Languages have always fascinated me. As a young child I always had an awareness of “other” languages. In our home we spoke Swedish and English. At school we were taught German from a very early age and with each language, we practiced different cultural traditions.
One Sunday, when I was six, my mother was reading the newspaper and I was lying on the floor waiting for her to finish. All of a sudden it dawned on me; people say the same thing but in different ways. As I shared this with my mother, the newspaper slowly lowered and a baffled look was on her face. “What do you mean?” she said.
And that’s when I launched into my ability to say hello in many languages. “You see mom, I just said hello with many sounds to many people.”
“Well, that will certainly create many friends in many places,” my mom replied, laughing.
It was then that I knew I wanted “many friends, in many places,” and that language-learning would be my vehicle. Once I was in college I continued my German studies and added Japanese to the mix. Along with languages came travel and I found myself studying music in Austria. On the weekends I would travel by train to incredible places like Hungary, Prague, and Italy. I could not speak the language in any of those locales, but I met friends, learned a few words to get by, and created memories that I still recount often. After four years in Austria I moved to Switzerland, where I learned French. It was in a little French school in Neuchatel, that I met my future husband, who is from Lebanon.
When we were expecting our first child we spoke often about how we wished to raise global citizens. We wanted our children to speak many languages, to have an awareness and respect for many types of cultures and religions, to be compassionate, helpful, and above all else to feel a connection to this planet and all the people who inhabit it. We wished for them to be comfortable in their world. The bigger question was how were we going to achieve that.
After many discussions we decided that we would speak two languages in our home. We chose English, which I would speak, and Arabic, which my husband would speak exclusively. It was important to both of us that our children could fit in with both sides of their families without language barriers. It was an amazing thing to watch our young daughter respond and learn both languages at the same time. Each language has a set of favorite and familiar songs which are sung to babies. Each language has its philosophies of when a baby should start on solid foods, what to give for stomach aches and teething pains. Within each language was a perspective of living and our daughter embraced both.
A few years later we added another daughter, Mimi. The interesting thing that happened was that our second daughter took to only speaking Arabic. Though she understood me, she chose to only speak Arabic or French. I continued to speak English with her and I found myself becoming concerned that our second daughter might not have an English word in her. If she was around English speakers, she would just sit quietly and not say a word in any language. I worried that we had put too much on her, until one day in passing by the girls’ room, I heard them speaking English to each other. They were speaking fluent English to each other. I called Zuzu, our eldest daughter, out of the room and into the kitchen. “How long has Mimi been speaking English?” I asked.
“Oh, forever, it’s our secret language and we only speak it with each other.”
“Do you think Momma could speak the secret language too, and be part of your group?”
“That’s a great idea!” Zuzu said, and from then on I was allowed into the English-speaking community of my daughters.
We finally added a son to the mix, “Little O,” when Mimi was six and Zuzu was nine. Since we were now living in the States, English was a constant in their daily lives. For the most part we spoke Arabic as a family and when I was alone with the children I spoke English. Little O went to a preschool which was also bilingual, teaching English and Japanese. Because he had one or two adults for each language, he never became confused, not once! He could move in and out of languages like flipping a light switch. All of our children have this ability.
Learning a new language can become a daunting and overwhelming task but it doesn’t have to. The place I like to start is at “Hello.” In Waldorf education, the teacher is always waiting at the door of the classroom to shake their students’ hands and to say hello. By shaking hands and saying hello, it is a way to connect with everyone in the room regardless of age.
When we take this globally, we can end up making a connection with anyone on the planet with just this simple greeting. The word “hello” brings happiness to the person being greeted and shows that the door is open to form the next step in getting to know that person.
The Hello World Game
To teach the children to say “Hello”, I made this little block game. It can be played in two ways.
:: The first is to have a language on the patterned side of the block and how to say hello on the colored side of the block. The tutorial begins with this option.
:: The second way is to have hello on the colored side of the block and nothing on the other side. Have another set of blocks with the name of a language on the colored side of the block. Have all of the hello and language blocks facing up and try to match the right language with the right Hello.
Hello World Tutorial
40 wooden blocks 4 inches x 1 ¼ inch
Sander or Sandpaper
5 pieces of 12 x 12 inch scrapbook paper
Decoupage glue (such as Mod Podge)
With a saw, cut 60 blocks 4 inches long by 1 ¼ inches wide. The thickness can be your choosing. We used 1 ½ inches in depth for this project.
Sand each block very well.
Use one of your blocks as a measuring device and measure out 40 block-sized pieces of a solid color.
Now cut 60 block-sized pieces using a variety of paper colors and patterns.
On one side of a block, brush on the decoupage medium.
Place a piece of solid colored paper. Then paint your decoupage medium over the piece of paper entirely.
Repeat with the remaining blocks. Let dry thoroughly, then turn the blocks over and repeat the process with the patterned paper. Once again, let dry completely.
Print the language labels on stickers or on paper. Set aside forty of the blocks. Using the remaining twenty, proceed with the following steps to complete version one of the project.
On the patterned side of the block glue or stick the language labels.
On the solid colored side of the block, glue or stick the Hello labels.
Version 2 of the Hello World Game
On 20 of the remaining 40 blocks, you’ll glue or stick the language labels on the patterned side of the block only, leaving the solid-colored side blank.
On the last 20 blocks you will glue or stick the hello labels on the solid-colored side of the blocks, leaving the patterned side blank.
Enjoy matching languages with the proper hello.
Valarie Budayr is the author of the book The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes came to our Garden. She is a mom to her three creative children, writer, photographer, gardener, crafter and an avid book lover. You can find Valarie on her blogs A Place Like This and Jump Into A Book.