KENYA: Learning Swahili with my kids

KENYA: Learning Swahili with my kids

Learning Swahili

Learning Swahili

I have every reason in the world to learn Swahili. It’s one of the mother tongues of my husband’s (though Kikuyu is his real mother tongue, as he will tell you). It’s one of the official languages of the country, I call home. And a few years ago, a new compelling reason came along: our first-born child. We’re raising both of our kids to be bilingual, following the OPOL (One Parent One Language) approach.

I speak to the kids in English, while my husband speaks to them in Swahili. Our youngest daughter is just starting to use her first words – a smattering from both languages. Our eldest daughter is now 4 years old, and while she favors English when speaking, she understands nearly everything that she hears in Swahili.

It was difficult at first for my husband to speak Swahili with our newborn daughter. It didn’t feel natural to him, since our shared language has always been English. He had to constantly remind himself, and would often stop mid-sentence to repeat what he had said in Swahili. He told me that he didn’t want to say things to the kids that I couldn’t understand. But having my husband speak to our children in Swahili was probably the best thing for my own budding ability.

I have found that by listening to my husband speak simple Swahili to the children, I have begun to learn the language the way native-speaking children learn it: starting with the basics, slowly building with grammar and vocabulary. I may not be able to contribute to a political discussion around the dinner table with the extended family, but learning the language with my children has certainly increased my understanding of what’s being said around me, on the whole.

Listening to my husband read Swahili bedtime stories aloud to the kids has also helped my own language skills.

I find that random lines from the stories will start to swirl around in my head, subconsciously. There is something useful in listening to the same strings of words over and over, committing them to memory, even if by accident.

Learning Swahili

Learning Swahili

While nearly everyone we meet in Nairobi speaks English, learning Swahili with my kids has definitely helped me to communicate better with the people in our community that we see every day. Simple words like where (wapi), how many (ngapi), up (juu), and down (chini) actually come in quite handy when speaking to the staff at the greengrocer or to the attendant in a crowded parking lot. Furthermore, people are delighted when they see that I’m making an effort, and even more delighted when they see the children speaking in the local language.

It is so important to us that our children grow up speaking and understanding both of our mother tongues. And if I’m able to improve my rusty Swahili skills along the way, all the better!

Are your kids growing up in a multilingual household? Have you ever learned a new language with your children?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara Wambugu, our new contributor from Kenya.


Tara Wambugu

Tara Wambugu is a wife, a mother of two, and a Kenya-based lifestyle blogger covering parenting, family life, travel, and more. A former aid worker, Tara has worked in various countries in Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and Central America. She is now a stay-at-home mom living in Nairobi with her husband and their two sassy little girls. You can follow Tara and her family’s adventures on her blog, Mama Mgeni.

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INDONESIA: Tomayto, Tomahto

INDONESIA: Tomayto, Tomahto

TomatoesAs a British-American family living in Indonesia, we seem to speak a special sort of English in our house. Although our kids attend the British school, their classmates are from all over the world and the accents they hear are typically mixed. While my daughter generally sounds American, my son tends to favor British vocabulary – he enjoys maths, plays football (never soccer) and cheerfully reports that his day was “brilliant.”

To an American ear, my own accent has a British sound, while to a Brit, my British husband sounds subtly American. We joke that our accents have merged over time, which is further reinforced by living outside of our home countries for many years.

In our family we use British and American terms interchangeably – we have torches and flashlights, throw away rubbish and trash, wear pants and trousers, and occasionally enjoy sweets and candy. Our kids have recently started to recognize and understand some of the differences. The other day my son informed me that I was pronouncing “vitamin” wrong. I explained that I say it differently and my daughter quickly jumped in with her support: “It’s okay Mommy, I say it that way, too!” Tomayto, tomahto…anything goes in our house.

In a few weeks we will be heading back to the US for summer break. While our friends and family are generally charmed by the kids’ way of speaking (“so cute!”), my own hybrid accent mostly confuses people. I once had a job interview after moving back to the US from abroad and the CEO took me aside afterward to excitedly ask where I was from. “I’m from Seattle originally,” I responded. “No, where are you really from?” he continued. “Uh…Seattle?” Clearly not the exotic hometown he expected.

Although it shouldn’t bother me, sometimes it does.

When I first studied in the UK many years ago I was very self-conscious about my American accent. The young people I worked with would often imitate me and I was continually aware of standing out whenever I opened my mouth. Now, with my mixed pronunciation, I blend in more easily and comfortably slip into colloquial Brit-speak whenever I visit. I still sound different but I don’t mind.

Yet for some reason, it does bother me to be labeled as different in the place I am from. Partly I think it’s the perception of being “other” that gets to me. Living in Indonesia, I am used to feeling this way. But when I return to my hometown, I want to be able to fit right back in – even if it’s been years (well…decades) since I’ve lived there.

Despite my pre-vacation efforts to Americanize my accent, I can still hear the well-enunciated sounds tumbling out of my mouth and the British-style intonation. I try to re-train myself to soften my Ts, pronounce my Rs and say “really” instead of “quite”. Yet as much as I try to flick the American switch in my brain, I know I won’t always get it right. I’m bound to ask where the “toilet” is instead of the restroom and I might accidentally order in Indonesian, just to further confuse things.

I sound different because I am different. Perhaps it’s time to embrace it.

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by our American-mom-of-twins writer, Shaula Bellour, currently residing in Indonesia.

The image used in this post is credited to Jeremy Keith. It holds a Flickr: Creative Commons attribution license.

Shaula Bellour (Indonesia)

Shaula Bellour grew up in Redmond, Washington. She now lives in Jakarta, Indonesia with her British husband and 9-year old boy/girl twins. She has degrees in International Relations and Gender and Development and works as a consultant for the UN and non-governmental organizations. Shaula has lived and worked in the US, France, England, Kenya, Eritrea, Kosovo, Lebanon and Timor-Leste. She began writing for World Moms Network in 2010. She plans to eventually find her way back to the Pacific Northwest one day, but until then she’s enjoying living in the big wide world with her family.

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Japan 1994

The author with her Japanese host family,
Oshogatsu (New Year’s Day), 1994

When I was eight years old, my mom moved from our home, outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to start a new life for herself in Los Angeles, California.

Growing up on the East Coast of the US, in the 1970’s, I had been exposed to only small pockets of Asian, immigrant populations; I knew nothing of the large, well-established Asian populations out on the West Coast.

On one of my first trips out to visit, my mom took me to an area of Los Angeles called Little Tokyo. As its name infers, it was a predominantly Japanese neighborhood and wandering around its streets made me feel like I had been transported to a different land.

I can’t remember if I had ever had sushi before my visit but certainly I had never experienced sushi in as authentic a setting as the restaurant she took me to that day.

The entrance involved crossing a wooden bridge over a small koi pond. There were stone lanterns and bonsai trees. the waitresses were all clad in kimono and the sushi arrived at our table on small wooden planks. I was mesmerized. For me, it was love at first…bite.

This experience had such an impact on me that, from that day on, I was enthralled by anything Japanese. I wanted to know everything I could about the country, culture and its people.

The Japanese were the great inventors of all things prominent in my childish memory: Iron Man, Godzilla, Kero-Kero Keroppi, Hello Kitty, my first Walkman. What a genius tribe they must be!

The rise of my curiosity coincided perfectly with the rise of the Japanese economy. Access to their food, products and even language grew increasingly accessible.

When I was in high school, a small group of students expressed their desire to study Japanese, a language option not yet offered at my school. Fortunately for us, since our school was less than an hour from Yale University—one of the US’s leading colleges—we petitioned for and received permission to get transportation to Yale one evening a week, so we could take an introductory-level Japanese language class there.

When I began researching colleges the following year, I selected only those with an established Japanese language program and study abroad opportunities.

I ended up at a small, liberal arts college in Tennessee with a strong International Studies department. I enrolled in every Japanese class they offered. In my sophomore year, I applied for and was accepted into my school’s Japanese exchange program with our sister university in Osaka, Japan.

At the end of my sophomore year, when all students had to declare their majors, I–along with one other student–petitioned for and was granted permission to develop the school’s first degree track in Japanese Studies. It seemed an auspicious plan, considering the Japanese purchase of the iconic, US landmark, Rockefeller Center, earlier that same year.

I spent my entire junior year of college abroad, studying at a Japanese university, living with two separate Japanese families and absorbing as much of the country and culture as possible for a college-aged kid.

I turned 21 there, a major American coming-of-age. I participated on Japanese sports teams, took painting and pottery classes, studied the culture through the fascinating lens of manga (Japanese comics), dated only Japanese men and immersed myself in the pursuit of understanding all things Japanese.

Japan 1994_1

The author and her host sister dressed in kimono

My study abroad experience had an unbelievable impact on my life. It launched my passion and insatiable hunger for travel and Asia, beyond Japan.

I gained greater independence, broadened my global perspectives, forged life-long friendships, developed cultural empathy and experienced life as a minority; a gaijin (outsider) in a homogeneous land.


I consider my study abroad experience the foundation of the life I built upon it. I know that many of us here at World Moms Blog also have had experiences living and studying abroad; it is one of the many ties that bind us. We are global citizens striving to raise our own children in an increasingly globalized world.

But, as you will learn later today from World Moms Blog Founder, Jennifer Burden, here in the US, accessibility to and enthusiasm for studying abroad are not as prevalent as many of us may think.

So what’s it like in your country? Are study abroad programs prolific on your college campuses? Did you benefit from studying abroad? Tell us about what the experience means to you.

And stay tuned later today for Jen’s post on Studying Abroad and how the White House is playing a part…

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our managing editor and mother of two rising, global citizens, Kyla P’an.

The pictures used in this post are credited to the author.

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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ALBERTA, CANADA: Lost in Translation…and So Much More

ALBERTA, CANADA: Lost in Translation…and So Much More

BoyInMosqueOn her visit to our home last October my mother had a lot of one-on-one time with my three year old son. While I was in the hospital giving birth to my fifth child, she was asking some serious questions. In this short period of time my mother came to a serious conclusion; her grandson doesn’t know about God. (more…)

Salma (Canada)

An Imperfect Stepford Wife is what Salma describes herself as because she simply cannot get it right. She loves decorating, travelling, parenting,learning, writing, reading and cooking, She also delights in all things mischievous, simply because it drives her hubby crazy. Salma has 2 daughters and a baby boy. The death of her first son in 2009 was very difficult, however, after the birth of her Rainbow baby in 2010 (one day after her birthday) she has made a commitment to laugh more and channel the innocence of youth through her children. She has blogged about her loss, her pregnancy with Rainbow, and Islamic life. After relocating to Alberta with her husband in 2011 she has found new challenges and rewards- like buying their first house, and finding a rewarding career. Her roots are tied to Jamaica, while her hubby is from Yemen. Their routes, however, have led them to Egypt and Canada, which is most interesting because their lives are filled with cultural and language barriers. Even though she earned a degree in Criminology, Salma's true passion is Social Work. She truly appreciates the beauty of the human race. She writes critical essays on topics such as feminism and the law, cultural relativity and the role of women in Islam and "the veil". Salma works full-time, however, she believes that unless the imagination of a child is nourished, it will go to waste. She follows the philosophy of un-schooling and always finds time to teach and explore with her children. From this stance, she pushes her children to be passionate about every aspect of life, and to strive to be life-long learners and teachers. You can read about her at Chasing Rainbow.

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DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Some Things Sound Better In French

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Some Things Sound Better In French

Thums Up Cola

Bilingual people are lucky.  Not just in all of the usual brain-expanding ways, but because they have options.

Sometimes, English just doesn’t cut it, and I wish I could effortlessly sort through my mental rolodex for a more helpful way to express myself.  Code-switching, or flipping back and forth between languages in a single sentence or conversation, is something common to bilingual people, big and small.

My bilingual four-year-old just did it about five times in the last two minutes:

These are my favorite chausseurs.
I can danse très bien avec these.
Mon ami à l’école doesn’t like them.
Je veux…ummm…I want le marqueur to make le dessin!

You don’t even have to be truly bilingual to reap the benefits.  Jacomine, from Multilingual Living, gives this example: “When I talk with an [Arabic speaker] in the Netherlands, we might both use Dutch and I might sometimes use some Arabic words in order to identify myself as a person who knows some Arabic, even though my Arabic is very poor. Code-switching is a powerful tool for identification.”

That’s more my style, because while I wish I was a “balanced bilingual,” it will never be so.  I can function in French and Spanish, but I think and dream in English.  Unfortunately, I’m stereotypically American in my relative monolingualism.  However, after three years in Congo, there are several French phrases I appreciate for their descriptive power.  I will share three of them, but with the disclaimer that I may have invented my own understandings in the midst of my adult-language-learner’s fog.  I also acquired all of my French in Africa, not France.  Apologies, and please feel free to laugh.

#1:  On est là.
This phrase sort-of-literally means “we are here.”  I hear it a lot around Kinshasa, usually from people who want you to be extra aware of their presence and help.  I like it because it feels more subtle than “at your service,” but still demands a certain degree of recognition.  It seems like a way to point out that you are offering time, skills or attention that deserves appreciation.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot after reading The Confidence Gap last week.  Women of the world: on est la!

#2:  Ça va un peu.
Sometimes you just aren’t okay, and it’s fine to say so.  I say, “Ça va?”, about fifty times a day.  The conversation often goes like this:
Jill: Ça va?
Other person: Ça va un peu… (“I’m a little okay…”)
Jill: Ohh?  Pourquoi?
Other person: (long story about worries, illness or other trouble)

When I ask someone if they are okay in English, the response 99% of the time is, “I’m fine”.  In French, although I sometimes I dread the explanation, I believe in the opportunity to truly express yourself. I find that I’ve been embracing emotional honesty more often au français.

#3: Bon courage!
This is an important one.  I can’t think of a way to tell someone in English with equal sincerity and brevity to “take heart,” “be brave,” and “have godspeed” all at the same time.  This simple phrase gets the job done neatly and concisely.  People have said bon courage to me at some of my most tender moments;  when my child was hospitalized, when I was facing a tough decision or when I felt tired and sad.  Somehow, the phrase bon courage never seems trite.

I always think it would be the perfect thing to say to a woman in labor – somehow expressing, “You can do this, but you have to do it yourself.  No one can help you, but you will be okay.  Have courage.” All that in just two perfect words.

Some things just sound better in French.

What do you think? Can you think of any phrases in languages other than English that use less words to express so much more?

This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Jill Humphrey.  You can find Jill blogging with Sarah Sensamaust at Mama Congo.

Photo credits to the author.



pee-pah-pawOne of my very favourite human qualities is a sense of humour. I must confess that I sometimes find people lacking this wonderful quality, as boring. It isn’t nice of course but I believe a sense of humour is paramount to any human’s well being or even survival. Especially if you’re a mom.

I love all kinds of humour: simple, sophisticated, absurd, or even black humour. By the latter, I mean of course, serious matters that are funny.

When my days are filled with screams and cries and tantrums, the only thing that keeps me afloat is laughing about it. And when I share my pearls of wisdom on Facebook, not only does it make me feel better, it makes others feel better, too. I also love reading snarky, funny, honest posts that make me nod my head in agreement. When times are hard, humour helps me survive.

We all know that parenting is tough and humour can help with that as well. I, for one, rely heavily on it. When my daughter refuses to put on her jacket, I ask her to put on her pj’s. Then her bathing suit. Then her bathrobe. She laughs, says no to all I suggest and puts on her jacket without any problems. That is, obviously provided that I actually remember to laugh instead of to yell.

I often try to persuade my big girl that I have 10 legs. She kindly and patiently explains that no I really can’t have 10 legs. “Why?” I ask her. She tries to explain that humans only have 2 legs but to no avail. I really need to know why I only have 2 legs, not 10. I mean, 2 legs, how lame is that! At some point, she cracks up and so do I and we both laugh until we can’t laugh anymore.

So you see, it is not very surprising that I want my children to have a sense of humour and a big one at that. Puns, laughter and jokes are normal in our house. And already, I begin seeing it in my children. For instance, I loved a recent conversation with my three-year old.

“Mama?”- she asks me, with a glint in her eye, and a smile playing in the corner of her mouth.

“Yes, J?”- I answer, wondering what she’s going to say.

“Mama?”- she repeats, her tone still serious but the smile more visible.

“Yes, J?”- I repeat, not sure what to think of it.

“Pee-Pah-Paw!” she says, out of nowhere, her laughter filling the house. “Pee-pah-paw”- I say, and soon the whole family joins her till our bellies hurt.

My baby has a mischievous smile that makes my heart melt. When he laughs, I think I’m the luckiest mom on Earth. I ‘m sure that he too will grow up to have a sense of humour, just like his sisters.

I especially love when they make multilingual jokes, like “Ja-vocado” and “Nie-vocado” (“ja” is “yes” in German while “nie” means “no” in Polish). When asked what a ja-vocado is, my eldest daughter said that it’s a fruit that is yellow on the outside and pink on the inside and it is sweet and very delicious and that she likes it a lot.Funny that she can imagine liking fruit that doesn’t even exist.

I am always surprised how many functions humour can have: it can help you through tough times. It can turn a rejection into cooperation, in children and adults alike. It makes children clever and great with languages. It makes us see things in a different way.This is why I feel it is so important.

I’m not funny all the time, though and that’s fine. It’s OK to be sad sometimes. I won’t pretend that my day is better than it is. But when I remember, I find in myself the strength to stick my tongue out at the universe and say: “Pee-Pah-Paw”. And laugh until my belly hurts.

Are you raising your kids to have a sense of humour or appreciate humour?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in the Netherlands, Olga Mecking.

The image used in this post is credited to cherijoyful. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

Olga Mecking

Olga is a Polish woman living in the Netherlands with her German husband. She is a multilingual expat mom to three trilingual children (even though, theoretically, only one is trilingual since she's old enough to speak). She loves being an expat, exploring new cultures, learning languages, cooking and raising her children. Occasionally, Olga gives trainings in intercultural communication and works as a translator. Otherwise, you can find her sharing her experiences on her blog, The European Mama. Also take a while to visit her Facebook page .

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