Friday, March 09, 2007

Lingo Limbo

It seems I have lifted the floodgate on the subject of children; it is now mighty difficult to stop.

Comment leaver SFO would like to know if I have closeted a crate of Vegemite here in BA. Unlike Skippy peanut butter, Vegemite (Australian) and Marmite (British) are truly acquired tastes.

Both dark brown spreads are made of yeast extracts and stink of the fifth sense of Umami (a taste most commonly associated with mushrooms). They are an excellent source of Vitamin B complex. Since adequate intake of folate is vital for women, I have brought a small jar to BA which I dip into frequently. However, that was true until yesterday.

In a matter of 24 hours, as our dear Melbournian friends head home after an 18-month sojourn in BA, I have inherited 2 more jars of our national symbol plus all sorts of exotic herbs and spices. This is me set for the next 18 months; I'm also hoping to introduce Vegemite on toast to our child as soon as it is feasible since Vegemite packs a real punch in nutrients.

No slight to the national symbol of Argentina intended but between Dulce de leche and Vegemite, I'd have no choice but to go with the one which delivers much more to my child than empty calories and tooth decay. If our child grows up to be more Australian than Argentine in tastes then so be it.

Speaking of bringing up Austral-Argentine children, the question of language is inevitable. It can be an emotive issue, not limited to the parents, as I found out soon after Guillermo and I got married. Over a family asado almost 2 years ago, Guillermo and I casually brought up our plan to speak in English, at home, to our children in the future.

My father-in-law looked glum and mournful but kept very quiet on the language issue as those were the days when he was still getting over the shock and embarrassment of my deep disapproval of him feeding coca-cola to his youngest grand-daughter of just 1 year. On the other hand, Guillermo's young sister who has two sons was obviously agitated and affronted by our plan and made sure we were aware of her sentiment. (note: none of Guillermo's six nieces and nephews attend bi-lingual schools; instead, they have "lenguas vivas" classes at school)

In those early days, we had not entertained the possibility of returning to Sydney permanently. Therefore, our children's main language would inevitably be Spanish as we would be living in a Spanish speaking country. I was surprised that La Familia had neither that space in their hearts nor minds to recognise our children would be different from their cousins as they are going to be products of a bi-cultural and multi-lingual union between Guillermo and I.

Fast forward 2 years to the present, depending on where we are going to settle permanently, our idea has modified slightly. If we are to continue living in BA, we will create an English speaking environment at home where our children would learn from listening to dialogues between two English speaking adults. Our bi-lingual domestic goddess would speak to them in whichever language she prefers.

We feel an exposure to dialogues aid a child's learning much more than just being exposed to one parent speaking the language especially if the language is the minority's language (in this case, English in a Spanish speaking country).

We anticipate that our children would most probably start to speak in full sentences later than mono-lingual children but we have seen loads of precedence when bi-lingual children (since birth, not schooling at bilingüe kinders) fully grasp both languages at about 3-3.5 years of age, they would have native command of both languages and can switch between them with ease.

Tools that would help parents in similar situation are story books and audio-visual educational toys and entertainment in the minority language. Having friends of the parents' and eventually their own who speak in the minority language would be of great help.

For those living in Capital Federal, I am aware that a couple of ladies from the U.S. run an English playgroup mainly for expat children. Both ladies are qualified teachers from the U.S. and one of them, Beth Dany, taught at the expat dominated Lincoln in La Lucila.

If we decide to move to Sydney before the children enter pre-school (age 5), our plan is then to have Guillermo speak to them in Spanish while I speak in English before the move and we speak in Spanish at home after the move.

However, this plan is subject to how much Spanish I would remember once I'm out of Argentina. In addition, we would probably decide differently once we settle in Sydney as the opportunity to learn Mandarin and Cantonese from qualified teachers (as opposed to someone who is just a native speaker, like myself and many language teachers here) arises.

Well, a little complication to add to the already complicated responsibility of raising children but such is the joy and trepidation of multi-lingual parenthood!

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