Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Raising a Child to be Bilingual Without Being a Native Speaker

Today is the first day of school! My kids are both now officially immersion students and I'm excited to see what this year holds for all of us. Although my youngest has been hearing Hawaiian language for many years now and has used it himself on occasion, I didn't hear him utter one word of it today. My oldest had an insatiable appetite for English this summer and, since the last thing he wants to do is fumble his way through relearning Hawaiian, math is the only thing saving his enthusiasm (mahalo ia math)! I also realized today that in two years, I haven't finished even the first two chapters - let alone the entire book - of Na Kai 'Ewalu (Hawaiian 101).

I always think this (way of raising my kids) would be so much easier if I just spoke Hawaiian. Sure, I can learn it, but that's not the same as being bilingual right now. If I really knew a second language then I could just choose it over English without having to wonder whether or not I'm making any sense. I could stop constantly asking myself "do I know how to say this?" I could stop resorting to English for the sake of clarity. Sounds so great, huh?

In lieu of it being easy, immersion parenting without fluency is at least possible. Raising a child to be bilingual when you can't even speak another language is often like groping around in a dark room. You will eventually find what you are looking for, but you shouldn't expect to find it right away and you will probably feel ridiculous in the process. Here are a few points that might be helpful if you are in a similar situation.

  • Learn the language! I should have finished Na Kai 'Ewalu a long time ago. Taking my own studies seriously models to my kids that there is value in bilingualism.
  • Use what you know. It sounds so simple, but I have to really force myself - first languages are first for a reason. Even if its just a phrase a day - use it!
  • Don't speak English when everyone else is speaking Hawaiian, even (especially) if they are okay with it. Every time you fall back on the comfort and safety of English, it becomes that much harder to potentially embarrass yourself next time.
  • Do homework with your kids - and use their vocabulary. Counting, reading books, asking simple comprehension questions, these are all possible with super-basic language skills. 
  •  Delegate. Any good leader will tell you that the best way to finish a big job is to farm out the little ones. Books, movies, internet, teachers, friends, Meet Ups, playgroups, etc. ANYONE who is willing to speak to/with you or your child in the target language should be on speed dial. 
  • Look for encouragement, but don't look in the direction of your kids. My kids are the first to correct, criticize and comment on any and all errors. And they aren't tactful like teachers/adults! 
  • Recognize the small victories. Every once in awhile I will overhear my kids talking to other people and when they say something like "yes, I speak Hawaiian and so does my mom" it provides me with that much more reason to plug on. 

What about all those folks who are bilingual and chose to only speak English with their children. Why do they do that? Is it because of America's generally crappy attitude toward bilingualism? Is it because they figure their child won't be able to "use" that language? Is it for the sake of others in the house (spouses) being able to understand? Feel free to explain this one to me in the comments.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Summer Language Slump

Summer is the land where language immersion goes to die. We went from a kid who was practically speaking in tongues to an anxious xenoglossophobic. I admit now that I either didn't notice or (more likely) ignored the early signs, but the problem ("shift in focus") became clear when I tried to ask him a question in Hawaiian and he burst into tears.

"No Mommy...please, no! Only English!" *sob sob*

Where did that come from?!

I told him before summer began that we could spend time working on English. He has a little Summer Fun workbook (page-a-day thing) and eagerly signed up for the summer reading program at our local library. The first few visits I was able to convince him to try some new Hawaiian or bi-lingual stories, but now I'm having to resort to sneaking them into the checkout pile so we can avoid a public argument over whether or not he should have to read "No Ke Kumu ʻUlu". If I had known that he was going to staunchly entrench himself in the comforts of English, would I still have been so permissive come the last day of school?


After much self-reflecting I've concluded that - as much as I want to and/or believe I should - I can't shove a language down his throat. He has to speak Hawaiian at school and he has to do his school work in whatever language that demands - but putting rules and restrictions on how he expresses himself outside that time is only going to make him resentful and disinterested. Two feelings I am not looking to encourage.

He will come around. Seeing his little brother start the immersion program next year will get him jazzed about Hawaiian again (I hope). And the sparkly luster of English will begin to wear once he gets his fill of Fly Guy books (and discovers nonsensical vowel combinations - mwahahaha).

I can only control my own attitudes and behavior, silently hoping and praying that they might rub off somehow. Today, after another fight over whether to watch the English or Japanese version of Digimon, I made this deal with my almost 6 year old: 
I want to learn Hawaiian right now and you want to learn English. I'm not going to freak out if you read English books and you can't freak out if I ask you questions in Hawaiian. I want to watch Japanese Digimon and if you want to watch with me, you gotta deal with it. Next year, mommy is going to study really hard and at the end of the year we will see how much better we both get. You help me, and I will help you. No more being upset.

Expression should be a joy. I can lead him to the language, but I canʻt make him speak it. That has to come from him.

How do you deal with the summer language slump? Any brilliant ideas for keeping the immersion language alive when school is out of session?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nāwahī: Creating Best New Practices

The Hawaii Public Charter Schools Network recently recognized Ke Kula o Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu (Nāwahī) as one of the "schools and leaders who are charting paths in new and innovative ways and, in doing so, showing measured successes in public charter schools across the state." (source)

My favorite part of the video is when Pila Wilson thanks the HPCSN for their great honor...but points out that even if the school didn't receive that recognition, they would still do their thing. And that Japanese lesson on the smartboard. UGH! Yummy. Just seeing that makes me want to pick up and move to Hilo.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Children's Literature in Hawaiian

Today, I spotted the bookl Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being (Kamehameha Publishing) on our Kahu's desk and quickly snapped it up for my weekend reading. Oh, to one day publish in a such a journal! Among other interesting articles, "Extending Hawaiian Children's Literature" by Dominic Cheetham specifically caught my eye.

My child's early reading skills are always a hot topic and they predictably came up yesterday at our end-of-the-year banquet as his teacher reminisced about the past 9 months they spent together. Her initial anxieties about meeting his needs are only amplified in myself and unfortunately, never seem to subside as hers did. I've tried to root out as much Hawaiian language materials as I can - the library has been a great resource, as are online sources such as Ulukau - but I always feel like I'm coming up short and resorting back to English to give him the variety he craves.

Here's an excerpt from Mr. Cheetham's article that spoke to something I've considered for awhile but have yet been able to accurately express:

"Traditional Hawaiian themes promote understanding of the land and of traditional values and culture, and in that respect are an entirely positive thing...However, the predominance of such themes, and lack of other themes, makes the available children's literature unbalanced in content and ideologically linked to a specific role for the Hawaiian language of preserving traditional culture and values...Not all children who speak or want to speak Hawaiian want to read this type of text, and for those children there is almost no choice of reading material. Even for children who accept and enjoy the common themes of the text, if they want to read in different areas they have no choice but to read in a different language. There is also the danger that the limited focus can give the impression that the Hawaiian language is unrelated to modern or global matters."

Thankfully, there are lots of picture book choices written entirely in Hawaiian. But chapter books? High interest series? Books about most anything besides the beach, mo'olelo or the monarchy? Nope. What are we going to do when he truly moves past picture books and there is nothing waiting for him on the other side except academic texts and newspaper articles from the last century?

He's always been a reader - how do I teach him to value both languages equally?

My sons like robots, predatory animals, dinosaurs, anything by Rohl Dahl and Shel Silverstien. I wish we could find these things in Hawaiian. Translation, the author mentions, offers a certain ownership over a text. Japanese folk tales are accessible to us through English and teach us about a foreign culture. Harry Potter could be uniquely "ours" if we could only read it in Hawaiian. I'm all for perpetuating unique cultural values, but the danger, as mentioned above, is that Hawaiian becomes the language we use only to talk about "Hawaii stuff".

How badly do I yearn for a translated copy of the Magic Tree House series and/or a second-coming of Beverly Cleary to write engaging, universal coming of age stories that happen to be in Hawaiian language. Gotta tell you, half way through this article I began to question if my real calling in life is to write and translate these types of materials.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Kaulana Na Pua - Project KULEANA w/ lyrics & translation

Project KULEANA and Kamehameha Publishing present a collaboration of musical KULEANA.

Written by Ellen Keho'ohiwoakalani Wright Pendergast in 1893. This was a mele of opposition to the annexation of Hawai'i to the United States. Originally this mele was titled Mele ʻAi Pōhaku (The Stone Eating Song) and was also known as Mele Aloha ʻĀina

Kaulana nâ pua a`o Hawai`i
Kûpa`a ma hope o ka `âina
Hiki mai ka `elele o ka loko `ino
Palapala `ânunu me ka pâkaha
Pane mai Hawai`i moku o Keawe
Kôkua nâ Hono a`o Pi`ilani
Kâko`o mai Kaua`i o Mano
Pa`apû me ke one Kâkuhihewa
`A`ole a`e kau i ka pûlima
Ma luna o ka pepa o ka `ênemi
Ho`ohui `âina kû`ai hewa
I ka pono sivila a`o ke kanaka
`A`ole mâkou a`e minamina
I ka pu`u kâlâ o ke aupuni
Ua lawa mâkou i ka pôhaku
I ka `ai kamaha`o o ka `âina
Ma hope mâkou o Lili`ulani
A loa`a ê ka pono o ka `âina
*(A kau hou `ia e ke kalaunu)
Ha`ina `ia mai ana ka puana
Ka po`e i aloha i ka `âina
*Alternate Stanza
Famous are the children of Hawai`i
Ever loyal to the land
When the evil-hearted messenger comes
With his greedy document of extortion
Hawai`i, land of Keawe answers
Pi`ilani's bays help
Mano's Kaua`i lends support
And so do the sands of Kakuhihewa
No one will fix a signature
To the paper of the enemy
With its sin of annexation
And sale of native civil rights
We do not value
The government's sums of money
We are satisfied with the stones
Astonishing food of the land

We back Lili`ulani
Who has won the rights of the land
*(She will be crowned again)
Tell the story
Of the people who love their land
*Alternate Stanza

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Words of Support for the Alaska Native Languages Bill

(Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Currently, Alaska is facing its own language landmark. Yesterday, the Alaskan senate passed a bill to make 20 indigenous languages legal languages of the state alongside English. It doesn't change how their government will conduct business, but it offers the legitimacy and credibility that so many indigenous speakers yearn for. Here are some words from the floor:

“I sit here as your peer. I sit here as your equal. We may speak different languages, but mine is just as valuable, just as necessary, and just as useful as yours," -University of Alaska Southeast Native Languages Professor Lance Twitchell
 “Language and culture go together and they cannot be separated,” -Bethel elder Esther Green

“Our language is everything. It’s the air we breathe. It’s the blood that flows through our veins.”
“There’s a statewide movement to prevent the extinction of Alaska Native languages and promote the revitalization of Native languages, and this recognition quite simply means the world to a lot of people...if a symbolic bill can create a sense of energy and momentum and excitement, then the bill in a certain sense achieves its purpose.” -Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka

 “...to engage in conversation, learn the language, the heritage of their elders. Learn the stories of what Alaska was, so they know how to make Alaska a better place”

One of the main criticisms to this bill was basically the fear that if they pass it, people will want their indigenous language to be recognized as legally equal to English. Like, they will want the government to actually DO something about it. And that's tough. Speaking from personal experience, it takes a certain kind of crazy to come right out and say "I don't approve of native tongues", but, its takes a certain, different kind of crazy to actually stand up and say "this should be recognized and anything less than equal is unjust and unacceptable." Most people fall into the very quiet grey area, which isn't exactly helpful if you are facing cultural oppression.

(Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

I get so bogged down and annoyed by the red-tape in front of me that I often forget how far Hawaii has come. Hawaiian activists paved the road and made real the dream so many indigenous peoples across the US have in their hearts - to be seen.

In Hawaii, we are constantly struggling to overcome the prevailing notion of Hawaiian as "decorative". Sure, people want to hear it when they visit, but they don't want to have to FUND it with their tax dollars. And though we have laws that symbolically protect our right to speak Hawaiian, we don't have a ton of higher-ups who understand those laws or are willing to enforce and apply them fairly. However, we can teach Hawaiian in public schools, we can write checks in Hawaiian, and we can hear it on the bus, the radio, at church, in the airport, etc. We can argue against forced assimilation and actually have a legal leg to stand on. These paltry offers are in fact pretty big deals, because a lot of indigenous peoples don't even have that much.

At the end of the day, I'm happy for Alaska and I'm proud to live in this imperfect state, with its imperfect system. As long as someone is still fighting, as long as someone is still saying "Aia ma 'ane'i kakou!" then I suppose I can look at it as progress, however slow and frustrating it may be.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sacred Mountain - Mauna Kea, Hawaii

"They" are building a 30 meter telescope (known around here at the TMT project) on top Mauna Kea. Ugh. Kaika came home from school the other week telling me they are building a hotel up there. Frankly, they might as well be.

 ...its the size of a hotel, dear...

The world, Hawaii especially, needs a moratorium on "progress". No more progress, unless it is going to give us clean drinking water or a sustainable food supply for the indefinite future. But seriously, a(nother) thirty meter telescope?! Its almost awe inspiring what "they" are able to get away with despite both public outcry and common sense. I have to kākoʻo and say "no." Then I have to go write another letter...

Both my husband and I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Aunty Pua Case and it doesn't surprise me one bit that she was able to channel her pain into something beautiful and educational - this short film. E nānā, ke ʻoluʻolu, a me kōkua mākou e kiʻai ia Mauna a Wakea.