Wednesday, June 28, 2006


My children are still young so we haven't yet engaged in deep discussions about language. However, I look forward to the time when we can. For example, I am extremely curious as to which language they dream in. My husband and I speak German with the children but they hear us speaking English all the time. In their in-home daycare, they hear Spanish and English spoken by the daycare provider and her assistant, and engage in conversations in English with other children and adults. Our playgroups provide German input from adults and other children. So, I wonder to myself whether at night, when their eyes are closed and they are in dreamland, do they also dream in two languages? Do their minds categorize languages in their dreams according to dream? Do beings in their dreams speak different languages depending on their characteristics - and what might those characteristics be? In a One-Parent-One-Language household, will children have dreams in which each gender speaks a different language? For example, will a male cat speak Chinese and a female cat speak English, reflecting the gender-language combinations that occur at home? Or do children only dream in one or the other language when they are sleeping?

Thoughts like this come to me often and I spend far too much time contemplating them. My hypothoses lead into ways I'd test them if I had the means. Groupings of families and individuals, each defined by backgrounds and influences... are there commonalities? Are there distinct differences? Who are we anyway? What is language anyway? Particles and synapses and somehow, amazingly it all fits together and we function. Very impressive! When presented with such a backdrop, speaking with my children in a second language seems very basic and simple; not even close to the complexity of the human mind in general.

It frustrates me that I probably will never know the answers. I am impatient and would like to know, even if only for my own knowledge. I wonder if there are already studies out there that focus on these issues? Have there been dream studies done? I recall so many studies that I have read and watched on television over the years. They have all fascinated me and been a great delight to learn about. However, that was before I had my own bilingual children. Now that I have my own, I long to find those studies again! They now hold so much more than an academic interest. They now influence decisions for my whole family.

We have some studies listed on our BBFN website but I know there are many more.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Live A Life Less Ordinary

Do we know why we are raising our children to speak more than one language? I sometimes wonder what ever happened to doing something for its intrinsic value, for its beauty and the inspiration that it provides. Do we only read books because they will help us make more money? Do we only take classes that will help us advance in our career? Why do we often fall into the trap of believing we need a compelling financial or career-oriented reason to pursue something?

I will be the first to admit that I'd be delighted if raising my children bilingually and biculturally will aid them financially down the road. And I can understand why earlier generations didn't speak a second or third language when they were told that speaking a different language at home with their children could cause confusion or, at the very least, put their children at a disadvantage. I am sure I would have questioned why the experts were recommending against it but I probably would have felt pressured to not go against their test results and recommendations. Out of fear of doing something to disadvantage my children, I very likely would have caved under the pressure. Facts are facts, right?

My husband was the child of such a family. Despite his parents and grandparents speaking the local dialect at home, they were told to only speak High German with their children. So strong was the recommendation, parents and grandparents (as well as members of their generation in the community) spoke the dialect together but only High German to the younger generation. Of course the children picked up much of the dialect by hearing it but there have been some regrettable side effects:

* Local dialects are disappearing around the world. A major effort has been underway for a while now to revive the dialect. This is happening around the world as dialects and languages are falling into disuse and disappearing. As we all know, children will learn a language if they feel there are necessary reasons to learn and use it. Keeping a language alive as an academic exercise is wonderful but it will not truly keep a language, and the intertwined culture that goes with it, alive.

* The older generation, who often still speak the dialect, have not been able to overcome their habit of not speaking the dialect to the younger generation. Part of this comes from a subtle gut response: if the person they are speaking with is younger and especially if he or she does not sound like a native speaker of the dialect, then the older person automatically switches to High German.

* Children who are now being taught the dialect in schools are lacking the cultural associations that go along with a language. They are learning the dialect as an academic pursuit. At least there are grandparents around who grew up speaking the dialect but as mentioned above, it does not come naturally that they, and the older generation in general, will speak it comfortably with these students learning it for the first time. Especially with something like a dialect, learning the language purely in school is more sterile and limiting. Nevertheless, it is definitely better than nothing!

Language is a sensory being. It exists within the medium of life, within the medium of context. It takes on the characteristics of its surroundings and landscape.

If we want the language that our children learn to be sterile and flat, then we should make sure NOT to provide them with any stimuli other than the static words. If we only see language learning as the means toward a financial goal or success in terms of a better job, then there is no need for us to make language learning fun or part of our lives. In fact, if this is our motivation, then it would probably be best that we not even be involved in the language learning of our children since we might confuse the issue and actually provide an emotional context that would only muddy the issue later.

My sincere hope, however, is that we want more for our children than simply financial success and a successful career. My hope is that we can't help but be motivated by more powerful visions for our children's lives. My hope is that we long for our children to experience our language for what it is - to taste it, to savor it. If this is our desire, then we must remember that we are an important link in this coming to fruition. No, we must remember that we are THE most important link in this coming to pass.

We need our children to grow up not only hearing the language. Our children must be given opportunities to live the language, live the culture, live a life imbued with our languages and cultures. I firmly believe that it is important that we should allow ourselves to ignore the financial and career gains that our children might reap by learning our languages and to focus more on living our languages and cultures to the fullest.

Most importantly, we should remind ourselves of the influence we have on one another. What we say to other families about why we are raising our children multilingually and multiculturally has a strong influence. Encourage other families raising multilingual children to focus on the beauty of life and the sheer joy that multilingual living provides us! Live a life less ordinary! Live a life so full of language that you will forget that your children are indeed benefiting in other ways.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Although I am not a native German speaker, I am on board with my German husband to keep German as our "home language" and speak German with our children. This poses many challenges, to say the least. The most difficult for me is at the end of the day after having worked 10 hours in the office to find the fluency of German that I like to think that I have.

The other day I was picking up our three children from daycare (ages 4, 3 and 1). My oldest and youngest were already in the car sitting in their car seats and I was encouraging our middle child to get into his seat. In German, I said, "Can you please get into your 'chair'?" My oldest son looked at me with a knowing smile, sighed, and said, "'Chair' Mama? It is 'seat', not 'chair'!" and then sighed again. I couldn't help but smile and said, "Yes, you are right, it IS 'seat', not 'chair', thank you."

There was a decisive moment in the past when my oldest child started speaking. My husband and I sat down together and decided that German would be our home language. And I can see that there will be many more such moments as life progresses. I will have to remind myself that although I am not a native speaker, what we are doing is the right thing. And who knows, the time will probably come when my German won't be advanced enough to engage in the level of discussion with my children that I wish. At that point my husband and I will sit down again and have another discussion. I'm not sure what we'll decide but I am confident that we'll find a solution that works for all of us.

Friday, June 16, 2006


We all know the feeling: so many ideas, so many visions and so little time. If only I had more money. If only I had more time. If only, if only. I am in awe of this website and this magazine, which the time and effort and vision from people around the world has created. On a late night like tonight, I carve out a few more hours to work on the magazine. Between working 35 hours a week and a family with three children, I have come to do this website and magazine with the utmost efficiency during the late hours of the night. No moment can be wasted.

It is between two worlds that we slowly put the pieces together. Editor and Managing Editor, Alice and I, we communicate via google chat for the first time tonight. We cross borders and time-zones. We consult on the magazine, we share information about ourselves - we have worked together for months yet know very little about one another. I know that Alice has a keen eye and sharp language skills but I'm not sure what her voice sounds like. I learn about her via her blog and I have come to know her via her essays and column. And tonight, as we piece together a magazine, I realize how easy it is to bridge the expanse of our earth. To be here and there at the same time, even if only through our consciousnesses.

When morning comes, I'll feel a sense of guilt. The hours that each of us, each of you, has contributed to create something so special feels like a guilty pleasure to me. Do others share in the joy in this website and magazine creation, or is this simply the culmination of selfishness on my part? To read your essays, to learn about the world through your eyes and words brings me such joy, I wonder what I have done to deserve such wonderful luck. Where did all of you come from? How did we find each other? Why do you choose to share your thoughts? Do you also experience the sheer joy that I experience when knowing that we are all in this together, that our concerns are shared throughout the world?

I will head to bed now knowing that there is so much more to be done before the magazine will be ready. I have also failed to update so many things on the website, again. I'll have to put them off until tomorrow. I have faith that all of you will understand and forgive me for having let these things slide. You have probably noticed that this project is a labor of love more than anything?

In the end, I question myself: why do I do this? Why do you do this? Why do we read the words of others? Why do we long to know what they are doing, what they recommend, how they have gotten to where they are now? Do we fear that we are perhaps doing something wrong? Most of us lack parents who have already gone through raising multilingual and multicultural children, so we are on our own, so to speak. And even if we are fairly certain that what we are doing must be the right thing, there are still so many other elements that we would like to know, would like to examine, want to understand.

In the end it seems that a magic is performed whereby words and images and colors and text all coalesce into something we have decided to call a magazine. We know we had something to do with it but the parts are too numerous to calculate. Pieces are directed to where they belong and a thing of beauty is formed. One by one the pieces fit into their perfect order and when the last piece has been fitted, the magic begins.

Some of you may wonder where the magazine is this month. It is the 15th, right, so where is it? This month things are changing... we are becoming more mainstream. Expect a new magazine in two weeks, on the beginning of July. And if all goes well, then you will be able to print it out this time. No promises since one can never tell how much time one will have, but it is possible that all of the pieces will fit together and a few more hours in the middle of the night will have been carved out for creativity and creation.