lizardek's obiter dictum lizardek Home Now Then Friends Info Ek Family
zird is the word [userpic]
You know I must feel like hell if I actually cancel a sushi date. :( Sorry, gale_storm, if my throat had been any less sandpapery and my headache any less poundy I would have been there snarfing down salmon nigiri and infecting you with the heebie-jeebies for all I was worth. Bleah.


Mom and Judy took the amazing sunshiney autumn wonderweather with them when they left. Damn it.


I have a problem that I have brought upon myself, sort of, and I don't really know what to do about it. See, we use the OPOL method at home to raise our bilingual children. OPOL stands for One Parent One Language, which means that each parent speaks their own native language to their children consistently. I've always spoken English to the kids and Anders has always spoken Sweden. He and I speak English together, because it's the language we met in, and it was just easier, and I have always been of the opinion that it helped the kids' English because they weren't just hearing it directed at THEM, they were hearing full conversations between the two of us as well (and to be honest, Anders says it's also helped keep HIS English at a higher level, too).

Even though Martin was home with me for nearly 3 years (almost all English all the time) and Karin for a year, they have been surrounded by and immersed in Swedish pretty much since they started daycare. Their English capabilities have shot up drastically each time we have taken a long vacation in the States, and the visits from my mom and brother, and time with our American friends has also helped...BUT I'm realizing sadly that it's not enough.

Part of the problem is that they haven't been given the opportunity for hemspråk lessons, which are actually mandated by law in Sweden. Hemspråk literally means "home language" and children of non-Swedish speaking parents are entitled to special tutoring during classtime, as long as there are 5 children with the same language requirement in the county. There are 3 alone in our school, and I know for a fact there are more than 5 in our county, yet the school authorities have fobbed us off for nearly 3 years now with the excuse that they haven't been able to find a teacher to take the job. Which is no wonder when you consider that they are offering it as a part-time position, for crap pay, with the requirement that the teacher must have their own car (and pay for gas) and be able to drive around to several different schools for 1-hour lessons during the week. Despite the fact that I've met a perfectly suitable and qualified candidate who actually interviewed for them, they haven't hired anyone.

ANYWAY. After my mom's visit, it was painfully obvious to me that the English my kids are getting just isn't enough. A few hours in the evenings, and the weekends doesn't help when they are speaking primarily Swedish, even to me. Mostly I've ignored it, and answered them in English regardless of what language they use, and have been pleased that they DO use it, if infrequently, and have an excellent understanding of it. But watching them struggle to talk to their grandma, especially Karin, who hasn't had as much exposure or practice as Martin, brought it home to me that something needs to be done.

Even though Martin can read in English, he also prefers Swedish since that is, of course, what he is getting in school and what comes easiest. They will start regular English lessons when they are 9 years old in the Swedish school system, but I feel that is too late. And even then it will cause problems, because they will be far more advanced than the rest of their classmates, which could cause them to be complacent and retard their actual progress. :(

I've talked to them this week about trying to use more English at home in the evenings, but neither of them is particularly keen on the idea. I understand that it isn't easy for them to switch when they've had it pretty easy with me understanding Swedish and responding to them regardless of the language I use. It's hard for me to break the habit either, and it's admittedly much faster and much easier to just let them answer and speak to me in Swedish.

I am also afraid of pushing the issue and causing them to button up completely. I don't think that forcing them will work, and will just make them obstinate about NOT using English, Karin in particular. I've tried a bit of the "I don't understand you...can you repeat that? ENGLISH" thing but it doesn't go over well after the 3rd or 4th time and feels artificial and irritating. I've mentioned this to Anders, and told him that I think it would also help if HE spoke more English with the kids, but that means a hard change of habit for HIM as well, and I don't want to ruin the rapport he and the kids have either.

So, innernets, got any ideas?

*Clarence Darrow
mood: sick
music: my hacking cough and gravelly voice


Maybe fun language related projects at home? Reading English books (which I'm sure you already do), writing English stories to send to Engish-speaking cousins? Being English-language penpals with English-speaking relatives? Um...I'm trying to think of things that would feel more like fun than work, but that would reinforce the English language at home.

Watching English-language movies?

Maybe you could mandate English-speaking weekends at home. Like, evenings after school, when they've been speaking/reading Swedish all day, let them keep doing the Swedish. But then on the weekends, when it's family time, make it English?

I know one family here in the States that is bilingual (French and English), and I think they speak French full time in their home, parents to each other, parents to child, child to parents. Their idea was that the child would get good English language just by living in this country, listening to the radio, TV, going to school, etc. The child is still a toddler as yet, so I have no real conclusion on how it's gone for them. When they visit friends or family who are non-French speaking, they speak English. That's probably not helpful, but maybe it's interesting?

The weekend thing might work better, although more and more they're gone most of the day playing with (Swedish-speaking) friends.

I've had people who've lived here for years and raised their children with the OPOL method tell me not to worry, that they'll be fine. But it's important to me that they be fluent, because of the American half of their family and their heritage. I love English, and we read books in English all the time and watch English movies, too. Maybe nothing would be "enough" for me. Hmmm...

Same situation over here - OPOL or rather OPOL, OPTL (one-parent-one-language, other-parent-two-languageS).

Man speaks Norwegian (of course) and I speak English and Mandarin. So far it's functioned pretty well, except #2 was starting to be stubborn and speak only Norwegian to me, mostly coz I think he needs encouragement to be confident in his command of English vocabulary. Plus he *knows* I understand Norwegian.

I went through the same "I don't understand..." thing and it stopped working after a while. So now, whenever he speaks to me in Norwegian, I repeat what he says in English, and encourage him to repeat after me once. I will then address whatever issue he's talking about *after* he has repeated once after me. And after that, I praise him for trying coz I think perhaps he is unsure of how to express himself in English, probably due to a lack of vocab/grammar knowledge and not using it frequently enough in daily conversations. (The brothers speak to each other in Norwegian.)

#1 speaks to me in English, interspersed with Norwegian words for the English ones he doesn't know. Again, I use the "repitition" exercise to expand his vocab and boost his confidence. He's very proud that he can speak English.

Man & I have talked about it, and we're toying with the idea of speaking non-Norwegian languages only at home since they're exposed to Norwegian outside the home guaranteed. We read only English books at home and Norwegian books only when the in-laws are around. Children's programs on TV are selected by us: namely Sesame Street, Barney, mostly English/Mandarin shows on VCDs. Norwegian children programs only on special occasions or when they're visiting someone else's home.

Guess just have to persevere and expose them as much as possible. Here there isn't even the hemspraak option. I'm considering checking with the Chinese Embassy here if they have private tutors to teach my kids Mandarin. It's sad if they can't communicate with my grandmother. I'm not even expecting them to learn my dialects. I speak in dialect to them, and I think they understand me, but they can't/won't speak it back to me. So can you imagine my challenge to introduce Mandarin to them to keep this part of their heritage alive for them? #2 is very proud that he can speak Mandarin (when he chooses to!) He can recognise simple Mandarin characters, but stringing words together is a whole other challenge. Command of a language requires so much more than that.

I also arrange for playdates where only English/Mandarin is spoken. But these are few and far in between. So it may not be a viable option for the longer-term.

Personally, I think if I want my children to "master" at least 2 languages, we have to be living in a country that embraces it from an early age, especially in kindergarten/school. Norway (and perhaps most parts of Europe) just isn't it.

I have a little trick that seems to be working so far *keeping fingers crossed that it'll continue to work for a long time!*: I tell them that since so many of their peers don't understand English, English can be our secret language, when they don't want other kids to understand or know what they're talking about. They're getting a huge kick out of it!

Good luck!

Thank you for all the great ideas. It's really helpful to hear your experiences and the tricks you're using and how successful they have been. I can't imagine trying to add MANDARIN to the mix! *boggle*


Hope you feel better a bit of chicken soup and tea. What if your husband and you both spoke english only at home that way your kids would have one more adult speaking english to out way the sweedish in school. Also what about music in english or making them learn something in english each week. I don't know but I felt the need to throw some ideas out there.

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

I think you're partly right. I suspect I AM projecting a bit, at least, my love of English, the language, and the part of their heritage that isn't Swedish. They don't see themselves as American, too, even though they have heard me say it and (I think) would answer that they are both if asked. But they view themselves as primarily Swedish (not at all surprising). I want them to be proud of being American and what it stands for...which is a little hard when I am not the most patriotic flag-waver around. Hmmm...I have to think about this more.


Liz, everything you're saying really hits home for me. I've always thought that my future children would have no problem speaking English if they grew up here but you're the second person I've heard of who's truggling with the issue. I admit it makes me nervous about raising my kids in Sweden. Not a flag-waver myself (I mean really not), I still want my children to feel American and to speak English as well as any American would. Apparently, that's totally unrealistic. Then I think about how difficult it would be for them to feel Swedish and speak Swedish if they were raised in America. Is it too much to ask for them to be 100% of both nationalities?

No advice obviously, but I wish you luck!


Thanks, Amylou, that means a lot :) It's really more difficult than one might think, and it probably doesn't help that I've been a bit of a slacker about it. I think it probably IS too much to ask them to be 100% of both nationalities, or to ask anyone :) However, I know that most likely they WILL speak English perfectly well by the time they are adults, considering the fluency level of most regular Swedes.

The kids don't have any problem UNDERSTANDING's the speaking that's the issue, and probably writing as they get older. It's just the same as it was for me when I was learning Swedish, really. Getting over that hump of worrying that I wasn't perfect or that I didn't have all the words, or whatever.

We have the same problem in reverse. Not that it makes anyone feel better about things, but I am here to tell you it is definitely hard to have them feel Swedish and speak Swedish over here. G has been slacking on the language in the last few months and we are not exactly near any centers of swedish culture. I try hard to bring in as much Swedish stuff as often as possible, but it's not something there is much access to, unlike other languages like Spanish, or around here, Portuguese or Italian, and a number of Asian languages. I would do minority language at home except that my Swedish is practically non-existent.

Kid swap one summer? ;-) (kidding!)

Kid swap! maybe in a few more years :)


I'm a total ignoramous about this stuff, so have nothing to offer. When I saw the title of your post I thought you were going to tell us when it's proper to use "who" vs. "whom." (Maybe *I* need English lessons...) ~Marilyn

LOL! I may have been an English major, but I'm not the grammar police! :D


wow. That is a challenge. I have no advice, but offer unending support. :D In Canada, it's very beneficial to be bi-lingual (French and English). I took three years of French in high school, but my French is appalling. I can read it better than I can speak it (all labels on all products are required to have French and English so I've absorbed some that way), but I would still say my French is appalling. Except in Quebec, it's exceedingly easy to get by without understanding a word of French, especially in the Western provinces. Of course, having absolutely no French heritage, there has never been an real push or urgency to learn a second language. Regardless, I do think it is valuable skill and certainly something that is important to your family. I also think that you're right, it's easier to learn as a child.

On the flip side though, I bet they have absorbed far more than you realize, even if they are a bit reluctant to use it.

Hope you feel better soooooon!!! xo Wee

I know they understand a LOT, since they have been hearing it, reacting to me (and others), watching American TV & movies, and playing English computer games since they were really small. It's more the speaking abilities that I'm struggling with figuring out how to improve.

Very interesting to hear your experiences, as this is something I hope to be facing in a number of years. The longer I've been here, the harder I've realized it is going to be. I've noticed that it has become increasingly difficult for me to speak "pure" English. Too often I throw in a few words of Dutch for good measure and Dirk and I are constantly switching back and forth.

Kids realize very quickly whether or not you understand both languages. Is it possible to get them in contact (regular playdates) with some people who don't (or they don't know do) speak Swedish. Give them more opportunities where they NEED to speak English.

Also, from what I've seen you have some fairly ambitious, "I want to be good in school" type kids (at least Martin seemed a bit like that). Start assigning homework in English. Tell them that once they've reached the age of, oh, 7 1/2 this is necessary and that till these hemsprak classes are officially organized, you need them to do certain assignments. (Maybe even - and I'm not sure how you'd feel about this white lie - tell them you are going to send them in to some mysterious teacher. Whatever it takes to motivate them.)

English penpals are maybe an idea too.

Finally, if all else fails, send them to the States in the summer for intense interaction with grandma or summer camp. They'll pick things up quick when there are no translators around.

We have some English workbooks that my mom sent at some point, I think I might get those back out.

Sending them to the States isn't an option at the moment...since we can't afford it. Plus Anders and I are both really uncomfortable with the idea of letting our kids travel alone this young. I know people do it, but I don't think we would, not until they're older.

TV would be the simplest way to get them to pick some of the language up, just because it wouldn't be necessary to convince them to watch. :-) but it's not the ideal solution, by far, is it. personally, i think lots of my english knowledge comes from tv, since internet wasn't around way back when and school was boring.

it sucks that they have cheated you on the hemspråk teacher. but you know what? you have another problem too, me thinks. once they start learning english as a second language in school they'll be frightfully bored. because however bad YOU think they are at english they will be far ahead of everyone else in the class.

I know, I'm really worried about that. I saw what happened to my brother when he was more advanced than the rest of the kids in his class, coming into public school after being in Montessori for a few years.

i have a few friends who are immigrants in sweden (from other countries besides the US) and they speak their home language at home because the kids get swedish everywhere else. their kids seem to be comfortable with both languages.

id suggest english speaking activities, games, tv, movies and perhaps english-speaking play groups. other than that i dunno..maybe a joined effort of both you and anders to encourage the kids to speak more english? of course they'll be resistent at first but maybe they'll come around with consistent gentle encouragement?

We do a lot of that stuff already, although not so much with the English-speaking playgroups, because most of that kind of thing is in Malmo, and we're too far away to make it easy. I'm going to have to motivate Anders to join in the effort to make it work, I think.

Hope you feel better very soon!

I can so relate to this and I wish I could tell you how to solve this dilemma. We do the same here, I speak english with the kidlet, Ibo speaks swedish and we speak english to each other because we started out that way and because we felt it was beneficial for LL to hear the language flowing between adults.

When we moved here LL was 18 months old and speaking some english. He stopped speaking the day we arrived in Sweden and started again 6 weeks later with swedish. It was a real struggle for a bit, he would tell me something he wanted in swedish, I would pretend not to understand (or really didn't understand *laugh*) in an effort to make him use the english I knew he had stored in his brain. He would then pantomime, cry, wait for pappa, but he would not speak english. As he got older he kept taking in the language from books, movies, tv and of course parents. But when prompted to say it in english, he would say "in Sweden we speak swedish" (something he learned from his paternal grandmother who did not teach her children her native finnish and did not encourage their dad to teach them his native arabic).

Time rolled along and we had a visit from my aunt. LL struggled to speak english with her and once the barrier was broken he was more receptive to repeating words in english when we asked. He started talking on the phone with family, using english which was mostly "yes, no, maybe, I not know". *laugh* He started hemspråk last year and it was like a light went on. Even though two of his classmates have english speaking parents and he had heard their parents speaking english with them, until that time he did not "comprehend" there were other kids like him and that it was really ok, in fact kind of cool, to speak english. He doesn't learn so much in that 45 minutes a week as far as structured lessons, but he interacts in english with others beside family and that has helped him to realize he can use this english language with other people too. *laugh*

As you know his english blossomed when we were in Canada in the summer and when we came home he spoke only english with me. But he is now slacking off and using more and more swedish. I do say to him, "can you say that in english please" and most of the time he does try. If he says no, I just repeat back whatever he said in english and reinforce that he can even if he won't. We also have "english at the dinner table", that was hard at the beginning but now flows fairly well, with little "say it in english" reminders. I read english at bedtime and if he wants to talk about the story, he has to do it in english, since he discusses the swedish stories pappa reads in swedish. We are trying to make him see that both languages are equal and that anything he does in one, can be done in the other. A friend of his, a woman who works in a cafe we go to occasionally has tried to get him to speak english with her. She is fluent and speaks to him in english, he answers in swedish or else gets shy and says "my mom will tell you". *laugh* So I fear that it may be many years if ever that he feels as comfortable with english as he does with swedish.

A friend of mine has something called "Kid's Club" here. The kids interact in english one hour a week, her groups are divided by age and not only does she have kids who have english at home but a number of swedish kids who have parents that want them to get a head start with english and are willing to pay for it. Maybe there is something similar in your area? I looked at putting LL into her class, even though it was rather expensive, but the timing of her classes did not fit our schedule. I am hoping it will fit better next year, any outside the home english he can get is a bonus.

This is not a "free" language we are giving our kids, as is the common consensus among swedes. It is a struggle for them culturally and for us who want our kids to have our language as part of their heritage.

oh, thank you for this, Kitty Sue! :) I feel like my kids are following the exact same pattern. It's very comforting to know that I'm not alone.

My daughter was 14 years old when we moved here, so I don't have the same problem. My daughter occasionally will forget who she is talking to and start speaking Swedish with me. I cracks us both up. My husband and I mostly converse in English, but he'll switch to Swedish if he is tired or if he wants to be silly (which can be often!). My step-kids mostly speak English to me, but then again, they were teenagers when I moved here and their English was pretty good already then.

I have been in several bi-lingual homes and it is always a concern. I had one parent who screamed at me gently reminded me that they would like to me speak English with their child so that the child would get more exposure.

Another family lives here in town. Their son was 2 years old when they moved here. The American dad embraced learning Swedish and almost never speaks English with his son anymore. The Swedish mom speaks both English and Swedish to him. When I have the occasion to be around him, I only speak English. My daughter baby-sat for him quite a bit when they were re-modeling their house. She mostly interacted in Swedish with him (she's fluent, the stinker!), but one day he told his mom to ask H if she would only talk English with him when she was baby-sitting. Apparently he was worried about being able to talk to his cousins who were coming from the States that summer with their Swedish mom to stay for a year (to help improve their Swedish).

So, I guess that it comes when it comes. I would recommend not being militant about it, but present opportunities whenever you can for them to be exposed to English. I'd also suggest really pursuing the hemspråk classes with the county (working at a school, I know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease!). And, I promise to talk English with your kids when I get the chance to meet them.

:) Yes, getting off our butts and trying to push more for the hemsprak wil help, although we have repeatedly asked both the teachers and the prinicipal over the past 2 years, with no help.

Sorry your under the weather Liz :O(

As for the English problem, I think you approach it like any other thing you want your kids to do. You give them some kind of an incentive. A few ideas might be:

Have one night a week(or month) that's American night, when you cook and American dinner, or learn about something American, and you only speak English on that night.

Get an American pen pal (my kids would be glad to participate ;OP) get them their own email account and have them write a sentence or two each week. Something that's easy and not overwhelming.

Have them retell a Swedish story in English. Teach them English rhymes or tongue twisters.

Get a puppet and have them speak in English to the puppet (everything is more fun with a puppet).

That's all I can think of off the top of my head. You're way too busy to put a lot of planning time into it, and thanks to the internet you don't have to. I know there are TONS of ESL websites out there, with oodles of ideas. Screw the schools and do it yourself. You don't have to reinvent the wheel there are already people who have been there, done that, and have the website. It can be easy, not overwhelming for you or them and fun! Let me know if you want Emily and Martin to email.

You are awesome! What a lot of great ideas!! Martin actually has an email address, although it's never been used. We're having trouble with our stupid email program at the moment so I have to do everything through the web-based program at the moment. It's martin @ lizardek dot com :) I will put some of your ideas to work right away. Thank you!! :) (and yet another reason why I heart you so much :) :)

Is there no Saturday morning English school for kids where you live? Or an English speaking kids club for North American expats? Granted I live in an enormous city, but most of Daisy's friends who have another language at home, also go to their respective 'language school' on Saturday mornings. For example, her best friend goes to Deutsche Schule from 9:00 - 12:30 every Saturday morning. (His mom is German.) He even has home work to do each week. Same goes for her other friends ... classes in Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Japanese, Portuguese, etc. I would have loved to put Daisy in Czech classes on Saturday mornings, but sadly they are held more than one hour by transit and besides, she has ballet every Saturday. However, Daisy is in French Immersion school all week, so she is bilingual in English and French. Sadly, I don't speak Czech to her at home because I understand it excellently, alle ja ne mluvim česky tak dobře.* Heh! If there aren't any formal classes, are there enough English speaking expats around that would want to set something up for their kids? If there were enough, you could even hire an esl teacher for the kids classes and it wouldn't cost very much if split up many ways. Good luck!
Oh, and try some fun American kids websites that would get Martin and Karin reading English a bit. Good luck!

*but I don't speak that well.

I just wanted to comment that they have Spanish lessons in our English public school- kindergarten. I thought my DD would get confused since they are just learning how to read English but alas it is helping her mother tongue or English.

Do you watch videos and movie in English?

Wow. What a lot of good ideas and advice you got. The second language thing is fascinating.

Myself, as an adult, I am having enormous difficulty retaining the tsalagi that I am learning, chiefly I think, because of no one to speak with, now where to speak it. AND, I have absolutely zero confidence about speaking. I am trying to rustle up someone else who wants to study and speak. I know someone who lives a half hour or so away, but he has been studying for years and I feel intimidated~~ so, get 'em while they're young alright.

December 2020
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31


lizardek's obiter photos
lizardek's obiter photos

Feeling generous? Be my guest!

I can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Abraham Lincoln

obiter snippets

Layout thanks to dandelion.
Findus the cat as used in my user icon and header is the creation of Sven Nordqvist.