now have very high hopes for this... I'll keep you posted on this. Right now I am jut waiting to hear what was the response that she got.
Still no TV for Allie, so I cannot use Russian cartoons yet as a teaching help...But in the future some time the cartoon bullet will be added.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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