When we decided to make a long-term move to the Netherlands, one of the things we had to think about was what to do for the kids’ education. Our family default has historically been homeschooling, and we’ve had a rocking good time all over the world doing that. I can’t take credit for the thoughtful, well-read, interesting, articulate people my children are; they have largely accomplished that on their own. But I like to think I’ve put the fewest possible barriers in their way. I’ve tried not to dampen any of their natural passion for learning, and they’ve spent many hours at the library, and many more outside, catching frogs, swimming at the beach, climbing trees, and playing in the dirt.
Last night we had the good fortune to be invited to dinner by Estela, a friend of ours who is Filipina. There was a Filipino restaurant we used to eat at occasionally in Utah, but it’s been a long time since we had real Filipino food. Estela is an amazing cook, and she prepared several classic Filipino dishes for us. We started out with two kinds of lumpia, or egg rolls. The first ones were “fresh” (i.e. unfried) lumpia, which are like a very thin, light crepe wrapped around julienne carrots, palm hearts, and curly lettuce.
I keep starting more books, and can’t seem to finish many of them. But here are a few reviews to start off the year:
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Having done a very similar thing myself, I enjoyed reading Jennifer Wilson’s account of how she took her family to the Czech Republic in search of her ancestors. I loved all the little details of their acceptance into her ancestral village, and how she and her suburban American family learned a different way of living and seeing the world. However, the book lacked a certain internal consistency and completeness. At times, Wilson simply rambled. And she kept bringing up interesting themes and then dropping them without warning, never to be revisited. The concluding chapters read a little insincerely, almost as if she’d written them before she ever went, and been planning to write the book all along.
Foreign language is pretty important to our family, because we love to travel and learn about other cultures. So I am always thinking of new ways to help my children (and myself) learn and retain languages better. One of the most visited pages on this blog is my ten tips on teaching children a foreign language.
Our most important focus language right now is Italian. Tony and I are fairly conversant. We keep it up by listening to Italian pop music all day long. The children have had quite a bit of exposure too. They are a little shy about speaking, but their passive vocabulary is pretty good. But somehow, this term I had a really hard time coming up with a good daily foreign language program for them.
A strange and mysterious script has been discovered on white boards and documents throughout this house. So far, the cryptic writing has not been deciphered. However, yesterday I received a clue as to its origins. In fact, I witnessed a shadowy character actually writing in what I now have cause to believe may be a metamorphosed dialect of Orkin, my children’s invented private language. Figure 1 (see above) is my subsequent secret photograph of the writing in question.
If you have ever lived in a country covered in Arabic graffiti, you might initially come to the same conclusion I did: Orkin must be a derivative of Arabic. (Disregard the large lettering of “SUN,” which consists not in Russian characters, but only slightly dyslexic English, meant to throw us off the scent.) However, here the intrinsic subtlety of the Orkin mind comes into play. Phonologically, Orkin still sounds much as it did when we lived in northern Italy. Not so much as an asphyxiating Arabic consonant or a nasal French vowel has invaded its pure Italian tones. It appears that the devious originators of this enigmatic tongue have simply emulated the Persians and Turks, adapting the Arabic characters to fit their own unrelated language.
Someone wrote me this week asking how I teach my children Italian. Even before we moved abroad, I had given this question a lot of thought. Our Casteluzzo Academy curriculum (at our homeschool), includes some very ambitious language goals. But what really matters with language study for children are the little everyday details. Here are 10 tips on how to make the most of language learning whether your children are seventeen months or seventeen years old.
1. Start right away. It is never to early to learn a foreign language. My children are three and five, and we’ve been exposing them to foreign languages since birth. But it’s never too late to start. Many people (myself included) have learned multiple languages as adults. Whatever age you are, there is no reason to wait. Start now, even if all you do is watch a cartoon together in your target language. Most DVD’s have a language menu with at least a couple of language options, including subtitles.
Once while out on an evening walk, Tony and I decided to cut through the cobblestone stillness of our little town square. At that time of day, with the bells striking and mists curling up around the church tower, the town resembles nothing more than an Italian Brigadoon, about to disappear again into a hundred-year enchantment. However, on this particular evening it just so happened that the entire square was full of chairs, and a stage had been erected on one end. A local acting troupe was performing a play to the rapt attention of what must have been half our little village. Never ones to pass up an impromptu cultural occasion, we decided to stick around for a while and test out our budding Italian skills. Much to our dismay, after ten minutes of listening intently, we had failed to distinguish even one recognizable word. Finally, we gave up and returned home, thoroughly deflated. Was our Italian really as bad as all that?
Sorry you didn’t hear from me yesterday. But I have a good excuse. We came home from Church at mid-day, opened our front door, and were nearly bowled over by the heavy scent of gasoline emanating from our apartment. I took a deep gulp of fresh outside air and dashed heroically into the house to see if I had left the gas stove on. I hadn’t, and we don’t really have any other ways to leak gas into our house. So we went upstairs to talk to our landlord. He was not at home, but when his wife phoned him, he confessed that he had indeed spilled gasoline that morning as he was filling up his car in the garage. Not only does our apartment share a wall with said garage, but it also has a row of six lovely frosted windows looking into it, which are not exactly hermetically sealed. To top it all off, our internet cable comes in through a rather large hole drilled into one of those window-frames.
I like to read treatises and how-to books on education. But I also enjoy distilling educational theory out of books that have nothing to do with education. It fascinates me, for instance, to hear the Mock Turtle’s summation of the subjects offered at his school: Reeling and Writhing, Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision, Mystery (ancient and modern) with Seaography, Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils, Laughing and Grief, as well as Dancing the Lobster Quadrille. That’s Lewis Carroll’s whimsical but accurate summation of the typical education of his day (for boys. You’ll notice that in the same chapter Alice carefully mentions her French, but earlier as she tries to think how to address a mouse in The Pool of Tears, she can remember the vocative only from her brother’s Latin Grammar).