Tuesday, August 09, 2016

raising bilingual kids

"Ask Grandma if she wants to come in." I said to my toddler today as his Khmer Grandma stood outside the front door.

He turned to her and did just what I asked in Khmer! I was surprised and impressed.

He speaks to me in English so it's hard for me to know what his Khmer is like.

He often goes on church trips and outings where everyone else is Khmer, so that's when he gets to hear a lot of Khmer, when I'm not there.

Just in that moment today it was nice to see that he understood me in English, and he knew to speak Khmer to Grandma, and he knew how to say it in Khmer.

So far it feels like it's just kind of happened , our kids are being exposed to two languages. But recently I've been chatting to a friend in a similar family situation and feeling like we need to make an effort to make sure the kids have some Khmer language exposure at this point in their lives.

We're raising Khmer kids in Cambodia with the one Khmer parent, so it should be easy, right?

English is so important to Cambodians so many people know it, even some toddlers at church seem to know English and speak it with their parents.  Apart from the government schools it seems like most schools are in English. My friend has been searching high and low all over town to find a school with a Khmer program.

It seems like reading to and singing to our kids comes naturally to many parents from English speaking countries, but its not such a big thing for Cambodians.

There are less books and less literacy around to start with, unlike where I come from most people can read and write and it's really important to us. We've been reading books to our kids since they were babies, some other expats gave me their old board books they had for their kids. We have made an effort to seek out some Khmer kids books, and we read those too. But in volume its never going to compare to all the amazing kids books in English.

And singing- so many songs in English to sing with and for kids. Including the alphabet song- so long before you actually start reading you already know the alphabet. There is an alphabet sort-of song ish in Khmer, our toddler has been learning it too, but it doesn't seem to have the same place in the culture.

I've been asking around and searching for Khmer kids songs, I haven't really come up with that much. A friend has offered to teach us some she translated from English, so that will be fun! And another friend directed us to some songs made by a project to teach health, they are also fun and easy to listen to. But so far I haven't found anything like our nursery rhymes.

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