My children know 2 languages. This sometimes still amazes me, since by the time I started learning languages it was too late for me to be properly bilingual. They know they speak two languages, and have for a long time. They call it ‘having two words’.
I am, frankly, also amazed by how well they do it. We speak a lot of Polish at home and they go to a Polish preschool, but their English is better than it has ever been, and after our trip to Australia they have even started to play together in English. Maybe it’s because my parents have always been around for a few months of the year to give them more exposure.
They switch languages effortlessly depending on who they talk to.They know what the languages are called and if they don’t know a word they ask (Mummy, how you say ‘restauracja’ in English?) Their development in both languages seems to be pretty normal for their age- I can’t see any discernible delays, though I don’t have much to compare them with as far as their English goes.
Sometimes they mix the names of the languages up (mummy, how you say ‘remont’ in Polish?). They have a bit of an accent when they speak English which led our friend Laura to comment that they sound like Russian film villains. Sometimes they use phrases (lonely as a finger) or grammar structures (I too want one) from Polish when they speak English. Overall, though, I’m satisfied with their ability to communicate in my language.
I expect it to become more difficult when they get into the Polish school system and start to find me less important and spend more time with their friends. I also realise that I will be faced with the responsibility of teaching them to read in English, which is daunting. But for the moment, it’s working better than I expected.
I have been slacking on the blog front. For the whole of July I have been teaching 5 hours a day, and I am stretched in so many ways that I can hardly believe I am still standing at the end of the week. I spend all day (beginning at around 4:30 in the morning) in a ferment of lesson planning and teaching, and come home to the whirl of dinner-bathtime-bedtime. After which I fall into bed myself and the whole cycle begins again.
I’m happy and relieved to find the teaching exciting instead of terrifying. I have a class of 11 young Belarusians who amaze me and amuse me (“Rose, your tights remind me of a rabbit”) every day. Their neurons are also firing madly, so we are in it together. They do not realise the extent to which I am experimenting on them-I feel like I need to try out any new trick I can think of while I have such an energetic and responsive audience.
So much of this is new. For the first time I am developing warm and constructive relationships with my colleagues. For the first time I am farming out my children all week long, so that I hardly see them. Sometimes I hear their sleepy early morning jabbering building as I exit the flat in the morning- more often, everyone is still sleeping when I leave. I know that my parents (who have the kids 3 days a week and often do overtime on weekends) are stretched as well, and I barely see them either. I call in the afternoon to remind them I’ll be late and hear the sounds of their secret life together-we’re just in the kitchen having our nana, says my father, and then, he’s escaping too! We’ve got two Trobriand Islanders, and they’re not wearing their leg ropes!
I don’t plan to live like this on a permanent basis, though I know that many people do and somehow manage. But I don’t feel guilty either. For this month, I can wallow in work and see how it feels.
Last Wednesday, I gave my first English lesson in almost a year. It was pouring with rain and union protests had gridlocked the city, but so keen was I that I still managed to be on time. I was going to a former student of mine, so we already knew each other and I didn’t have to worry about the development of rapport, and I already had some idea what she might want and need from me. I actually felt sheer excitement as I put on my serious outfit and climbed onto the bus with my umbrella, pretending to be a real grownup professional woman with deep wisdom to impart.
This performance (that’s what it felt like) continued through our lesson- I scribbled notes, nodded gravely, thought about how I was going to plan our time together and completely forgot about my babies. When we were finished, she walked me to the door and shook my hand and thanked me. I sat in the bus with all the other wet-dog commuters and smiled to myself all the way home. I was sure that I had acted my part so successfully that nobody could see the dishevelled and half-mad mother of two small children inside my power pantaloons.
I wondered afterwards why it was so much more satisfying than my daily childcare triumphs . Is it because I am so conditioned that I also discount the effort it takes to get through the day with two babies? Or because I had the sense of joining in the great theatre of importance that constitutes life Outside the Home? Or because somebody thanked me?
Partly I think that I enjoyed making a mental effort which was not connected solely with logistics, and the idea that this effort might change something fairly quickly- my student might know something she didn’t know before. I liked her responsiveness to my suggestions. I also liked the idea of getting paid. But mainly, I think the satisfaction came from feeling like a working woman again. It seems to be crucial to my self esteem.