Very Inspiring Blogger Award

very-inspiring-blogger-award

I was surprised and excited when I found out I had been nominated for the ‘Very Inspiring Blogger Award’ by bilinguazo at Bilingual Eyes, a bilingual mum in Texas trying to keep Spanish alive for her little ones.  What a great idea – it’s given me a boost (cheers bilinguazo) as well as lots more blogs to discover!

It’s now my turn pay it forward and nominate 10 other blogs and give you 7 fascinating facts about myself.  I’ve decided to break my list down by topic.

 

Bilingualism, language learning etc:

Trilingual Mama - I’ve always got something to learn from this latina mum of 4 living near Paris.

My Little Spanish Notebook – I love this blog for discovering new Spanish words and also hearing about what it’s like bringing up a family as an English mum in Spain.

The bilingual experiment – Impressed by this mum’s determination to learn French alongside her baby daughter.

Spanglish Baby – Great resources and an informative book – Bilingual Is Better (of course!)

MommyMaestra – Another great site for Spanish resources for kids

 

Toddler activities, Montessori etc:

The Imagination Tree – Full of excellent, practical ideas to keep the little ones busy.

How We Montessori – Beautiful blog … I want your life!

Natural Beach Living - Also full of beautiful, creative ideas.

Todder Approved – lots of fun for toddlers here.

Frugal Fun for Boys – seriously impressed by this mama, who seems to be able to look after 4 boys, a newborn baby girl and still find time to blog!

 

Seven things about me:

Vegetarian; Atheist; Sun-worshipper (yes, I am aware I live in the UK): Travel addict: once again a Student (DipTrans professional translation qualification); Non tea drinker (I know, prerequisite for being English… but there’s always one); Nursing mum (yes still).

So now you know a bit more about me….and hopefully I haven’t scared you away.  I am new to both the world of blogging and to bilingual parenting so I have much to learn.  Bring it on!

 

If you have been nominated, please keep it going as well.

1. Thank and link the amazing person who nominated you.

2. List the rules and display the award.

3. Share seven facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 10 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.

5. Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

 

Warning: toddler in transit!

As S approaches his second birthday we decided to bite the bullet and book a long awaited trip to visit family in Mexico. S’s grandparents haven’t held him since he was seven weeks old and he’s never met his Mexican aunties and extended family (except for on Skype).  We’ve been putting off this inevitable journey for months.  S has never been a good sleeper and we’re only just now getting into a better routine; as well as the well known nightmare of screaming babies on planes, we were afraid that all the unfamiliar surroundings and jet lag would put us back to square one with sleep problems.  However, once S turns two the flight costs will increase substantially so it seemed like the best time to visit.  It also helps that in August there will be a large group of extended family meeting in Puerta Vallarta (a famous beach resort about four hours from Guadalajara).

We now have less than a fortnight before we experience the dreaded long haul flight with a toddler!  We have decided to break the journey in Houston, where L’s youngest sister lives with her new husband (who we’ve also never met).  This will hopefully make the outbound journey a little less painful, although it will be still involve over 18 hours of travel time door to door.  We fly direct from Houston to Puerta Vallarta a few days later, and after a week at the beach, we’ll head by road to Guadalajara for a couple of weeks before the return flight to London.

In preparation for hours and hours of flight time I have been doing some research and getting together some toys and activities.  S is a very active little boy.  Even as a tiny baby, where others fell asleep with the movement of the car, he always hated the car seat and wanted out!  Imagine an hour of screaming when you are stuck in traffic on the M25 three hours into a four journey – can you see why a 24 hour long transatlantic journey didn’t appeal!  Luckily he’s now much better with short car journeys but it’s hard to keep him occupied sitting still for several hours in a row   At least in the plane we should be able to walk up and down the aisle a bit!

in flight activitiesHere is a selection of the activities and toys we are planning to take for the journey.  I’ve been scouring the internet for tips and hint and found a recommendation to wrap everything up individually  – it makes it more exciting… and it makes the activity last that little bit longer.  Here is a list of what we are planning on taking so far – if you have any other suggestions it would be great to hear from you.

After the trip, I’ll come back and update you on how the flights went and feedback on which activities and toys were the most popular and effective!  

Language delay and temporary hearing loss

As S approaches his second birthday his language development has been progressing more slowly than the norm.  Around 18 months he began to use a lot of gestures; his spoken language emerged slowly at around 20 months, his first word being agua, followed shortly by mama.  How exciting!  I was sure an explosion in his language skills was just around the corner as many people had suggested.  However only a week or so after these ‘first words’ he just stopped using them!  His current vocabulary at 22 months is still mainly based around noises, rather than words.   As well as animal noises, it has slowly built to include: uh oh, cucu, alli, nnnnnn (no), an eurrrgh sound for something dirty, and an amazing woooow sound for something exciting.  During this time we have seen a noticeable improvement in his level of comprehension, combined with the quick acquisition of new signs and gestures.

Hearing loss is one of the main causes of language delay in toddlers; and glue ear, which leads to temporary hearing loss, is particularly common in Bristol.  Glue ear is a condition where fluid builds up in the ear and muffles the sound you can hear.  It is said to be like listening to the world underwater.  Glue ear can cause speech and language problems in small children as they are unable to identify speech sounds correctly.  Although we have always felt S responds well to noises, turns when someone calls his name and has a good understanding (of Spanish at least), we thought it was best to get any hearing problems ruled out.

under water

A diagnosis of temporary hearing loss

We now know that S has suffered over a period of time from some degree of hearing loss due to congestion in the ears, also known as glue ear.  We can’t be sure how long his hearing was affected, but when we visited the Children’s Hearing Centre in May they observed slight hearing loss at low volumes at both high and low frequencies. This may have been the case since the winter, when the condition is most prevalent. Luckily, at his appointment this morning, the congestion had cleared and he was hearing well across the spectrum. Hopefully he will have no further hearing problems, although the audiologists have told us to watch out as it is a condition that comes and goes.

How to help language development following hearing loss.

Knowing that S has experienced some level of hearing loss, albeit slight and temporary, has made us even more aware of the need to provide him opportunities for language and speech development.  We were, however, unsure about how to go about this. What should we be doing or avoiding? Would speech therapy help him or will he just catch up given time?

Unfortunately, because he is communicating using gestures and sounds, he is not eligible until his second birthday to be added to the waiting list for for NHS speech and language therapy.  In the meantime we decided to explore options for private assessment and therapy sessions, including meeting a Spanish-speaking speech therapist.  In the end we have decided to watch and wait for the time being.  We are scheduled to have a visit from the health visitor in September for S’s two year health and development check.  If he is not meeting language milestones at this point they will refer us to NHS speech and language therapy.

In the meantime we have been in touch with an organisation called I CAN, The Children’s Communication Charity, who sent us some helpful tips and resources.  They were really encouraging about using Spanish at home, ‘It’s great to hear that you are raising your son to be bilingual. This will be a very good skill for him to acquire and you should continue to speak both languages regardless.’  They also send a link to this helpful factsheet on bilingualism and language development.

It would be interesting to hear about any other bilingual families who have had a slow start to language acquisition due to temporary hearing loss.  How long did it take your toddler to catch up? Did you access speech and language therapy?  What kind of exercises do they suggest?  I would love to hear your about your experiences.

The signs and sounds of todderhood

S (nearly 22 months) is becoming quite a proficient communicator, now regularly using over 70 signs, along with sounds (like animals, train etc) and a few words.  The introduction of signs has really expanded the range of things he can tell us about and has significantly reduced his frustration.

As well as using individual signs he now combines words, signs and sounds together in mini sentences such as:

  • ‘drink’ uh oh (The cup fell on the floor)
  • ‘where’ ‘daddy’ ‘bath’ (Is Daddy in the bathroom?)
  • allí (pointing at sofa) ‘milk’ (Sit down and breastfeed me!)
  • ‘nursery’ ‘bike’ (We’re going to nursery by bike today)

cat

S loves to point out the things he notices around him (like animals) and comment on what’s happening (like it’s raining) by doing signs.  He can make requests for food (especially biscuits) or ask to go to the park, and he often lets us know he’s paying attention to our conversations by signing the words he recognises as he listens along.  This has made me more aware of words and their component parts. The other day we were talking about someone getting married and S starts to do the sign for house.  At first I was confused…was he asking to go home? Then I realised he had heard se casa (he’s getting married) not ‘casa’ as in home! Another time I asked him to move into the shade (sombra) and he started doing the sign for hat (sombrero). I’d never really thought of hat and shade being similar, but in Spanish they obviously are!

Another interesting development is how S babbles with his hands and makes up new signs for words he doesn’t know.  This keeps us on our toes as he tries to teach us these new signs and we attempt to work out what they mean.  Some of the signs are intuitive and turn out to be similar to BSL, such as the sign for hot spicy food, others seem entirely random (eg for avocado he puts one pointed finger up from the top of his head – who knows what that’s all about!).

I’d love to hear about how others are getting along with signing or bilingual language development. Please leave your comments below!

Toddler signing anyone?

P1060968I heard about baby signing when S was a few months old.  A friend of mine had a lovely illustrated book called ‘My First Signs’, another was going to a ‘sing and sign’ baby class.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the concept, the idea is that babies develop the motor skills to communicate earlier than the skills to start speaking.  By introducing specific gestures alongside speech around 7 months, you can help your baby to express themselves and therefore reduce frustration and crying until their speech catches up.

I liked the idea of being able to communicate with with S and be in tune with his wishes before he could articulate them… but at the time it seemed another thing to do, another thing to think about and I thought I probably wouldn’t do the signing consistently enough for S to really pick it up.  I figured Spanish and English would do for now!

Fast forward another year… and we have decided to introduce a few signs to S at 18 months.  He is already very keen on using his hands and body to communicate.  I noticed he was consistently using the same gestures for a few words like crocodile and hot, so we thought we’d give some baby sign language a go.

S loves the signs!  I borrowed my friend’s book and he picked up several signs really quickly – not surprisingly for my little milk monster, his favourite signs are milk and more!  He has also got the hang of a few animals signs like bird, elephant and caterpillar. We are using signs based on British Sign Language with Spanish spoken words…. so an interesting linguistic mix!

I think starting at this age, when he already had a good understanding of the spoken words and good motor control, has meant he’s been able to start using the signs straight away.  It seems like a really useful tool for late talking children.

In fact, I have been enjoying learning the signs myself!  I was surprised at how intuitive and easy to remember they are.  It has also sparked my interested in sign languages in general.  I remember learning to fingerspell when I was about 10 years old.  As a group of school friends, we thought it was so clever of us to learn sign language so we could chat when we were supposed to be being quiet!  It was only quite a few years later that I realised that I had only learnt the alphabet and not actual sign language. Still, it is quite a useful thing to know  – not to use with babies perhaps, but some sign language words are closely linked to the fingerspelling (like ham which is H and M).

Have you used baby signing with a bilingual child?  It would be lovely to hear your stories.  Please do leave some comments below.

Confused about language development in bilingual children? I was!

first wordsIt’s been a while since I last posted.  This blog is about the rewards and challenges of bringing our son up bilingual and aims to track the emergence and development of his languages.  Except there hasn’t been much emergence, at least in terms of speaking, so far! S is now 18 months… and still no first words.  He does now understand quite a bit, including simple instructions like lavamos los dientes (let’s brush your teeth), sientate (sit down), and the names of some body parts, animals, clothes, food and toys.  He is generally very vocal, noisy and communicative using facial expressions, sounds and gestures.  He also makes a few animals sounds.  However at the same time, despite looking out very hard for it, we have been unable to recognise anything vaguely like a word, no dada, mama or bubye.  

Everyone keeps saying, ‘boys take longer to talk’, ‘he was an early walker so he’ll be a late talker’, ‘oh don’t worry, bilingual children always speak later’,  ‘bilingual babies’ language development is slower’ or ‘bilingual speech can be delayed by a few months’ (one speech therapist that I met informally told me language could be delayed by 6 months!).  I was finding this reassuring… until I started to notice other toddlers, both bilingual and boys, had already begun talking.

If you google ‘bilingual children language delay’, it easy to find a lot of forums and sources that cling to these assumptions.  However, with a more discerning look, it is clear that current research suggests that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times.  ‘While a bilingual child’s vocabulary in each individual language may be smaller than average, his total vocabulary (from both languages) will be at least the same size as a monolingual child. Bilingual children may say their first words slightly later than monolingual children, but still within the normal age range (between 8-15 months)’.   Here are a couple of links to some interesting articles at multilingualliving.com and hanen.org on this topic.

I know all children have their own time-scale for development, but when you keep reading that ‘by the time they’re one and a half, toddlers are usually using at least 10 simple words like daddy, cup and dog though these aren’t always clear.’ (NHS Information Service for Parents) and your little one hasn’t even said ‘mama’, you do start to wonder.  I am speaking to him enough? Is there something else I should be doing? Is there some problem?

I spoke to the health visitor, making a conscious decision not to mention our household’s bilingualism as I didn’t want my concerns to be dismissed, to see if she had any recommendations.  She asked me about S’s hearing, which it hadn’t occurred to me could be a problem – he seems to respond well to noises, music and turns when spoken to. Apparently Bristol is the glue ear capital of the UK (the audiologist didn’t seem to know why!)  This is a condition where fluid get trapped in the ear, blocking sound and it can be the cause of temporary language delay in small children.  S has now had a hearing test, but the results were inconclusive so we are due to go back again in a couple of months.

In the meantime…. perhaps he’ll start to talk!

Merienda de Reyes – a tea party for kings

After a very English Christmas spent among mince pies, carols, crackers and the like, it was time for a bit of Mexican tradition. Today we celebrated ‘Dia de Los Reyes’ with a traditional tea party for a few friends and their children.

In preparation, yesterday S helped me make our very own Rosca de Reyes, a ring-shaped sweet bread/cake with dried fruit and marzipan.  Although the dough didn’t rise much and the cake was a lot more solid that in should have been.. it was still pretty tasty.

Image

We planned to serve the cake with Ibarra Mexican hot chocolate.. unfortunately when we got the packet out it has expired… exactly on S’s birth date… spooky!  Instead we made Green & Blacks hot chocolate adding a cinnamon stick and nutmeg and of course, mixing it up with our wooden molinillo.

Image

 Traditional roscas have a small plastic figurine of baby Jesus hidden in the cake.  However L was unable to find a baby trinket returning instead with a plastic snake, crocodile and frog!  As my rosca dough didn’t rise much, the resulting cake was a lot smaller than he imagined, and there was, unfortunately, no room for his animals.  Instead, remembering the sixpence tradition, I boiled up a 5p piece and added it to the cake.

Tradition dictates that the person who finds the baby Jesus has to host a party on 2nd February for Dia de La Candelaria.  We didn’t think we could put upon our guests to complete this part of the tradition, however.  Although we still wanted to do something to symbolise the finding of the figure (or 5p piece in our case).  I had read that in France there is a similar tradition where the person who finds the trinket in the Galette de Rois is crowned ‘King for the Day’.  I decided to adapt this French tradition for our Mexican rosca with a sixpense… very multicultural and quickly fashioned a crown to decorate our rosca. Unfortunately the piece with the 5p wasn’t found by our guests, but by me later on that evening!  Never mind, it is a lovely crown –  I shall keep it for the Dia de Los Reyes event next week with La Casita, the group for Spanish speaking families in Bristol.

In future years I hope to build on my baking skills and hone our rosca recipe. It took the recipe from spanglishbaby.com but adapted it to UK ingredients (such as using raisins instead of candied pineapple).  We may also incorporate other Dia de Reyes traditions that mirror ours such as leaving out hay for the camels and hoping for presents from the three kings.