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Bilingual parenting with a distance – and theories thereof

Note: this is me navigating clumsily in the realms of bilingual parenting. Not an advice whatsoever. If I’d like big words, I’d say don’t try this at home, but you’ll might have to. So let me know in the comments, theories, practice, shoot away!

I’ve been struggling with the languages lately.

Well, with my mother language. My children do understand both, Dutch and Hungarian well, but since we live in The Netherlands, they don’t speak nearly as much Hungarian as Dutch. They don’t sound like other 5-6 year old Hungarian kids. It’s all very understandable and “no wonder” – to me – but I do have a hard time explaining it to grandparents, my parents.

A hard time.

And I’m sure a lot of us had the firm belief – before actually getting children – that we would take advantage of the bilingual parenting, and the thousand and one positive effects of it as well – when it came to that. Living in a different country than our own expands our minds to other cultures and solutions, so it’s highly recommended (if at least for a while).  Then you get kids, and you are still positive and enthusiastic – all the while you have a hard time keeping your eyes open. As those little feet start to run, not so subtle comments and advises might start to flow from “back home”. About remembering your roots, history of your nation, and gifting your beautiful mother language to the next generation.

Well, I for one, agree with them.

But why leave everything to one person? Let’s delegate here. I’d certainly would like to do all of the above, with the involvement of my parents and extended family – even friends with kids. It’s a big responsibility to be the sole language provider.

I say that, all the while I feel like I have been doing it all by the books (and will continue to do so):

  • Talking in the second language at all times with the children.
  • Reading in the second language every day.
  • Playing a round of Q&A in the second language every now and then.
  • Only watching TV-shows, movies in the second language.
  • Having other children around can who only communicate with the second language (that’s a tough one).
  • Taking trips and meeting with others who enjoy speaking that other language.
  • Sending letters with snail mail to other Hungarian children who live abroad, in other countries.

But all this is not enough, as they are not forced to speak Hungarian with everyone. I’m not making them answer me only in Hungarian, because I want to communicate with whatever means we have. I want to teach the LOVE of this, the feeling of being understood, without the pressure “you have to say it right”. Am I nuts? Most probably.

Creating is always way out there beyond understanding

But I also don’t like the idea being left alone in this quest, all by myself, while it’s apparent that in mixed families it’s harder to keep the minority language alive. So family “back home” needs to step up.

Big time!

But how, right? Distance is at play here, grandparents (at least my parents) find more than enough reasons not to travel, and with school being mandatory from age 5, we are also bound to dates.

Well, I’m not slowing down just because of some rocks on the road. Lately I’ve been asking around a number of Hungarian mothers living abroad as I felt the time has come for us to focus and try something new. They were big help – everyone had theories 🙂 We just throw ourselves in deep water, and we see how this will turn out – because so far there was only talk. Now comes action.

The first step is as follows:

  1. My parents do come to visit, and on a couple of days they take our daughters with them
  2. The kids and grandparents will be immersed into their little Hungarian bubble for a couple of days, and…
  3.  A very good friend of mine and her own daughter will come to our house – and we all spend a couple of days together.

This is how it’s going to go down in the spring holiday, and we are all psyched. It’s really exciting for me, my parents, my friend. The kids of course (!) are more than okay with this, it’s actually funny, we talked about it like it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course they know everyone well now, do fly like birds, and have been practicing sleepovers for two-three nights with oma and opa. So, it’s all good.

When this first tryout works, we’ll go for the longer immersions:

  • a week in the summer holidays, later two,
  • an exchange later on with my friends and their kids,
  • the focus here is on kids with whom the only mutual language is Hungarian. Those pen pals are in for a treat – they can be exchange students at our house, without all the usual bureaucracy.

All in the name of the second language.

Past experiences and the bright future

Myself, I remember I had relatives relatively far from home as a kid, so once (!) we’ve spent a week there with my sister without “papa-mama”. That was fun, although we were also older, maybe 8-10 years. And there were no language barriers, but it’s always exciting being without parents, isn’t it? It must have been fun for my parents too 😉

Being Hungarian means being restless and impatient for life, so (along with my parents) we can’t wait that long. My girls are now 5 and 6,5 years – and although they are super verbal (the older is speaking since she grew lips), and they do understand just about everything you throw at them in Hungarian, speaking is a different matter.

What are your practices, dear fellow mothers of the bilingual realm? Let me know in the comments! Talk about theories, your practices, experiences – I’d love to read your wisdom.

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Year Video - show your adventures to your family on new year's eve!

Personalized video compilation of the year – step-by-step instructions

Can you believe it’s Christmas this weekend? Again. Right?

All the Christmas preparations are coming together in our house, and that reminds me: we’ve a digital goodie that became a new tradition. A couple of years back the New Year’s Eve was a bit different from ‘just’ dressing up, decorating the house, eating the ‘usual’ salty Hungarian cookies, playing board games and drinking champagne.

What set it apart was that we would also watch a “year video”, to see what happened to us that year (nota bene: only that made it to be filmed). Now it’s a tradition, no way out of it. 😉

The year video was a huge success. We were all remembering stories, little details, fun adventures. Some things didn’t make into a small video during the year,  so they came to light now. Suddenly we had long conversations bloom with parents, children, siblings alike.

Living far away from one’s family has the effect that your lives develop in (unexpectedly) different directions. The little things in our daily lives go unmentioned, however strong our connections are through Skype and such. The video really helped to spark that connection again.

I got another surprise: grandparents wanted to watch the video again, although for me it felt long. And they wanted to do so right away! Wow, talk about a great audience! 🙂

I say long, because we are not used to watching anything longer than three minutes on the web (actually, most people spend 1:30 minutes, and click away) – unless it’s super-interesting or hilarious. I compare that kind of watching with watching home videos, because of their long history being generally torture to watch. That is: too much zooming, panning, too little action and too much waiting for that aforementioned little action.

The point is, the year video was more than 15 minutes, and it was a success nevertheless. I was a bit nervous about it, but I got shushed, when I tried to apologize for the length of it.

No one minded the 15 minutes length, because it was personal for everyone in the room.

And for those who were not in the room, for the other side of the family far-far away it was also a delight. They were too very happy to see how the kids were growing and what happened to the house in the time they could not see it for themselves.

Although I could scare you off with an (otherwise wonderful and super thorough) article at Videomaker… just have yourself a two-three hour window in the next couple of nights (I know I’m asking a lot from you!), ie. let someone else cook/shop/bake for a change.

Follow these tips to create a “year video”

  1. Sit down in peace and quiet. Choose – even randomly if you have too much – video files from your mobile or camera to use.
  2. Put them next to each other chronologically in an editing software (like PowerDirector by Cyberlink).
  3. Trim away the “waiting for action” parts, and be ruthless about it: the finished video will be longer than you think!
  4. You can always get fancy with titles, but generally a simple “January”, “February”, etc. will be enough to mark the months, no need to spend too much time on that
  5. Make sure you have a fade-in and fade-out for your clips (audio too), so it’s not too jarring to watch, on the other hand, if you…
  6. …put FUN songs “under” the video, you can get away with it. It’ll glue the clips together, and the peppy sounds will make everyone happy. Make sure you are not sharing socially if it’s copyrighted material. There is a whole hell loose because of that, but it’s a rant for another day, really.
  7. Don’t sweat it. It’s far better to be READY than be PERFECT – a decade late. Use the 20-80 rule: 20% of your action will give you 80% of the results you seek. You can always spend weeks on polishing something, but let’s face it: who has the time?! Yes, professionals, they do – they also have a price tag (just go ahead and ask me already 😉 !)
  8. Use the “fun” parts the most, and make sure close your video with that – like a bloopers reel, that can really leave your audience “high”, wanting more.
  9. The best is if you choose clips you really loved filming, and you want to remember. However, the little gems that are one-offs and don’t fit anywhere: they shine in a good video compilation.

This list is of course not going into details, you know I can’t hold your hands through the process. For that, check that Videomaker article, it is great. Still, give it a shot, it’s really not that hard. And if you feel like it’s overwhelming, just start early next year – you can’t go wrong with it. You’ll always wish you would have done it, so give it a go. Let me know in the comments how is the process going, and in the end how did the audience cheer!

 

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Lola’s Bedroom Tour

Hello MaMa’s! I am thrilled to be sharing some inspiration with you today. As an interior stylist, my own home is naturally my style playground and my little girl’s bedroom is no exception. Over the summer we completed her room and I shared the results over on my blog Avenue Lifestyle. For those of you looking for ideas for your own little ones’ rooms, I sincerely hope you find some here today. Let’s peek inside! Read more

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Delft Mama of the week: Shadi

Having lived in Delft only for a few months makes our mom of the week, Shadi, one of our newest members. She’s a mother of two boys: Parsa who is 12 and a 6-year-old Samia. Funnily enough, having been a part of an expat family ever since he was only a few months old makes the youngest member of the family also the most experienced. Read more

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Delft Mama of the week: Oriana

After the fall of the Berlin wall at the brink of her teenage years, Oriana and her parents moved to the Netherlands. Things weren’t changing in their native land of Romania as much as they had hoped and the family decided to look to the west for future. Before settling in Delft Oriana moved around the country from Drenthe to Limburg and from Nijmegen to Amsterdam. Now Oriana lives in the center with her husband Wim and their 12-year-old daughter Maud. Read more

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Dutch traits

“Zuinig zijn” and other Dutch traits

Many of you have younger children. Being a mom of a just turned 12 year old, it’s another story in the book of parenthood. That is not only because my now officially teenager is getting sometimes fussy and hormonal, but also because you start again seeing your life and surrounding through the eyes and comments of such a teenager. Kids these age not only see and analyse a lot, but they also verbalize their findings very well. Well, at least mine is. And they act also upon their findings, feelings and situations. Trying to find their way through and bled in. And sometimes the way they express themselves puts things into cultural perspectives that you were not very aware off until you have heard them said by your own child. Read more

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How Delft MaMa saved my sanity

I think we can all agree that living abroad is often crazy and messy. But so is motherhood. And when you combine these two, you have a recipe for disaster. Turns out, culture shock and sleep deprivation don’t really go hand in hand.

I arrived in the Netherlands when my eldest daughter was 6 weeks old. To be honest, moving abroad was fairly easy. I’d lived abroad in multiple places, including Germany, Canada and France. A piece of cake, really.

Moving to the land of motherhood, however, was another matter altogether. I walked in a sense of constant mental fog. I didn’t know my name. I forgot who I was. And when I finally began to feel somewhat better, I did a crazy thing and had another baby. Read more

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Delft MaMa of the week, Sandra

Delft Mama of the week: Sandra

Sandra and her husband Nicola met over seven years ago when they were both fresh international students at the TU Delft. With a background in Computer Science, she made her masters in Management of Technology and is currently fully embracing motherhood with their three-year-old son Gerardo and a nine-month-old daughter Minerva. Sandra joined the Delft MaMa community when Gerardo was about half a year old but she wishes she had joined earlier. “The first few months of being a mom were really overwhelming. All the time I saw mothers on the streets with ‘omas’ around and thought I couldn’t have that being away from both families. When I joined Delft MaMa it made things easier”, Sandra says. The community made her feel welcome, but it also helped to get to know individual mothers who previously had been in the same exact position. Once she met with mothers who have gone through different phases with their children, it dissipated Sandra’s fears. She tells how her sister is about to become a mother for the second time in a city of five million people, but hasn’t managed to find a community of mothers where she would feel like home. “With DMM community you are sure you share the fact that you are an expat and you are raising children here, or maybe you are Dutch, but you are raising your children in an international way. It makes it easier for you to find people with the same ideals and goals”, Sandra joyfully says. Read more

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