Category Archives: second language

And so it begins

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And so it begins

I am competitive. Losing is despicable. Maybe growing up with three older brothers left me scarred into always feeling weaker and less able. With my children, sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, and I’m okay with that. We are teaching our children the agony of defeat is okay to learn as well as triumph in a victory.

Now let’s talk preschool. In our small town, there are few choices. We applied at two and was accepted by one. Through facebook I see friends trying to sift through a dozen options. Mandarin? Spanish? Nature play? Gifted? The application and interview process for these can be multi-tiered! To this small town gal, that is incomprehensible. For college, elite sports teams, or advanced programs, yes.

But preschool? Where am I going with this? Recently a parent questioned the placement of our child with his child. Are my son’s second language skills as developed? Nope. Does he comprehend the Latvian language? Minimally. So perhaps you are right, he is not on the same skill level as your child. But he’s a sponge. They all are! Don’t discount his current lack of language. Remember the old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover? Well don’t judge his language base until you dive into the language.

We want our kids to have a well rounded kid’s life. The ability to run in a creek, play 4 square, catch frogs, camp, build a fire, visit special places, and most importantly learn about themselves. What is it that makes each special? Perhaps we spend extra time living a kid’s life, growing a future, and need to weave in additional language time. We’ve attempted to create a happy balance between school, sports, Latvian heritage, activities, and community involvement. But honestly it’s a work in progress.

Don’t start getting all competitive and selective, the kid is 4 and learning daily. And to the father who told me that his kid is way smarter than mine and cannot imagine they will be in the same grade upon entering school, again they are 4! Let’s save the competitive, my kid is better than your kid crap for later, much later. Let them be kids. IMG_5842.JPG

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Summer Solstice

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As part of the Latvian Jāņi (Summer Solstice) tradition, women and girls wear vainags (crown of flowers). My first couple of Jāņi celebrations, I fumbled my way through vainags preparations. Then, I landed at the mothership, Rīgā for Jāņi.

Driving back roads to country homes, it is perfectly acceptable to pull over and tromp through fields in search of “the” flowers. “The” being nature’s bounty, wild. Next the task is to weave and fasten the crown using stems, leaves, and more “nature” parts. I learned from the Obi Wan of vainags, locals…in a roadside bar.

This year I painstakingly picked flowers from around our home. Upon arriving at vecmamminas (grandmother’s), the husband and daughter added some additional floral pieces from the generational plot. Thirty minutes later and this…

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Yes, my daughter wore it with pride until…she noticed a masterpiece. A crown so tightly woven that the flowers hugged the head like a floral halo. Never mind that the flowers were store bought or held together with artificial pieces, she wanted that vainags. The golden Jāņi crown. Gone was my mommy pride, leaving behind only two green thumbs and thorn punctures. The vainags tossed aside with her dinner plate.

Oh Jāni, give me another chance. I will avenge the 2014 vainags!

Water, my cyptonite

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Water, my cyptonite

While at Latvian Center Garezers this week, the little ones and I spent a boat load of time at the beach. Floating, swimming, and sand castle building to beat the heat. New friends were made sharing in the coolness and relief, all while soaking.
Here’s the thing, I cannot hear diddly swat when in and around water. Why? Because like oil and water, my hearing aids are not water friendly. Within 5 feet of H2O, my aids are tucked in a waterproof bag. That would be an expensive no-no. But…there I was a vacation single parent in a English-come-lightly world. Do I sink or swim? Sink my but on shore to watch the kids? Or remove the aids, struggle to hear these new voices, dialects, and be confused? Perhaps another option, wade and float around, secretly hoping for no splashers, and connect? Yep, I wore my aids while in water. Stressing about it each day probably caused a minor anxiety attack, but I had to do it.
My husband would say to advocate for myself and that is a lovely option in most environments, aka when I have my aids in. However, no aids + water lapping and splashing + new voices + bright sun shining on new faces (difficult to lip read) = exhaustion.
What’s a girl to do? Someday when I win the lottery, that I don’t play, I’ll get a pair of waterproof aids for just this reason.

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Not in Kansas anymore

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Not in Kansas anymore

My trips to Latvian Center Garezers in Three Rivers often feel like Dorothy in Oz. The sounds and sights transport me away, minus the plane ticket or crashed house. Besides the obvious language differences are the sights, symbols, and cultural artifacts. Take a stroll with me.

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Textiles and symbols – The beauty is in the detail.

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Shelves full of old stories

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Crowns of flowers from a summer solstice long ago

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Here generations are preserving a way of life thousands of miles from the homeland.

Translated

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Daily I translate.  Sometimes in my brain.  Sometimes via translate.google.  Sometimes itranslate on my kindle.  Latvian to English.  English to Latvian.  Ten years ago with a dictionary in hand I would get lost in translation.  Now, in mere seconds I can read Latvian School notes, family emails, or send  my husband “low down” emails.  You know, “hey, you got an email from so and so, and he wants to switch dezure (think church Deacon) duties next week”.   Thank you Al Gore for creating the world-wide web.  😉

Today, I found another app.  My son.  As he was perched at the kitchen table, pouring over his Latvian homework, a light bulb went off.  Words came to life and suddenly he was not just reading individual words, but sentences.  The best part?  He got it.  He understood that attending Latvian School was about more than just learning vocab words, knowing simple responses, or mastering the polka 3 step.  Despite the Sunday time crunch, homework struggle, and gas mileage, M reading to the little ones, priceless.

Laba diena!

 

Some suggested reading:

Femme au foyer

Latvian History

Moms Rising

Biz Biz

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No not show biz.  Quite simply, little kid Latvian Camp.  For 4 years, M has attended Biz Biz.  It is a camp for Latvian American children.  Some speak little to no Latvian.  For others, Latvian is their first language.  Our kids fall in the middle.  They understand basic Latvian and communicate in simple phrases.

Biz Biz is about the Latvian language, heritage, folk customs, and music.  In many ways it is a traditional camp.  But when you listen, really listen, you are immersed in the language and culture.  The crafts, stories, and music are folk influenced.  Where else would kids bring home a handcrafted mushroom?

Garezers is the home away from home for so many Latvian Americans.  When you walk the grounds, you are entering a Latvian sanctuary.  A treasured haven.  My husband and I have traveled around Latvia two times.  I remember the woods, trees, sights, and smells very well.  Wandering around Garezers, I experience similar wonders.  It is a beauty.

I may not understand the words around me, but I know the strong feelings, beliefs, and traditions that accompany them.  Our children will too.  Recently as we waited to “board” the Titanic exhibit, there before us was a large mural of immigrants waiting to board the 1912 maiden voyage.  My husband took the opportunity to remind M that his grandparents were also immigrants.  This led to questions and a great mini history lesson.  In a few short weeks, M and E will be back in school(s).  Yes English school during the week and Latvian school on Sundays.  For us, life is more than just the four walls around us.  It is here, there, and everywhere.  We, yes me too, learn about the life all around us two times.  Two ways.  Two foods.  Two words.  Two languages.

Some day the two shall become one.  Where the lessons lead to fluency, the haven will be like home, and our hearts will be there, whether by geography or pure love.

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Can you hear me now?

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Most likely no.  I have a bilateral mild to severe hearing impairment.  It is all I have ever known.  At 2 weeks, I contracted Bacterial Meningitis and spent a month in a hospital battling the illness.  Most likely my hearing impairment is a direct result of Meningitis and the treatment I received at that young age.

I am a parent, wife, teacher, and friend.  Most times, I can hear, enjoy, and participate in general conversations.  That said, I miss stuff.  All the time.  I mishear stuff.  Often.

Years of experience has taught me to ask people to repeat themselves, read faces and body language, watch faces and lips, and most importantly WORK at hearing.  And it is not easy.  Many days by the time dinner rolls around, the Tinnitus in my ears sounds very much like a freight train laying on the whistle, constantly.

A few things most people do not understand.   Whispering to me is like a trying to play telephone with a toddler.  I will not get most of what you are saying.  Next, if I have a confused look, please repeat yourself.  Sometimes, I just give up and do not try for clarification.    A few times people will say, if you didn’t understand, why didn’t you ask me to repeat?  Um, sometimes I mishear.  Occasionally words sound alike and I get misinformation from what I hear.  I may be aware that I misheard, but other times, I have no clue that I took in the wrong information.  So please do not get upset with me.  Bars, gyms, dance clubs, or loud areas are difficult.  Sound is coming from so many angles that I feel like I’m standing in a train switching yard and do not know where to turn. In these environments, I may have trouble matching voices to faces.  English sometimes sounds like a foreign langauge and foreign languages sound like Dory from Finding Nemo.  Lastly, water and I have a love/hate relationship.  While I love being in and around water, my hearing aids do not.  That means while I am swimming, lounging by the pool, or splashing with the kids, my hearing sidekicks are not enjoying this.  So I am like a fish out of the water.  But in the water.

Please ask questions, seek clarification, or lend an ear (pun intended), because living with a hearing impairment is exhausting and I could sure use some help once in a while.

my bff’s