First trip to Mexico. Part 2 – Family

P1080008

Getting to know all the family

This is the second post in a series reflecting on our son’s first trip to Mexico.  This post focuses on one of the most important reasons parents aim to raise their child bilingually – family.  I decided to blog about this aspect before writing about language development, because at this age and particularly as it was S’s first trip, the main focus has been on family.

At nearly 2 years old S has revelled in the attention showered on him by the extended family –  from abuelos, tio abuelos and tios to little primos.  He surprised us all by quickly feeling at ease with all members of the family (even those he’d not yet met on Skype); seeking them out for company, games and tickles and even comfort.

L’s parents are not strangers to international relationships.  His mum is originally from Colombia; in fact many relatives from the Colombian side of family have set up home abroad, mainly in the US or Canada.  L’s younger sister also recently married a Texan and is currently living in Houston.  S also has a very international family as just to add complications with another international dimension – my mum and step dad live in the south of France.  Unlike visiting Mexico however, they are less than two hours away by air and we still see each other several times a year – in fact I think we’ve seen them more times this year than my brother (he’s 4 hours away by car)!

As an international couple when you start a family you begin to realise that you need to work harder to maintain family bonds and relationships to carry them over into the next generation.  Even within a country, families are often spread across different locations and require effort and organisation to ensure regular contact.  However building family links between the UK and Mexico has the added complication of requiring both ample time ( think longhaul flights and jetlag) and of course the rising expense of travelling with a growing family.

We are fortunate that with modern technology keeping in touch is both accessible, affordable and allows even babies and little children to interact in ways that were impossible only 10 years ago.  Since L’s parents returned home after visiting us shortly after S’s birth we have been connecting several times a week with the Mexican family via Skype.  They have been able to watch him grow and develop through a window into our daily life, and share those first moments as he begins rolling, then sitting, eating, crawling, cruising, babbling and walking for the first time.

Often S will play along while the abuelos watch and we chat.  He often likes to check they are watching him (and waits for an applause) when he finishes a puzzle or does a little dance!  He also interacts directly with the family coming up to the screen and asking for their dog Pascal (a great dane) and playing peek-a-boo.  As he grows older and both his communication and concentration skills improve there will be new ways in which we can use Skype to interact and continue to build family relationships.  And I’m sure there will be other issues and challenges (like embarrassment or not wanting to speak the minority language etc), which we have to look forward to!

Despite the wonders of modern technology there is nothing better than a hug with la Abuela, sitting on Abuelo’s lap to watch youtube videos or sneakily changing the tracks on his Ipod or dashing around in hysterics as Tia tries to teach you to be a good Chivas supporter and shout out ‘GOL’ with both hands in the air.  These moments build relationships; they are developed through spending time together and sharing activities.  Our three-week trip this summer provided an important opportunity to strengthen these bonds and build a base for the future.  I hope we continue to make time and space in our lives for regular visits to Mexico, to allow S to grow up feeling part of and identifying with his Mexican family, culture and language.

I’d love to hear how you build family relationships internationally.  Please share your stories and tips below.

First trip to Mexico. Part 1 – Air Travel

It’s now September and everyone is busy rushing around sorting themselves out, going back to school or to the office.  It’s easy to fall back into everyday life and forget to reflect on the summer and any language or cultural trips; building and strengthening family bonds across oceans and boosting language acquisition and everyday practice.

We returned from a three week trip to Mexico last week, a first for our toddler, who turns two next week.  The air travel wasn’t as bad as we imagined in the end (S didn’t scream the plane down for 9 hours straight), although it’s taking him a while to readjust to UK time and his normal routine and in the meantime he’s refusing to go to sleep until the wee hours.

In this series of posts I am going to reflect on several aspects of our Mexico trip including air travel, family and language – S has finally started talking. I am also excited to share some excellent Spanish language books for young children that I found in Guadalajara.

Toddler-in-Transit

downloadThe outbound journey went surprisingly smoothly. As luck had it we flew out from the recently revamped Heathrow terminal 2 which was, in fact, quite a civilised experience. Efficient check in, friendly, helpful staff and few queues (I know, it doesn’t seem possible!).  We even got a seat in a decent restaurant overlooking the planes so S was kept pretty happy before boarding the plane, despite the flight being delayed by an hour.

We flew with United Airlines to Houston, a flight of about 9 hours.  Luckily S slept for over 2 hours shortly after take off, and we managed to successfully distract him with a suitcaseful of toys and activities along with the on board entertainment. (If you are interested in which toys/activities worked best and which to avoid, take a look my previous post – Warning: Toddler in Transit.)  The only complaint really was that no food was provided for S as he was travelling on an infant fare sitting on our lap. We bought snacks but didn’t expect to need enough food for a 9 hour flight!

We arrived very tired at Houston, where unfortunately we encountered long queues and painfully slow immigration staff.  At least we would soon have a bed to climb into. We were glad that we weren’t in transit direct to Mexico at this point. A couple of days in Houston with L’s sister and brother-in-law provided a welcome respite.

The next flight from Houston to Puerta Vallarta on Mexico’s pacific coast, a mere two and half hours, then seemed like a breeze. Especially as we waltzed through passport control on arrival passing hoards of queuing foreigners, L’s Mexican passport in hand.

Fast forward three weeks and we are headed home also via Houston but this time from Guadalajara.  The main US-UK leg of the journey was a night flight.  S managed to sleep for about five hours and the flight passed relatively painlessly although we slept very little arriving very tired.  Unfortunately making it home to Bristol took an eternity; once we had figured out how to find the central bus station, we struggled with full buses to Bristol compounded with a lack of taxis on arrival and then rush hour traffic.  Next time we’ll look into flying directly from Bristol airport I think, going via London was supposed to save us time as we only had to make one connection, but it didn’t really work out like that.

How did your summer journeys go? I’d love to hear about your experiences with toddlers, especially if it was your first time going long-haul.

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!  

 

——————————————–

Hello, we have now returned from Mexico and survived two long-haul and short short (2.5 hour) flights.  Here’s my review of the above items we took with us. What about you? Did you find anything else was particularly useful?

Most Popular/Useful

Used quite a bit (worth it if you have space)

  • Travel size aqua doodle
  • Lacing cards 
  • I-spy book
  • Finger puppets
  • Felt activity book
  • Small baby-safe mirror
  • Play dough
  • Bubbles

Didn’t take in the end

  • Small blackboard and some chalk

 

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.