Archive for the ‘Bilingualism’ Category

Bye-Bye, Brothers Grimm and Bambi…for Now

December 3, 2013 3 comments

I loved Brothers Grimm stories, I grew up with them. Little Red Riding Hood, The Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, my childhood would have been so different without them. I can’t remember how old I was when I leafed through those books, or maybe even read them (if that was at the time when I was able to read), over and over again. I was there, part of those pictures, part of those pages; more than thirty years later, I remember the illustrations, I remember the tone of that world.

When my mother sent us Brothers Grimm stories (and some other stories in Serbian, such as Bambi), I read them to Andrei. Since he was one and a half, maybe two. On and off. There were months when he cared for “those” books, and there were months when he didn’t.


The other night he pulls two books from “that” pile. Hansel and Gretel. And Bambi. I start reading. In Serbian. Andrei understands quite a bit, but I usually follow his facial expressions, and if I think he looks confused, I usually repeat the sentence in English, ask him if he knows what specific words mean, provide the English equivalents if needed, and then we move on.

So I read Hansel and Gretel. The second sentence into the story: the two children overhear their parents saying that they are going to take the children into the woods and leave them there to fend for themselves.  Andrei looks confused so I provide the translation, cringing. I go on to remind him that this is just a story, and that in real life people don’t do that (well, only rarely, but I don’t say that), they love their children and they cannot imagine their life without their children.

While I am saying this, several thoughts come into my mind: The reality-fiction line is really blurry for my four-year-old boy. His separation anxiety is still pretty strong so we frequently have to remind him: We will be back. You have fun with your friends, and mommy and daddy will be back in a few hours. Does Andrei really need to hear about parents abandoning their children? Now, when we are still working through his separation anxiety issues?

We get through Hansel and Gretel, I convince him that witches don’t exist in real life, only in books, but as soon as we put the book down, Andrei puts Bambi into my hands. We read about Bambi’s zest for life, (Andrei has always loved Bambi), but then – there is that terrible morning when hunters show up. Not good, I know. What are they doing?, Andrei asks. Why are they killing animals?

I don’t know much about hunting, I don’t like hunting, but I know that there must be a way to somehow justify hunting, although not in the world of a four-year-old, so I am not going to even try. Why did they kill the mother?, my son asks for the third time, tears in his eyes. Someone should come to kill them.

Okay, this is a complex question: Is violence a way to fight violence? I respect my four-year-old son’s sense of justice. Maybe, I say, and continue to read…until we get to the fire scene…somehow we get to the last page, and my son immediately turns the book back to the hunter scene. Why did they kill the mother?


I talked to him, although I can’t quite remember what I said. That sometimes people kill. Maybe something else. So many thoughts went through my head: When do you teach your kid about the real world, violence, greed, and all? I guess not at the age of four.

We have read sad books before, and Andrei got teary-eyed here and there. I thought that it’s important to expose children to all sorts of different emotions, sadness included, so they know how to live with the emotion until the emotion dissolves.

That night, after Andrei fell asleep, I put many of Brothers Grimm stories away. Bambi too. For an indefinite period of time. I know we will go back to them. I think these stories are important. But we might need to wait a few years.


Have you introduced your kids to Brothers Grimm stories? What was your experience?


March Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism

March 22, 2012 5 comments

Welcome to the March Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism! I am grateful for the opportunity to read your thoughtful and practical posts about this difficult job of raising kids bilingually and biculturally or multilingually and multiculturally.

Dominique of Dominique’s Desk in her story Raising a Multilingual Toddler outlines a specific method she uses to teach her toddler daughter English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Maria of Busy as a Bee in Paris in her post Playing Board Games to Increase Language Expression in a Foreign Language  tells us about how board games  can help increase proficiency in a foreign language.

Maria of Busy as a Bee in Paris and Elizabeth of La Mother Tongue both share with us a New York Times article Why Bilinguals Are Smarter. The article lists, explains, and provides supporting research on many benefits of bilingualism.

Amanda’s post Bilingual Babies – Finding Second Language Resources offers some great ideas on how to expand on your resources for teaching a second language to your children. Kim’s post Bilingual Babies: Holi Fun to Welcome Spring offers steps for making a Holi T-shirt to celebrate Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors. Amanda and Kim blog at

Sarah of  Bringing Up Baby Bilingual in her post Give Me a Sign, Baby!  shares her experience of teaching her seven-month-old daughter Gwyneth sign language for babies. She includes a lot of information on the methods and resources she likes to use.

Lynn of Open Hearts, Open Minds in her post A Bilingual Parenting Fail shares her experience of a missed opportunity to speak Spanish to her son, self-doubting, coming to terms with the fact that she is not a native speaker of the second language she teaches to her son and the lessons learned so far.

Jenn of Perogies & Gyoza in her post Writing Names in Multiple Languages tells us about all the considerations she took into account when  deciding to write her daughter’s name in the minority language (English) on the name labels that will come with her daughter to the kindergarten.

Cordelia of Multilingual Mama shares a story about being driven all around her new home town of Bangkok, along with her two children, by an inexperienced non-English-speaking cabdriver.  Cordealia talks about her vulnerability and new determination to learn Thai.

Giovanna of Itala Bimbi  in her post Bilingual Brain: One or Two Systems? explores the issue of possible interference between languages in a bilingual child.

And, as a last-minute addition, Salma of Chasing Rainbow introduces us to La flaque d’eau (The Puddle) by David M. McPhail, a book in French she read to her children this week.

To find out more about this monthly blogging “event,” Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, or sign up to host it, visit the carnival page at

­Lollipop, Lollipop, O, Lolli, Lolli, Lolli, Lollipop

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Today I am full of admiration for this word. Not the Serbian word lizalica, which is quite a plain, unoriginal word. Too plain, too common. This is not to say that my native language is deficient in any way – I love my native language. But in this specific area, more specifically in the case of this specific word, the signifier for this specific object, English offers so much more – this full, round, fun, even sexy word lollipop!

OK, before Andrei got to be two or so and before people started giving him lollipops, I hardly ever used the word lollipop, hardly ever even thought of it. Simply, I had no place for lollipops in my life. Then, here and there, someone would give Andrei a lollipop. I was not happy about it. I didn’t mind Andrei’s indulging in chocolate every once in a while, especially dark chocolate, but lollipops, really? Until this day I haven’t checked the nutritional facts or ingredients label for a lollipop (they have one, right?), but I am pretty sure lollipops are not the healthiest food around… At least some food coloring must be involved… and a ton of sugar. So I choose to dislike lollipops. However, Andrei loves them, so they have found a place in my life. Read more…

February Carnival on Bilingualism

February 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Some interesting articles on bilingualism/multilingualism and biculturalism/multiculturalism are now available at Two of my posts (Why Do I Switch from Serbian to English? and  Why I Need Non-Serbian-Speaking People Around me to Continue to Speak Serbian to My Son) are included.

Why I Need Non-Serbian-Speaking People Around me to Continue to Speak Serbian to My Son

February 16, 2012 1 comment

January is over, we are in the month no. 2, February. I haven’t defined my feelings towards February yet, but I know I enjoyed every moment of January. Maybe for the first time in my life. It was cold, deadly cold on some days. I hate the cold, but not necessary when I am in the warm room, and when I know that I don’t have to step outside. That there is nowhere I have to go. Everything I have to do I can do in/from the warmth of my house.

OK, Andrei and I ventured out quite a few times. We went as far as The Franklin Institute a few times, and we took walks here and there. Occasionally very short ones. Maybe five minutes or ten minutes at the most. Sometimes our plan (or mine) was to stay out only a few minutes , maybe to walk to the end of the block and back, but we ended up taking this long walk that both Andrei and I utterly enjoyed. The cold air around us and the vapor of our freezing breaths looked wondrous, the comradeship with the few people we passed comforting. 

But the truth was it was our choice, not the need that dragged us out of the house. We didn’t have to do it. We could have just stayed in and continued to do what we were doing day in day out: listen to music; make our own music (drums, xylophone, half-broken toy piano, flute recorder, castanets, shakers, tambourines, and of course, can openers, my glasses, whatever might look or sound like a possible musical instrument); read books; paint; make jewelry and animals out of play dough;  do puzzles; have a “picnic” on the kitchen floor; and whatever else we were doing all month.

And the fact that we didn’t have to go anywhere, that we were able to just stay in our cocoon for days on end (Hmm, can I remember when was the last time I stuck my nose outside), oh, that fact that we didn’t have to go out into the cold made all the difference in the world. We played, and played, and played, and then when Andrei napped I did some work and then wrote story after story, and it was the most beautiful January I have experienced in my life – the fact that I had the chance to stay in all thirty-one days of January made this the best January ever.

All this being said, you would have expected me to have gotten a lot of Serbian in all that time Andrei and I spent away from other people.  That would sound logical, wouldn’t it? But, I did very poorly in that respect. Very, very poorly. Yes, I spoke some Serbian to him, of course, I made some effort. But I diverged from Serbian way too often, and I was not disciplined enough to make the effort of going back to it. After all, I was hibernating, and discipline and hibernation don’t go together. So, as the result,  I noticed a slight decline in Andrei’s efforts, in his willingness to repeat my Serbian sentences, and I noticed a different expression on his face when confronted with a lot of Serbian – bewilderment instead of pure openness and fascination.

A few times I acknowledged the fact I was not doing enough, but it didn’t feel like I had energy to do something about it then. For God’s sake, I was hibernating. I couldn’t do much, I could only let go. And I did. Then February came, and it’s still pretty cold, but there is more sun, quite a few days so far that at least looked good, spring-like, we go out more, we are at times surrounded with people speaking English, and I feel  Andrei and I are back on track. Once again, Serbian is a big part of our day.

Now, here is the big question:  Why didn’t we (or rather I) take advantage of all that time I spent with Andrei alone, with very little interference of English? I can’t say. The only thing I can say is this: For the exact same reason for which I was never able to take advantage of those long summers when I was a University of Belgrade student, when I was expected to study all summer long, the entire July and August, to memorize thousands of pages of dry facts and possibly be ready in early September to spit them out into the faces of my incompetent professors. Well, what happened if I acted on my first impulse to simply lock myself in my apartment and study all day long? Nothing. Literally. I had this enormous burden on my shoulders, thousands of pages of dry facts that I knew I had to somehow put into my head, but hours would just go by and I did everything else but study. I read entire novels in a matter of days, I listened to music and stared at the sky, and I felt trapped, ridden with guilt, and powerless as I would glance at the clock every now and then and see how many hours have gone by.

Read more…

Why Do I Switch from Serbian to English?

December 26, 2011 1 comment

I’ve been trying to figure this out for a while now. The question pertains to those situations where it feels like there is no reason to switch because I am talking exclusively to my son who understands Serbian as well as he understands English. So why do I switch when my goal is to get as much Serbian into my day with Andrei as I can? To answer this question, maybe I should start with the question, When do I switch?

* When Andrei and I are out and about, and he is on the down slope in the mood department.

* When he misbehaves, and I ask him to stop doing something and suggest he should do something else instead.

* When non-Serbian-speaking people are around, even those that are in no way related to us, just regular people around us.

What is the common thread here? The fact that I seem to need other people (known and unknown) to understand that:

* Here, I am comforting my unhappy son, I am trying to be a decent mother; Read more…

Say Please Say Thank you

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

So I somehow stumbled into this article: Do Manners Really Matter? Why I Hate Making My Daughter Say Please and Thank You. It reminded me of my own struggle with Please and Thank You that has started when I first came to the U.S.

Back in Serbia, in Serbian, I tended to use Please very much. When? When I was in the bank. In the store. In the library. In any public place. I always – always – added the kind Molim Vas (Please) to my requests. Please give me … whatever. Please take … whatever. Please make sure … whatever. In those years so many times I myself made a note of how polite I was and how good that Molim-Vas felt in my mouth. I almost felt like my Please-s were building a temporary connection with all those unknown people that the Please-s were directed to, and I enjoyed that connection. Read more…

%d bloggers like this: