Tag Archives: multicultural

Canadian by Bea of The Little Grovers

28 Nov

Bea: Lives in Canada with her husband T and their twin toddler boys. Catch up with them at http://www.littlegrovers.blogspot.com.

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When I discussed the subject of raising children in a multicultural family with my husband, we came to the same conclusion. Though my heritage is Italian-Irish, and T.’s is Korean we both feel Canadian. My parents immigrated to Canada when they were children and I was raised, for better or worse, in a single language speaking home.

My husband came to Canada as a small child with his grandparents and speaks Korean with his family. Because he has no formal education in Korean, and I’ve been told he speaks like an old country woman due to his dialect, he is not that comfortable conversing in his native language.

This is all a long winded way of saying that we only speak English with our kids at home. There will be the obligatory French language classes in school, but we have no plans to teach our kids Korean or Italian outside of a few phrases.

Both of T.’s grandparents have passed away, and he has a few aunts and uncles here in Canada. I’m sure they would love it if our boys learned Korean, but we do not see them often enough for them to have much influence over the boys language development. And three out of four adult relatives do not speak English though they have lived in English speaking Canada for decades so I do not have a well developed relationship with them.

I took some Italian language classes as a child, and again as an adult but I never really put it into practice and would be incapable of holding a conversation now.

Am I doing a disservice to my children by not teaching them more than one language in these early toddler years? If we as parents are not able to speak more than one language with our kids, should we invest in language classes for our kids?

Between Worlds

20 Nov

I was born in Crete, Greece and raised in Maryland, USA, on a beautiful, 86-acre, off-the-grid homestead. My parents, products of the hippie era, were inspired by the simple, self-sufficient lives of the Cretan villagers, and we had no electricity or indoor plumbing in the hand-hewn house where I grew up. Instead of a TV, we had a trapeze in the living room. It was a paradise for kids, and I grew up with an innate love of nature and a keen sense of responsibility for the health of our Mother Earth. My parents strove to awaken in us an awareness of the effects of our actions and to provide us with an alternative to the modern lifestyle of rampant consumptive greed. They supplemented our public school education with frequent journeys overseas, and by the time I was 18, our family of four had toured nearly 25 countries, mostly on tandem bicycle.

As an adult, I continued to travel widely and for longer periods, eventually spending nearly seven years in India and Nepal studying the Tibetan language and practicing Buddhism. Before long, as hormones would have it, I fell in love and married into another culture, another race, another language, another dimension. Tsultrim and I come from wildly different worlds—he a monk from a tiny village in Tibet, I the product of an American subculture of left-winged eco-hippies. We were married in 2003, first on the black market in Nepal and later in our flower garden in Maryland. During eight tumultuous years of marriage, we have made nearly that many moves across the planet, from my country to his and back again, one of us always suffering from culture shock and social isolation. The learning curve has been, and continues to be, incredibly steep. Yet for some reason—no doubt our stubborn Taurean personalities and a fat load of karma—we’re still together, still laughing.

Along the way, we have been blessed with two gorgeous kids—our daughter Clara, aged 4 ½, and our son Tashi, aged 17 months. Admittedly, part of the reason I wanted to have a second child was to give our first-born a companion, someone who would truly appreciate the complexity of her multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual situation. I worried that she would be friendless and alone in her ever-shifting world, with no one to share the long airplane rides, discuss her weird parents, or understand who she really was.

We traveled in Asia during both of my pregnancies, but I drew the line when it came to their births—those were occasions when I truly needed my own family, culture, and language, everything that I equate with the safety and comfort of home. Both our children were born in my parents’ new home in Oregon, USA, gently lifted onto my chest by the loving hands of homebirth midwives. I love to think that Tsultrim’s graceful presence at the births of his children purified generations of Tibetan tradition, in which men have avoided (and been excluded from) the ‘filthy’ scene of childbirth.

Shortly after both births, we returned to Tibet bearing the new baby, washing our cloth diapers in the freezing winter water and soaking up the salt-of-the-earth goodness of Tsultrim’s beautiful family. These journeys were terrifying and traumatic for me, the fretting new mother of an infant, and with each passing year I have yearned more and more intensely for a stable home, for roots in nurturing soil, for a solid community of like-minded mothers and the support of my family. The carefree wanderlust of my youth has long since faded away, leaving in its place an anxious, fearful woman rapidly approaching her 40th birthday, still without a place to call home and no prospects for one on the horizon. The Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment and impermanence do little to ease the ache in my heart, the pull to plunge my fingers into warm brown earth. We are settled in the Chengdu mega-metropolis for the (un)foreseeable future, not living the lavish life of the typical expat but camped out in my brother-in-law’s apartment, while Tsultrim tries his luck at selling construction supplies in the booming Chinese economy. We all sleep in a row on the floor of our single bedroom, our clothes and medicines and children’s books stuffed into a few small shelves. Clouds of fog and smog hang heavy in the Chengdu sky, and miles of constipated highway snake around us in every direction.

Even as I celebrate our children’s immersion into diverse cultures and languages and watch them grow and thrive in each, I wonder how I will share with them the lessons of my childhood, the deep reverence for the natural world that comes with being of and near the earth, season after season, year after year, in a place called home. Can a family of nomads engender a sense of place and belonging in its children? More importantly, will there ever be a place where we all feel at home, such that we can live a gentle, carbon-neutral existence on this fragile planet?

Competitive Advantage by Desi Valentine

19 Nov

Desi: I’m a corporate refugee, quiet activist and child care provider. I write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, and life looking after other people’s kids, over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day http://thevalentine4.com/
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I’ve written about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, before. http://thevalentine4.com/2011/08/21/on-tigers-and-happiness/

I found the book fascinating, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was Chau’s first chapter assertion that her parenting methods were “Chinese” by title, and “immigrant” by definition. I don’t get that. I mean, I am a (sort of) first generation Canadian. My mum was born here, but my father is from Nigeria. On some archetypal level, I think I might understand the immigrant drive for their children to achieve.

Maybe. I’m not clear on how that drive is significantly different from every parent’s desire for their kids to succeed.

I did do very well in school. And I also have an intimate understanding of what it was to be a visible minority in a predominantly white community. People look at you. People pay attention to what you are doing. They talk about it. And, though I took my share of racist insults, the vast majority of my classmates and administrators were by no means cruel. Just sort of separate. In the friends but not best friends, seeing each other but not dating, helpful but not involved, sort of way.

Or maybe it was just me.

Chau’s kids were academic achievers. Homework always completed, they did the bonus questions for extra marks, and studied hard all the rest of the time. And that’s my point, I guess. She approached parenting with the expectation that her children would do well. She put them through more grueling hours of practice and revision than I would. She committed more means and time to finding good private tutors than I would. She punished them more severely for low effort than I would. But our expectations of our children’s successes are not dissimilar. Like basketball players in the inner cities, like hockey players in rural towns, they practiced a lot as an extension of community. And excelled.

My kids will do well in school. I believe that firmly. I expect that of them. We are an afterschooling home with learning resources everywhere, and education in all its forms are integral enough to be family values, around here. I have no beef with rote learning, standardized testing, or memorization. I think we need to know the information in order to interpret it, and while these methods do not give us “knowledge”, they do imbed the data from which meaningful interpretations can be made. I think that kids’ work should be graded, that poor effort should be investigated and remedied, and that competition is only harmful when tied to self-worth.

I am aware that these are not necessarily popular views. If the backlash on Chau’s book is any indicator, these are very unpopular views.

But then I think of articles I’ve read about adults in their twenties and thirties who don’t know how to be happy, and all of the books and films devoted to defining and improving “happiness”. I think of parents calling into universities to argue on behalf of their adult children, data on the dangers of “over-praising”, reports about the growth of experiential learning, pioneering research into inquiry based learning, the Waldorf and Montessori approaches to teaching young children…. And a woman overheard on a call-in radio show who believes very firmly that all children in elementary school should be protected from standardized testing, grading, competitive sports, and measurable academic achievement. I think about the free-range kids movement, and the exponential growth of Kumon and Sylvan learning centres. About a dear friend’s conclusion that “the smart kids will do well in any school”. I think about the open concept approach of our most recent “student-led teacher conference”, and the parents who had no choice but to hear how my daughter is thriving in school. (Seriously. How is that helpful to anyone?)

On some level, it feels like we’re rushing madly off in all directions. And for some of us, that means bringing at least part of our children’s formal education back home.

One final admission: My family is using Rosetta Stone to study French, while our daughter attends a French Immersion school. She loves going through the program on my computer, and is always thoroughly annoyed with me when I tell her she has to stop. We’re doing this, in large part, because we like to learn new things together. But the other part? The minor part? The less socially acceptable, teensy bit embarrassing part?

We’re doing this because there are francophone children in her classroom, and I expect her to keep up with them.

I’m skeptical that this has anything to do with my ethnic background or “immigrant status”. I haven’t yet met a parent, regardless of parenting style or doctrine, who did not want more for their children than they themselves have. Though the individual definition of “more” does vary.

What do you think? This post is scattered like my thoughts are, I know. How would you piece it all together?

© Desi Valentine 2011. All rights reserved. Text and images are not to be reproduced or replicated without my written consent. Contact me at desivalentine4 at gmail dot com

Thoughts on Learning 3 Languages at Home by Catherine Walter

19 Nov

Catherine: I’m a mom of twins living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I grew up in NYC and spent most of my formative years there although I was born in Warsaw, Poland. My husband is German. And my identical twin girls, Zoe and Luna, were born in Bangkok, Thailand, live in Vietnam and hold dual citizenship (US & German). Growing up I thought I had it tough being torn between two different worlds, but look at them!

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Growing up as a global citizen may come with its particular set of challenges, such as not knowing a sense of belonging or losing touch with your heritage. But it’s the way of the future. Our economy is more globalized and interdependent than ever before. Just look at how the West is relying on Asia to be the engine of growth during the recession. The West doesn’t polarize the world as in the past. Rising stars in the East such as China, are contributing more than ever to the global economy and our lives. And thanks to technological advances and accessibility, we are linked as never before in human history – through online media. The world is getting smaller. In view of these developments, I believe that our children’s future success will depend on how well they relate to those different from them.

As a parent, I feel that one of the best advantages I can give my girls in life is the ability to communicate fluently in several languages. In our home, we each speak our native language to the girls. My husband speaks German to them in the early mornings, after work and on weekends or holidays. Our Vietnamese nanny and maid speak to them in Vietnamese each day except for Sunday; and I speak to them in my American English, which is the language they are most exposed to.

English is not technically my native language, but it’s the one I speak most fluently and have spoken for most of my life. However, this presents me with a dilemma as I essentially do speak Polish: Shouldn’t I pass that language on to my girls as well? But as I moved to NYC when I was 4 years old, I speak Polish with an American accent at the level of a fifth grader. I don’t speak it like a native anymore.

I keep finding in the research that you should choose one language to speak to your child and stick with it. But I have taken creative license with that, and I read the girls Polish poetry at bedtime. They probably won’t learn to speak it this way, but at least they’ll be exposed to rolling r’s, and the diversity of -sh, -zh and -ch sounds, which are so plentiful in Polish. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the experiment will work.

So now that my girls are 15 months old, are we seeing results yet? Nope. I just got back from the pediatrician. Language was a bit weak on the Denver II test behavior chart. It’s used to track their social, fine motor, language, and gross motor skills development in relation to their age. Compared to the rest of the indicators, they seem to be about 3 months behind on language. They are only really using 3 words consistently so far (2 in English and 1 in German). But I’m not worried.

According to our pediatrician, children brought up in several languages do not learn to speak any later then their peers. I also found this in my research. There is apparently no solid, scientific evidence to suggest a delay in speech. However, I did come across anecdotal evidence among parents who sense that multilingual children begin talking a few months later than monolingual children. In the end, I don’t mind if it takes them a bit longer to begin asking “why?” a million times a day.

And I’m not too bothered about them actually speaking all 3 languages all the time. German is the minority language you could say, as they only hear it from Dad (although research shows that a child needs to be exposed to a language 30% of their waking hours to actively speak it, so it just might be enough!). But as long as they have the capacity to understand German, it will be that much easier to learn later in life.

Even if they don’t end up speaking Vietnamese once we’ve moved to another country, at least they have the capacity for tonal languages. It’s the connectivity of the neurons in the brain that will be stimulated and developed. That is what I’m primarily concerned with; overall brain development. Who knows, it may make them better thinkers and communicators than they would have been otherwise.

I leave you with some food for thought: by some accounts, 80% of communication is non-verbal, what are the implications to multilingual/multicultural children?

How to Raise a Multilingual Child

19 Nov

By Maro: I speak English, French, Spanish (although it’s getting rusty), and not as much Italian as I should. I grew up in small towns not far from Ottawa, first on the Quebec side and then on the Ontario side, but my background and extended family reach from Armenia to Hawaii. My husband, Eric, was born in Montreal to Italian parents. He speaks English, French, Italian (although he denies it, since he doesn’t think his grandparents’ dialect counts), and a bit of Spanish. We have a baby girl, Myriam, who was born in March 2011. She’s working on her consonants these days- baba, dada, ida, lida, nana… but I’m not sure which language, exactly. I’m not sure she knows, either.

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My name is completely Armenian, but I’m a mishmash of places and cultures: only one quarter Armenian, another quarter Italian, and the other half Anglo-Saxon American. My father, half Armenian and half Italian, was born and raised in France, so I have French roots (and a French passport), too. My parents met in the U.S. but immigrated to Canada before I was born.

When I was 18 I moved to Montreal to go to McGill University. During my twenties I spent a lot of time studying, working, volunteering and traveling in various places including Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Madagascar, Zambia, Italy and France. I also spent some time working as a Naturalist in northern Quebec, and planting trees in British Colombia. I was, as some friends affectionately called me, a globetrotter.

Now my husband and I are back in Montreal, fairly settled and stable. We have family here, we have wonderful friends, and we both love our jobs. We’re even talking about buying a house, which seems a very adult and stable thing to do. Although wanderlust still strikes and we talk about living and working abroad at some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future, for now we are very happy in this vibrant and bilingual city. Montreal has become home.

One of my sister’s friends, who studied bilingualism, told me that although the traditional method of raising bilingual children is to have each parent speak one language, it is not necessarily the best strategy. Apparently children actually become more fluently bilingual when each parent speaks both languages, as long as they stick to one language at a time and don’t mix them up. Otherwise the child tends to be stronger in the language of the parent he or she spends the most time with.

I have never heard anyone else state this theory, but I’m really hoping that it’s true. I’m hoping that Myriam will grow up multilingual and not just confused.

The plan was that Eric would speak to Myriam in French and I would speak to her in English. However, living in this bilingual city has made us so used to flipping back and forth between languages that we’re finding it hard to stick to this plan. It doesn’t help that both of us are fluently bilingual but more comfortable in English than in French.

Eric usually speaks to her in French, but we speak to each other in English in her hearing. I speak to her in English, except that often I find myself speaking to her in French. Myriam and I spend a lot of time with other mama-baby friends, most of whom are francophone. So during our social activities I’m usually speaking French, to my little one as well as to my friends and their children.

It doesn’t end there. Myriam’s Nonno speaks to her in Italian, except that sometimes he forgets and switches to English. Her Italian great-grandparents speak to her in Italian dialects that probably no longer exist except in North American immigrant communities. Once in a while I spend time with Spanish speaking friends and catch myself speaking Spanish to Myriam.

Every night as I put my baby to sleep I sing her lullabies in English, French and Spanish. I should probably learn and include an Italian lullaby, just to be fair. Sometimes I wonder how long it will take before she realizes that lullabies have words and meaning. She probably just thinks that I sing a variety of songs because they sound nice. Maybe we should be more scientific about our method of raising a multilingual child.

Myriam is, in general, a happy and good-natured little person. But she studies things seriously. When she meets someone new, or happens to spot someone interesting while we’re out and about (in the subway, in the market, in the park…) she stares at them unabashedly and unflinchingly. I don’t think there are many people who could beat her in a staring contest. The people she stares at usually either coo and smile and gush about how adorable she is, or else look away uncomfortably and pretend they haven’t noticed her unblinking focus. I’m not sure if she’s trying to figure out the Meaning of Life, or if she just likes making people squirm. But I feel confident that if she has this level of focus and concentration at 6 months of age, someday soon she’ll be able to understand what we’re saying to her, whether it’s “go to sleep”, “fait dodo”, “duermate”, or “vai a dormire”.

Seiyan Says “NO!” by Alisha Nicole Apale

19 Nov

Alisha: Started out in a small town. Grew up with people who have the opportunity to matter. Bought a plane ticket. Traveled far. Saw another side to the narrative of privilege I’d been grazing on for nearly two decades. Discarded old stereotypes. Got less comfortable with easy answers. Accepted doubt as a sign of authenticity. Still questioning the validity of the actions. Still forging ahead.

Alisha lives in Ottawa, Canada with her partner and one-and-a-half-year old daughter – we’re a Kenyan-Canadian-Dutch family. She grew up near Toronto and at 19, moved to Montreal for her undergrad at McGill University. She spent most of her young(er) adult life studying, living and working in various countries, including Thailand, India, Canada, Kenya and several European Union countries. She is also co-author of Generation NGO, a collection of short stories written by young Canadians working overseas in the development industry. (Catch more of Alisha’s stories at mamaseyian.)
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“NO!”. She’s one and a half and she already speaks her mind. (Well done, mama, you reached one of your parenting goals!) The word surfaced about 3 weeks ago. I was caught off guard. Humoured. A bit miffed too.

“NO??” I thought to myself. “What do you mean NO?”

And then I remembered being 5, and 10, and even 17 years old. I remember the reactions I’ve had when saying no to my parents, teachers and others. NO was met with resistance, rejection and punishment. A good girl should do as she is told.

Looking at my daughter, I shrugged off the past, quickly realizing that this is just a word she’s picked up at daycare. She’s experimenting with it, much like any other word she learns. She’s searching my face, looking for my reaction. Will I scurry to bring her the object she has just named, praising her and reinforcing her new word – like when she said umbrella, or pumpkin, or hat? Will I start to laugh, or clap, or give her a big hug?

I’ve hesitated for too long. She wanders off. Delayed reactions never impress her. The moment is lost.

There I was, left to ponder the fact that Seyian has said no. It’s a word I have trouble with. I hate it when my partner says “No, I can’t do to the dishes tonight. I’m tired”. Or when my boss says “No, you can’t leave early. I’ll need that report right away”. Or, when a friend says “Sorry.. no, but I can’t meet you for coffee tonight”. Probably, like most people, at times I even avoid making a request altogether, just to avoid hearing no. But in doing so, I’ve started to think about all the opportunity that is lost when I set myself up for nothing but yes in life. Without no, I wouldn’t have learned how to negotiate, or how to defend my position or values, or how to be true to myself and respect my own and others’ needs or interests.

Seyians’s Koko (my mum-in-law) arrived last week. It’s the first time she has met Seyian – she lives in Nairobi and we live in Ottawa. It was a sweet reunion after far too much time apart. The day after her arrival, Koko offered Seyian a piece of fruit and Seyian let out a firm “NO!”. Flustered, I explained it away, saying she probably wasn’t hungry. I felt a bit embarrassed, worried Koko would think that I spoil my daughter, or let her ‘talk back’ to me.

Instead, Koko laughed proudly. I was confused. She looked at me and said, “This girl. She’s empowered. Already! And she’s not even two. She already knows what she wants. This is good”. With six kids of her own and a life-long career teaching elementary school, and advocating access to school for young girls in remote areas of Kenya, Koko knows a thing or two about the importance of negotiation and defending one’s values. For her, no isn’t a bad word, it’s a necessary word.

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure I’ll also be happy when Seyian says, “NO”. Let’s face it, no isn’t always such a convenient answer for mammas like me who are on-the-move, squeezing far too many activities into each 24 hour cycle: wake up, eat, bring baby to daycare, cycle to work, rush to meet a thousand deadlines, cycle back to daycare, pick up the baby, go home, prepare dinner, go to the park, return home, bathe the baby, put the baby to bed, clean the kitchen, shower, stretch, pay bills or catch up on email, head to bed… It’s just easier if everyone is compliant. But that’s not really how I want my daughter to be. So perhaps it’s better if I start to laugh proudly like Koko and welcome the word no into the repertoire of words my daughter will surely need in order to make her place in this world.