OK, I’m sorry, I know it has been over two weeks since my last post but we’ve been busy with the new baby! Did I tell you the story of how we almost didn’t make it to the hospital? I did? Well I’ll tell you again anyway…
So, we were originally booked into Podoli hospital in Prague but when we went for a check up at 11am the doctor didn’t think anything would happen soon and sent us home even though Radka was having contractions. We live forty kilometres from Prague so in an emergency we would go to Kladno as it’s closer. Later in the day her contractions had got stronger and more frequent and by 9.30pm they were unbearable. “Take… Me… To hospital… Now!”
We took Daisy (our first daughter) from her bed and put her into the car and then dropped her off at a friend’s house down the street. It took about 20 minutes to drive to the hospital with Radka’s waters breaking on the way. I parked right outside the reception and we went inside not knowing which way to turn to find the maternity ward.
The lady on reception did the bare minimum and without breaking a smile gave us directions that neither of us heard or understood, but we did hear the number of the ward and so followed a sign. At this point my wife’s contractions were so strong she was crawling on all fours along the corridor. As we could no longer see any signs telling us which way to go, we headed outside to see if we could get into the right building and found a map that was upside down and back to front (not helpful in a stressful situation).
We decided to go back into the building as it had started to rain and Radka was clearly very close to giving birth right there outside the deserted hospital. I wasn’t totally unprepared for that as I had delivered a lamb in springtime! However the door had locked behind us so we couldn’t get back in!
I spied another door and went to investigate; it was open and went into the right part of the hospital so I ran back to Radka’s aid. Slowly helping her along we made it into the lift and up to the maternity ward where two very kind and helpful nurses took us straight into the delivery room. Taking one look at my wife they decided she needed to get straight onto the bed and start pushing. She did and 10 minutes later Lucy was born. Ahhhhh. Here’s another picture for you.
So it has got me wondering how my new daughter’s English will compare to my first as Daisy was born in Cambridge and spent her first one and a half years living in the UK (plus the all important 9 months in the womb). She was surrounded by the English language from day one and her first words were indeed English. Lucy on the other hand was born here in the Czech Republic and won’t be exposed to the same amount of English as was Daisy so that means I need to do a bit more with her.
If you don’t have very young children or plan on having any soon you may want to skip on this email but please do forward it to your friends who have a little one or are thinking about having another baby!
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So Daisy’s English is very good (she’s not yet 6 years old) but Czech is now her first language. She has been going to playschool in our village since before her third birthday and so hears and speaks Czech for most of the day. The only time she uses English is to communicate with me and sometimes her English grandparents via Skype, however we read books and watch TV and films in English as well as listen to a lot of English, American and of course Australian music (AC/DC anyone?).
She has said that she wants to teach her little sister English which I am very happy about as I love to see peer to peer learning taking place and the less adult interference the better. Children have much more ability to learn and teach themselves and each other than we adults give them credit for. If you don’t believe that, watch this video.
So what can you do to help your young children with their English if they don’t have a willing older sibling?
Start young and by that I mean before they are even born! It’s known that babies still inside their mothers can hear what’s happening in the outside world, starting around 16 weeks into the pregnancy detecting some sounds and by 24 weeks babies have been seen to move their heads in response to exterior sounds.
Whatever level of English you have it shouldn’t stop you from talking or singing to your child. Their brains need to make the neurological connections that will help them in the long-term to learn new languages.
If you feel you can’t do this you may have to ask yourself one or two difficult questions. Shyness often comes as a result of an authoritative style of parenting which while it may have got instant results has left you with a lack of self confidence in this area. Many people tell me that it must be wonderful to have a bilingual child but there’s nothing stopping them from raising their children bilingually, only your own fears holding you back from learning or expressing yourself. There is research to suggest that being bilingual helps children to focus on tasks better than their monolingual peers and may even delay the onset of age-related dementia.
Spend some time every day talking in English around or better still to your child. Little and often is the key here, better 5 minutes every day than 35 minutes once a week.
As they get a little older and start to speak themselves you can begin to play games with them in English. The key here is FUN! Learning should be fun, something we all do every day because… well… why not? It shouldn’t be a boring obligation to prepare you for some dream job in the distant future. Children have an innate will to learn that is too often stifled or even killed by traditional schooling and aggressive parenting. Let’s face it, as parents we worry what other people will think about us if our children don’t perform well at school, so we take it out on them. If maths and English are not their strong points but they’re great at art, music, drama or dance go with it, the world would be a very boring place without artists. Really we should be asking ourselves “is this right for my child at this stage of her development?” If the answer is no, accept it and move on.
When you’re having fun in English with your child, vary what you do by often changing activities. Don’t do anything for more than about five minutes unless they have a particularly long attention span. Simple games like Pexeso are brilliant for vocabulary, hide and seek can be used to count and learn simple phrases (Where are you?, here you are etc), sing and act out silly songs like ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and find other English nursery rhymes to learn together (you have You Tube so there’s no excuse!). And don’t be shy of technology; your kids will love some of the online games I’ve found over the last few years. Have a look here.
So I’ll leave you with this…
If you feel silly then it’s probably funny and if it’s funny then it’s definitely fun and fun equals learning.
Do you have any ideas for other games and ways to play and help your youngsters learn? Leave your ideas in the comments below so we can share them with one another. Oh! and look out for the chance win a ticket to see the new Star Wars film, I’ll email details soon.
Bye for now, Richard.