October 11, 2016

Children: The Myth of Easy Language Learning

"Don't worry about your kids, they'll learn the language faster than you will!"

Immersion: The Early Years

I don't know how many times we've heard that statement or one very similar to it since we started this journey. Now, as a parent with five years of overseas experience, I can honestly say my kids have not learned the language faster than we have! And the idea that kids will learn the language easily is a myth that needs debunked!

I think it's safe to say that language learning is hard. As adults we have to put a lot of time and effort into learning another language. Hours of immersion, both listening and speaking, still result in many mistakes and awkward moments. Years of study still place us at a level below a native speaker with a high level of education. Why then do we assume that language learning will be so easy for our children?

I believe children can learn another language. I believe they have the ability to apply themselves and grasp the language. I also strongly believe that the personality, learning styles, desires and will of each child play a major part in how they will learn and interact in their second language.

Our first couple of years in Bolivia were not the best environment for teaching our girls Spanish. Their interaction with the language came on Sundays at our local church, Saturdays at Kids' Club (our oldest only), and throughout the week as our language helpers were in our home or we were out around town. Due to living in a city where every house is behind nine foot high walls and having a very busy schedule, we didn't have many opportunities to get the girls involved with other kids (they were nine months, two and four when we moved here). We did our best by accepting invites when they were made, inviting people into our home, and attending birthday parties and extra church events when we could.

When we made the move to the other side of the country and the compound we now live on, their opportunities for language learning changed drastically. We live with several families (sadly no kids close to their ages) and the majority of people who live here are Bolivian. In our home and with a few coworkers we speak English but otherwise our time is spent communicating in Spanish with Bolivians.

Our oldest daughter took advantage immediately. She is an extrovert and her desire to communicate is so strong that we saw a change right away. Now, after living here for three years, she is fluent for a child of nine. Her grammar is getting better all the time and her vocabulary is growing. She is a motivated language learner.

Our middle and youngest daughters have not had the same experience. Our middle daughter is an introvert. Her idea of a good time is time with her sisters and then time alone. In English she is very talkative with those she is most comfortable with, but even this has a time limit on it. In Spanish she communicates only when she absolutely has to and with very limited options. She is happy to listen to Spanish and her understanding is growing but she has no desire to communicate at a fluent level in the language. Our youngest daughter is much more like her oldest sister in most ways but she's also happy to let her big sister be her translator. She happily follows along, talking in English while her oldest sister communicates with the locals in Spanish.

Each of our girls have had the same exposure to the language. Each one has been given the same opportunity to learn. They are immersed during a large portion of each week and have the opportunity to use a formal study of the language (Rosetta Stone) or a more informal study of the language (with me) multiple times each week. But only one of our children is fluent.

Why is this an issue? To be honest, the biggest problem I see with the myth that all kids will learn another language quickly (or at all!) is the pressure it places on both the parents and the child involved. As parents we have questioned whether we're doing things wrong, we've had high expectations and we've placed expectations on our kids. I have had encounters with people asking me why my child still will not or cannot communicate with them. As a parent I can only do so much, my child then has to make the choice to communicate. There is also an assumption that the children will learn the local language. Now, I'm not an advocate of isolating my children that way (we really do desire that our girls speak Spanish!) but I have heard from multiple couples whose children, now older, never learned the local language even when they were encouraged by their parents. It's not a guarantee that your child will learn the language if you live overseas and are immersed in the language.

As a family we will continue to pursue Spanish. As parents and as my daughters' teacher, we will continue to teach and encourage our daughters to understand and speak the local language. But we will also be taking into consideration each of our daughters' personalities, learning styles, desires and will to learn and praying for guidance along the path so we don't push our children to the point of bitterness or hatred towards their host language and culture. In the end, each child has to choose how much they want to communicate in the local language.

Let's be honest, language learning takes work!

April 06, 2016

A Book About Change

I am always looking for good resources for our family as we live cross-culturally, especially ones that will speak to the hearts of our girls. In the range of personalities of children my daughters tend to be on the guarded, fearful side when it comes to change. They are much happier when they know what to expect and how to manage a situation (aren't we all?!). With that in mind I started looking for books that spoke about fear, trusting God and change which led me directly to Lysa TerKeurst's It Will Be Okay: Trusting God Through Fear and Change.

Found here!

To be honest, I didn't even read it before purchasing it. I have read some of Lysa's books for women and enjoy her blog so I figured it was a good risk to take. And it was! The story is sweet, deals with the issues of change and fear in an easy to understand manner using a small seed and a little fox, and it has sweet illustrations as well.

I think this book is excellent for third culture kids. In the middle of the story Little Seed is taken from the farmer's shed to be planted in the cold, dark ground which is a perfect illustration of the life of a third culture kid. Little Seed is at first fearful but then discovers that the Farmer knew what he was doing all along and also knew what was best for Little Seed.

My girls and I really enjoy this book. It also has some great resources mentioned at the beginning, including a list of verses to memorize to help your child(ren) deal with their fear. I'm very thankful for this little book and highly recommend it.

March 11, 2016

School Transitions

As we transition back to Bolivia, I also have to think about transitioning back into a more regularly scheduled school day. I am so thankful for how our year panned out with our "Little House" studies. We were able to experience so much living history by doing that study during our Home Assignment in the US. You can see all of those posts by clicking on the "Little House School Year" tag in the sidebar.

Re-organizing the classroom after our Home Assignment

So we're mid way through the 2015-2016 school year and it's time to pick up where we left off last year. This allows me to join our Kindergartner and First Grader with Sonlight's Core A read alouds (continuing where we left off) and continue Core C with our Third Grader. During our Little House studies we continued with Math-U-See and Spell to Write and Read so we'll keep trucking along with those. Our Science was nature study which I will continue with the younger two and I'll pick up Apologia's Zoology 2 again with our oldest.

Once we get off and running again I will also be adding in Spanish study using the Rosetta Stone program and music using a simple recorder program. My desire is to also do an art project and a cooking project once a week.

You may wonder why I'm using Rosetta Stone when my kids are already speaking Spanish and live immersed in the language. Well, after much prayer and discussion, my husband and I decided it would be good for the girls to have a more formal study of the language. This will, hopefully, help with both their grammar and vocabulary which in turn will help their communication here in Bolivia. 

My job has definitely gotten a bit easier with two readers in our school. I'm working with our youngest now and hope she's reading on her own by the end of the school year (she hopes so too!).

After so much travel and a lack of consistency in the "real" classroom, I'm looking forward to being back to a normal routine.

March 10, 2016

Returning Home

Many people know my story, the struggles I have had since living in Bolivia but only those who have seen me in person can really see how God has worked in my heart. So upon returning to Bolivia I have had several people ask me tentatively how I'm doing.

I'm here to tell you all that I'm doing really well. God has indeed been working in my heart and it's GOOD to be back in Bolivia.

Our home in Bolivia
Is it easy to be back in Bolivia? No! It's hot, humid and full of mosquitoes! But as I write this I'm smiling. It's easy to take all of the little things (especially physical discomforts) that grate on you and focus solely on those. That was part of my problem two years ago but as I made my list of things to be thankful for I realized how blessed I am to be here.

During the last couple of months we were in the US, God graciously reminded me of multiple blessings I have because of our work in Bolivia. So here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

  • My husband eats three meals a day with our family. He works out of a home office and walks less than a hundred yards to the classroom where he teaches. Throughout the day we are able to interact with him. I love it! 
  • We live a slow life here. The pace is comfortable and takes time for relationships. I'm still learning how to set aside my North American drive to "get things done" in order for there to be room for people but it's coming along. (To be honest, I really struggled with the pace we were living while in the US. I couldn't seem to slow down!)
  •  I get to live in a tropical climate that provides fresh fruit and vegetables all year long. The tropical climate is a hard one for this Montana girl (I love the snow!) but there are definitely benefits that I'm very thankful for. 
  •  We get the opportunity to interact with young adults who desire to be involved in missions! I have struggled with this one because it would be so much easier for me in English but I love that doing it in Spanish makes me slow down (out of necessity!) to really think about my words when giving counsel or sharing my story. 
  • We get to return "home." This is the first time since 2008 (training) that we are returning to the same house. 
I am very thankful for the ministry God has given our family here. I pray that our family continues to grow in our roles. I pray that our girls will see our hearts for truth and God's plan. I pray that I would continue to grow in my understanding of His will for me. I pray that my husband would continue to follow God's leading for our family.

And I pray I would continue to grow in my use of Spanish! :)

January 13, 2016

A Bucket of Blessings

Before returning to the US for a home assignment it is customary to dream! And let me tell you, the bucket list can grow pretty rapidly. As I sit here and think back on the last several months, I am amazed by all of the blessings, little and big, God has bestowed on us during this time. Our bucket list items have been checked off and we are feeling ready to return to Bolivia. I am so thankful!

What, you might ask, was included on my bucket list? Here's a taste (in no particular order):
  • Go to the library (public and at our local church)
  • Consume yummy American food (pizza, hamburgers, Dairy Queen and root beer!) 
  • Get the girls involved in Awana and/or Sunday School 
  • Go to Yellowstone National Park 
  • Celebrate the girls' birthdays with friends
  • Build a snowman, sled and ice skate 
  • Watch it snow with a cup of hot chocolate in my hands
  • Spend the holidays with family (our 1st Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US in 5 years!) 
  • Go into the woods and cut down our Christmas tree
  • Pray for a white Christmas (and we got more than we could have imagined! It was awesome!) 
  • Attend our local church on a regular basis
  • Visit some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder houses while road tripping
  • Have our family photos taken during the Fall (one of my husband's and my favorite times of the year)
  • Family reunions for both of our families
  • A visit to Canada to see my grandparents
  • Get the necessary health check-ups (not "fun" but definitely needed) 
  • and so much more! 

I really couldn't have asked for a better home assignment. Yes, it has been crazy. . .especially the first 6 months as we traveled and spoke on a pretty regular basis. Yes, it has been without routine. And yes, we are ready to get back "home" but it has been so very good to be here.

"Olaf" saying hello in our backyard
We have 7 weeks left. In that time we'll be putting things back in storage, packing luggage, getting in our last visits with family and friends, and cleaning the house we're living in. We are also prepping for our church's annual Global Outreach Conference which happens our last full week in the US.

My mind is gearing up. I'm thinking and dreaming more in Spanish as each day goes by. I'm praying regularly for peace and trust as my anxieties always rise before our international moves. But I'm also spending a lot of time thanking God for His many blessings. I am humbled by His goodness. My bucket is overflowing with His blessings!

November 06, 2015

Little House Field Trips

While we were in Bolivia planning out this home assignment we discovered that we would need to take a road trip that included a week in Colorado (see my previous post), a drive across Kansas, a week in Missouri and then the return trip to Montana through Iowa and South Dakota. My mind started working and I started doing some research. I discovered that on that trip we could visit ALL of the Laura Ingalls Wilder houses and/or towns that still exist. Of course over time we decided that was a bit much so we decided to visit two of the six options.

It was a little bright out there! ;)

Our first house was the replica of the "Little House on the Prairie" just outside of Independence, Kansas. It wasn't a long stop but it was so worth it. This replica cabin is definitely on the property where the Ingalls family lived. The well that Pa dug and that Mr. Scott almost died in still exists. The replica cabin has replica items inside that definitely make you feel like you are in the house on the prairie. They even have a little China doll on the mantle (much to the delight of my oldest daughter!). The property also has an old one room school house and a post office. We took a moment to visit the gift shop and learned a bit more about the history of the farm. We are all so glad we stopped.

The Post Office

The Post Office

The school house
The second house we visited was a two for one deal just outside of Mansfield, Missouri. This is the House on Rocky Ridge where Laura and Almanzo lived for 60 years as a married couple. This house was a delight as it was the original house that Almanzo built for Laura over the course of 18 years. The details are beautiful, including the height of the counters for Laura's "half-pint" size. She really was a little woman! Included in the price of the tour was the "Rock House" that Rose had built for her parents. They only lived in it for 8 years but it was fun to see. These houses also include a museum that houses Pa's fiddle (our favorite thing to see!), handwork done by Laura and her sisters and many other little things like original family photos. I loved seeing the clock that Almanzo bought for Laura (after they were married---you can find the story in the last book of the series). It still works! And sits on a shelf above the stove in their farmhouse. 

No photos allowed inside the house

The Rock House

November 04, 2015

Debriefing and Renewal

If you are a missionary or know a missionary than you are well aware of the fatigue that we show when visiting in the US. Our ministry and transient lifestyle can be exhausting, depleting us of the energy it takes to get through just a normal day. Our home church has now started sending the missionaries they have sent out to Colorado for a debrief and time of renewal (DAR) with Mission Training International (MTI). Check it out here: https://www.mti.org/dar/

Pikes Peak: The view from our retreat location
We are so thankful for this time. It was not an easy week as we dealt with emotions and experiences that aren't necessarily easy to face head on but it was a very necessary time that allowed us to process all that we have been through and where we're headed.

The staff at MTI have experience, training and wisdom that was such an asset to this training. We thoroughly enjoyed our small group leaders and our time as a couple with one of the leaders. The girls loved their teachers, who are also experienced and trained. The stories the leaders were able to share with us showed their true understanding of the situations we face---they've faced them too!

One of the biggest benefits we saw as a family was the link between each age group. Our girls were split into age groups that were appropriate for them and were given tools to deal with what it means to be a missionary kid and how to deal with the emotions they face, the frustrations they deal with and the constantly changing lifestyle. The same tools described to them were used in the adult sessions as well on a much deeper level. All five of us walked away feeling more equipped and with the knowledge that there are others who understand us.

For a bit of a closer look:
One of the things that all of five of us learned about was the bridge of transition. Think of yourself in your country of service (land on one side of the bridge), as you step of the land onto the bridge you are mostly settled. You know who you are, what your job is, where your stuff is, etc. As you take your foot off the land and stand completely on the bridge you start feeling unsettled. Life isn't "normal" and the whole family starts feeling the affects of the changes. Then you hit the middle of the bridge. Life is chaotic! You're traveling, moving, saying good byes, leaving things behind and may not know what's coming. Thankful the chaos starts to settle as you continue across the bridge, maybe you've now landed in your passport country. You're now just feeling unsettled again. Can't find the item you thought you brought from your last home, still haven't figured out where your kids are going to school, etc. But those things slowly start settling into place and as they do you start to settle as well and then you've reached the other side of the bridge, your passport country.

This illustration has been great for our kids. We've been able to talk about the bridge and they have voiced where they are. I love that we all walked away with a better way to communicate with each other about where we are on the bridge (and that can always be changing).

And on a lighter note I have to add, our favorite times happened two (of the five) nights as we sat around a campfire with other missionary attendees, sharing hilarious stories from our overseas lives. It was a great time of fellowship!

November 02, 2015

Virginia City and Nevada City

After visiting Bannack State Park, a ghost town, we took the time to visit Virginia and Nevada Cities, where history comes alive on the weekends. This is an active tourist area that has delightful (and expensive) little stores to browse through, a museum town, a small train and some great places to eat. Our highlights included the volunteers who shared with us about spinning and carding wool, the train ride, the candy store, panning for gold (and rubies) and the ball that was taking place that night (we only watched for a few moments from the balcony but the girls were delighted). This field trip was a bit more expensive but still well worth the cost to dive into history. Enjoy the photos!

Taken after our ride

Spinning wool

Carding wool

Panning for gold
A photo with one of the young women dressed up for the ball

October 30, 2015

Bannack State Park

During the summer we set out on another grand adventure. We were staying at my mom's for an extended stay and took advantage of a short day trip over to Bannack State Park. Bannack is an old mining town. It is a ghost town that is kept in very good condition. As we were walking down the street and entering the buildings that were open, the girls kept mentioning things from the Laura books: "This is just like in. . .," or "Is this how it would have looked for Laura?" I loved that their minds were making those connections without any (or very little) input from me! Our highlights were definitely the one room school house and the one furnished building in the park, a small home. Here's just a glimpse of our field trip.

Our first experience with a one room school house!
A little later than Laura's childhood days but still so fun to see! ;)
Walking down Main Street

Riding at Grandma's house

October 29, 2015

Book Recommendations

I have two new book recommendations for you!

The first is Foreign to Familiar written by Sarah Lanier. This book is short and sweet but it's a gem. It is loaded with good information, great illustrations from multiple cultures and practical application. If you want to know the differences between the two main types of cultures in the world, read this book. It was very insightful for me as I looked back on our (currently) four years in Bolivia and I plan on taking it back with me when we return so I can remind myself of some of those differences! Find it HERE! 

The second book is for kids: Swirly by Sara Saunders. Our girls love this book! It's a great story for third culture kids, explaining the little bits of culture we pick up as we move from country to country and how that "colors" us. You can find it HERE.