Travel - Language: both an attraction and a keepsake

Playing on the promenade in Split, Croatia. A local mum
is blowing bubbles as my boys and several other kids are
running around trying to catch them. Language is no barrier.
During the 2014 July school holidays (and a bit more) I took Mr 8 and Mr 5 on their first overseas holiday. It was just the three of us as Mr Guide couldn't take the time off work and the teens had study commitments (plus an entire family holiday was beyond our budget). 

See previous posts for details about the holiday. Now that we're back, I want to write about something that the boys experienced both as a highlight and brought home as a keepsake, and that is language. 

Over three and a half weeks we visited Croatia, Venice and Paris. When we were in Croatia the boys learnt to say yes and no, please and thank you, good morning and night, count to 10, words for milk, water, gelato flavours and a few other day to day phrases. In both Venice and Paris Mr 8 learnt pretty much the same words and phrases in Italian and French, whilst Mr 5 just wanted to continue saying them in Croatian. 

Playing in a park in Venice. On the flying fox, Mr 8 learnt
"your turn" in Italian. On the bench next to me a dad is
brushing mud off the pants of his 6ish year old son, who has
been playing in a puddle, and yelling "Lorenzo.... (something
in Italian).... no.... (more in Italian).... no gelato....
(more in Italian)." The message is clear!
The boys were fascinated with language. When we were on planes Mr 8 listened out for how many languages the cabin crew could speak - on the flight back to Australia it was over 20! Over the past fortnight since we've returned home both boys are continuing to use some of the words that they learnt. Mr 5 hasn't said "yes" in a while - it's always the Croatian "da". Mr 8 is trying yes, no, please or thank you in whichever of the 3 languages he feels like at the time.

My family background is Croatian which I speak pretty well. My French is a bit better than basic and my Italian comes straight from a guidebook. However, aside from my boys learning some basic primary-school Italian, I've never really exposed them to other languages and I wish I wish I wish I had! They love it and have been soaking it up! They are now constantly asking me what the word for something is and I tell them in Croatian and French and look it up if I don't know. And they remember!

I wish I wish I wish that when they were younger and especially once we knew about our upcoming holiday, that I had known about and taken them to something like Bonjour Babies, a French language learning program. 

I was recently invited by Sarah, the lovely coordinator and brains behind Bonjour Babies, to attend one of their sessions. I popped along to the "Babies" group (for 6 months to 3 years) although "Bigkids" programs (for 3 - 5 year olds) are also available. It was a fun filled session of music, counting, clapping, movement and more. Every activity engaged the children with props for the children to play with and songs for them to sing along to. All the mums were taking part, singing along and encouraging their children. 

The Bonjour Babies website will tell you that you don't necessarily need to already know French to attend, that children demonstrate an understanding early on and readily join in, and that resources are available to reinforce the learning and activities at home. You can also read about the benefits of new languages at a young age which doesn't confuse children, but instead develops their reading, writing, analytical and social skills, and even increases their vocabularies.

The program is fantastic, but I think it does more than that. If you're not from an ethnic background (or like me, if you haven't really exposed your kids to it) then a language program can open a child's eyes to a bigger world beyond their own community. It's one thing to know that other languages exist, but to actively take part in learning and understanding can take away possible fears and apprehensions. 

Not long before we were due to leave for our trip Mr 8 had a complete meltdown and cried that he didn't want to go to Paris. At first I thought that he had suddenly realised that we would be away from dad (who incidentally only speaks English) and home for so many weeks but eventually he admitted that he was worried that no one there would speak English. I calmed him down and talked him through it, also mentioning how places like Paris and Venice needed to cater to thousands of English speaking tourists every day and that my French would also get us by. (I didn't tell him that that was the last place to worry about as his Croatian cousins didn't speak English!). 

As mentioned above, both boys drank the languages in and since returning home have continued using what they've learnt and expressed interest in learning more. I'm now doing my best do repeat my daily mumisms in Croatian (come here, are you hungry/cold/tired, put it away, dinner time, etc).

If you're interested in French get in touch with Bonjour Babies and see if the program is right for you. If you have a second language and haven't already starting sharing it with your kids - do so. Even if only so that they can order their own gelato! 

I am now searching for other language programs to add to Children's Guide and will update this comment as that section is updated.

No part of this post is sponsored. Many thanks to Sarah for letting me sit in on a Bonjour Babies session!


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