Once upon a time… a few years ago a friend of mine and I got a bunch of kids together and took them to a playground after school.
They were all playing nicely on a climbing frame that had a big slide at the end. Except for our little treasure.
(Someone has to be naughty, hey!?)
But my bilingual cherub was not just naughty, he was SUPER naughty, annoying everyone by coming down the slide and climbing up the slide while others were still trying to come down the slide…
Richie was not listening to me, ignoring me completely when asked to stop.
I ran out of patience pretty quickly.
I don’t enjoy being ignored so I raised my voice and delivered a fierce statement in my native language saying:
‘I’m not gonna ask you again. Get down now or I’ll get really CROSS.’
Although my request was not delivered in English, all the kids that didn’t understand my native language got the message and knew exactly why I was cross.
Except for my bilingual cherub, obviously!
I had to take my little treasure off the slide and have a chat.
Once my roasting was over, one of the monolingual kids asked me:
‘Petra, what does (this was in English up to here) ‘CROSS’(this word was said with PERFECT pronunciation in my native language) mean?”
I was gobsmacked.
Wow, how quickly can kids actually pick up words, even random foreign words they’ve never heard before!
Or maybe they had as this was surprisingly not the first time my bilingual cherub was showing off his retractable horns…
Anyway, this eye-opening situation, which was in a way very embarrassing, was confirmation to me that kids are very perceptive to language learning and this could be used for something good:
Like multicultural lessons!
Our kids go to school in the UK and it makes every effort to include multiculturalism in their curriculum.
What this usually involves is an organised day where every class focuses on one country for that day:
They talk about the foreign country, what is its flag, what do people eat there, what are the country’s traditional dishes, what languages do the people speak, what traditions do they have etc.
The school has various activities related to these countries like eg. food tasting and one of the important parts of a multicultural day like that is that it’s usually ‘a dress-up’ day when the children don’t have to come in wearing their school uniform but they are supposed to dress up either in colours of their country in particular or dress up to look like they come from that country.
Once, when they were talking about India, they even had an Indian lady come who taught the children some rhymes in Hindu.
The kids were clapping and enjoying learning these random children’s rhymes in a language they didn’t know nor understand.
But they were having great fun and they did a very good job at it.
Now, I am not sure if I asked Richie today if he still remembers any of these rhymes and chances are he doesn’t, but this was an awesome, authentic and hands-on experience for the UK kids without the trouble (and cost) of ‘nipping out’ to India for the day which would be a mission impossible anyway.
Which brings me back to our playday when our bilingual cherub didn’t cover himself in glory.
When I thought about the Richie’s friends’ reaction at the playground and the multicultural days at school, our multicultural life and One Parent One Language strategy, I came to a conclusion:
Why not to give my bilingual cherub’s friends the opportunity to have short snippets of multicultural lessons when they hang around together?
Just to have some more fun and to support my consistency in bilingual parenting (in front of my kids’ friends) which I described in my previous blog post here.
What I started doing when speaking my native language in front of my bilingual cherub’s friends is that I would point out words that sound like English but they mean something else in my language.
The conversation at our dinner table would go like this: ‘Dej mi ten kečup, prosím tě.’
Which means: ‘Give me/ pass me the ketchup please.’
The word ‘dej’ (meaning give) is pronounced exactly as the English word ‘day’.
On the other had the word ‘kečup‘ is not pronounced exactly the way as ‘ketchup‘ in English (we’re talking British English my friends), but pretty much understandable or let’s say that the correlation between ‘kečup‘ and ‘ketchup‘ can easily be made.
Then I would ask my bilingual cherub’s friends quite casually:
‘Jamie, do you know what ‘dej‘ means in my language?‘
Jamie would probably say no the first time round.
‘Dej‘ means give (or pass) in my language. It sounds exactly the same as the word ‘day‘ in English. And do you know what means ‘kečup‘?
You get the gist how this conversation goes.
I point out words that are similarish to English too.
Just try it out, it’ll be fun. Kids like playing with words, bilingual or not.
For more clarity and inspiration here are some examples I use in my native language (Czech!):
We’re looking for the same sounds/ same sounding words. The words are pronounced the same way or very much the same way in both languages (but spelt differently):
Ahoy/ ahoj (Hi!/ Hello!/ Bye!) Day/ dej (Give (me)!) Yes/ jez (Eat!)
Less/ les (forest) Look/ luk (bow for shooting) Yuck/ jak (how)
Coat/ kout (corner) Shut/ šat (clothes/dress) Scotch/ skoč (Jump!)
Doom/ dům (house) Sheet/ šít (to sew) Luck/ lak (varnish)
Some words that are pronounced the same way and can be even spelled the same way, but that’s not that important.
Den/ den (day) Let/ let (flight) Hop/ hop (Hop!)
We’re looking for familiar words. These are words that have the same meaning but are pronounced a little bit differently, but there is a resemblance in pronunciation and/or spelling:
telephone/ telefon chocolate/ čokoláda tractor/ traktor
paper/ papír domino/ domino million/ milión
television/ televize farm/ farma hotel/ hotel
If you don’t know where to start thinking of eg. names for sports: tennis, football, volleyball, basketball…
They might be helpful for a start. Just play with it.
You don’t have to do any scientific research on this.
Just be a bit more mindful when you speak your native language around your bilingual cherub’s friends and remember how you could present it to them the next time.
Even if it’s just one word you’ll ever teach them, it might be the one word they will always remember.
P.S. What words in your native language do you have that sound the same as your majority language that you could easily teach your bilingual cherub’s friends?
Let’s have some fun with it here, I’m dying to find out in the comments below.