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Apr 8 2013

When You and Your Daughter Don’t Speak the Same Language

By at 11:56 am

coloring outside the linesWhile we were in the art room at school today, my daughter asked me something in Hebrew in words I didn’t understand. “Say yes, mama!” She said. “Please say yes.”

“Baby, I can’t say yes, because I don’t understand what you want. For all I know you just asked me if you can get a tramp stamp, or move to Amsterdam.”

It’s like this, sometimes. She’ll say something that means something to her–I can see it in the way she clenches her jaw, and she flexes her fingers while she waits for her words to sink through the synapses of my American brain. Still, she wants an answer–even if it isn’t the answer she wants to hear–and when I look at her baffled, she sucks in her breath, and says, “You don’t listen to me.”   Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 5 2013

My Son Learned English from Watching TV

By at 11:56 am

boy watching tvIf my relationship with Hebrew had to have a status, I’d pick, “It’s complicated.” But as I’m rapidly closing in on the fourth anniversary of my move to Israel, it really should be better.

For a while–just as Sarah wrote a few weeks ago–I was learning Hebrew from my eldest child, but that stopped. One day, two years ago, at the tender age of 4, he decided he wanted to speak English and that was that. How does a 4-year-old make that choice?  Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 28 2013

How to Teach Your Kids Hebrew

By at 5:03 pm

hebrew alphabet blocksI grew up in New York speaking Hebrew with my Israeli mother and at my day school, Spanish with my Argentinean father and grandparents, and English everywhere else. I enjoyed being able to talk to lots of people, but it wasn’t until I became a developmental psychologist that I fully understood what a wonderful gift my parents had given me.

Bilingualism has tremendous benefits, and not just when you are trying to find a bathroom in Tel-Aviv. Bilingual children are better at problem solving, planning, and self-control. A lifetime of bilingualism may even help delay the onset of dementia in old age. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 22 2013

Free Stuff Alert: Gus on the Go Hebrew App

By at 3:04 pm

gus on the go hebrew app israel

Working on raising brilliant bilingual kids? Luckily, the power to learn new languages these days is right at your fingertips. Gus on the Go is a language learning app for kids that features a cute little owl and a whole lot of fun adventures and games.

Gus on the Go features a special Hebrew edition that introduces basic Hebrew nouns to young children through fun pictures, interactive games, and audio from native Hebrew speakers. Gus on the Go: Hebrew is currently available for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, and we’ve got five free promo codes to give away to five lucky readers. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 13 2012

Why I Want My Kids to Learn Russian

By at 3:19 pm

My mom, my son, and Lenin.

Just in case having one husband, three kids, and a half dozen freelance writing jobs weren’t enough, I’ve recently added another activity to my already tottering plate: taking the three aforementioned kids (expressing varying levels of enthusiasm) to JAR-Ptitsa, a new program at our temple designed to teach Jewish children about their heritage via music, art and drama… in Russian.

My African-American husband had no objection to it (especially as it leaves the house to himself for several hours while we’re gone), but he did point out, “You realize that’s the equivalent of me teaching the kids about their culture at a Friends of the Confederacy meeting.”

His point being: Why am I so determined to teach my children Russian when it’s the language of a country that, as far as he’s heard from every Soviet immigrant he’s ever met (and he’s met more than his share; not to mention spent many an evening as the only non-Russian speaker in a crowd), Jews were at best shunned, on average mistreated, and at worst, killed? Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 15 2012

My Son is (Finally) Learning Hebrew

By at 5:03 pm

I have to admit to feeling a rush of pride and satisfaction each time I hear my son call me Ima. And, for a gal who grew up begrudgingly bilingual, that’s a pretty big deal.

My first languages as a young child were English and Hebrew. With an Israeli father (and grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousins… you get the picture) and a mother who spent a chunk of her young adulthood in Israel, it should come as no big surprise that we were a bilingual house. My first words were “mom” and “aba.” I listened equally to Rafi and Tzippi Shavit, and my eyes were glued to both Sesame Street and Rehov Sumsum (and yes, I even had my own pair of brown, checkered slippers like Kippi).

But for some reason, instead of embracing this language gift I had been given, at some point in my childhood, I started to actively be embarrassed by it. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 25 2012

I Screwed Up the Bilingual Thing, Too

By at 9:41 am
alina adams kremlin

My son at the Kremlin.

Reading Debbie Kolben’s Forward article “Why My Daughter Isn’t Bilingual–Yet,” I thought to myself: What am amazing coincidence! I too screwed up the bilingual thing! Only Debbie screwed it up once, and I managed to screw it up three times–in three completely different ways!

The basic situation is this: I was born in the former USSR and moved to the US with my parents as a child. Although English came easily for me (the fact that I now write for a living is hopefully evidence of that), I continued speaking Russian to my parents at home, periodically switching into English for complex or uniquely specialized topics. While my Russian wasn’t quite stuck at the level of the 7-year-old I’d once been, I was, at best, in possession of the vocabulary of a pre-teen. (That didn’t stop me from doubling as a translator when I worked as a producer for ABC Sports’ figure skating coverage. My conversations with Olympic champions were never particularly deep. To catch me in action, go to about 8:00 minutes at this YouTube clip.)

I have a brother and a cousin who were born in the US and yet still speak fluent Russian to their parents. I figured, if they could pull off this bilingual thing, so could I.

Ha. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 17 2012

How I Screwed Up the Bilingual Thing

By at 10:34 am

bilingual hebrew bookI’ve been in Israel for the past week with my husband and 2.5-year-old. We’re here for a number of reasons, one of them to see family–my husband’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.–in all I think the immediate family here totals around 31.

So it’s fitting that this article I just wrote about why my daughter speaks more Spanish than Hebrew came out this week. Curious to hear from the rest of you who are also struggling to raise bilingual kids–how exactly do you do it? I need advice, please!

Here’s a bit from the Forward article:

The other night, I handed my daughter, Mika, a plate of chicken and carrots for dinner. She glanced at it momentarily before professing snidely, “Mama, this is not delicioso!” The declaration was remarkable for two reasons: The first was that I had made dinner, the second that my 2.5-year-old cracked a joke. Her hero, Dora the Explorer, calls everything she eats “delicioso” and everything she does “excelente”; the piece of schnitzel I made was clearly neither. Another amazing thing about this was that my daughter used a word in Spanish — correctly. Granted, we’re not raising her to speak Spanish. We are hoping for Hebrew.

Read the rest here.

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