Mommy diary 5: Red, white and bilingual /Denik maminky v zahranici 5: cerveno bily bilingvistRed, white and bilingual | Czechmatediary
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Mommy diary 5: Red, white and bilingual /Denik maminky v zahranici 5: cerveno bily bilingvist

My daughter Hahna is 3 years now and she is brilliantly bilingual! What is more, she likes to have an active listener next to her at all times, meaning that she kind of requires of you to echo whatever she says. If I don’t respond within 10 seconds then I am in trouble: “Mommy, are you not talking?” (Mami, ty nemluvis?). I just have to say that my throat hurts – the final excuse.
I am not sure if she is doing so well with both languages because she IS such a talker or if she just has the ear for languages but she is doing great! She is starting to get the past and future tenses, pronouns…
She now feels confident enough to teach dad (and grandma!) some Czech and it is truly a bonding experience for them. Hahna feels smart and dad learns more Czech. Sometimes when she is on the phone with me and we speak Czech she starts laughing, thinking that it’s really funny that she speaks this ‘secret’ tongue in front of her American company. She keeps saying to me on the phone: “Mommy is speaking Czech!” (Maminka mluvi cesky!). She loves to interact with her Czech grandma and granpa over Skype but it does get hard at times. First off, there is quite the delay in hearing what the other one says and second, her pronunciation is not yet perfectly clear so most of the time I am the middle man and have to translate things.
When Hahna talks to herself she is using English, which – as expected – is going to be the language she feels most comfortable with. I am totally fine with that, although it is interesting that she does that since most of the time she ends up speaking Czech with me.


Once in a while she also mixes in some English words and during those times I just repeat the sentence in a correct version to her. Sometimes she corrects herself and repeats the sentence after me again and sometimes she doesn’t. It depends.
We still have our once-a-week Czech moms meeting and also started a little Czech school! It is so exciting. We do it once a month, where moms rotate as designated teachers. We pick a topic (like shapes, or colors or food for instance) and then we go crazy. We read books, color, play with Plato sing songs and dance….all in the spirit of that particular topic.
We added another member into our group. He is an American dad and guess what! He has 3 little girls and although he was not born in Czech (child of an emigrant) he still speaks Czech to his girls! Of course, his Czech is not perfect, but he is about 85% there and the admirable thing is that he is doing it!

By the way, when we asked Hahna what she wants the baby to be called? She said: “Crackers and cheese” :))

PS: For those who do not understand the title: ‘red, white and blue’ refers to the American flag

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14 comments… add one
  • Vonya August 24, 2010, 1:00 am

    I love hearing about your experiences with teaching your daughter to speak two languages! What an amazing gift you and your husband are giving her:-)

  • Martin August 24, 2010, 7:43 am

    Great to hear about this experience. It also shows that your language is “your mother’s tongue – materstina”. My girls speak each about 50 words in Czech, though their American mom kept asking me to teach them when they were little. But I guess I did not work hard enough on it, and there was no one else near us who spoke Czech. Good luck with that Czech home schooling Tanja, sounds like fun!

  • Lenka August 24, 2010, 9:55 am

    Wow, what an accomplishment. I am so jealous of your Czech home schooling group. I wish we had something like this here too.
    I am so proud of Hahna. I knew she could do it. She is a smart cookie. Just like her mom.
    I just have to laugh thinking back about a year ago with all the controversial discussion on how to teach your child.

  • Andrea August 24, 2010, 11:47 am

    I love that you are doing that with your daughter! I wish my dad did that with me. He was born in Prague and came here when he was a teenager. I remember always hearing him talk to my Babi and picking up words (that I can’t spell!) I would get the idea of the conversation, but that was all. I still don’t know how to speak it (although I can order a beer!) Keep it up, it is something your kids will love and have great memories of!

  • Tanja August 24, 2010, 11:25 pm

    Thanks guys! It is a journey…I will keep updating you.

    Lenka, I know that discussion way back when was very interesting. For those who don’t know what are we talking about: certain people in there were very adamant about the so-called OPOL language teaching method (One parent one language), where the Czech parent is to talk to their children ONLY in Czech at all times. That includes even times when they hang out with their American spouse. The post is located right here:
    http://czechmatediary.com/2009/01/05/mommy-diary-bitter-sweet-results-so-far/

    To Andrea and Martin: I think it is much harder if the Czech-speaking parent is the dad. They are usually not the primary care takers during those early years so it makes sense the children catch less words. But the heritage is still pumping wildly in their veins!!

  • Eva Z. August 25, 2010, 3:06 pm

    Good job, Tanja and Hahna! I think I will turn to you for tips when it comes to my future children learning Czech! 🙂

  • bouncy August 26, 2010, 1:23 pm

    Thanks for keeping us updated. I love hearing about other kids’language development. I have a two year old boy and he understands Czech well, but doesn’t speak much, so far his only Czech word is “bagu”:) (bagr= excavator).
    Take care.

  • Vonya August 26, 2010, 9:04 pm

    thanks for the link. I was curious about this other post.

  • Marika August 26, 2010, 11:49 pm

    What you are doing is awesome Tanja! Just keep talking to her in Czech. Once she goes to school it can become difficult to keep the Czech going.

  • Jana V August 29, 2010, 9:17 am

    That is wonderful. The real test will be when she starts school and speaks english 6-8 hours a day and then comes home. She has figured out who she can speak Czech to and English to and that is important. I am wondering if Hahna has an American accent when speaking Czech. Czech people have mentioned I do and are not always nice about it. Maybe she is too young for it to be noticed.

  • laura September 9, 2010, 7:46 am

    Hi Tanja,
    I am very happy for you that your method has worked so far 🙂

    However as somebody mentioned above the real test will come when she starts school. As many kids suddenly refuse to speak the minority language.

    This is why the first few years are so critical in developing strong association of the language with either a person (mom,dad etc) or a place (home/playgroup).

    Of course there might be exceptions. Please keep posting about your/her progress as I am curious about this.

  • Simone March 1, 2011, 5:32 am

    Hi Tanja,

    Great job and keep it up. Our oldest (20 years old) speaks German and Czech and of course fluent English. It is work but it can be done and their lives are so much richer and in some cases more marketable because of their foreign language knowledge. I wish I had had a Czech school when my girls were growing up. Keep up the good work.

    Simone

  • katkazameriky April 2, 2011, 6:49 pm

    I know this is an older post but I enjoyed it all the same. Like others said, the challenge may become more difficult as your daughter attends school. When my husband defected, he brought with him a 3 year old step son (as well as his wife at the time). The child of course spoke only czech at the time. Even though only czech was spoken in the home, once the child attended school he began to speak English, even when speaking to my husband and his mother. In order to encourage his step-son to continue to speak czech, my husband refused to answer him unless he spoke to him in czech. Not sure if this is close to your sited version of OPOL, but it was effective with his step-son. Now grown, the step son and my husband speak English with each other as that is the son’s language of choice, but the son is very grateful that my husband continued to force Czech on him as he actually moved back to CR for a while with his grandparents a couple years ago and was grateful that he could communicate freely. 🙂

    Keep up the good work! I know it’s a difficult task. My husband and his daughter truly wanted her children to speak Czech and now they are 8 & 4 and niether of them do so. Even though both my husband and his daughter had good intentions, it obviously is a difficult task as neither of them were able to accomplish it 🙁

    Great Job Tanja

  • Tanja April 2, 2011, 8:47 pm

    Katko,

    thanks for the input! Yes, that is what I am doing now – if Hahna starts speaking English with me (and she has a devilish smile while she is doing it because she knows she is doing something ‘wrong’) I pretend like I don’t understand. I think she is still small enough to truly believe that I don’t understand. I only understand English when other people are around. We will see how long this ‘magic’ will last.

    Good to know that your husband’s stepson appreciated it later. It gives me hope! 🙂

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