On Home and Moving and Childhood Anxiety, from Jess Archer, a Voice of Experience

July 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

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As the daughter of the director of Billy Graham’s North American crusades, Jess Archer had moved 12 times by the time she was 14—going from city to city and country to country. This, she wrote this week in Christianity Today, turned her into “the poster child for generalized anxiety disorder.”

In her article, she groups relocating during childhood with experiencing divorce and being in foster care as “major traumas” that weaken or destroy the concept of home and can lead to “serious anxiety disorders in kids.”

When it comes to describing the trauma of moving, some Third Culture Kids and some TCK parents would agree whole-heartedly; others would say they don’t understand what all the fuss is about. But can we all agree that moving produces anxiety, even if it’s not of the serious-disorder kind?

Archer goes on to give advice on how to ease our children through transitions, including preparing them, taking time to say goodbye, protecting their routines, and praying over them.

I especially like her prayer, offered for an anxious child at bedtime. I like it so much that I don’t mind that she uses the word season (just a pet peeve of mine). I like it so much that I’m praying it for my children. I like it so much I’m praying it for my wife and for myself, and for my friends in transition, too:

God of peace, this child needs rest. Her body is tense and her mind is wired. Nothing in this space feels like home. Good shepherd, loosen the knots of anxiety. Infuse her with hope of a grand design for good in her life. Show her that a new season is coming, and that you make all things new.

Amen.

You can find Archer’s post, “Too Many Transitions Can Traumatize Our Kids,” at Her.meneutics (Christianity Today, July 25, 2016). And if you’d like to read more of her thoughts on finding stability as a child in a life filled with change, go get a copy of her memoir, Finding Home with the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Billy Graham: A Memoir of Growing Up Inside the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (Westbow, 2015).

At her blog, Archer includes the following excerpt from her book:

What people wanted to ask me growing up the way I did was: Can you tell me what it means to have a home? They wanted to ask me, but they didn’t have the language for it, and I was only a child. They thought, How would she know? She’s just a young girl.

Instead, people asked me a standard set of questions: How many places have you lived? Which was your favorite place? Which was the worst place to live? But what they really wanted were answers for their own lives. When I said I didn’t really have a home, they shivered for themselves . . . displacement at the core of every heart. The haunting need to know a place is yours forever, but the deep fear that it isn’t. Because I didn’t have a permanent home, I wrestled better and harder than most adults with the need for one, and by the time I was a teenager I had burned through to an expanded definition.

And amen again.

[photo: “Big Pilot,” by Chris Murphy, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Park-Bench Conversations

March 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

[I’ve written a new “page” to point readers to posts in this blog that are the most meaningful to me. It’s called “park bench,” and it’s linked in the banner above. And to save you a click, here it is below.]

The posts on this blog, while all under the umbrella of cross-cultural issues, cover an array of topics. All of these are interesting to me, but some of the most important to me are on the subject of transitioning between cultures.

142023581_52b616759aIt’s often a difficult process and lasts well beyond the plane ride. Though there are many voices telling us about the challenges of redefining “home,” many of the stories are not shared eagerly or in public. Rather, they come out in safe places and only in response to careful and gentle prodding.

There are several images that conjure up thoughts of those conversations: a kitchen table, side-by-side cups of coffee, the corner booth in a cafe, a front porch.

For me, it’s a park bench.

I’m not always comfortable with talking face-to-face. It’s easier for me to sit next to someone, with the option of staring into the distance or getting up for a walk. Some of my deepest conversations, with people and with God, have taken place on park benches—at the edge of a mountain trail, in a park, next to a playground, in the courtyard of an apartment complex, at a bus stop on a busy street.

At Clearing Customs, the park-bench talks center on the difficulties of transition, on the grief that comes from losses associated with moves, on finding confidants who are able to listen without judgment. If those topics are relevant to you, too, please follow the category links below.

All of the topics in this blog are interesting to me, but these are some of the most important to me.

[photo: “City Park in Fall,” by Michael Williams, used under a Creative Commons license]

Sorry—No Ifs, Sos, or Buts

January 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

139499559_0248586250_nIf you were following the news a couple weeks ago, you got to hear a great example of a straightforward, unequivocal apology from MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry. Earlier, on her show, she and her guests had made fun of a photograph showing Mitt and Ann Romney with their 21 grandchildren. The subject of their jokes was that everyone in the photo was white, except for the adopted African-American baby sitting on Mr. Romney’s knee.

In a tweet following the show, Harris-Perry wrote, “I am sorry. Without reservation or qualification. I apologize to the Romney family.”

That kind of an apology is hard to come by. It’s hard to get, and it’s hard to give. But it’s the kind of apology necessary for healthy repentance and healthy relationships—and for healthy good-byes.

R is for Reconciliation

In their book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, Third Culture Kid experts David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken advise that those transitioning from one country to another should build a “RAFT.” The four parts of that raft are

  • Reconciliation
  • Affirmation
  • Farewells, and
  • Think Destination

“Reconciliation,” say the authors, “includes both the need to forgive and to be forgiven.” And this forgiveness is especially important preceding a move across time zones and oceans.

When transitions approach, those leaving—and those staying—have a small window of opportunity for a face-to-face healing of wounded relationships, a window that gets smaller as the departure gets closer. That’s why apologies become more and more necessary, even at a time when they may seem more and more difficult.

But simply deciding to say “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, because not all apologies are created equal. In fact, we live in the age of the “non-apology apology.” When you say, “I’m sorry,” do you add on any qualifiers? Do extra words reveal your true feelings?

Or do your words of remorse stand on their own, with no ifs, sos, or buts?

No Ifs

The “If” apology is probably the most popular way to get out of a full confession. It goes something like this: “I’m sorry if my choice of words offended you.” What that says is “If my words offended you, then you must be very thin skinned. You should not be offended by what I said, because it wasn’t really offensive. But because you are upset, I would like you to know that had I known I was dealing with someone as sensitive as you, I would not have said what I said . . in your presence.” When this kind of apology is given, is there any real doubt in the speaker’s mind that someone is offended, hurt, etc.?

No Sos

Sos aren’t usually spoken—unless we’re particularly brazen—but they appear when we require something in return for our apologies. If they were actually to emerge from the recesses of our hidden motives and be vocalized, we might say, “I’m sorry . . . so now I’ll listen while you tell me there’s nothing to apologize for,” or “I’m sorry . . . so you need to stop blaming me,” or “I’m sorry . . . so you’re sorry too, right? (I’m more than willing to meet you halfway. That is the way it works, isn’t it?)”

No Buts

By definition, but means that what comes second is going to contrast with what came first. Sometimes the I’m sorry is just a way to softly introduce the “truth”: “I’m sorry, but you had it coming to you.” The but can also announce excuses: “I’m sorry, but I was really tired.” It can spread around the blame: “I’m sorry, but I’m not the only guilty party here.” Or it can even pass the buck on to all of humanity: “I’m sorry, but anyone else in my situation would have done the same thing. (And any reasonable person would agree.)”

Sorry Does Seem to Be the Hardest Word

It’s difficult to apologize without tacking on a weasel word or two, to just let our “I’m sorry” resonate in silence. I should know, as I’m guilty of using every kind of disclaimer above myself, several times. I’ve also left apologies unsaid.

So why is it so hard?

Maybe it’s habit. It’s easy to fall into old patterns, in particular when we’re under stress. And few things are more stressful than voicing an apology that’s been a long time coming. If you don’t want it to come out wrong, you might need to practice beforehand.

Maybe it’s self preservation. A real apology leaves us truly vulnerable. We have to drop our guard and be willing to take our licks.

Or maybe it’s because of the word sorry itself, coming from the Old English sarig, meaning “full of sorrow.” Today, sorry can range from a deep, sorrowful regret over something said or done to a simple usage that means “excuse me,” such as when we’re walking through a crowded hallway. And we also use it to express our sympathy for someone else’s sorrow, as in “I’m sorry for your loss.” I think it’s this last usage, in the context of an apology, that often get’s us in trouble. As with several examples above, our words sound less like “I’m sorry that I wronged you” and more like “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Regardless of why it’s hard, it’s worth the effort. We need to mend relationships, and we need to bring healing to our own hearts. And we need to do it as soon as possible, so we don’t have to try to work it in at the airport.

And one more thing. There’s no guarantee that the person on the other end of an apology will forgive us. In fact, the deepest apologies come when we don’t think we deserve to be forgiven. And the greatest relief comes when we receive forgiveness anyway.

A Final Disclaimer

Maybe I’ve stepped on some toes with this post. I apologize if you’re bothered by what I’ve written, but sometimes I have a hard time getting my real meaning across, so please don’t think that any of it was on purpose.

I guess what I’m trying to say is “I’m sorry.”

Well, no. Not really.

(Melissa Harris-Perry, “An Apology from Melissa Harris-Perry,” MSNBC, January 4, 2014; David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2009)

[photo: “Sorry!” by Andrew Yee, used under a Creative Commons license]

“An Extraordinary Theory of Objects”: A TCK in Paris and the Things That Keep Her Sane, Sort of

January 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

31703109_4ad6f7ce2c_nI just finished reading a cool little book entitled An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris. It was a Christmas gift from my son, the one who got a Moleskine Journal from me.

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects is a series of vignettes by Stephanie LaCava about her move to France as a twelve-year-old in 1993, her years there growing up, and then her visits back again after attending college in the States.

On the cover of my copy of the book are romantically filtered and tinted photos of the Eiffel Tower, and on the pages inside, her writing style evokes the same kind of mood. If stories could be sepia-toned, this is how they might sound.

Actually, the filter through which LaCava encounters the world is her attachment to things. First, there are the small, curious relics—a skeleton key, a mushroom, an opal necklace found in the mud—that she gathers and places on her windowsill. Initially they replace her old collection, “everything that represented [her] past life and its predictable ways,” which is on a container ship making its way across the ocean from New York.

And then there are the objects she encounters from day to day, common things that she illuminates in copious footnotes often taking up more than half a page. Cataloging these objects gives her security and makes sense of her life in a new city . . . as she faces depression and what she calls her own “kind of crazy.”

Some might find her footnotes distracting, but they cover just the kind of obscure topics that intrigue me, such as a Japanese smuggler of black-market butterflies, a photo book dedicated to Salvador Dali’s mustache, and the origins of the tea bag. And they are replete with references to a variety of figures, from Pliny the Elder to Kurt Cobain, from Anne Boylen to Kate Moss.

Much of LaCava’s narrative is about time spent with her father, often searching flea markets for items to fulfill their eccentric tastes. At other times, she talks about her classmates at the international school. She says she was “mostly alone” her first year there. Even among these other outsiders, she doesn’t fit in.

I rode the bus to school and listened to my Discman while the girl in the back row threw gum wrappers at my head. The girls at school didn’t like me very much. They had never given me a chance, decided immediately that I didn’t belong, which was funny, as they didn’t either—at least not in France. They made me feel as if I had done something wrong, and they spoke badly about me to each other. Through my own odd rationalization, I decided excommunicating me meant they belonged to something, simply because I did not. . . .

Come the new academic year, the old class would be replaced with another set of students who had just moved overseas. Only a few remained year after year—and still the same insensitivity.

One day, a classmate tells her that she looks like Angela from the TV series My So-Called Life.

“I haven’t seen it,” she replies.

“Everyone’s seen that show,” he says. “Don’t you have friends in the States? They can send it to you.”

In a footnote, LaCava delves into the significance of the series, quoting Matt Zoller Seitz of The New York Times, who writes, “What the series’ narration does best: it shows how teen-agers try to control their chaotic inner lives by naming things, defining them, generalizing about them.”

That’s what LaClava does, as well—controlling the inner chaos of her life in a Paris suburb by naming the objects she encounters. Then, years later, she examines them even more closely and writes about them so that she can share with us her own kind of strange . . . and her own kind of normal.

(Stephanie LaCava, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris, New York: Harper Perennial, 2013)
[photo: “Eiffel Tower,” by charley1965, used under a Creative Commons license]

An Oscars’ Shortlisted Film on a TCK’s Long “Road Home”—Watch It Online

December 20, 2013 § 3 Comments

RoadHome

It’s not easy being shortlisted for the Academy Awards, but that’s what Rahul Gandotra did in 2011 with his live-action short film, The Road Home.

A Hidden-Immigrant Story

Gandotra was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and grew up in eight countries, spending time in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the US. He attended the University of Michigan and then got an MA in film directing from The London Film School. For his master’s thesis, he returned to Woodstock, a boarding school in the Himalayas, to shoot The Road Home. When Gandotra attended school there in the 10th grade, his class of 52 had students from 26 countries.

The Road Home tells the story of Pico, a Woodstock student who runs away from the school, hoping to get to the airport and return to London. Pico looks Indian on the outside, but on the inside, he is British. He doesn’t speak Hindi, and the culture is foreign to him. He is a “hidden immigrant” who desperately wants to escape this assault on his identity.

In an interview with Jedda Blog, Gandotra says that while he was filming in India, he was introduced to David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken’s book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds. “That book described me really well,” he says.

I realized these are the type of people I am making the film for and that this film is for anyone who questions where they are from, at any time of their life. Any one who has had an outsider experience or has left their country can relate to this movie.

Later, when Van Reken previewed The Road Home, she wrote the following on the film’s IMDb site:

Just three weeks ago, I watched as two people watched this with tears of both joy and sadness streamed down their faces. Joy that what they had felt but been unable to articulate for their whole lives was finally given voice. Sadness as they identified so deeply with the pain Pico feels when others assume who he is by outward appearance rather than by his life experiences.

They also understood only too well how the frustration Pico felt of not being known by other [sic] as he knows himself to be and how that frustration comes out in a way others see as anger instead of pain. . . .

Best of all, The Road Home reminds us of one of the most fundamental truths for our globalizing world: until we know each person’s story, we cannot make judgments of who that person is regardless of skin color or apparent ethnicity. That’s why this film is so needed and important.

Watch The Road Home for Free

At the film’s website, you can enter your email address to receive a “sampler” packet of commentaries, interviews, web resources, and—best of all—a link to watch the entire 23-minute film online.

In Gandotra’s “Welcome” clip, he tells how Van Reken was instrumental in getting the packet put together. When he sent the video to her, he was, he says, “floored and shocked by what she said.” She wanted him to put the film on DVD so everyone could see it, and even though he was busy with the film-festival circuit she persisted. “She felt,” he says, “that she had the right to literally push and harass me into making this DVD. . . .”

He demurred, but it did no good. On her own, Van Reken recruited people from around the world who created a set of resources for the sampler packet. The final result is the full professional version of the DVD (available for purchase here).

One of the highlights of the packet is a 5-minute commentary on the film, with Van Reken, Gandotra, and Third Culture Kid expert Heidi Tunberg talking about TCKs. The professional DVD includes an additional 92 minutes of commentary.

Gandotra is currently working on a feature-lengh film based on the story of The Road Home, calling it a “a coming-of-age, adventure road movie.” In the new version, Pico runs away from Woodstock with Rachel, an American female classmate. The two come to the attention of a terrorist organization that wants to kidnap them. As they are pursued across India, Rachel discovers the nation, while Pico discovers his own identity.

Gandotra’s “Feature Preview” page says, “Although the feature script is faster paced than the short, it stays true to the ‘flavor’ and themes of the original film.” I look forward to hearing more about this longer version, and I hope to see it someday.

I also hope that amid the chase scenes it does, in fact, hold on to The Road Home‘s poignant insights. Because it is Pico’s inner journey—as he tries to reach the airport—that brings the most power to his search for home.

(Emily Rome, “Oscar Shorts: An Autobiographical Journey in ‘The Road Home,'” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2012; Zareen Muzaffar, “The Road Home. An Exclusive Interview with Director and Film-maker Rahyl Gandotra,” Jedda Blog, October 2013; )

[photo courtesy of The Road Home / Rahul Gandotra]

Our TCK Makes Plans for the Peace Corps—Wait, Not So Fast

November 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

Here’s another article from my son Peter. It’s about his time at the Summer Peace Institute in San José, Costa Rica, and also about his post-graduation plans. Peter spent nearly half his life overseas before graduating from high school, so another trip to another culture should have been a piece of cake, right? And heading back to Asia with the Peace Corps shouldn’t be a problem, either. Here, Peter shares about how it can be hard to cross cultures alone, even for a TCK.

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Peter (in yellow shirt) enjoys the Costa Rican outdoors with some of his friends in the Summer Peace Institute.

In 1999, my family and I left Joplin, Mo., for the other side of the world—Taipei, Taiwan. Before that, I’d never been outside the Midwest, let alone the United States.

If you are not familiar with Taiwan, it is a small tobacco-leaf-shaped island off the southeast coast of China, having about one-fifth the land area of Missouri with four times the population.

When we took our first trip to Taiwan, my parents were in the process of considering whether they wanted to become missionaries there. We spent two weeks traveling around the island, sightseeing and meeting Taiwanese friends who had once been international students at Pittsburg State University and at my father’s alma mater, the University of Missouri.

Two years later, my family and I left Joplin again for Taiwan. This time, I stayed for eight years.

After I graduated high school, I returned to Joplin to attend MSSU. I have enjoyed my time at this university more than any other time in my life, but now I am near the end. I will graduate this December with two bachelor’s degrees and, like many of you, still have no idea what I want to do next.

Well, I should not say, “No idea.”

Ever since returning from Taiwan, I have been fascinated by the world outside Joplin, outside Missouri, outside the US. I had tasted another culture—Taiwanese food is delicious, by the way—and I was ready to experience more.

When I heard about the Peace Corps, it sounded like a perfect fit. Started in 1958, the Peace Corps is a US government-run volunteer program that sends American citizens out into the world to learn about other cultures and serve the people of developing countries. Volunteers spend two year stints anywhere from Zambia to China to Peru to Jordan.

About six months ago, I submitted an application for the Peace Corps. Even before that, I had watched as two friends, fellow MSSU students and past McCaleb winners Luke and Caitlan Smith, were sent off by the Peace Corps to Rwanda.

By the time I left for Costa Rica, I was several months into the Peace Corps application process.

During the UPEACE-Berkeley program, I got to talk with two people who have experience with the Peace Corps: Dr. Jerry Sanders, a former Peace Corps volunteer [and co-founder of World Policy Journal and director of the Summer Peace Institute], and Manuel Davila, a former employee of the Honduran Peace Corps office. I asked them about their thoughts on the Peace Corps.

Sanders volunteered in Colombia in the 1970s and became disenchanted with the Peace Corps halfway through his two years there.

“I wasn’t any more satisfied with [the Peace Corps’s] policies—so-called development policies—than I was with the war in Vietnam,” he said.

Sanders felt the policies prevented efficiency. He encouraged me to go into the Peace Corps with a willingness to criticize the system.

Davila said the volunteers he met had great experiences, and he became friends with some of them. He told me the Peace Corps takes very good care of its volunteers.

I thought my time in Costa Rica would make me more excited for the Peace Corps. Instead, it made me realize how hard the Peace Corps would be. Though I had lived and traveled internationally, I had always done it with family or friends.

By the end of my first day in Costa Rica, I had already faced several difficulties.

My luggage was held up in Houston, Texas, so I lacked a change of clothes, toiletries, and even cleaning solution for my contacts. I was overwhelmed by 30 students whom I had never met before and who already seemed to know each other. I could not keep up the lectures on topics I had never studied. I could not speak Spanish. I did not know my way around town and got myself lost wandering home from the bus stop.

As I familiarized myself with my host town, learned a few Spanish phrases and befriended—and was befriended by—the other students, I felt more and more comfortable in Costa Rica.

Some of my favorite moments of the trip were whitewater rafting down the Pecuare River, learning how to say “God bless you” in Spanish, taking walks around my host town, visiting the Caribbean coast, trying new Costa Rican dishes, having intellectual and non-intellectual discussions with fellow students and watching soccer on television with my host family.

Nevertheless, being away from my family, my church community and my other close friends in Joplin was difficult throughout the trip.

While I truly enjoyed my time in Costa Rica, it did open my eyes to the realities of living overseas by myself.

In a Facebook message about the Peace Corps, Luke Smith writes, “The hardest part for me though has just been being away from my family. Diet and living conditions are a cake walk compared to not being able to see the people you love.”

Two weeks into this semester, I received a Peace Corps invitation to volunteer in Indonesia as a secondary English teacher, with a March starting date. I was given seven days to make my decision.

About an hour later, I decided to decline it. It feels like the coward’s move. But right now, I am not ready for the Peace Corps, and that is okay.

Now I am trying to figure out what is next. I will still graduate in December, and I still have no jobs waiting for me. Though I am not yet ready to live in Indonesia for two years, I am ready to explore more of the US, especially her big cities.

I do not plan to give up my aspirations of international studies. I know if I do move somewhere like Chicago or Philadelphia, I will meet people from other countries and cultural backgrounds, and that is exciting.

Maybe I will pursue a master’s degree in international relations. I am still very interested in cross-cultural issues. I follow global current events in my free time, and I try to pick up bits and pieces of other languages.

My thirst for cultural diversity will never be quenched. The Peace Corps may still be in my future, but I am not looking that far ahead. I am looking at what is next, one decision at a time.

Do You Hear What They Hear? Babies Are Listening Bilingually Even before They Can Speak

October 18, 2013 § 8 Comments

I remember having a conversation with an American raising his children in Taiwan. The father was fluent in Mandarin, and he’d started teaching that language to his son at a young age. He told me that it hadn’t worked for him and that he’d read that parents who speak more than one language to their small children only confuse them, as they aren’t able to tell one language from another.

It seemed like sound reasoning to me.

42052685_df923ad167So it surprised me to see new research showing that infants are better at becoming bilingual than I’d thought. As it turns out, by the age of seven months, babies can distinguish between languages by recognizing their different grammar structures.

The study, published in Nature Communications, focused on languages with opposite grammar patterns—such as English, which most often has the verb before the object, and Turkish, which follows the object-then-verb arrangement. Infants in bilingual environments pick up on these patterns and can distinguish between the languages, by listening to differences in pitch, duration, and word frequency.

Janet F. Werker, of the University of British Columbia, is co-author of the study, along with Judit Gervain, of the Université Paris Descartes. Werker reassures parents in bilingual households. “If you speak two languages at home, don’t be afraid, it’s not a zero-sum game,” she says. “Your baby is very equipped to keep these languages separate and they do so in remarkable ways.”

Mental Cartography

Werker and Gervain’s research is one more step forward in what we know about infants and language learning. In 2001, Patricia Kuhl, the director of the University of Washington’s Center for Mind, Brain, and Learning, told the Smithsonian magazine that six-to-eight-month olds can already distinguish between different vowel and consonant sounds in the languages they hear everyday and in languages “foreign” to them. But by their first birthday, they can no longer differentiate between sounds that are not part of a language that they’ve been exposed to. This is because they have developed a focus on familiar sounds, while “tuning out” unfamiliar ones. Then, later on in life, when the familiar competes against the unfamiliar, say, when learning a new language, the old sounds will usually win out. The result is a non-native accent.

To register what sounds infants can differentiate, Kuhl used a “head-turn” study (similar to that used by Werker and Gervain). In one example, two-thirds of both American and Japanese six-month olds could hear the difference between “la” and “ra.” But by the one-year mark, 80% of American children responded to the difference, while only 59% of the Japanese children did. Since the latter rate is only 9 percentage points above chance, this showed that the Japanese children had joined their parents in no longer being able to distinguish between the two sounds.

According to Kuhl,

The baby early begins to draw a kind of map of the sounds he hears. That map continues to develop and strengthen as the sounds are repeated. The sounds not heard, the synapses not used, are bypassed and pruned from the brain’s network. Eventually the sounds and accent of the language become automatic. You don’t think about it, like walking. [Familiar sounds] become more and more embedded into the map, until eventually they are almost ineradicable.

This accent map gets harder and harder to change as time goes by. On the other hand, if a child is exposed to multiple languages early enough—while the map is being drawn—the child can create more than one map at once.

Kuhl also has found (as shown in the TED Talk below) that if this exposure to languages is to have an effect on an infant, it must come from a live person. Listening to audio, even with an accompanying video of the speaker, does no good.

It’s Never Too Early to Learn

According to DNAinfo New York, some parents in the Big Apple are even learning a new language themselves in order to make sure that exposure to multiple languages happens for their children at an early age.

Take, for instance, Rhonda Ross, of Harlem, who went to a boarding school in a French-speaking area of Switzerland when she was a student. Later, when her son, Raif, turned one, she began speaking to him only in French. “I started with a French babysitter,” she said, “but a friend convinced me I would have to speak French to my son myself if I really wanted him to be fluent.”

Not being fluent herself, that means that Ross has to keep learning as she teaches her son. But she feels that the effort is worth it. In fact, she is so pleased with the outcome, that she’s introduced Raif to Mandarin and Spanish, as well.

Linguist Jennifer Wilkin, of Brooklyn, is another advocate of early bilingual education. In 2001, she founded Science, Language & Arts, where parents and children can learn French and Mandarin. “There is certainly a trend among New Yorkers to give a language to their children,” said Wiklin, who “knows several parents who are learning, and speaking, Spanish, Japanese, French and German to their children.”

While Wilkin’s school has students from preschool through fifth grade, Lyndsey St. John started Baby French in a Brooklyn ice-cream parlor and candy shop named The Candy Rush. The class caters to children who haven’t even learned to talk yet. “It’s really good to start those [language] pathways forming at a very early age,” said Wilkins. “Anywhere from 8 months to 3 years is when children are really sponges. They’re picking up everything.”

(Judit Gervain and Janet F. Werker, “Prosody Cues Word Order in 7-Month-Old Bilingual Infants,” Nature Communications, February 14, 2013; “Bilingual Babies Know Their Grammar by Seven Months,” The University of British Columbia Public Affairs, February 14, 2013; Edwin Kiester, Jr., “Accents Are Forever,” Smithsonian, January 2001; Julie Norwell, “New York Parents Learn Foreign Languages to Help Kids Become Fluent,” DNAinfo New York, March 6, 2013; “Even before They Utter First Words, Brooklyn Babies Take French Lessons,” DNAinfo New York, August 22, 2012)

[photo: “Mommy Tells a Story,” by Dan LaVange, used under a Creative Commons license]

 

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