Tag Archives: Parenting

Feat No 28: Life issues through language lessons

When choosing a book to read to our students, while sometimes my own children are in these lessons, I choose one that will teach them or make them aware of more than just the English language. Sometimes, the books are intentionally chosen to teach them about life.

And I am absolutely certain that many teachers around the world try to do the same.

This blog post came up because of an incident. A child, like many others as it was discovered, trusted a stranger… online. Whether physically present or online, a stranger is a stranger. Several children had been tricked by a stranger, online, that he was a child himself, and had managed to arrange meetings with them. Thanks to the invaluable efforts of the police, this online stranger was stopped before causing more harm to young lives.

The “Berestein Bears” from “Random House” have an excellent – EXCELLENT – series about life issues for children of all ages.

We read the one entitled “The Berenstein Bears learn about strangers”. I was so content with the impact of this book on our students and our children. I took it a step further at the end of the book by mentioning that strangers are not only the ones we can see but also the ones we cannot see. The ones that ask for a “Friend request” on Facebook, a “Follow request” on Instagram.

I would like to advise parents and guardians to have their children’s accounts private and explain why they should be private. We should also explain to them that it is more than “ok” NOT to have many online “Friends”, numerous online “Likes” and a record number of online “Followers”, as long as the ones we have are not strangers. The book we are reading now is: “The Berenstein Bears : Safe and Sound” because my daughter wanted to play with her scooter without her safety gear.

Thank you.

Eugenia Loras

Ευγενία Λώρα

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Feat No…13?: Not that unlucky after all – We have the Sunshine Award!

Thank you very much Stephen Greene, www.headoftheheard.wordpress.com, for awarding the www.eugenialoras.wordpress.com blog with the Sunshine Award!

The Sunshine Award  is given to those who write positive and inspiring articles and bringing some sunshine into the life of others. The Sunshine blogging award has its own rules and requirements:

– Link back the blog who nominated you.

– Post the award images in your blog.

– Tell seven facts about yourself.

– Nominate 5 to 10 blogs and let them know about it.

I dedicate this award to my children and my family for all their achievements and support! Congratulations to them all!

As a Sunshine Award winner, I am supposed to say seven facts about myself:

1. I am a Thank You person so I would like here to thank you all!

2. I have been preparing and working for my children, Maggie and Nicholas even before they were born. As if I already knew them.

3. Words cannot describe how much I love my work.

4. My favourite colour is purple.

5. My favourite book is “Someday” by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds, Scholastic.

6. I really love autumn and my birthday!

7. Whenever I send my wishes to someone, I truly hope they come true!

And now I am honored with the privilege of awarding the following blogs with the Sunshine Award:

1. www.swissirja.wordpress.com : Sirja Bessero deserves the Sunshine Award because she is the super mother of three children and an excellent English language teacher in Switzerland

2. www.beltabelgiumblog.blogspot.ch: The Belta Blog Team deserves the Sunshine Award because they provide excellent guidance and support not just to teachers in Belgium but all around the world.

3. www.rosebardeltdiary.wordpress.com: Rose Bard deserves the Sunshine Award because she has been wonderfully raising three children and loves teaching English in Santa Catarina.

4. www.ariascarm.wordpress.com : Carmen Arias deserves the Sunshine Award because she teaches English in Spain, while beautifully raising her family.

5. www.rawlangs.com : Alex Rawlings deserves the Sunshine Award because he is an extraordinarily valuable role model for children, parents and teachers.

6. www.vickyloras.wordpress.com : Vicky Loras deserves the Sunshine Award exactly  because she is my sister. Vicky is a very special English Language teacher in Switzerland, she is the Godmother of our children and the best professional partner I could ever ask for.

Thanking you very much,

Eugenia

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Feat No 10: Maggie’s first bilingual school: The Loras English Academy

Today was Clifford Day at our English School. And Maggie was there, too. Just like she always has been these past eight years when she arrived and saved me from myself.

And that is why I love my job:

* Maggie would visit The Loras English Academy. Every day. How happy she was at “Mama’s school”, as she called it.

* And it belonged to her family. Her mom was working there. So were her aunts. Her grandparents brought her there every afternoon.

* The best part was that I also felt happy working in an environment that my child could visit and remained until I would leave. In the evening.

* We were not just together at the same place and at the same time, but I had arranged for Maggie to have short and fun English and Greek lessons there regularly while I was working. Just next door. Perfect. (Many global companies today, have childcare facilities within the companies themselves. The advantages are invaluable for everyone involved.)

* We had even created a playroom for our very young students when we renovated. Thanks to Maggie, many children and there parents became keen on learning English. They wanted to speak and understand English just like Maggie. Our daughter had accidentally become our walking and talking advertisement for these English Playgroups. As we had adopted the One person, One Language method concerning Maggie’s bilingualism, we had managed to draw attention by being among the minority of daily English-speakers in our former city, Ioannina.

The Loras English Academy Playroom

The Loras English Academy Playroom

* At the end of the day, we were both very tired but we always left the school happy and proud.

Too bad Nicholas missed out on all those incredible experiences. …Or did he?

Have no fear, The Loras English Network is here!

Together again at our school with Maggie... and slowly Nicholas will start attending, too

Together again at our school with Maggie… and slowly Nicholas will start attending, too

Feat No 9: The Loras English Academy…the ground-breaker ……and…the heart-breaker

At the age of 17 I had obtained the necessary certificate and license to teach English as a Foreign Language. So I started doing exactly that.

I was mature enough to realize the financial situation of my family and felt the responsibility and duty to help them. To support them. To bravely tell them and show them they can count on me. Completely.

“How many hours are there in a day, Eugenia? Well then, you must work as many as you can handle. As many as you dare.” I dared myself and that was that:

* Private lessons at students homes all over our former residence, Ioannina, in Greece.

* I did not have a car and the means of transportation were not reliable enough to keep a tight schedule in order. So I went to all on foot. Carrying kilos of books in bags in both hands. And sometimes extra equipment like posters and board games on my back. In all weather conditions.

* Teaching at two private English Language Institutes.

* Teaching English at a private Nursery/Kindergarten.

* Doing translations at the end of the teaching day, meaning from 10.00 pm till 2.00 or 3.00am.

* But on which computer? I did not have one. So I provided volunteer work as a secretary at my uncle’s legal office who also happened to be a politician. Very busy. And he had a computer. So I would use that and his printer in return for my services.

And this went on every day – literally – Monday through Sunday. And all day – literally – from 7.00 am to about 2.00 am.

…for better or for worse,
for richer or for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish;
from this day forward,
until death do us part. I was married to my profession.

I was so ambitious, so powerful, so energetic, so passionate with what I was doing and how it was growing that I just could not stop. And I did not.

And I was helping my family. And I was helping my future family. And then I thought of a ground-breaking idea at the age of 23.

“I love private lessons because of their size. They are so productive. But I love the practicality of the Language Schools I teach at as you have all your books, resources, files, printers there…readily available. So why don’t I create a Language School but for private lessons, from one to three people?”

I said that exact phrase to my then fiancé, now husband, while having a rare coffee at one of the several, several though, coffee shops, Ioannina had and still has. Why rare? Because I never ever left a gap in my schedule. I would manage to fill it in with another student. But that day was one of the few that I hadn’t managed to do so. So while I was taking the second sip of that rare coffee, I released my idea loudly in the spring air and Thomas, believing in the potential, grabbed me by the hand and we immediately started searching for a small office. There went my coffee… Me and my big mouth… Me and my wild ideas… (Coffee Time for me had been transformed into something like a curse…while I was working even during the weekends, almost everybody else was enjoying their coffee…right in my face… While I was going back and forth, up and down, here and there. And I managed not to get distracted. At that age. In that lifestyle. I was working for Maggie and Nicholas and I hadn’t even met them. And I was even mocked for this gruesomely hard-working lifestyle. I was deaf and blind to it all).

In the heart of Ioannina, on a very popular and desired street, we found a 40 square-meter office. And I signed. While I was signing I started crying. Like a baby. In front of the owner of the office and the real estate agent. First time for a Scorpio like me to do that in public. “Why are you crying, what is wrong?” said one of the gentlemen. “She is happy and moved”, said Thomas. The truth? The first rent and the deposit was all the money I had in the world.

But I signed.

And innovated. The English Language School with a private tutoring concept did not exist in the books of the Ministries involved. So they made a combination of rules and that was our guideline. That was our innovation.

First year I was alone, pretending not to be sick, or tired. I couldn’t afford to be. Second year, Vicky had completed her studies and joined me. By the way, due to the same financial pressure, Vicky had managed to complete her studies in a record time. Making her own line of sacrifices. We divided the office into two smaller offices and followed the same successful recipe. Work. Hard work. No diversions. No regrets.

We were so busy at some point that new clients would not even come to ask if we had free time. This would become a problem if we had not acted fast. We had to find somebody, beyond our family union, that we could entrust with our clients. Our treasures.

And we signed for the next door office and found our first teacher. And then the next teachers and then the next offices.

And it boomed! Truly Boomed! I can still remember the beautiful rumbling sound our school was making while booming.

More and more students, more and more teachers, more and more ideas, more and more smiles. Boom!

Students were on waiting lists for the next school year. They all wanted to be a part of this. Parents and children. What a pleasure I took with planning the new school year schedule. No matter how stressful it was. For me it meant success.

Teachers were being interviewed; native speakers or Greek English teachers who had studied and lived abroad. Some came, some left, all of whom worked WITH us instead of FOR us. And that, for me, meant success, too. We were a team. A fun one and a professional one. And after all the coming and going we had reached a point where we had formed the perfect team. Lambrini, Helen and Lisa, Chrissie and Melanie, Alexandra and Rea, Jahnavi, Melina and Anastassia…oh, how I thank you all for being a part of my life, a part of my family’s life. Such a special part. Such a huge support.

And of course, the Loras Trio. With Christine, our younger sister starting off as secretary and moving on to teacher, making her own line of sacrifices, as our story goes, we were all head over heels in love with The Loras English Academy. Our lessons would come to an end in the evening and we just would not want to. None of us.

And then there is my family. My precious parents. What efforts they have put into all this cannot be written. What self-sacrificing participation they have made in all this story and history cannot be described. A true family business. My husband with all his support and financial knowledge. His younger sister, Carolina, for being our reliable secretary in times of need. And his elder sister, Sandy for hiring me at her own English Language School at the beginning of my career.

The methodology, the innovation, the teamwork, the sensational atmosphere, the safety and security, the sense of family and love towards everyone involved. It was all there.

So it was time for Maggie. And it was time for Eugenia to become a bit more human and allow time to herself to rest. To breathe. To eat while sitting down. Maggie came to the rescue when she was born.

And her new bilingual school was in the making. Feat No 10.

Next step was to renovate the facilities with even more self-sacrifice but even more passion. We were close to perfect. How smoothly we all worked. Our beautifully the lessons were conducted. Like an excellent choreography. And Maggie’s new bilingual school was ready. Awarded and admired. Loved and enjoyed. Renowned and highly recommended. Our name was our guarantee.

And all this in a handicapped country. Unfortunately, the country that has given so much to this world, is the country that could not contain us.

Our ground-breaking Academy was about to come a heart-breaking finale in Greece. Feat No 11.

The Loras English Academy

The Loras English Academy

Feat No 8: Once upon a time…there were treasures on shelves!

If you have a bookcase at home full of books, then you ultimately have a treasure!

If you place the children’s books on the lower shelves, then they have immediate treasures, too.

Just like they learn how to play with toys, that is how they can learn to read books.

Naturally!

I have been placing books in close access of my children since they were born.

Mags Nick reading

– But they cannot read, Eugenia. What were you thinking?

– They cannot speak when they are babies either, yet we give them toy telephones. They cannot play, catch or kick, yet we buy them soft colourful balls. In the same manner, I strongly felt that easy access to books – soft books initially, then board books and then gradually to paper books – can turn reading into something as natural as playing. And so far with Maggie the results are more than evident. And Nicholas is following. Moreover, having Maggie as his guide he too spends some time flipping through books, looking at pictures, some pages more intensely than others. His eyes see words that he cannot read but it all becomes a familiar sight to him. Just like with Maggie.

It might start off with a thirty-second glance, then become a three-minute action. Further on it becomes a twenty-minute activity and before you know it, books are as loved as toys.

We did exactly the same at our wonderful former English school in Ioannina, Greece; The Loras English Academy. Our vast bookcase was our main attraction and ultimate joy for teachers, parents and students.

Libraries LEA

(The Loras English Academy is a Feat of its own. Sooner or later I will have to write about it… I think I am better now; I am almost ready to do so.)

Some children seemed like they were picking out candies in a candy shop when choosing books. And some others were not as interested but at least once borrowed a book from us. A start must be made somehow.

“Wow, how many books you have!”, said a mother of two children who were our students. “Yes, we are very lucky to have so many and we try to expose the children to them as much as we can. I do the same at home with Maggie. Just place the books close to them and they will come to love them”, I went on enthusiastically as usual. “No, no, it depends on the child. It would be a waste of time and money if I did that with my children”.

And all of sudden… disappointment “fell kerplunk on Eugenia’s head”. And I so wanted to tell her, “Well if you have not tried it, why do you make guesses, to their disadvantage?” But I didn’t. So, I just decided to do my best through the books in our school and at some point, hopefully, the children themselves would ask their parents to also quench their thirst for books.

Encyclopedias – for children and adults, dictionaries – simple, specialized and picture-based, thesauruses, course books, grammar books, readers – fictional and factual, story books, audio and not…we have invested in. Slowly, progressively, we almost had it all.

The more we bought, the happier we got!

My absolute favourites, though, are audio story books. And we have noticed at home but throughout our career that they are the most popular with children. They are so educationally fun that I actually teach a five-year-old boy this year, who wants to go through the full two-hour session we have, sometimes, only with these storybooks.

Both my children are very fond of them too and we have the whole series of some at home. Readily available for them. Tapes, CDs and books. All at hand.

“Come on Nicholas! Let’s listen to storybooks!” says Maggie to her brother just as if doing another playful activity.

My Top 5 Super Recommendations (in order of personal and professional preference):

  1. Express Publishing – Audio Storytime Readers (Stages 1 – 3)
  2. Scholastic – Readers (several series)
  3. Scholastic – Audio Storybooks
  4. Random House – Step into Reading Series (Steps 1 – 5)
  5. Oxford – Start with English Readers (Grades 1 – 6)

And I cannot wait to do something like this again!

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I just cannot wait!

Feat No 7: “I’ m singing in the “… home, morning, classroom, bath, entrance or exit of your school, celebrations, and anywhere else you can teach while having fun!!!

I have always considered myself a “Show Woman” type of teacher, meaning that I am very, correction, extremely enthusiastic and expressive when teaching. I enjoy making the lesson fun along with educative and also encouraging. I like turning something small into a big deal for our students; a huge achievement!

I am like that as a mother, too. I sometimes tend to overdo it, like Ms Frizzle from Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus, literally even dressing up according to the event or activity, but I love doing so.

What has been an essential tool for these in-house and school events are songs: Rhymes, traditional children’s songs, course book songs, songs from educational DVDs, songs from several audio storybooks, even songs from our own childhood.

Both my children and students are proof that songs have helped our lessons grandly throughout the eight years of being a mother and seventeen years of being an English language teacher:

* Our students, who are non-native speakers, have learnt words and phrases unbelievably fast and easily just by singing to these educationally fun rhythms

* Our students, who are native speakers, have realized the exact meaning or articulation of a word while singing

* My children have not just experienced everything above mentioned, but have also expressed an opinion on a song. I will never forget when I was singing the lullaby:

Hush-a-bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks the cradle will fall….

And all of a sudden, four years after listening to this exact lullaby from beginning to end, Maggie, shocked, gets up from her bedtime pose and asks me to change the ending of the song on the spot. That it is not proper to sing the lullaby as it is. So from then on, to this day, …

… In mommy’s arms,

Maggie & Nicholas shall sleep …

is the new ending to that all-time classic. And Nicholas, being three-and-a-half today, has yet to hear Maggie’s forbidden version of the lullaby!

* Our students and my children practised and improved their skills in colours, numbers, letters, pronunciation and so many other topics.

* Under our family roof, this does not just apply to English, but to all three languages the children speak. And yet again, we have invested in providing them with equal language opportunities even in the audio sector.

* Children’ s interest and love in learning a language increases vertically through songs and the younger they are the more frequently you can use them during a lesson. I learnt this very well in my early years of teaching when I was responsible for the English Language at a private Nursery / Kindergarten in Greece for 7 years. They were aged three and a half to five and a half, were learning English as a Second language and were among the most productive projects I have ever done. Educational children’s songs were among my basic and best tools. We had even managed to put on plays including English songs. Some parents had even congratulated us as they felt their children spoke and sang the English performance better than their native language Greek play.

* In order for the songs to produce results, the teachers must have fun too while performing them! While enjoying them. While teaching them. While reenacting them and even reinventing them!

* There is another aspect to songs. Music itself. Being a former dancer (ballet – jazz – tap) I know the majestic essence of classical music. In our former school, The Loras English Academy, we tried something. In the hallways of the school, we would play classical music at a very low volume during lesson time. Teachers, students and parents gave us nothing but excellent feedback. During the breaks we would pause it.

* This is also applied at our home just before bedtime. After having studied two books on young children and pleasant sleep solutions (New Toddler Taming, by Dr Christopher Green and The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley) and doing my best to adjust all this information to our family’s schedule and personality, we listen to classical music before the children fall asleep; at a very low volume. This even helps us parents calm down so as not to transmit any of our hyperactivity or stress on to our children.

* Music and songs have been used by us as English teachers with older students as well. Productivity in the classroom at its best, as excellently described by Vicky Loras through her blog post Born in The USA. Carefully selected lyrics from popular contemporary adult songs offer several teaching and learning opportunities.

I am very happy that I even remember songs I learned at school in Canada when I was a child. I sing them to both Maggie and Nicholas and they love them a lot. Not just as songs but also because they find it amazing that Mom used to be a child, too!

And while we listen to classical music, bedtime would not be complete without a story book!

Feat No 8 will take you to Story Land, books and all their wonders… in – house and at school!

Loras Academy 2(1)

Maggie singing at The Loras English Academy Summer Celebration 2007

References:

Green, C. (2006). New Toddler Taming. London, UK: Vermilion.

Pantley, E. (2005). The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers. USA: McGraw-Hill.

Feat No 6: From the Past to the Present and a step into the Future; Sibling Language Code

As our family is today, German is the language that has strong allies on its side: the German-speaking environment and the professional consistency of school. To add to that, Maggie’s friends are mainly German-speaking. And the cherry on top is the fact that Maggie is not only enjoying and prospering in this educational system but has also obtained great confidence with her German language development. So she uses it. Proudly. Daily.

And as Nicholas grows older they might even change their preferred language of communication, from English to German.

This is something that we noticed had happened to us, the Loras sisters.

Growing up in Canada we communicated with each other in English. Then moving to Greece, we preferred Greek as teenagers. Becoming adults and working in our own English school all day with other English teachers, we returned to our initial English-speaking family code. Now, in Switzerland, English is used as strongly as if we were in Canada by Vicky and myself. But we communicate in Greek with our younger sister, Christine who still lives in Greece. She, too, being an English teacher, though!

What I have noticed is that:

* Maggie has always used English when playing alone; recently, at a lower percentage but it has made its bold occurrence, sometimes plays alone in German, as well.

* Nicholas plays alone in English only for the time being.

* Together they play only in English.

* They have never played together in Greek.

* Maggie has never played alone in Greek.

* However, both she and Nicholas have no problem playing in Greek if a Greek speaking person is involved like their father, their giagia, my younger sister or anyone else when we visit Greece.

* While speaking in Greek or German specifically, Maggie may encounter unknown words. I have noticed that English is her main language foundation and based on that she learns the Greek or German equivalent.

* They can both sing songs in all three languages but also in unknown to them languages with great ease… A few days ago, Maggie taught Nicholas the chorus of a song and then they both sang it to me and for me:

” Mamacita mamacita buena…” . I am still laughing!

Speaking of songs, for children though, Feat No 7 will disclose why I consider them miracle makers when teaching the English language, or any language for that matter. Both to our children and our students.

Thank you and feel free to enjoy the song.

The Loras sisters in Canada

The Loras trio in Canada

Feat No 5: So far English is at a winning distance from Greek and German…but will it endure?

Maggie and Nicholas communicate with each other in English. This alone is a victory for this language compared to Greek and German as it is the preferred language of our children.

It is literally their mother tongue. And I have been trying to spend as much time with them as possible since they were each born. We also have a whole school of resources for them and they are being used by their mother and their aunt who are actually real English language teachers.

So the English language has been strongly active in our home both naturally and professionally.

While Nicholas is still at preschool age, this method is working as beautifully for him as it has for Maggie. However, Maggie is growing…physically and mentally. How do we maintain such a successful development of the English language from now on when her questions, activities and dialogues are becoming more mature?

This is most probably the right time to actually place Maggie in a group at our own language school. Along with other children of the same age whose native language is English, following a structured curriculum throughout the school year will be exactly the right way to stabilize, build and then excellently materialize the development of her English language.

Even if The Loras English Network did not exist, we would have to find a solution similar to this.

Being an English teacher in our own home has been successful so far but if I attempt to raise the standards of our in-house education, we both sometimes end up behaving…as if we were at home; because that is where we exactly are.

Put the mother in a classroom and the child in a group and the behavioural pattern changes quite a bit. As Maggie and I have been in this situation several times in the past, we are confident it will work. In this new picture, Eugenia is concentrating on the actual lesson and not emptying the dishwasher while spelling out a word to Maggie, who in turn is concentrating on the lesson and not trying to keep her sock on her foot while Nicholas is under the table trying to pull it off. Fun moments, but they cannot last forever.

And while Maggie and Nicholas are arguing over the sock in English, a Feat from our own past will make us wonder if they will continue using this language as their Sibling Code. To be continued in Feat No 6.

Time for us to take it to the classroom, too!

Time for us to take it to the classroom, as well!

Feta…sorry, Feat No 4: Maggie’s Greek School Project; The end? Or a new beginning?

Year One went by very well for Maggie and her first year in Greek School. Here I must mention that according to the Greek educational system, children attend the 1st class of primary school at the age of six. That is why Maggie was in the 1st class of Greek school while she was in Kindergarten of Swiss school.

Maggie could handle the workload and had a wonderful and experienced Greek teacher. She had even managed to create a very nice friendship with two girls in her class, even though they met just once a week.

However, Saturdays were like weekdays for Maggie:

She had to wake up very early so as to catch the train from Zug to Zurich. She continued to like Greek School.

We would then have to take two short tram rides before eventually reaching a Swiss Public school that is being used by the Greek community of Zurich for these lessons. She still liked it.

The lessons started at 9.00 am and ended at 12.30 pm, with two breaks for snacks and playtime.

After the lessons it was really time for lunch; Maggie was so hungry when it was pick-up time that we would always have lunch in Zurich and then catch the train back to Zug. No complaints.

She was tired and admitted to being so, but was still a fan of Greek School.

In other words, Maggie’s weekends were always short. They included just Sunday and that day was mainly used by her body and brain to recover from the exhausting full week she had had.

We had also found a very pleasant way of doing her Greek homework. She would do it – and still does it – with the great help of my younger sister, Christine, in Greece via Skype. This took a big burden off of her as she would finish her homework effortlessly.

This school year, however, is a different story.

Last year started catching up on Maggie …and along with it, all the exhaustion, too.

She is in the 2nd Class, year-wise but still in the 1st Class, book-wise. It is not possible to complete the curricula of a full school year only through Saturday lessons. Of course, this was never an issue for us. What is important and we have discussed this with Maggie as well, is to maintain and learn the Greek language as best she can. No deadlines, no pressure.

The homework at Greek school became much more. At the same time, Swiss school required homework on behalf of Maggie this year, too.

The problem was not only the quantity but also the quality of the homework in each school. Maggie realized this difference early enough to start expressing dissatisfaction with Greek School. The Swiss educational system, in some ways reminding us of the Canadian educational system does not involve heavy copying of letters, words and phrases. It does not involve learning off by heart. It does not involve doing light work at school and the heavy work at home. It is actually the opposite.

So two factors alone led Maggie to start crying before the first lesson of Greek School right after Christmas. Exhaustion from the whole Greek School excursion and Disagreement with the learning techniques. And she was absolutely right. We had to listen to her.

The Christmas holidays were almost over. Maggie had already successfully completed her homework for the upcoming lesson; again with the invaluable help and accompaniment of her dear aunt Christine. She loved her Greek School teacher and she loved her two friends there. She even got a surprise every Saturday for all her efforts and achievement. She was an excellent student at Greek School. And she was proud of that …but she started crying. A lot! Just two days before we started again.

We had to find a solution for her. One that she agreed with, that she was happy with, that would allow her to maintain this beautiful language she had already acquired.

And we tried out a private Greek School, again in Zurich. So far, that is the closest available city with such provisions. But this School has lessons for just one and a half hours every Saturday and the homework is much more interesting and lighter. We do not have to wake up so early either. Maggie can enjoy her Saturday morning sleep that is so important and go to Greek school after lunch … Just for a while this time. Additionally, the format of the lesson and the homework are more like that of her German and English lessons which she so much enjoys.

English Lessons? Feat No 5 will fill you in on that!

Maggie loves her new Greek School so much now that she not only goes – and leaves – happily but she also does extra Greek activity books that we have a whole shelf of here at home. With her own initiative! With great pleasure!

She now enjoys her longer weekend and we are happy to see her do so while still learning the Greek language. She is actually learning more this way.

Maggie’s sigh of relief was a sigh of relief for us as well. And at the same time, another deep breath, as this new private school involves extra monthly financing on our family’s behalf. We have explained this, too, to Maggie and she voluntarily asked to give up her Saturday surprises. Just for proposing that … we maintained her Saturday surprises.

2015 addition to this blog post: Please feel free to read Feat No 15 on how we have now set up our very own Greek Language Workshops here is Zug, for our own children and anyone else interested!

“…this is the way we go to Greek School, so early on Saturday morning…”

Feat No 3: Multilingual Nicholas…with an extra teacher this time; Maggie

Our loud little Hercules, Nicholas, is almost three and half years old. Today and for the past two weeks, he has made great progress in his speech and we are very happy to be able to communicate with him.

It took him half a year longer than Maggie.

Nicholas started his first couple of months bilingually, using the method we had used for Maggie. Each of us had a specific language in which we communicated with the children. Kind reminder: we were still in Greece then, where we had the luxury of our families’ population and diversity and Feat No 1 was applicable even to Nicholas.

Upon arrival in Switzerland, Feat No 2 focused on Maggie. But a Feat No 3 had to be initiated for Nicholas. If we were a factory, things would have been much easier. You repeat everything in exactly the same way. But we are not a factory. We are a family. And we do not just have two children. We have Maggie and Nicholas.

Why was a different Feat to be accomplished? And what was posing an obstacle? Or what was making things easier? What was forgotten? What had changed?

* Nicholas being multilingual almost since birth. He had not yet spoken in any language when introduced to German.

* Not much exposure to German as he was an infant and was not attending school like Maggie was. He was included in German Day for DVDs and children’s programmes and he even got a taste of this, new to us all, language when Maggie had playdates. Once a week, we would invite a child from school that Maggie had chosen to play with at our home. This helped her socialize and increase her contact with German. Nicholas would benefit from this, too.

* Not much exposure to Greek either, though. Thomas was and still is the Greek-speaking parent, but when we first arrived to Zug, he worked long hours. His absence, besides other things, decreased the children’s exposure to Greek. Maggie was at an age that she could attend Greek school, however. Nicholas was not! Again Greek Day existed consistently and the phone calls and visits to and from Greece somewhat helped him grandly, we later on discovered.

* Nicholas has an older sister who knows these languages. Maggie is his teacher. His best teacher. Their main language of communication has been English from the start. This is the language – so far – that Maggie has chosen to communicate with Nicholas. (P.S. Maggie has taught him a whole lot more than just languages.)

* My patience and endurance had to work overtime. I was much more tired than when we just had Maggie. I had more things to do in the same 24-hour adventure as there were two human beings I was responsible for. And when I mentioned “strongly vocal” and “loud” to describe Nicholas, I was not joking. And neither was he. When his toddlerdom reached the age of two, he was as persistent and insistent as the-toddler-next-door, but distinctly LOUD! CAN YOU HEAR HOW LOUD HE WAS? SO LOUD that when he insisted on seeing yesterday’s dvd (which was in a specific language) the following day (which was intended for another language) … I gave in. I could not but give in. It requires great strength and effort to find a pleasant way to turn things around and sometimes I just could not do it. So I would allow Nicholas to watch the DVD of his preference in his bedroom for a few days but I would follow the proper language scheme with Maggie. And then gratefully, conscientious Eugenia would scold defeated Eugenia and make her get her act together. I made sure I slept well, had some nice cups of coffee, got into my best, most pleasant mood and almost magically put Nicholas’ language days on track again. It was not Nicholas’ fault for being a toddler but it was definitely my fault for behaving like one.

* Then Nicholas was two and a half and said just a few words in English and even fewer in Greek. However, he understood both languages very well and also some German when spoken to by adults and children of our new environment. German really had to start becoming a properly proportioned part of his life. Beyond that, it would do all of us good if Nicholas started socializing with more children, other adults and in a different environment besides our home. That is why we decided to sign him up for a morning preschool three or four times a week. Great idea. Oops! What had I forgotten? That Maggie was fully integrated in a German-speaking school. And that it was the best move. And what does Eugenia go ahead and do? I sign Nicholas up for a private bilingual (German/English) programme. Here, my educational experience saved the day. In less than six days, besides the language issue, I put together some pieces of this specific preschool educational system puzzle and discovered…that there were many pieces missing in what they were doing. We immediately removed Nicholas from those facilities, paying dearly for this decision, literally in Swiss francs, but for the benefit of Nicholas. And along with changing preschool we had the super chance to rectify and also change language strategy. We signed him up for a monolingual Swiss preschool to receive the immersion necessary for his language development.

This was the kick-off for his intense and rapid progress! Maggie was Nicholas’ interpreter. Only she could fully understand him. When Maggie was not around and I had to understand what Nicholas was saying we both really tried. Hard! He would repeat and repeat his sentence until he was absolutely sure I understood every single thing he had said. There were times that after a few attempts I still could not but would fake it and reply: Ok Nicholas! But he knew; and insisted and then I really had to try.

But then, when sometimes even his trusty Maggie would not be able to understand him, he realized that he had to say it right. He was growing and so were his thoughts. It was as if he made a deal with himself and decided to really make a statement. Not with volume increases. Not with gestures. Not with his right-hand-man (sister, in this case), Maggie. But in his own words.

Every day and every week, he made a bigger and bigger statement. And in the proper language to each person. And even started singing German songs he learnt at preschool. He started being eloquent half a year later than Maggie but is using the same beautiful expressions and special vocabulary as Maggie. What a teacher she is!

Here we must also congratulate and thank his preschool teacher who is so talented and pleasant that when we go to pick Nicholas up, the Hercules in him comes out. He physically attempts not to be taken home from school and gravity is as real as can be when trying to lift him up.

Another special thank you is awarded to Maggie and Nicholas’ caregiver at home when mom and dad are on the go. She is a really wonderful, patient and loving young lady studying to be a primary school teacher. We are sure she will be a great one. She patiently tried to understand what Nicholas was saying, even in times when his speech was like a paintbrush dipped in too many colours.

And a huge thank you to the English-speaking Grandpa, my father, who helped us last year for six whole months. He contributed not only to Nicholas’ language development but taught him how to take care of himself, be tidy …oh, and strong!

In the meantime, Maggie was really starting to get tired… Tired of Greek. But that is Feat No 4.

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Maggie and Nicholas Feat…ing in 2013

Feat No 2: Bilingual Maggie turns Multilingual and then there’s Nicholas…Multilingual from scratch

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:

  1. To maintain Maggie’s two languages and reinforce her new third language, while simultaneously developing them all.
  2. 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.

Thank you.

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Maggie, four and a half years old and Nicholas, a newborn

References:

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2001). Raising Multilingual Children. Westport, USA: Bergin & Garvey.

Feat No 1: Bilingual Maggie… and how it worked

On March 15, 2005 Maggie was born. Not just my first child, but my very first full-time student.

During my seventeen years of teaching, I have been fully or partially responsible for teaching English as a foreign language to over 2,500 students – from 2 years of age to their parents’ age.
Therefore, bilingualism should not have been such a stressful issue for me. Up until then, I could teach English to any age and any level with great joy, but great confidence as well. And I was honoured by being considered a role model in many cases by several young students who have made us very proud upon becoming adults. I will take this opportunity to thank each and every child and teenager that made our lives so special. We thank you!

What was different in this case was the fact that I was going to be a Parent And Language Teacher all at the same time. I was worried that it would be too great a challenge to deal with properly. The book that I studied intensely and provided me with the professional and experienced guidance needed for such a productive task, is Growing up with two languages, written by Una Cunningham-Andersson and Staffan Andersson. Both professional teachers and with four children of their own. And in this, I trusted.

So we raised bilingual Maggie based on this book and our humble instincts. And it worked perfectly. After several and severe readings and revisions, choosing the ways that best suit our personalities and our family, adjusting and adapting these tips to our family environment, Maggie had none of the problems I feared or guessed she would have.

We chose the One person, One language Method. I spoke to her in English and my husband, Thomas, spoke to her in Greek. We remained consistent to this plan from day one. Our families, too, being very cooperative, became part of this consistency plan. My sister, Vicky, spoke to her in English and my younger sister, Christine, in Greek. My father became the English-speaking Grandpa and my mother, the Greek-speaking giagia (1). My husband’s family enthusiastically became part of the Big Plan, too. His father was the Greek-speaking pappou (2) and as for Thomas’ sisters…his eldest sister, being an English Language teacher herself, spoke to her naturally in English and his younger sister, Caroline, in Greek. We were very lucky to have such a supportive team on our side. We were very lucky to have family members who trusted in our choices of raising Maggie. That played an extremely important and decisive role, too.

Beyond the speaking, there are other skills in language learning that needed to be treated in the same consistent manner.
*Our library became as rich in English books as it is in Greek books.
*Our collections of CDs with songs and stories are fairly divided language-wise.
*Her Teachers/Babysitters, Jahnavi and Elpida were each responsible for one language and we are very grateful to them both for being with Maggie in her early years. While mom was just next door having lessons with her own students in English, Maggie was in The Loras English Academy playroom, playing and learning in each teacher’s native language.
* My opinion of television is quite conservative and to some extent, strict. I really do not trust what might come up next on the screen. That is why we usually have two time zones during the day of extremely carefully chosen children’s channels and educational DVDs. And what scheme did we have to follow for this? English Day, to watch English language programmes and Greek Day, for the second language entertainment; these days alternating one after the other.

Consistently. Year after year. So productively. So smoothly.

Even the small issues that might come up and stress a parent… I had been prepared for by this excellent book.
When Maggie was 2, she was not saying as much as her monolingual (in Greek) peers. The other children were talking to us in paragraphs and Maggie was just saying words and short phrases. And patiently we waited and at the age of about 3, she not only spoke eloquently in both languages but knew in which language she was spoken to and answered in that same language. With beautiful expressions and even special vocabulary, Maggie just progressed and progressed.

Another issue I was warned about through this treasure of a book was that we parents should not feel embarrassed using the language our role requires. We were living in Ioannina, Greece at the time and I had to speak to Maggie in English wherever we were, whomever we were with. Even if I was considered a snob, or a show-off or a real piece of work for our society, I remained loyal to this role.
PLAYTIME with the word CHILD: Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me, we used to say when we were children. So there was no way I was going to be childish and shy about the way I was raising my child, because of other people’s childish behaviour towards us. My child is more important than that.
And then Maggie turned four and a half. We were going to move to Switzerland. Specifically, Zug; a German-speaking Canton. Along with newly-born, Nicholas…
Feat No 2!

Congratulations and a huge thank you to Una Cunningham-Andersson, Senior Lecturer in English language and linguistics at Dalarna, University in Falun, Sweden and Staffan Andersson, Teacher of Computing. Both authors of the book Growing up with two languages and parents of four children.

And a Huge Thank You to our family and friends who supported us throughout Feat No 1 and trusted us in Feat No 2.

Thank you.

Maggie, two and a half years old

Maggie, two and a half years old

Notes:
1. giagia = the Greek word for grandmother
2. pappou(s) = the Greek word for grandfather

References:
Cunningham-Andersson. U., & Andersson, S. (2005). Growing up with two languages. A practical guide. Great Britain.