This week I have the honor of representing my native Sweden as the curator of the Twitter account @Sweden. It is every week run by a new Swede or person living in Sweden (this week a Swede outside Sweden).
The initiative aims to showcase “the country of Sweden through the mix of skills, experiences and opinions it actually consists of. Through the stories of the various curators, not one Sweden is conveyed, but several.” Housed by the Swedish Institute, the project is a co-initiative with VisitSweden and you can read more about the project Curators of Sweden and seea list of more curators here.
I opened my curatorship with a tweet+video from our garden:
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:
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I first met Umaru last summer at his workplace radio station Citi FM in Accra. I was much impressed with his work (cool when phones start to ring non-stop, quick when to determine what big man or woman to follow up with, a good discussant on critical issues, wide smile) and glad to hear his efforts have been acknowledged internationally.
My daughter is not even three, but rubs at my arm and then glances over at her own. It has only been days since I watched the Swedish documentary “Raskortet” about race and racism in Sweden today. I know I shouldn’t be shocked, but I am. Shocked that brown-skinned people have to endure abuse, both physical and psychological in my native country.
In a row of interviews, black – as they call themselves – Swedes share how they got used to be called ugly, have strategies for sudden violence when they are out in town and in a clip three of them simultaneously recalls getting racist comments from a boss and getting pressured into laughing it off. Horrid. The documentary is framed by the Clarks’ Doll experiment that shows children given a choice between a brown and a white doll – and most choosing the “more beautiful” white doll.
I am a Swede who did not think about race much growing up, however due to my life choices (marrying a Ghanaian black man, living in Ghana as a favoured minority, teaching young African students politics, yes, including colonialism, being an Africanist at an African university and re-discovering that I am white) I now get the issue “in my face” every day.
I remember the first time I was told about “white privilege”, this invisible favor I did not ask for but that separates my life from lives of those of color. I have access to many spaces, no questions asked; I am assumed in Ghana to on account on my skin colour be truthful and kind; I can afford luxuries like a research degree and pedicure that most of my fellow Ghanaian women cannot. I have no answers, race still makes me uncomfortable. I have no answers, despite being aware, I enjoy my white privileges. I have no answers, but I have learned to not be afraid of talking about race.
She is not yet three years old and her skin is the most beautiful shade of golden brown. Today she has realised my skin has a different hue and that is true. However, it hurts that others might think less of her just because of that, or even worse, that she will internalize that feeling and think less of herself.
“It is true that Swedish interests in Africa were only marginal at the time, and Sweden remained a minor player. But qualitatively I see no distinct line between Sweden and other countries,” he says. “Sweden went to Berlin as a peer among nations, accepted and condoned the proceedings. It was a political justification of a social process that had already begun as Swedish officers and missionaries were already taking part in the colonization of Africa.”
I remember my first visit to the Ghanaian tourism site, the Cape Coast castle, where slaves were kept in waiting for transport overseas and being horrified when told that Swedes first established a trade point here. “First the Swedes, then the Danes, Portuguese and Brits…”, the guide went on with a monotone voice. I was confused, but my mouth was already talking:
– But the Swedes were never involved in slave trade, right?
The guide glanced over at me and did not have to respond. I got it. The feeling was chilling.
Palme debates why this colonial discussion is now appearing on several fronts and concludes interestingly that the apparent newfound guilt is maybe merely a fashion and nothing deeper like wanting to understand our history fully:
“Rather than radically re-engineering its [Sweden’s] relationships internationally, perhaps it [looking into the colonial past] is a mere cosmetic paint to appear good again, good by today’s standards.”
Right now, Ghana’s president John Dramani Mahama is in Sthockholm cohosting the GAVI alliance meeting for immunization and next week the Swedish Minister for Trade, Annie Lööf, will be coming to Ghana.
The president is in Stockholm to campaign for vaccines for all children. Ghana is an “Immunization Champion” and have a strong track-record on immunizations. From the website of GAVI:
“As an innovative global health partner, GAVI is committed to promoting the health of children through immunisation and this must be commended”, President Mahama stated in a meeting with Ms. Evans.
He further observed that, “GAVI deserves the support of all leaders desirous of building healthier communities. I pledge my unflinching support as an Immunisation Champion to enable GAVI achieve its noble objectives.”
The Swedish minister comes to Ghana with a trade delegation including Ericsson, ABB, Atlas Copco, Sandvik och Eltel, continuing on the visit three years ago with the then Minister of Trade Ewa Bjorling. The minister is also following up on her favorite issues: innovation and womens’ leadership. She will visit a local innovation hub, Meltwater, and talk to Ghana’s minister of foreign affairs, Hanna Tetteh about women in politics, according to her schedule (only in Swedish).
Granted, these two news items are suitable for a Swedish/Ghanaian blog. But this time, there are more connections! Last week, I saw Mahama at the ICAS13 conference , my daughter got immunized and next week I have been invited to meet with Annie Lööf ! Report to follow.