Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bilingualism

(Belated) Easter present hunt

One day last weekend Anna came out with this and it got me to thinking: I wonder what it must be like to have only Scottish relatives... everyone in your house would speak the same language all the time... weeeeeird!

All of my children have heard a minimum of two languages every day of their lives, the first few years it was English and French, latterly English and Danish: and with a succession of visitors adding German, Italian, Norwegian, Georgian, and Polish amongst others to the dinner table (and that's without even mentioning Scots). TV, of course has added Swedish, Icelandic and Spanish to that as well. I'm not sure I remember the last time I watched anything in English on the TV.

I guess the main point is that they fully understand two languages each and also understand many bits of others. You can't sit at the table for years without picking it up. So they have a feel for what multilingual normality is. They are completely unfazed if they don't fully understand everything being said around them because they know there are so many different languages in play at any time. 

It reminded me of an eye-opener years ago. I was sitting in my garden with a French friend and her kids. We were speaking French, our kids were speaking a mixture. A neighbour's child (a ten year old) who had been doing French at school asked to play so I invited her in. My friend shouted some instructions over to her kids and the neighbour looked really puzzled. "Why is she speaking like that?" she asked. I explained that she was French so although her kids were bilingual as they lived in Scotland, she spoke to them in French, even if they usually replied in English (a bog-standard bilingual child's way of communicating with their foreign parent). The child replied "But she's speaking it really fast!" I relayed that French is spoken much faster in reality than what they learn at school but still she couldn't understand how the kids all understood it without a second thought. Eventually she explained to me that although she had learned some French at school: Il fait beau, je vais bien, la pomme est rouge, etc, she hadn't understood that it was in fact a full language that people used to communicate! She had been brought up in such a monolingual atmosphere that she thought English was the only language people used to communicate and that the little phrases she'd learnt in French were of no more everyday use than memorised poems or mathematical formulae. She had never heard people actually communicating in another language. I think I was as gobsmacked by her lack of linguistic experience as she was by our nonchalant mixed communication.

I find people are often taken aback by the real way bilingual households communicate - that is the say, the foreign parent speaking their language and the kids who've grown up somewhere else replying in that language. Of course, when in the other country the kids can switch to that language but generally when you live bilingually, everyone speaks their strongest language at the table. I remember being bemused by this the first time I visited my first husband's parents (he was French with a German mother). She spoke only in German, he replied just as fast in French. Had I not been studying both, I'd have been completely lost. At first I figured they were weird and unique but as every one of my kids has since followed the same pattern, unprompted over the years, and Thomas too speaks to his German father mostly in Danish, I realized it is simply human nature. 

I do fondly remember a night last year when I spent the evening with Thomas and Peter (his father). We were discussing Greek politics and the ideas of Yanis Varoufakis, quite vociferously, for a few hours and it was only when I was lying in bed later that night I found myself smiling at the realization that I had spoken only in English, Thomas only in Danish and Peter only in German that night and yet all of us had fully understood the conversation. I wish I'd recorded it to show just how much fun these kinds of households are!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Cats


























I grew up with cats. First, there was the grumpy, chunky one with the odd name 'Snoopy' (we were kids!). Then there was the skinnier, more placid lapcat 'Muffin'  (named by a friend of the family who stepped into our squabble over what to call him, with the simple statement 'He's kinda muffin-coloured, isn't he?') So from 1981-1996 I was around cats a lot of the time. Although the cat stayed with my parents when I left home as a teenager, I was his holiday babysitter. I haven't had one of my own since, originally for the simple reason that with family abroad, I was away too many times a year to bother with the holiday cover, but latterly more because I've lived on a bus route since 2007. I figure with a double-decker passing every ten minutes, 19 hours a day, it'd have to be a very street-wise cat not to end up dead meat and I don't fancy having to scrape the kids' dearly-beloved off the road once a year. Hence the succession of (safely-caged) hamsters...

However, I always sort of figured I'd spend my old age, once the kids had flown the nest as some kind of crazy cat woman - perhaps a bit like Mrs McTats in one of the kids' favourite books.

As early as fifteen years ago, I started to notice Persian cats were starting to make me a wee bit wheezy, but normal moggies were fine... then a few weeks ago Charlotte and I visited a friend with a cat. Lots had told me she'd been having sneezing fits every time she was around her friend Hannah's cat, and sure enough, as soon as Siobhan's cat wandered in Charlotte's nose started to run. I was fine though and even let the cat sit on my knee for a few minutes. On the way home, however, I started to feel as if my airways were literally clogged with fur and I started to wheeze. By the time I got home I was in a much worse state than Lots and it took antihistamines and three blasts of an asthma inhaler to make me comfortable enough to get to bed and fully 24 hours to get back to normal. So I've monitored it since and it seems I have indeed developed an allergy to ordinary cats of the type I used to live with. My doctor has now advised me to try having coffee with my friend who owns a golden retriever as she suspects that fur is my trigger. 

Am I really going to have to end up a crazy old woman with a house full of these?


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Children really make you laugh

Winter walk in Crookfur

Overheard on a car trip:
Léon: ...then I'll pretend to be a serial killer...
Anna: what? 
Léon: it's someone who steals your breakfast before killing people!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Big man, little girl

It's funny. When you have nearly 13 years between your kids, you wonder what, if any, relationship they'll have growing up. But one thing that has always been obvious between my oldest and youngest is the sheer pleasure they derive from each other. Marcel has a greater need to return to the nest more often than most teenagers who've left home, because he feels he too has some sort of parental responsibility for his youngest siblings. And Amaia is absolutely thrilled every time he walks through the door. She loves her Monday school news to be something about her ever-so-exotic brother who lives in Edinburgh. She drops him nonchalantly into conversation when classmates are often still sharing a room with their less-interesting siblings.



I'm not sure who looks more pleased here. Marcel because of Amaia's obvious pride in hanging off his arm, or Amaia for having such a big and exciting brother she can boast about to the other p1s.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sweet misunderstandings


One of the p1 teachers at Amaia's school left over the Easter break to take up a new job at the primary school on Millport. Amaia is quite upset about it but was trying to see the positives for the teacher herself last night. I had to smile when she explained 'Poor Mrs Cameron used to have to drive very far to work in our school but now she's going to Millport, she'll have so much more time with her own kids because she says she's going to be going to work every day on a fairy*!'

What a sweet image that conjures up!

* This misunderstanding may in part have arisen from the teacher's Australian accent!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

No cake today


Scanning some old photos last year, I came across this one, taken on 5/4/86. I remember it vividly because Derek and I had thought it a great joke to buy him an age 4 and an age 3 card, so he could wear 43, his age that day... as you can see though, he had the last laugh!

So today he'd probably have been wearing 37, I guess. But he isn't and there will be no birthday cake, or tomato soup for that matter. The only thing we'll have today, like every other year since we lost him, are more memories to add to that ever-growing list of things he missed out on. Memories both good and bad. Last time, I started to list those memories, but I don't know that that helps, so I'll just get through the day quietly, as I do every year.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Just appalled

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Charlotte has been doing some past listening papers for her Nat 5 Spanish exam. She then goes on the SQA webpage to check the marking schemes to see how she's done. 

Yesterday she turned up in the dining room completely appalled: You shouldn't go on the marking grid for Spanish, mum! she warned... I just did a passage on how modern technology and the Internet can be bad for kids' development and you'll never believe what it said in the marking grid!! It said you got a mark for mentioning that as a result of being online, kids are reading less books!!! Can you imagine - you get a point for saying less books - books are countable!!! And she wandered off, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. She's my girl, and she knows me well!

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Following in her brother's footsteps...

Climbing Ben Lomond

although in a more westerly direction...

Back when Marcel was in fourth year at high school, he was chosen as one of the forty pupils in his year (of 250 kids) to be given the opportunity to take part in the India World Challenge. The kids spent a year fund-raising before flying to India where their time was split between trekking through the Himalayas, through a natural tiger reserve and working on a project to bring water to a mountain village that had no water supply. Although the digging and carrying in the heat was hard work, getting to see how these simple people lived and getting to help them changed Marcel forever and he came back an older, more mature and incredibly caring young man. He will always remember the gratitude in those villagers eyes and in the warm hugs of their children. So when Charlotte got the opportunity to apply last month for the equivalent experience, this time in Nicaragua, she jumped at it and hoped that her determination would show through her more reserved character. I hoped too that the school would see beyond her shyness and pick her as one of just forty kids once again. Many pages were written as an application explaining what she thought she could bring to the expedition and then the waiting game began. Today (I'm hoping the fact that it is April Fool's Day is meaningless!) it was a very smiley girl who jumped into my car at home time, despite the torrential rain and freezing temperatures. I wasn't expecting her to have heard back yet, but she proudly pulled a letter from  her pocket offering her the chance to follow in her brother's footsteps, helping those whose lives are a bit different to her own. I hope she comes back as humbled and inspired by it all next summer as her brother did two years ago! I'm proud to see both her caring nature and her wanderlust rewarded with this opportunity.