Today was German Day, as shown on our Family Calendar. It used to be just English Day and Greek Day. But then, as I mentioned in my first post, bilingual Maggie, who was four and a half and strongly vocal Nicholas, who was two and half months, moved to Zug in Switzerland. Not alone of course, but not with everyone, either.
So the Big Plan had changed. And so had the participants. And the environment. The whole environment: Another country, with a new language none of us knew, a new home, a new member in the family, no grandparents and just one aunt this time. Vicky.
Again, I was stressed about Maggie, as I was in the 1st Feat. Maggie was about to start school which for any child and family is a whole Volume in itself. And she had a new brother; Another Volume. And she moved house; and country; two more volumes.
I decided to tackle the Language Issue and through that I was determined to smoothly deal with the other issues at the same time. In English. I would deal with everything in English. And Thomas would deal with everything in Greek. And Vicky would continue as usual in English. Why would we spoil a successful recipe? And we would do this not just for Maggie but also for Nicholas. So far, so good. But while I was still pregnant to Nicholas, I had to start preparing for the move. Before the Game Plan changed. It was more challenging than ever.
Raising Multilingual Children was my next choice of books, written by Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa, a distinguished educator and mother of three.
I had to study this very well as we were about to add a new language to Maggie’s life. I studied and revised, chose and adapted, skipped and adjusted until the last three months before giving birth, both Nicholas and I were sleeping only three hours a day. I had to be very strong in the language department so as to be able to deal confidently with all the other issues that would arise when moving.
I was assured through this book that Maggie’s age was just right and Nicholas’ even better. Nicholas was in The First Window of Opportunity and Maggie in The Second, according to the book; when learning a language, consistently, was guaranteed to be fruitful.
All we had to do was find ways of being consistent. Without all that Greek around anymore. And with all that German around now.
* Well, we will just have to make appointments with Pappou and Giagia on Skype. And we did.
* Keep to English and Greek Day when DVDs and Children’s Channels were concerned, but also add German Day. Through some practical investigation, we discovered the safe educational channels for children in German and also made an investment in German DVDs. There had to be as wide a selection of German ones as there were English and Greek. And they had to be just as fun and interesting as the rest, so as to make this new addition another productive pleasure.
* We had to invest in German books as soon as possible. We were lucky in that department as our local library often sells perfectly maintained books that they do not need anymore, at prices as cheap as fifty cents or one Swiss franc. We bought a car load upon our arrival. Things started looking and feeling better.
* Schools? Do we send them to an International school that is bilingual and this way we are sure they will not forget but also progress in English? That is what many expats do. But, Eugenia, you and Vicky ARE your children’s English Language Teachers. Do it consistently, even professionally and there is no need to deprive them of the full integration offered through the Swiss Public Schools. Yes, I was convinced that this was the best way. (Besides the book on Multilingualism, I cannot begin to describe to you how well I studied the Canton – our Province – and all its aspects). Maggie is now in the First Class of Primary School as if she were a native speaker and at the proper age. Here I must express our tremendous appreciation towards the educational system and also Maggie’s spectacular teachers. We are forever grateful to them.
* And now the tricky part! What about their Greek? Thomas was still the Greek-speaking parent and we did make several phone calls to Greece. Also, the first two years we all made several trips back and forth to Greece. Our families and us. (This also helped in making the transition to a new country easier for the children.) We had already found out that a large Greek community resides in Zurich and there we found quite a few options for once-a-week Greek language lessons. Another investment, mainly in time and endurance. Now every Monday, Maggie does her Greek homework with our sister Christine via Skype.
But we all took a deep breath, smiled and did it. All of it! And we are still doing it. And sometimes it is so difficult to smile when doing all these things. But at the end of the day, we end up smiling. Even if we are already sleeping deeply from exhaustion when doing so.
We had our general plan set out now. We have made and are still making great investments in time, energy, money. We are sacrificing extra free time and sometimes even depriving ourselves of material things so as to be able to support this very important mission. A mission with two structures:
- To maintain Maggie’s two languages and reinforce her new third language, while simultaneously developing them all.
- To help Nicholas be properly multilingual from scratch. Being even more patient than with Maggie in the language development department. Trying not to forget what was successful with your first child. Trying to maintain a clear head and a lot of will power while raising two children now. But that is Feat No 3.
Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2001). Raising Multilingual Children. Westport, USA: Bergin & Garvey.