My Children Speak Three Languages: Here Are My Thoughts About It

My brother reads to my children. In Swedish.

In our family, we speak three languages: English is the common language that all of us speak, then I speak Swedish with the kids (which my children’s father can understand some, but cannot speak it), and the children’s father speaks Fanti, an Akan language ( which I only have a basic level of understanding and proficiency) with them. People around us speak either English or Fanti or other dialects of Akan, in school, my daughter is taught in English. We Skype with my Swedish family in Swedish maybe once a week.

Swedish is hence the language my children hear the least of.

My thoughts around teaching them my language are:

  1. It is extremely important to me they speak my mother-tongue. It is the lauguage in which I can express myself best and it is the carrier of my culture. My children speaking Swedish is non-negotiable and I am envisioning them speaking Swedish fluently as adults, on a level high enough it would not immediately be possible to tell they did not always live in Sweden.
  2. If I, their mother, speak Swedish, they will too. I therefore try and speak as much in Swedish with them as I can. Honestly, I constantly disappoint myself and end up speaking English much more than I intend to, but I try to be forgiving, switch to Swedish when I realize I am rattling on in English and say to myself that “tomorrow is a new day…”
  3. To increase my children’s Swedish vocabulary, we read books every day. I try to read to them every night I am home for about 45 minutes (5 nights a week). We have many children’s’ books in Swedish, but I also do direct translations from books in English (and the one in French!). We also converse around pictures in the books.
  4. Mixing languages is ok. The Multilingual Children’s Association agrees and calls it “harmless and temporary”. If my children speak mixing English and Swedish, and they do that quite a bit, I might translate to Swedish in my response to them. For instance,  they might say: “…and kaninen [the rabbit] fall down”,  I can respond “Ja, den ramlade…” [Yes, it fell]. But I don’t want to coerce them into speaking Swedish as I don’t want there to be any ill-feeling towards the language. At times that means I will be speaking Swedish and they will respond in English. Good enough.
  5. We spend at least one month in a Swedish-speaking environment every year. I think it is sometimes good to be emersed in the language and “forced” to speak (but I am not contradicting myself, the force that comes naturally from speaking to someone who prefers Swedish is very different to be made to speak to someone who speaks both languages).
  6. I take help from technology. When my children play iPad games or watch movies, I make sure some of them are in Swedish. It is also a great way of adding the cultural aspect of life in Sweden such as current favorites Barnen i Bullerbyn and Astrid får en lillebror.
  7. I think of next steps. However, I realize my children lack some specific vocabulary, for instance, words for play in Swedish (My child: “Hello, let’s play HIDE AND SEEK”, Swedish child: *blank face*), so I would love to organize playdates for them with Swedish speaking children. I know a few here in Ghana and am aware of a Swedish family moving to our town soon. Likely my Swedish would improve with some more practice as well!

If you have experiences with a multilingual life, I would love to hear your story!

Thanks to Charlie’s comment and Nadja’s facebook post which inspired this post!

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting

An “African Swede” is Gone: Remembering Hans Rosling

I don’t really have idols. I have never asked anyone for an autograph. I don’t like the idea of following celebrities. But I do have a few people I truly admire and of them only a few have anything at all in common with me. However some special people, Swedes with a strong bond to Africa, inspire me in a unique way. Professor Hans Rosling was one of them, first mentioned on my blog in 2008 (writer Henning Mankell another). He very sadly passed away yesterday, on my birthday, taken violently by cancer.

Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Gapminder. 

Through my sadness, I am thankful for his life and work, and I will remember Hans Rosling for:

  1. Making statistics sexy. His multidimensional videos on statistics are encouraging and educative and often tell the bigger picture story of that after all, the world is getting healthier, safer and fairer. See the video above for a great example. See link below for how to use Gapminder data in teaching.
  2. Pushing the World Bank, UN and other organisations to make their collected data a public good – free and available for all. This move is aligned with the Open Society and Access to Knowledge (A2K)  movements which seeks to openly share information to make the world a better place.
  3. Balancing being a successful academic with connecting to people. I recommend this recent article about Rosling and his work for a critical assessment of this impossible balance.
  4. Creating Dollar Street – an amazing resource to show us what economic conditions around the world really look like.
  5. Taking an active role in the Ebola crisis and a clear stand in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis (see video below). What is the purpose of being wise if you never speak up?

I’d like to call Rosling and “African Swede”, because I think he had African qualities – he understood storytelling and embodied Ubuntu – “I am because you are”. 

More than once, I have been in conversations about bringing Hans Rosling to Ghana. Maybe Gapmider’s co-founders Ola and Anna will come instead and discuss Gapminder and the advantages with a fact based outlook?

So I seem to like educators and writers. Who do you admire?

Follow @gapminder on social media and checkout the website Gapminder /Gapminder for Teachers if you have not yet.

Sunday Reads Feb 5, #KajsaHASundayReads

sundayreadsThis week I read:

  1. This Interesting article on the academic core task and the next generation academics by Andrew J. Hoffman on The Conversation.
  2. Incredible look into the future: Global digital identity – goodbye national passports? by Margie Cheeseman.
  3. The Neuroscience of Singing by Cassandra Shepard. I knew from experience singing is good for me, but not exactly how come…

Video I watched: The addictive The American People vs O J Simpson. The entire mini series. From beginning to end.

What I would have loved to read, but did not come across:

An article on corporal punishment in Ghanaian schools and what to do about it.

Tell me below what you are reading!

 This post is part of my #KajsaHASundayReads series. Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman,  I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. 

Kajsa on “A Wonderful Podcast” #enunderbarpod

Just before xmas, I was on my way to work and as usual listened to one of my regular Swedish podcasts and heard them discussing if people across the world listened to them. So I wrote a message:

Är jag den första som lyssnar från Afrika? Jag lyssnar på väg till jobbet på tisdagmorgnar, jag kör bil från hamnstaden Tema i Ghana till jobbet på Ashesi University på andra sidan huvudstaden Accra. Älskar den kognitiva dissonansen som uppstår när ni babblar på om pepparkakshus medan jag ser ghananskt marknadsmyller utanför rutan med barn på ryggen, väskor och korgar som stolt bärs på huvuden, och försäljare som vill att jag köper papaya….eller att skratta åt rävar och grisar på en tvåfilig motorväg bland getter och nybyggda bostadsområden! Tack för en underbar pod!

Am I the first to tune in from Africa? I listen to you on my way to work on Tuesday mornings, I take my car from the harbour town of Tema in Ghana to my job at Ashesi University on the other side of the capital Accra. I love the cognitive dissonance which happens when you go one about gingerbread houses (Swedish concept?) while I see Ghanaian market crowds outside my car window with kids riding on backs, bags and baskets proudly carried on heads, and hawkers who want me to buy some papaya…or laughing at “foxes and pigs” on a two-lane motorway among goats and new dwellings! Thanks for a wonderful podcast!

And they contacted me for a short interview! It is live today on ONE OF SWEDEN’S BIGGEST PODCASTS En Underbar Pod (A wonderful Podcast) !

As a blogger, it was a dream come true to talk to Underbara Clara who is Sweden’s most successful and innovative blogger and her hilarious pod partner Erica. At the same time, the conversation felt very natural, like we had known each other for years – I guess in a way I do know Clara and Erica well after reading Clara’s blog for many years, and listening on the pod from the get go.

Today, the episode with me and three other listeners Malin, Miriam and Mikaela across the globe (photos above borrowed from UnderbaraClara) can be heard by following this link and clicking on “EUP International”.

If there are any new readers on my blog because of my exciting podcast appearance, please comment and say “hello” or “hej!” below!

Sunday Reads Jan 29, #KajsaHASundayReads

sundayreadsThis week I read:

  1. I don’t know about you, but I can’t take in anymore about Trump, so except for a few women march comments, I have just skipped everything orange and I justify it with this article by Bill Sher.
  2. Does a university degree really pay off? Here’s the truth from an American perspective (In a nutshell? Yes, it pays off).
  3. Bringing “sharing” back in (to cities) by Julian Agyemang and Duncan McLaren.
  4. Business Fiction by Tolulope Popoola (short! sweet! with lesson!) from African literary site Brittle Paper.

This Swedish article I wish was available in English for all (ok, more folks) to read:

Did not read anything in Swedish.

This week I watched no video, because of new semester! But I am reading the book series by Elena Ferrante (on the final book! So addictive!)

What I would have loved to read, but did not come across:

A longer analysis on what the regime change in Ghana means to the ordinary person.

Tell me below what you are reading!

 This post is part of my #KajsaHASundayReads series. Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman,  I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. 

Parenting in a New Environment

I am bringing my children up in an environment that is very different from how I grew up. Is that a problem or an added richness to their and my lives? 

Maybe I have to start with what the differences are between my rural Swedish upbringing on the island of Gotland in the 1980ies and my girls’ in the industrial city of Tema, Ghana today:

It is much warmer for once, ok, ok to be more serious, they are exposed to more inequality, malaria mosquitoes, carbohydrates, direct sun, rigid school from an early age, time on iPads, and religion than I was and that I would prefer for them. However, they also have access to more extended family on a regular basis (my parents were mostly on their own) meaning a calm and regular schedule not depending on my workdays or moods, they speak several languages, while I only spoke Swedish until English was introduced in class 4. They eat less processed foods as that is not affordable in Ghana and know from our chicken and rabbit farms how meat gets on the table.

The behavioral culture in Ghana differs from the culture in Sweden in most ways from how to greet someone (a lengthy conversation including nicknames, hand holding, asking of family vs. “hej”) to how to behave as a child (don’t speak until spoken to vs. do what you want, you are a kid!). Generally, while I am still learning how to behave – I imagine it is good to know that contexts matter.

I do not usually worry much about this, mostly because as you can see, I think it evens out pretty much. Every time and place is different. Knowing different cultures is a definite advantage in every way. But as a parent, sometimes, like today, I just long for the 1980ies Swedish playful daycare “dagis”, no pressure, no religion or threat of the cane, meatballs and potatoes with a glass of milk for lunch, stuff I know and understand for my children.

Photo: Selma and Ellen getting a weekend lesson in plucking a hen from their cousin and his girlfriend who live with us.

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting.

My #2016bestnine on Instagram

Last year I increased my presence on Instagram and ended up with 244 posts which were liked a whopping 6971 times! Thank you!

(and if you are not part of the 800+ people who follow me yet, I am @KajsaHA there too!)

You apparently like:

  1. Me graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in African Studies from University of Ghana
  2. Me taking a selfie with an umbrella and a yellow Ginko Biloba tree at the Mall in Washington DC (steps away from where people did NOT assemble for someone’s inauguration last week)
  3. My daughter Ellen zipping up my dress.
  4. Smiley husband and I on a night out at the National Theatre.
  5. An intimate sibling embrace.
  6. Girls being silly in new swim caps.
  7. Garden marvels (it is palm nut kernels!).
  8. Long shadows on one of the shortest days of the year.
  9. Live broadcast technology that allows my mother in Sweden to follow my graduation in Ghana (see #1)

Comment on what you want to see in 2017!

 

We Will Always Have Paris

After a work meeting in the beginning of January, I got to spend a few days in Paris. I shared my experience on Instagram, but typing on my phone in the chilly winds of Paris, I might have left out some details.

Here are my Paris takeaways:

Paris, the city of AMOUR

Even when it rains sideways, this is such a romantic city. The warm lights from the vintage streetlights, the cafes with lovers everywhere, and the sound of the inexplicably romantic French Oui, Oui, mon cheri! Over 10 years ago, when I first started blogging (my first blog post was the complete lyrics of an Edith Piaf chanson) I lived in Paris for 5 months. I did not have any exciting French affairs, but as the city slowly melted (I was there Feb-May) and trees started to blossom, strolling passed La Tour Eiffel, Odeon, Pont Neuf, I was convinced – Paris is the city of romance and amour.

Paris, the city of ART

I saw an art exhibit at the Grand Palais where I do not think I ever went before. The magnificent neoclassical styled building hosted the Expo Mexique (hashtag #ExpoMexique) which covered the dialectic art between France and Mexico in the time period 1900-1950, of course including the world famous artist couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. But much more, it contextualized their work in very interesting ways. I came out with ideas on the political aspect of art and the fact that Kahlo was very much in the centre of a movement, not a unique painter. I crossed the street to Petit Palais and saw Kehinde Wiley’s (follow on Instagram @kehindewiley) political, contemporary art where black bodies have been painted exquisitely and in very large scale into poses usually reserved for the (white) upperclass and (white) saints. Set in detailed ornamented rich, rich, rich backgrounds. Bliss.

Paris, the city of CHEESE

I learned that people in Paris really eat cheese everyday. It is done in a low key way, just munching on a few cheeses after dinner or lunch, of course after that comes the dessert! After my small introduction into the world of cheese by Monseigneur Raphael, I was immediately inspired and bought a 24 month old Compte hard cheese and two goat cheeses, a Mothais a la Feulle and a Crottin de Chavignol. (Links to an interesting online cheese resource I just found!)

Paris, the city of FRIENDSHIP

When I lived in Paris in 2006, it was the beginning of my blogging days, it was also days of important friendships. This time I made new friends and importantly also was able to meet some old ones. In much it was like no time had passed. Although our lives had moved on, our conversation just started from where we were back then. How lovely is not that?

Paris, the city of RACISM and SEXISM?

Not all is dandy and well in Paris, the entire central city seems to be marred with the male white gaze and voice. I saw sexist adverts that would not fly in other places, rode very internationally looking metros to come up to a very white world above ground, and was struck by how on TV there were so many ugly, white men…

Paris, the city of DID I ALREADY SAY FOOD?

In France, the petit dej’ or breakfast is a croissant, a full fat delicious yoghurt, a cafe creme, that is; to die for.  In France, you order a Menu including a glass of red wine and a starter FOR LUNCH.  In France they have a dessert that is called Cafe Gourmand which is – hold on tight – three! OR MORE! different! desserts! in one order! The capital of France is Paris, hence the center of some of the best inventions in food are concentrated here.

Next Time in Paris?

Next Time I go to Paris, I think I might stay a little longer, bring my family (to make the place a bit more female and a bit more brown-skinned), eat more croissants…

New Year, New President

It is a new year and in Ghana (and very soon in the US) that means a new president! Nana Akufo-Addo, 72 years, was sworn in last weekend and the major event featured one positive media storm concerning President Akufo-Addo’s attire, and one negative concerning the heavy use of unreferenced material in key sections of the speech.

The negative aspect has gotten ample attention online, culminating in being ridiculed by Trevor Noah (who suggested Akufo-Addo also plagiarised Melania Trump, who in turn recently plagiarised a speech by Michele Obama). The administration’s new speech writer also apologised.

So let me move on to the positives…I was completely in awe of the President’s bespoke Kente/Adinkra/Gonja cloth. It was colourful (almost to the point of being psychedelic), regal (Kente is worn like the Greek toga over the shoulder, or perhaps it is the Greek toga that is worn like Kente?), and filled with symbolism.

The Kente cloth is traditionally woven is narrow strips later joined together. However here, it was not just Kente in the box of stripes, it was a national blend. Journalist Charles Benoni Okine explained in an article in the Daily Graphic:

“He’s taken the best of the various peoples represented throughout Ghana, and created a beautiful patchwork tapestry reflecting the traditions and the unity of the Ghanaian people. Ashanti kente with proverbs such as “Akokobaatan” – compassion and discipline, and “Nkyimkyim” – life is not a straight path. Obama kente which is derived from the Ga and Ewe people’s Adanudo cloth, and created with embossed and appliquéd patterns. Adinkra symbols, an Akan tradition, such as “Akoma” the heart and a symbol of love, “Bese Saka” a bunch of cola nuts and a symbol of abundance, and “Ohene Aniwa” which is a symbol of vigilance.  There are also pieces of Gonja cloth from the North of Ghana.”

Wasn’t it interesting it included an Ga and Ewe form of Kente known as Obama kente? And that textile from south to north was represented? That adinkra symbols were included with messages for the Ghanaian people?

In an article with more photos by OMGVoice, Twitter sources offered more clues. Apparently this type of joined, adorned, and appliquéd cloth is the highest form of Kente and reserved for kings (and Presidents), it is called Ago.

I wish we could know more, who designed it, who made it, how long time it took. Do let me know if you read it somewhere! Or perhaps the mystique around this centre stage piece of clothing adds that extra flair and elevation to Ghana’s new President? If so, I rest my Kente case.

Photo credit: Nana Akufo-Addo’s official website.