Navigating the domestic jungle : kids and chores

Leave a comment


Unlike most of my posts, this one has only little to do with bilingualism and everything to do with trying to survive in the everyday family life (but don’t worry, there will be a bilingual twist to it at the end).

A bilingual family is in most ways no different than a monolingual one. Whether it’s one or more languages that are spoken in the home, our days are filled with school, work and activities – and there are chores that wait for us when we get home. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry are just examples of the many things that need to be done regularly to avoid chaos.

I admit that I have not been very good at involving my children in these chores. I have wanted them to play, read, and be kids in their free time (which is limited as it takes them 45 minutes one way to go to their bilingual school  by bus).  This summer, however, when the dish washer broke down we realized that this just didn’t work anymore with kids who are 8 and 13.  I have been paying for my earlier relaxed attitude now that I would like for them to contribute more than they’re used to.

Three things I wanted to avoid:

1. Paying for chores. I know that there are parents who pay for chores, good grades, or even goals scored in a soccer (or other) game. I didn’t want to do it as I’m afraid they will then learn to not do anything unless they’re paid for it. I think this can be a dangerous attitude to have.

2. Using chores as a punishment. Again, I don’t want them to associate chores with being punished – I would hate for them to go through their adult life feeling they’re punished for everything they need to do at home.

3. Nagging. This was my (only) strategy for a few months. It accomplished nothing despite making me hate the sound of my own voice. Seriously, I sounded like my own mom and remember the effect her nagging had on me.

I still wanted them to participate in chores so new solutions were needed! I got inspired by an image I saw online where children  could get ungrounded by accumulating a certain amount of points by doing chores. Each chore had a number of points attached to it and the person grounded could choose how they reached the 500 points required. To me, this felt a bit too much like number two in the list above, but there was something I liked about the point system.

I thought about it for a few days and called a family meeting to explain my idea -starting with the fact that dad and I regularly did most of the chores, and that we wanted for them to participate, too. Realizing that it was difficult for them to know how much was reasonable, I suggested that we come up with a point value for each chore and an amount of points that each kid needs to collect per week. Surprisingly, my idea was met with relative enthusiasm, and we set off to make a list of chores and points. This was a good exercice in going through all the things that need to done in the house every week, and the children assigned each chore a point value. They were quite reasonable, I thought. We also agreed that they could do chores only once their homework for that day was done. This is what it would look like:


The bilingual twist I promised. One of the keys to making bilingualism work in daily life is to add a bilingual twist whenever you can. As it is very important for me that our children regularly do a little extra for their language skills, I offered them the possibility to replace 20% of the chore points by doing language-related activities. These could include reading in the minority language every evening (for Emma this means English as she reads in both her native languages anyway), writing a letter or an email in the minority language or doing exercices in their minority language exercice books.


They accepted without any complaints that there was no special reward involved. We don’t give them a regular allowance (to avoid the entitlement attitude and comments like: “You OWE me my 5 euros”). Instead, we give them money when they need it and occasionally some extra (encouraging them to always put a little bit of that money in a box that is for saving only and not to be touched under any circumstances). We also reminded them that the things they get to do on a regular basis (sleepovers with friends, going to the movies occasionally, having a movie and pizza night – let alone all the traveling we do) are all something “extra” and not to be taken for granted. On the other hand, if by Friday it looks like they’re way behind in their weekly points, they will need to put in more time and effort during the weekend with the consequence of possibly not being able to do the things they want to do (subtly teaching them time management at the same time…).

Today is Day 1, I will keep you posted when we see how it goes. In the mean time – how do you navigate the domestic jungle (and combine it with your multilingual efforts?) Please share here or at http://www.facebook.com/bebilingual.net




The Bilingual Teen – Modus operandi


“What is it like to have a bilingual teen?” I’ve been asked. Pretty much like having any teen, I guess. They just have two languages in which they can ignore you and tell you to (please) leave their room .


I know that it’s a cliché, but I really do remember like it was yesterday when she was a toddler! A smiling round face with dark curls everywhere – and always happy to play and interact with her dad in French as much as he wanted.

Fast forward 10 years  and the toddler’s mutated into a teen who prefers to stay in her room with her computer and books rather than talk to anyone. When she does speak (or grunt), it’s not quite what it used to be. It seems that we have become a trilingual family and “teen” is now spoken  in addition to French and Finnish at our house – even if we parents apparently don’t really master it since eyes are rolled repeatedly when we try. Most of the time the terms come from English; there’s swag (a noun, an adjective, a verb, and an all-purpose expression of agreement or endorsement – I had to look it up here) and semi (used on its own as an adjective as in kind of okay) Then there’s yolo (you only live once to explain all the silly things she does) and the sarcastic Sherlock (as in, you guessed it, the famous detective) when we accidentally say something so obvious and lame that she just can’t believe we’re related.

I’m slightly exaggerating; in truth she continues to be a wonderful girl and I am extremely proud of her. Nevertheless, she IS a teen and we have needed to look for new strategies to keep communication and the minority language going. I hope that you are reading this when your child is not yet a teenager because honestly, the foundation was laid in early childhood. All the effort we put into creating a need and motivation for her to use the minority language is now bearing fruit. She may question and resist a lot of the things we parents want her to do, but she never questions the language issue. Her bilingual identity is so strong that it seems to be completely untouched by the teenage crisis she is going through.

Still, we’re not naive and know that a language is never done; therefore we are always looking for ways to make sure she continues to have language exposure in both languages. This is what we’ve found useful:

Taking advantage of the bio-rythm. Adolescents have very different biological rythms than adults and they tend the be the most receptive and open to talk late in the evening. This is certainly the case in our family, and we have noticed that from 10.07 pm to 10.37 pm is the optimal moment to achieve interaction as that’s when a very different and even talkative girl emerges from her “teen cave.” While we parents have a very different rythm (and would really rather be in bed already!) we really treasure these moments and in depth conversations we can have at the end of the day. Top tip from someone who needs a lot of sleep: taking a nap in the afternoon helps.

Looking for meaningful one-on-one time. Emma plays soccer and Gilles is very involved with her team. I actually love soccer too, but I’ve decided to let them have it as their “thing” together. They go to practice and games together, watch the sport on TV, talk strategy and – of course – at times disagree about soccer in French! Emma has a favorite female team in France and as chance would have it, they visited Helsinki last year. Long story short, as a huge fan and French speaker Emma got to meet the players and talk to them. She even ended on the team’s video as the players took turns in signing her ball. This summer she is participating in a soccer camp the same team is organizing for girls her age in France. She understands the part her bilingualism plays in this.

Connecting her with the popular culture in the minority language. These things just are important to the teens. Emma is subscribed to a French teen magazine, she watches movies and music that her peers in France like and many times she has found out about these (and the local teen slang) from her French friends on Facebook.

Making (or keeping) the language and the culture “cool.” Tap into their interests! Look for websites or any minority language material about the things that genuinely interest your teen (even if it’s Hunger Games!). At this age, fitting in with their peers is another important thing for most and unless we parents play our cards right, bilingualism may just become something that they feel makes them different from others in a negative way. Look for recently-arrived expat families with children that speak your minority language to get your teen to know others his/her age who speak the language or find out about babysitting opportunities with the younger expat children. Earning some cash can be a strong motivating factor. Last, but definitely not least, travel to the minority language country if possible. Visiting relatives, looking for a summer job, camp or similar can all be good ways to make the language more attractive. Social media is also a good way for the young to keep in touch with new friends despite the distance.

Last week, Emma was invited to be the French-speaking Master of Ceremony at the end of the school year party of her bilingual school. Here is a picture of that. If I could, I’d rather show you another picture and that would be of the look on her face when she told me she had been picked to do it and that the teacher had told her it was because of her French skills.

Worth having made bilingualism a priority for the past 13 years? Absolutely and more.


Introducing Sara TV – “Le Bêtisovore” part I


A while back, I shared with you how we’ve tried to motivate our 8-year old to read in her minority language French. Well, turns out the strangest things motivate our children and this one lit up when I suggested we film her reading and call it “Sara TV.” When I suggested that we send it to other children who speak French at home, she was even more excited and wanted to add some listening comprehension questions at the end.

So feel free to share this video with any multilingual families who have French as one of their languages – Sara would love to hear back from them and hear their replies! :-).

P.S Sara had a lot of fun filming this and would like to continue with this. If you’re interested in French resources and would like to see future episodes of Sara TV, please join us at http://www.facebook.com/TheFrenchFactor (and for bilingual and multilingual resources in general at http://www.facebook.com/bebilingual.net

Finding “pelicans” for our bilingual children


A few years back, I heard a story about pelicans in California. Their great numbers had been a real tourist attraction in Monterey Bay for many years, but the situation had changed unexpectedly and the pelicans had started to die. Experts, biologists, you name it, flew in to study the problem, which was soon linked to the extinction of the local tuna fishing trade. It was found that the pelicans had been leading life a little too easy for their own good, following the fishing boats and feeding on their catch. Now that the fishermen and their boats were gone, the birds were confused and hungry – they no longer knew how to hunt for food! Not having had the need to actually find and catch their food had meant they gradually lost the ability to do so.

A solution was found in the form of pelicans that did know how to hunt. They imported hundreds of them to Monterey Bay from Florida, where they had been hunting for food in the normal pelican way. They quickly adjusted and started doing the same in California. Surrounded by these “natives at fishing”, and motivated to follow their example, the local pelicans also began feeding and the crisis was averted after just a few months.


Finding “pelicans” in the community

Sometimes, speaking the minority language is like catching fish in this story. If the children don’t have a need to use the language, it is very probable that they won’t and the skill is then slowly lost. Experts tell us that children require first and foremost a need and a motivation to use the language, and suggest that surrounding bilingual children with natives, preferably other children, often presents the best opportunity for this. Wanting to play with and be understood by other children seems to be one of the best motivators for a child to use his or her second language. The minority language becomes a natural means of communication, and any self-consciousness about possible errors or gaps is quickly forgotten when the children concentrate on playing and just getting the message across.

So, how do you go about it? The easiest and most efficient way to accomplish this is by taking the children from their usual surroundings and into the natural environment of the second language. A trip to your minority language home country, or to another country where that language is spoken, is definitely a fantastic way to solve many issues related to the acquisition of that language. However, the country in question may be far away and a trip not possible for many reasons. Here we can learn from the pelican story. Just as the local birds reacquired skills from the foreign birds flown in, our children can learn from the children in our community who speak the minority language. Try these ideas:

Look for (or organize) playgroups with other speakers of your minority language – and cross your fingers that the children will play together using that language. This happening is the best-case scenario, if all the other children also speak the majority language. Parental experience seems to show that the older the children, the less likely they are to use their minority language the moment they figure out that using the majority language is an option. We may care about them speaking our language, but all they will care about is using whatever is the easiest and most efficient way to get the message across. Activities organized by a native-speaking parent are therefore a good way to get your children to participate, and why not invite some “pelicans” to join the playgroups? Perhaps you could look for recently-arrived expat families – there might be Facebook groups, the local embassy might have lists or cultural activities where you can meet them, and word-of-mouth is also a very good way to find out about new arrivals. They might be very happy to meet locals, and your children could make new friends that are (at least for the time being) monolingual speakers of their non-community language.

Become a host family for couchsurfers. Sign up with couchsurfing.org to host travelers that speak your language. This can be an option even if you can’t accommodate the travelers in your home. Many are happy just to get to see the city through a local’s eyes.

Take advantage of modern technology, which offers many ways to connect children with other speakers of their minority language. If you have family in your target country that has access to a computer, then Skype is a must. For children to actually see and talk with grandparents, uncles and aunts on a regular basis is a great way to keep in touch with both the family and the language. This creates emotional ties with the language and makes things easier when traveling to meet the family.

Similarly, you can stay in touch with other families that you may have met during travels in the minority language country, in order to extend and create friendships with other people and children who speak the same language. If none of this applies to you, how about looking for other families through language exchange sites like The Mixxer or mylanguageexchange.com? Alternatively, you could post about finding Skype partner families who speak your language on forum websites such as multilingualliving.com.

The girls’ grandmother in France recently got a computer for Christmas. The first thing we did was to install Skype on it with instructions about how to contact different family members. As Emma comes home from school in the afternoon and turns on her computer and Skype, grandma often calls her and they talk – just like they might if she lived next door, and not 2000 km away! They can have a private conversation, which can be as short or as long as they wish, since it’s free. As it turns out, grandma is often privy to a lot more information than we parents are!

Going native – traveling to your minority language country

Experts agree that traveling to a country where your minority language is the community language has many advantages, the first one being that the children will probably have a newfound respect and appreciation for the language, as they see that it is not only spoken by mom or dad, but by a whole nation on a daily basis. There is an actual need and motivation to use the language to interact with locals, and this will yield great results, especially if a little planning is done to make sure that some interaction actually happens. Just breathing the air in another country will not have any effect on your children’s language skills, whereas interaction with locals, preferably children, will.

Before traveling to the target country most parents are excited, but maybe also concerned about how to make the most of the trip, especially if the country is far away and can’t be visited that often (I speak from experience when I say that the trip can be a financial sacrifice). Those who are not boarding with family or friends need to think about places to stay and how to provide opportunities for the children to practice their language skills. The ones with family have different concerns, maybe about living with the in-laws for several weeks. Both might worry about the children and how they will manage with the language and be accepted by other children, friends, or even family members.

Among the first things to decide is the length of the trip. Any length is better than none, but seeing as it takes about a week for children to completely adjust to a new language environment, anything less than that might not allow them to fully benefit from the experience. Between two and four weeks seems to be a good length for a stay (the longer the better, really), but with careful planning even shorter trips can be useful in giving the child’s language skills a boost and providing the motivation to use them. For financial reasons or to avoid the crowds, many families travel during the off-season.

Finding local activities for children when traveling on your own

There are times when being a tourist is a great thing, but this is one time when you want to blend in as much as possible with the locals. This doesn’t mean that you need to skip all the tourist attractions, but it’s good to plan ways for the children to meet other locals, and play with others of similar age. From them your children will learn the local “play” language and children’s nonverbal behavior, which they won’t pick up if they’re only around adults.

In addition to the idea of contacting families and setting up playdates through organizations such as couchsurfing.org, you can look for an expat network in the area and ask them for advice about activities and places where your children could meet other children. Ask for tips and advice from locals on the forums of neighborhood parenting websites. You could also visit the local tourism office website or send them an email to ask for advice on your situation.

Travel communities such as tripadvisor.com are not only helpful when choosing accommodation, but are also great for ideas regarding what to do with the children in a particular city or smaller towns. Depending on when and for how long you’re staying, and what your children enjoy doing, here are a few ideas you might consider:

Going to school in the target country. Before you think that I’m crazy to suggest this, just hear me out: vacations don’t always take place at the same time in different countries and, particularly if you’re traveling during the off-season, it might be that the local children are all at school during the day. Many schools welcome children who live abroad but speak the language to spend a few days, or even a few weeks as guests. This can be a good way for your children to see what school life in the target country is like, and hopefully meet new friends. Perhaps you can find some expats online before you travel who could tell you whom to contact in the local school their children attend.

To prepare for the experience, your child (or even the whole family) can write a letter to the class and send postcards or something similar from your country of residence. This will not only prepare your child but the whole class for their initial meeting. Integration is also much easier for a familiar child that the class already knows. After a successful stay, your child can continue writing letters or even skyping with their new school friends.

Our daughters have successfully attended a local village school in France for the last two weeks of the school year. The exam season was over, and most days consisted of trips to the swimming pool, excursions, and preparing an end-of-school-year performance for parents. To tell the truth, our children were a bit reluctant at first, but they ended up really enjoying the experience, and made many new friends in the village. This made all the difference during our stay; trips to the pool and the library were so much more fun when there were friends that could be invited along. I realize that this might not be as easy in big cities as in a small village, and if your children struggle with the language and are not enthusiastic about speaking it, this is probably not the option to start with.

Practising with the locals. Many parents have told me they found enrolling their children in local swimming lessons to be an effective way to meet other children. The same idea can be applied to other types of lessons, such as horse riding, martial arts, or whatever is interesting to your children and available in their age range. If your children have a social hobby at home (a sport or playing an instrument), why not ask the local clubs and organizations if they can participate as guests during your stay. Not only can it be motivating for the children to experience their hobby in the minority language – something they’re already familiar with and can grasp the concepts of easily – but it can lead to playdates and friendships with local children. Last summer, Emma had a great experience with a French soccer team who welcomed her to practice and even participate in a tournament with them.

Summer camps.

  • Day camps. Local libraries and community centers are great sources of information on what the local children are up to. They usually know (or can at least advise you where to ask) about day camps and workshops for children during school vacations. In France, for example, municipalities organize outdoor childcare (centres aérés), which corresponds to a day camp, during school vacations.

  • Overnight camps. A great possibility for your children to mix with other children is for them to attend a camp for a few days where they can be immersed in their minority language. A good site to find all kinds of camps around the world is kidscamps.com. Again, the expat network, local parenting websites, the tourism office or local schools should be able to help out with this. There can also be camps that specialize in an activity your child practices or likes, so check those clubs and organizations, too.


Get your children a temporary library card at the local library if their policy allows. We’ve noticed that libraries are always full of other children. On several occasions, I’ve successfully approached them, explained our situation, and asked if they could show Emma some books they like.

Visit the Global Greeter network’s website (globalgreeternetwork.info), which brings together local volunteers who give free tours of cities. If you’re in luck and your target city is on the list, take advantage of this great opportunity to get an insider’s tips on the community.

Motivate the children to use the language by giving them a small allowance that they can use for small purchases – in the minority language, of course.

Always bring a few extra toys when visiting playgrounds, parks or beaches so that your children can invite others to play with them.

Abridged extract from Be Bilingual – Practical ideas for multilingual families by Annika Bourgogne

Friends and family far away? Technology to the rescue!



Our oldest daughter Emma was born in 2001. A friend of ours came to the hospital with her dad’s digital camera and we were able to send pictures to the family in France. In an email! The day she was born! I still remember how unheard of that was. Nor did it stop there: using the Windows live messenger with a webcam and a dial number, aunts and uncles in France could see (and hear!) the baby, almost as if they were in the same room. It was of course nothing compared to what we have today with Skype on mobile devices, but it sure felt like science fiction back then.

13 years later, technology has become a friend and an ally in our bilingual efforts. It doesn’t replace, but instead promotes the one thing we try to make happen when raising our bilingual children: interaction with other speakers of the minority language, namely friends and family in France. Our main means of communication with them are the following:

Skype. We skype with the grandparents in France at least once a week as a family. We noticed early on that if we parents had to leave the room for a minute, the children would be a lot more motivated to speak with the grandparents than if we hovered over them. When Emma started coming home alone after school a few years ago, we taught her to turn on the computer and asked that the grandparents check up on her through Skype in the afternoons – just like they were living next door and not 2000 km away! Now that both girls come home together, the grandparents sometimes even play referee in their sibling quarrels over Skype. Oh well – at least they have a natural relationship despite the distance, right?

We also used Skype last year when daddy was in France for 6 months for work. We made it a point to have dinner together as often as we could: the girls and I had the tablet in the kitchen with skype on and my husband had dinner at the same time in France with skype on his phone. This way we could still have a table conversation even if it wasn’t the same table.


Facebook. Yes, we have a teenager now and this is important for her. It also helps her a lot to stay in touch with her French friends and – this is more important than one might think at this age – to keep up with the popular culture of teens in France. She knows what’s in and out and the vocabulary that goes with it. She’s the same (lovingly) annoying teenager in French as she is in Finnish – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She will be at ease with her peers at soccer camp in France next summer. Grandparents are not excluded here, either – Emma helped them to create their own Facebook accounts!

Blogging: For years we’ve had a blog for family and friends in France where they have been able to follow our life even if we’re far away. This has provided great reading and writing exercice for the girls in French.

There is of course more to technology than this: the gadgets that don’t necessarily promote communication, but can still be useful as they (may) increase the interest level in the minority language. Here are some that we use:

Gigatribe.com is a peer-to-peer private file sharing network. The grandparents record our girls’ favorite programs on TV and share them (privately) with us this way.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection is something we recently purchased and which helps us access French online TV as if we were living there. We’ve sure come a long way – to think that Emma’s first French video tapes were black and white when played in Finland due to the different video standards!

Online resources: we watch videos and listen to French music on YouTube and Tunein.com. We have access to French radio and child / teen websites (which honestly are not that great for language learning, but kids use them anyway – so why not at least do so in the minority language?)

Mobile devices: we are apparently the only parents in the world who have not bought their teenage daughter a smart phone.  I see what my students use it for every day at school and I’d rather my daughter didn’t do the same. At home they get to use the tablet and I try to steer them towards interesting things as there are many: audiobooks, games and videos in different languages. While I am strict on the smart phone issue, it is a lot easier to persuade me to buy the latest teen book in French on the Kindle and Emma knows this – I simply can not say no when my child asks me for a book!

But yes, there is such a thing as too much of (even) a good thing. Emma sometimes goes a bit overboard with reading: here she is glued to the Kindle while making S’mores (at the hotel barbecue) during our recent trip to the US!


We’re big fans of reading, yes, but the Kindle was put away right after we took the picture. Technology is great but should not make us forget that life happens around us and that communication with others (in person whenever possible) is what it’s really about. On that note, I can’t wait to see the family in France this summer (and, by the way, that’s where we put the money we saved on the smart phone 🙂 ). Until then, though, we do the best we can to communicate through our weekly Skype meetings.

Putting the why before the how in reading – in one or more languages



It was an evening in late August last year. I tiptoed into my 2nd grader’s room to put some laundry  in her closet. I was just about to leave when I heard a small voice from under the covers. “Mommy?”

“Hey sweety, what are you still doing awake?”

“Mommy, I have a confession to make.”

I had no idea what was about to come but nodded encouragingly. “What’s on your mind honey?”

It took her a while to get it out, but finally it came: “My teacher said that I read REALLY slowly.”

Talk about a negative message to a 2nd grader only two weeks after the beginning of the school year.

Fast forward a few weeks and we were meeting the teacher in question. “Maybe she reads more fluently in French,” she said, trying to look for positives in the situation, but we had to shake our heads. Despite her extremely fluent spoken French, she was not more drawn to reading in her minority language than in Finnish. And it had all started so well…

Sara learned to read on her own when she was 5 years old. We were at a hotel in Chicago when, all of a sudden, she started reading words in a book that we had brought for her. First in Finnish, and a week or so later also in French. By the time we left the US, she had also deciphered quite a few easy English words like open, cat, or book. We had seen all this before with Emma and expected things to go smoothly from then on. Only here we were, almost 3 years later, and the truth was that she still did not pick up a book on her own. In any language.

The first thing the teacher suggested we do was to look into a free computer program developed by a Finnish University called Graphogame with different levels depending on the fluency. On a strictly mechanical level, the program was very successful and we could see progress in how fast she was reading, but after a week or so we could tell she was bored.  There was something missing and that was the joy in reading a good story. Just for the pleasure of it! I believe that if the why is there the how will follow. It seemed that – lulled into thinking everything was going smoothly by her incredible verbal skills – we had not done enough to help her find her why in reading. In the next 4 months, these are the steps I took to try to change this:

1. Monkey see, monkey do: If I wanted her to read, she had to see me reading, too.

I hadn’t realized this to be a problem before – after all, I read 1-2 books every week. However, I read most of these on my phone with the Kindle app; how was she supposed to know I was reading? This was also a great opportunity for me to make a list of books I wanted to read and head to the library – with Sara of course!

2. I put out regular “commercials” for pleasure reading:

– “I think I’m just going to relax for a little bit with my book”

– “This book is great, it talks about…” or even better, with her books or at the library: “Oh I loved this book, it’s about this girl/boy/animal who…”

– “I’m going to make myself a lovely cup of hot chocolate to drink while I read. Want one, too?”

3. I started reading to her again and doing my best to make it enjoyable for her.

Aren’t you discouraging her to read on her own?” I heard. “She’s 8 already, isn’t she?” Yes, she was an 8-year-old who needed to be reminded of the joy in reading a great story and to hear the vocabulary she wasn’t learning from TV and from everyday conversation. We picked out books together: Momo by Michael Ende, the secret garden by Burnett, others by Astrid Lindgren and Roald Dahl. In the cold winter, we’d make a nest on the couch or the bed with pillows and blankets and read about spring in England or summers in Sweden. The few times I really didn’t have the time, I asked the teenager for help.

4. I found out what kind of books she liked the best. Turns out it’s detective stories! With the help of a great librarian, we discovered the  detective agency of Jerry and Maya by Martin Widmark. She read the first book over a weekend and could not wait for the library to open to get the next book. We watched in awe as she read all 8 books in the series in February. I saw the look in her eyes that I had hoped to see all along; she was reading because she wanted to. Many nights we found her like this:


The thing is, it was all in Finnish.Very little reading in French had happened in the past months (except at the French-Finnish school), but I wasn’t worried. I knew from past experience that skills (in other words the how) transfer from one language to another once the motivation (the why!) is there. I still was not prepared for how true this proved out to be. In a matter of weeks Sara was reading books in French after discovering the series Cabane Magique thanks to her older sister who is very good at doing “book commercials”. To motivate reading in both languages, we made her a bookshelf to keep track of how many she has read in each. Blue-white-red for French, Blue-white for Finnish.


The other day we were walking home from school. “Mommy,” she said. “It seems to me that the others in my class don’t read as quickly as they used to. Or then, maybe I’ve just caught up with them. ”

“I’m sure that’s exactly what’s happened, honey.”

“Mommy? Can we go to the library tonight?”


This post is part of the Multilingual Blogging Carnival. Find out more here: http://www.thepiripirilexicon.com/p/blogging-carnival.html


The International Book Giving Day – with a bilingual twist!



Does it ever happen to you to have a really good idea at the last minute or a bit too late? This just happened to me, but I’m still optimistic that with your help we might be able to pull this off! Let me explain…

You might have heard that February 14th is the International Book Giving Day. It’s a fantastic initiative and you can read more about it and the ways to participate here. Basically, as their slogan says, it’s a day dedicated to getting new, used and borrowed books in the hands of as many children as possible. Just hearing that and imagining a child with a book makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (and not just because when my children read they let me read, too, although it’s definitely an additional benefit!)

I love books and there are lots and lots of them around in my house: many are in active use, but then there are others that my children have definitely outgrown. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about! This got me thinking: what if we added a little bilingual twist into getting those books in the hands of children? What if we sent a book that our children have outgrown to another child to boost his or her interest and skills in their minority language?

Here’s an example of what I mean. Let’s say I heard of a Finnish-Spanish family living in Spain. It would probably be safe to assume that they would have access to a lot more books in Spanish than in Finnish and might appreciate receiving a book in their minority language. Living in Finland, I could easily pick a suitable one among the ones my children have outgrown and mail it to them. I would pay for the postage and I feel it would be a small price to pay to help out a fellow bilingual family. I could include a note that would link the book to the Book Giving Day and ask the family to one day pay it forward.

I’m excited and I hope this resonates with some of you! If it does, please contact me (annika@be-bilingual.net) and let me know if you’d be willing to mail a book to a child and in what language. At the same time you can also let me know where you live and in what language you’d like to receive a book OR, again thinking in the lines of random acts of kindness, enroll a bilingual family you know to receive a book in their minority language as a surprise. As I said, I’m a bit late with this idea, but if you can contact me by Friday, January 31st, we’ll still have 2 weeks before the book giving day – and I’m sure the children will be happy to receive a book even if it’s after the official day!

What do you think? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, suggestions for improvement, or any comments you might have!

Older Entries