Mommy diary 6: ‘Mommy, why do we speak Czech?’ / Denik maminky v zahranici 6:’Maminko, proc mluvime cesky?’Mommy diary 6: 'Mommy, why do we speak Czech?' | Czechmatediary
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Mommy diary 6: ‘Mommy, why do we speak Czech?’ / Denik maminky v zahranici 6:’Maminko, proc mluvime cesky?’

When I was pregnant with Hahna that strange busy-bee nesting syndrome lead me to create this blog (much more productive and fun than  going through some cleaning frenzy :).  It is hard to believe  that I have been writing posts (this will be mine 870th post) for over 4 years and that our Hanicka just recently blew out her 4 birthday candles as well.  This also means that I am due for my regular bilingual update.

Don’t worry, you can relax, I will ease your mind and tell you right off the bat that Hahna is doing great! And having an innate critical mind of a Czech you know I would not be saying it if it wasn’t the truth.

First of all, about 3 months ago she started asking me  why do we speak Czech. I admit, I was startled by her straight  question and did not know  how to answer  in 1 or 2 sentences, so that a 3-year-old brain could digest it. So I gave her a garden-variety of answers: “Well, because Mommy  is Czech and when we go back to the Czech Republic you will be able to understand and talk to all of the people that live there and do not speak English…And so you can talk to grandma and grandpa on Skype….and knowing 2 languages is very healthy (I don’t think she would get the word ‘advantageous’ )”. That’s all I could come up with at that moment and hopefully, one of those sentences stuck in her brain as a sufficient answer.

To recap for some readers who don’t know our story, I do not follow the OPOL method, which means I do not speak  Czech  to her when our English-speaking family or friends are around (I find it quite rude actually). But since I am at home with her, we end up speaking Czech most of the time and that seems to do the trick because she speaks the language (both languages actually) great. Once-in-a-while she forgets a word and either she says: “How do you say …….  in Czech, mommy?” Or she just says that word in English and then I correct her (I try  to make sure to sound very positive when I do it) and then she usually repeats the Czech word under her breath, probably to see how it sounds from her own mouth, which I find very cute.

Word order in some sentences gives her trouble at times and it comes out in Czech but with an English word order. For instance, she says “O cem mluvis o?” (What are you talking about?) Or she uses the English verb and adds the Czech infinitive ending to it, like “vacuumovat” or “bikovat” or she says something like “Mami, koukni se na ty polkadotty!” And then I usually try to make a joke out of it, like “Polkadotty? Co by to mu rekl cesky Elmo, ty sisko?” (Polkadotty? What would the Czech Elmo say to that, you silly goose?) and then we have a big laugh about it.

Sometimes, when she has a bad day and does not want to play with other kids in the park for example, she gets a bit manipulative and says “Mluv cesky mami, cesky!” so that we can be left alone. But then I gently remind her that it would be rude of us to speak another language when an English-speaking child is trying to communicate with us. And so she switches back to English.

One ‘scary’ hurdle I came across was when Ava was born. Hahna immediately took up English as their language, which is what I actually kind of expected. But I did try to encourage her to speak Czech to her when there are only the 3 of us (or other Czechs) because I knew that was another opportunity for her (and Ava) to practice the language. If they grow up speaking to each other in Czech – even if it is just sometimes  – then they have someone to practice the language with for a lifetime without feeling awkward or embarrassed to do it.

So I tried to  remind her a couple of times to speak Czech when mommy is around, otherwise ‘mommy does not understand’. And the beauty of having a 3-year-old is that is that she takes it as a fact and does not question it. And yes, she does speak to her in Czech now and switches to English when English-speaking family/friends are around. That was a huge victory! I think that if Hahna was 4 at that time, I would not be able to get away with such a poor justification 🙂

There are many things we do to bathe in the Czech language even more and both of us enjoy doing it: we play word games! I strongly recommend it, especially when you are driving in a car:

  1. Jake slovo zacina pismenem ‘K’? (What word starts with the letter ‘K’? and other letters)….
  2. We substitute different words into the Czech well-known songs to make them sound silly, something like: “Ja mam kone, vrany kone, to jsou kone my…kdyz ja jim dam jetele, oni skacou z POSTELE…” (substitute ‘postele'(bed) instead of ‘vesele'(happily))….and Hahna finds that quite funny.
  3. She also came up with this one: since she cannot pronounce the letter ‘ř’, sometimes I cannot understand what is she saying, like the word ‘křupka‘, for example. She pronounces it as ‘kupka‘, which means something like ‘a little pile’. So she would be saying the word ‘kupka’ and I could not figure out what was she was saying. I kept asking her to repeat it, which she did, but she was getting more and more frustrated and mad with me. Then I finally got it, that she wanted more Cheetos-like snacks (which the Czechs call ‘křupky)’ and then we both burst out laughing about it. So then she would want me to tell her to repeat other words with the letter ‘ř’ or ‘r’.I went through a list of such words like ‘krocan‘ (turkey), kravin (cow stable), ‘křižovatka‘…and she repeated those words without pronouncing those trouble-causing letters and thought it was the funniest thing ever. And that’s our new game now.

Over all, the most important factor for success is for the child and the mom to develop some kind of a baseline, which the child keeps getting back to. For instance Hahna’s baseline is that:

  • most of the time mommy and I speak Czech
  • I enjoy it

Once she starts going to school she will not be immersed in the Czech language as she is right now and it will be probably harder for her to speak it. The pivotal question is, if she will still enjoy it even though she may have to struggle a little to express herself. I hope she will. I will let you know!

Here are my previous diary stories:

Mommy diary 5: Red, white and bilingual

Mommy diary 4: OPOL can kiss my shorts

Mommy diary 3: I got me a bilingual baby, baby!

Mommy diary 2: Bitter-sweet results so far

Mommy diary 1: The Beginnings

PS: Sorry, no time for the Czech translation 🙁



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15 comments… add one
  • Susanne August 24, 2011, 3:39 pm

    The truth is that everything you get into your head as a child, you will never forget. My dad always use to speak Russian to me and I have started getting random Russian words on my mind lately. Which I consider fun because I have never learnt the language (does not mean that I do not want to!) or been to the country.

    F.e., during the roller hockey championship, where I was volunteering, my boss said they need an announcer because the English pronunciation of the announcing man was terrible. He looked at me like I should be the one and I only could name penalties in Russian at the moment. There was only ´padnožka´ and no ´tripping´ for me at the moment.

    Hanka will sure be happy to be fluent in two languagues as soon as she growns up and gets her own, adult mind.

  • Eva Z. August 25, 2011, 8:42 am

    Good job! Ted jsem si vzpomnela, ze jsme na gymplu take rikali vsechno stylem “bikovat” a “vacuumovat”, ale my meli opacny problem, szit se s anglictinou. Byla to fakt sranda. Je fakt, ze tak v podstate s kamarady mluvime porad i tady, kdyz nam slovo nenaskoci cesky, tak to anglicke pocestime. Ja vim, je to lenost, ale v rychle konverzaci je to nutne, navic kolikrat ani nevim, jak by se nektere veci cesky rekly. Ostuda! Hodne zdaru s potomky!

  • Romana Osborne August 25, 2011, 9:33 am

    Very good job, I wish I had done that with my kids. I found it daunting being married to a Canadian, and as you mentioned the roodness factor. Never thought of making it something special just between us. Hope your girls keep the lanuguage.

  • Simone Daniek August 26, 2011, 5:33 am

    Great Job! Having raised two daughters in the US who both speak Czech , the younger one(15) has lately been on a reading- Czech- kick, I am ever thankful that we maintained our mother tongue and never gave up on them. There will be days when they rebel. We went through their teens years when they “wanted to be like everyone else” and not speak Czech at home, but with patience from the parents, that passed and now they are proud of their heritage and are happy they speak another language which can be very useful in their life. It is a great way to reconnect with your children by telling them about where their parents ame from. What was and is important to stress the positive in that culture and to give them a sense of pride of where they are from. It builds, in my mind, a stronger sense of self. Good Luck!!!!

  • Transient Drifter August 26, 2011, 5:04 pm

    It’s so good to see how you’re managing maintaining both languges. We are determined to do the same whenever we have children, and it’s always great to see how other people make it happen. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  • Tanja August 27, 2011, 2:45 pm

    Thanks guys!
    Simono, that’s so great that we have someone else here who went through it and ‘survived’! So what did you do, when your kids rebelled during high-school and did not want to speak it? Did you just ignore it?

  • Tanja August 27, 2011, 2:46 pm

    Romano, I don’t know how old your kids are but it’s never too late to start 🙂

  • RomanaO August 29, 2011, 9:48 am

    Tanjo, 13 and 17. Ten starsi jse stehuje na univerzity campus ve stredu. Myslim jsi ze je to ted na nem. S tim mladsim mas mozna pravdu. On mne nekdy prekvapi ze mi neco rekne Cesky. On si to prelozil na pocitaci!

  • Tanja August 29, 2011, 2:00 pm

    A mas mazela Cecha nebo Americana?

  • Tony August 31, 2011, 6:54 am

    Hi Tanja,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences thus far with your little one. Our boy is 7 going into the second grade next week. My Wife has had difficulty speaking at home with him as she is quite busy with her work speaking with US customers(we live near Boston) and of course living here we have to try to make our own little Czech island! They travel to Czech once a year to vist Babi and Deda and everyone for 6 weeks or so(and I come for 2 at the end). He really did well this time and something just clicked and he spoke so well over there. We are trying to continue over here (mostly the wife as I am very limited) and he is truly enjoying it now as he is more confident with the language and understands how special it is and lucky he is to have access to such an awesome country(CZ..of course!). Anyhow, we will keep plugging away and thank you for more inspiration!

  • Radka September 23, 2011, 3:43 pm

    Hi Tanja,

    This is more of a blog post than a comment, but here it goes…. 🙂

    I found your website while looking around on the internet and I have read your series of posts regarding your bilingual journey with your daughter. I thought that maybe I could provide you with a little bit of my own bilingual experience, as a 20 year old Slovak that has lived in the US for the past 15 years (and in England before that). I started learning English around the age of 2 and a half. I was a late talker and didn’t really speak much Slovak or English until I was 3 (besides “cukiky” (cukriky), “ano”, “nie”, “mama”, “oco”, and “ja cem” (ja chcem)… what else does a 3 year old need?). My family returned to Slovakia for one year while I was in first grade, and since then I have been living in the US.

    Besides my parents (both Slovak) and my sister (2 years older), the rest of my family is in Slovakia. I have “always” spoken to my family “only” in Slovak (unless of course we have guests over). I put always and only in quotations, because my Slovak was probably the worst between grades 4-6 (probably due to the fact that my family wasn’t able to go back to Slovakia anytime between grades 2 and 6). I had absolutely no problem throwing English nouns into my sentences while I was speaking Slovak and I would conjugate a LOT of English verbs into their Slovak equivalents (“Vcera, ked som walkovala domov, tak…”, etc.). At one point, this was happening pretty much every other sentence. I outgrew this by around grade 7 (with no real input from my parents). Around 10th grade, I became a lot more active about trying to improve my Slovak. In the few cases when I couldn’t remember or didn’t know a Slovak word, I would stop in the middle of my sentence, and ask my parents how to say it. We also know five other Slovak families that live near us, that have kids aged 20, 17 (?), 14, 12, 10, 6(?), 6(?), 4(?). The 4 youngest were all born in the US, but when we get together, we all speak Slovak to one another. This definitely helped a lot growing up and it seems like you have something similar with the other Czech moms, which is great!

    What also helped me a lot during the time that I struggled with Slovak was attending summer camp with my sister and cousins in Slovakia (summer after 6th grade and summer after 8th grade). It forced me to be able to express myself solely in Slovak without having my parents there to translate an English word if I couldn’t remember the Slovak one. (If there is one piece of advice I could give to someone about raising bilingual children it would be to send them to summer camp – children pick up an amazing amount of new words in an environment where they cannot rely on anyone else.)

    Now I study across the country from where my parents live and I go to a small school (~900 undergrads) where I don’t know any other Slovak or Czech students, so I am speaking considerably less Slovak. However, 4 of the past 5 years I have traveled to Slovakia on my own during the summer, all of which have been amazing trips. This past summer, I worked in a planetarium in Slovakia. That was quite an experience – it’s one thing to talk to someone you know or maneuver around the city on a daily basis and quite a different experience to talk to strangers non-stop for one hour in the dark, where you can’t use you hands or anything else to explain what you mean. It’s just you and your voice. My bilingual journey certainly hasn’t ended, but there is no doubt in my mind that I will continue to understand and speak Slovak for the rest of my life. It’s probably the one part of me that I would never want to give up.

    I have a lot of respect for you. It’s one thing to grow up bilingual and quite another to grow up speaking a different language to just one of your parents. It certainly takes a lot of dedication from you. I have always been very proud of my Slovak heritage (it has definitely become a more important part of me in the last 5 years) and I think that if you can get your daughters into their teenage years speaking Czech comfortably, the rest of their Czech experiences will really be in their hands. But it is a wonderful thing that you are doing and I wish you and your family a lot of success.

  • Radka September 23, 2011, 3:45 pm

    Oops… the email I had entered in my previous post was incorrect – hopefully it’s not a problem.

  • Tanja September 24, 2011, 2:40 pm

    Hi Radka and thanks for your wondeful reply! I may just have to make a separate post out of it 🙂
    It’s interesting that you said you started to be interested in Slovak (already!) in 10th grade! I always thought it would happen around late teens…My daughter also stops in the middle of the sentence and asks me about a certain word if she does not know it and I am very grateful for that. But who knows how long that will last, right?
    If she had kids that she could speak Czech with here that would be wonderful. We do have a playgroup but I am a bit skeptical about kids speaking Czech with each other. There is always bound to be one kid that speaks English and that kind of sets the trend and everyone starts to speak Czech. It hasn’t happened yet, since most kids are still too little but once they are all in school….we will see!

    Camps are great although a bit scary for the parent like me. Kids can be mean so imagine you have some kid (my daughter) coming for a visit (camp) from the USA. Kids can get jealous (America is still the place to be:) or make fun of her imperfect Czech or her accent….what were your experiences with that?

  • Daniela August 6, 2012, 11:47 am

    I find this so interesting! It’s also funny that pretty much everyone I’ve talked to re raising bilingual children has slightly different experience. Can’t actually wait to see what will happen once we have kids:)

  • Tanja August 7, 2012, 1:50 pm

    Just remember to be diligent with your teachings from the beginning

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