Expat Life: Why the need to retain your native language?

Last Saturday, I attended the graduation ceremony at the Japanese circle where Pristine had been attending once-a-week classes for Japanese lessons because she’s losing her native language skills. The Japanese language circle not only teaches language but they also hold cultural events to allow the children to touch base with their native culture.

I remember Pristine really loved to take part in Japanese cultural events, like local festivals in Japan.

I am amazed by the Japanese people – they can certainly make something out of nothing. They totally transformed a simple area to that of something resembling a formal graduation stage: they brought white silk cloth to cover the wall, made a makeshift Japanese flag and other effects to make it look and feel like the real thing.

Most of the children* are half-Japanese and half something else (one of the parents are Japanese). The room was full of beautiful children, all struggling to learn to pick up their native language. It was easy for me to tear up at the ceremony hearing the children read their graduation speeches – I have been there.

* There are children whose parents are both Japanese attending the classes too. These children attend international school here where the medium of instruction is English and their parents do not want them to lose their Japanese language skills.

One of the teachers said in her speech, addressed to the children:

Most of you may wonder, “Why the heck am I studying Japanese?” or “What is the need to study my native language when English is the universal language?!” Well, the answer to that is: living up to your identity. As you grow up, you will have to belong to a nationality group. What is your nationality? What is your root? You are Japanese by blood and where ever you’ll go, you have that in you – learning your native language (or the native language of one of your parents) is a natural, beautiful thing.

The speech struck close to home – I’ve been wondering if we’re asking too much by enrolling her to this extra language class. Aside from English, Pristine learns Arabic and French at the International School she’s attending and she’s doing really well. And Nihongo is not an easy language: there are two sets of alphabets (hiragana and katakana) and thousands and thousands of kanji characters to memorize.

As for asking too much? No. On the contrary, I feel that it is her right to learn it and our obligation to help her not to forget the native language. I know a lot of Japanese adults who lived outside of Japan since they were children and grew up not knowing how to speak, read or write Japanese. All of them regretted it and said if they could turn back the time, they would have been thankful if their parents forced them to learn it.

Pristine has come a long way since she started joining the Japanese circle a few months ago – she has learned to read and write the hiragana and katakana and has memorized 80 kanji characters and learned to write it too!

On her summer vacation this year, we will be going to Japan where she would join a grade school class (taiken nyuugaku*) in her father’s hometown, for 2-3 weeks before the Japanese school closes for summer holidays – to experience being a student there. I thought she’d be terrified but she’s actually looking forward to it!

*We initially planned it a couple of years ago but wasn’t able to fly to Japan due to my pregnancy, having a small baby, etc. I’m really going to make it happen this year!

Expat Life: Losing the native language skills

Do you think it is possible for someone to forget their own native language?

As an expat family, our 9 year old daughter, Pristine’s Japanese language skills has become a challenge for us – it has moved from the active part of her brain to the passive side, resulting in a pronounced loss of verbal eloquence. And consequently, communication gap with her father.

It’s ironic when one of the reasons we relocated to Dubai was to instill the English language to her young, still flexible brain (she was 3 years old when we moved here) and now that she’s mastered it, we’re fearing for the loss of her native language skills.

She now speaks Japanese with a very awkward, obviously foreign accent and has a vocabulary of a very young school child.

I feel that I am part to blame for this sad state of affairs – I still use Japanese when my husband and I communicate but with the kids, I tend to jump out to my comfort zone, speaking in English and/or my native Philippine dialect (which they have both picked up so well), only speaking in Japanese to them ‘whenever I feel like it’.

And most of the time, I really don’t feel like it. Guilty as charged.

So in a conscious effort to resuscitate Pristine’s Japanese language skills, we have enrolled her in a once a week language circle hosted by kind-hearted volunteers who work for free (we only pay a small amount for the supplies). They teach Japanese language every Saturday for an hour an a half – or merely 60 hours per year, not enough but still better than none at all. At the Nihongo Circle, the kids are grouped according to their language skills and Pristine belongs to the 1st grade even though she is in Grade 4 as per her real school age.

It wasn’t unexpected – her Japanese language skill is that of a 1st grader in Japan. Language is like muscle – if you don’t use it, you lose it. (Pristine is definitely starting to lose it.)

It’s a tough challenge for her and we sit down a few minutes every day to go through her lessons. But on top of her other activities and school homework, the progress had been slower than we like it to be.

Her father is too disappointed but somehow though, I’d like to think that the Japanese language for which Pristine used exclusively until she was three is just ‘somewhere’ sitting quietly in one corner of her brain and that if re-exposure to this language takes place over a certain period of time and is intensive, then remnants of this seemingly lost language is likely to be retrieved.

I remain hopeful.

Are you an expat parent? Have any of your kids forgotten their first language?

Dubai Street Catwalk Fashion Show

Last Saturday was Dubai Street Catwalk fashion show at the Dubai Mall Promenade, just by the fountain. This event is part of the Dubai Shopping Festival.

Pristine was in high spirits that she is able to take part in the big fashion event Dubai Street Catwalk where 120 models (adults and about 20 children) sashayed down the 120-meter long runway. We did not expect she’ll be able to participate: we were refused registration because we went on the last day and at the last hour after a friend told me about it. There were too many children who registered already that they had to close it. Luckily, one of the organizers thought she was pretty and took her photo and profile.

And (after auditions), she’s in!

Pristine on the huge screen as she starts her walk. She’s representing the children’s clothing brand Gymboree.

Featuring a blend of models from numerous nationalities, “Street Catwalk” featured 40 professional models and 70 amateur models who were all oozing with confidence and in high spirits, right from the youngest model who was three years old.

It’s my first time being this close to models on a fashion show. The organizers gave us seats at the side of the runway so the ladies practically cat walked right before our eyes!

The “Street Catwalk” took place at three different times – 3pm, 4pm and 5pm. I’m proud of my girl for surviving all the shows and smiling till the very end!

Pristine is nine!

Nine years ago today, I got the most beautiful gift. Two days before Christmas, God gave me her. Christmas 2003 was one of the busiest Christmas in my life but one I will cherish forever: being a mom for the first time.

Gone are the days when our daughter Pristine Akari was a small baby whose whole body I can scoop around in my arms and snug into my chest. She has become a little lady – just look at these photos!

Today on her birthday, Pristine is wearing two dresses from our friends at Margarite from Spain – they are an exclusive brand for children’s wear where you can find romantic designs with a sophisticated modern touch. Here, Pristine is wearing two dresses from the Autumn-Winter 2012 Collection. Dress #1 is a plain flannel dress in peplum style and dress #2 is an embroidered all-over sequined dress. It’s quite flashy, she looked good in it but Pristine loved dress #1 more.

We will have a small, simple celebration at home and she has invited like 10 kids from school. They all said YES! but no one has called up to confirm except two of her closest buddies. It is a normal work day in Dubai today (Sunday) so working parents might not be able to drop off their child to our place, school is off so some of her friends might have gone to spend Christmas in their home countries. I can only guess how many will show up later. I’m not betting on more than five!

Arabic Day at school in the UAE

Pristine has Arabic day at school today where they’ll have Arabic reading (for non-Arabs), singing and she get to wear the abaya, the black robe for Arab/Muslim woman with matching headscarf. She loves Arabic and has been working really hard on her lessons. She reads, writes and speaks it.

She’s wearing this abaya, like once or twice a year for festival in school for 5 years now but I still always mess up with putting the headscarf. I think I will never get to perfect it ever.

Bikini in Dubai

I was looking at my friend’s album in Facebook titled: Cancun, Mexico. Of course the photos were oozing with golden beaches and perfect weather and not to dismiss: bikini clad ladies – including my friend.

My 8 year old daughter was beside me and when she saw my friend clad in skimpy bikini she gasped:

“Wow! Whoa! Is that legal?”

Ah, the darn things kid say when they’re living in Dubai (or in the Middle East for that matter)!

Disclaimer: It is perfectly legal to wear a bikini in Dubai just that, with the issue to call on proper dress code in public places like in malls teeming with scantily clad women, Pristine thought bikinis are not allowed here. Yes, we should have a beach trip soon!

School time can’t get any sooner!

Today was school orientation day. Pristine was so glad to finally see the light at the end of the (summer) tunnel. Most of all, she’s so happy to see her best friend, Laila. They have been apart all ten long summer weeks but looking at this photo and seeing how they can’t stop hugging each other and walking holding hands, it seems that they have not seen each other for ten years!

Laila spent her summer vacation in her home country in Egypt while Pristine just stayed at home (in Dubai). Laila had so many stories to tell and after the school orientation ended, she asked me if Pristine can go to her house as they have not finished talking (and giggling)! Well, Laila’s mom and I thought, they better fill each other up before school starts on Sunday (not a typo. School week is Sunday to Thursday here.) or else their teacher will have a hard time peeling them off from each other in class!

* Laila and her family will be leaving for Canada to live there soon so this might be the last year the girls will be together which is kinda sad.

There will be 18 students in Pristine’s class this year (she’s in Year 4) and she is the smallest.

Kids, this is what happens if you don’t take afternoon naps in your summer vacation.

We are happy school is starting again. You?

She said she was bored so I tossed something to keep her busy. And entertained. The little one joined in the fun.

The first day of school is in three days and Pristine is so looking forward to it like Christmas. Like the past three summers (excluding this one), we ‘just stayed at home’ while the rest of the children in the UAE are back in their home countries chasing grasshoppers. Or enjoying the rain. Or running their bare feet on the grass.

There are no grasshoppers or natural grass in Dubai and the last time my child experienced rain was ages ago. Naturally, she is lonely and Bored with a capital B in it.

I want to write about the dull 10 weeks I’ve let my daughter endure (a.k.a. “how I failed as a mother” or “how I surely suck at homeschooling”) but that would be another day. For now, I am glad school is starting again. Just glad.

Are the students in your house looking forward to school again?

2012 school year ends

I know I’ve been posting photos of baby Ben like he’s the only child. Fact is, I have another child, my precocious Pristine. She just finished Year 3 in school with flying colors. She received all excellent marks on all subjects! Well done, Pristine!

I don’t know how that happened though, since I’ve not been really actively assisting her with school work. With the arrival of the new baby last October, there had been days when I wish I could spend more time with her to sit down with her homework instead of being stuck in the other room with the baby attached to my body.

Anyway, we wanted to treat her for a job well done. Last year she her request was simple so we kind of expected that’ll change this year. It didn’t. She still wanted lunch. This time, at IKEA. Swedish meat balls, people! I am confused whether to be worried she doesn’t know what celebratory posh food is!