Inspirational mum and bilingual author Claire.

This month’s inspirational mum is Claire, bilingual author of some lovely children’s picture books.

My name is Claire Gray-Simon and I have been a French Teacher since we moved to Edinburgh with my husband Phil in 2001. Before that, I was living in Paris, France where I grew up.
We have two sons: Ben and Thom both born in Scotland. I speak French to them and my husband English. My husband and I speak French between us, my husband being himself bilingual (born of a French mother and an English father and raised in England).

When my sons were around 2 and 4 years old, we moved to NYC. There, we met many bilingual families with children around the same age as mine. I remember watching my oldest son Ben especially play and interact with his friends and I was fascinated by their unique way of communicating at the time. They would speak in English and then suddenly for no apparent reason, would switch to French, or sometimes they could start a sentence in English and finish it in French, or the other way round, they could even say the same thing in both languages to make sure they were perfectly understood. They were playing with the languages, it was something instinctive for them.

My idea to create two fictive bilingual characters came up during this period. I knew straight away I wanted to write stories about a little boy and a little girl both bilingual (English and French) approximately the same age my son and his friends were at the time. These characters would become truly good friends and have fun together. The specific ideas for the stories came afterwards.

Originally, the stories were intended to be published on a website. I always had the idea of a series in mind. I also had this clear vision of a different type of bilingual story. I wanted to write mainly in one language and translate the dialogue between the two main characters in the second language in order to reflect their bilingualism.

At first, I wrote the stories in French and translated the dialogues in English. Then, I adapted, or I should say I translated the stories in English with French as the second language. I therefore had two versions of these stories on my former website; The French version with an introduction to the English language and the English version with an introduction to the French language.

When I received interesting feedback on the website and I was told my stories had potential and should be published on printed paper, I decided to rewrite the first two in English (with dialogues translated in French). Why English first and not French? Well, this decision was easy to make, I was confident enough in my English written skills, we had always been living in an English spoken country since the children were born. It was definitely a no-brainer, I thought it was more relevant to reach an audience of Anglophone children and try to make them interested in finding out more about the French language. Rowanvale Books, a Publisher in Cardiff strongly encouraged me and worked with me to release the books.

My age group target is probably children from 5 to 8 years old, but these books can appeal to a wider audience: they can be read-aloud for younger children and can be a more challenging read for older children interested in learning French and improving their French written skills. Even adults studying French at a beginner level told me they were interested in my books!

These books are not French textbooks though, younger readers, if they wish, could easily ignore the French language put in brackets and still enjoy the stories. However, these young readers could also be seduced by the discovery of a different language, consider the other language as a secret code for example, they could even use their creative imagination to invent games to play with their friends, based on this code. I never wanted to be too ‘pushy’ in the learning of French, my intention has always been to offer a gentle and fun approach.

The first purpose of the books remains to entertain children and then to encourage them to learn something they might never have heard of for some, or to practice their French skills for others.
I’ve joined a little lexicon at the end of each book with a selection of words related to the main theme of the stories.

The books are called; ‘The First Day’ and ‘The Birthday Party’. They belong to the series; ‘The Adventures of Justine and Sebastien, the Bilingual Children’

Claire kindly sent both books for us to review. Emily’s review will be up in the next few days.

If you want to get hold of a copy, they are available here:
‘The First Day’

‘The Birthday Party’

To pre-order both books at once and only pay one postage, here are the links;

UK postage

International postage

Watch out for our review of these books, coming up very soon.

b small – making language learning fun

I met the lovely people from b small a few years ago at Language show live. I’m delighted they have written us a guest post and a bit about their amazing books. So here is their blog about the many benefits of language learning.

Many people are aware that learning a language has benefits – but did you have any idea just how wide-ranging they are?

Language learning has been shown in studies to improve brain function. After just three months of language learning, brain-imaging studies showed growth in four areas. This leads to a number of improvements in social and cognitive tasks.

Language learners score higher in verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests. Empathy is increased, as it is thought that bilingual people are better at ignoring their own feelings in order to focus on the feelings of the other person. Perception is improved, meaning language learners are better at filtering out information which is irrelevant. This enhances decision making, meaning that bilingual people are able to more rational decisions than monolingual people.

Language learning also leads to improvements to memory, since the brain is like a muscle that functions better when exercised. Studies show that language learners perform faster and more accurately when asked to complete a memory task.

Language learners also become more aware of their mother tongue, for example improving their understanding of its grammar and sentence structure. Listening skills are enhanced, as language learners learn to listen for meaning above anything else.

As for the world of school and work, the many social, cultural and benefits to learning a language are well known. A second language is also estimated to increase earning potential during a career at a rate of £100,000.

Language learning is easier for a child than an adult. Studies show that children learn faster, improve their command of their mother tongue and have a more positive attitude to other languages and cultures.

This is where b small fit in. They are an independent publisher of colourfully illustrated language learning books in French, English and Spanish. b small specialise in language books for young learners, so they know what makes children tick. This allows them to create motivating books to help children develop a passion for language learning.

b small believe that language learning is a fun activity and this is reflected in their books. The books are created to be an invaluable resource for teachers, bilingual parents for home learning or just parents wanting to support their children in learning a foreign language. The complete range includes beautifully illustrated picture dictionaries, first word books, dual language story books, sticker books and activity books.

There are lots of beautiful books on their site. Please mention Lingotasic when you place your order.

Hey Diddle Diddle- the fiddly business of song translation.

Twenty days ago, we were asked if we would translate 36 English Nursery Rhymes and Songs into German. We said, “Yes of course!”.

We started to translate songs when we first met 21 years ago, as it was a fun thing to do. For our last album “Mostly German”, we translated some traditional German nursery rhymes into singable English versions
As we looked more into the English nursery rhymes, we realised that many were hundreds of years old and did not have a good German translation. As we wrestled with them to match meaning, rhyme and rhythm we realised why! Songs like “Hey Diddle Diddle” and “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” make no sense at all in English, so where do you start with translating them into German? Many of the songs could be political commentary I have heard, but this does not make translation any easier.

Here’s an example from “Three Blind Mice”:
“They all ran after the farmer’s wife
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice”
It has four consecutive rhymes to be translated and still rhyme, as well as the words being sung at the speed of a tongue twister. Absolute nightmare!

We started off by plugging the text into google translate to start ideas flowing. Some of these first translations are hilarious.
Once I caught a fish alive became
Eins zwei drei vier fünf
Einmal habe ich einen lebendigen Fisch gefangen

It is German alright, but there is no way those words will fit with the rhythm. The other major difficulty with this song is that nothing much rhymes with “fünf”, except Strümpf’ (socks) or Schlümpf’ (smurfs). So, we had to change to structure of the song to still convey the original meaning. Here’s what we did:

Eins, zwei, drei und vier
Ich hab’ ein kleines Fischlein hier
Fünf, sechs, sieben, acht
Jetzt hat er sich fort gemacht

We found some German translations for a few of the songs but that just served to give a few ideas..
Maik and I had a lot of back and forth, and middle-of-the-night bright ideas in order to pull this project together. So now we have 36 nursery rhymes with singable German translations, a really intense project but well worth it for the finished product.

And we eventually did find a way of rendering the “three blind mice” into German. It’s one heck of a tongue-twister even for a native speaker, but it rhymes while still conveying the meaning of the original English. Here it is:

Drei blinde Mäuse, drei blinde Mäuse.
Sieh, wie sie laufen, sieh, wie sie laufen.
Sie liefen hinter der Bauersfrau
Die wollte ihnen die Schwänze abhaun,
Mit ‘nem Messer, ja das glaube ich kaum,
Drei blinde Mäuse.

We translated and recorded some songs in 2015 for our Lingotastic “Mostly German” album. We took some traditional German Kinderlieder and translated them so they were singable in both German and English to help learn German. We also included verses in French, Spanish, Mandarin and Esperanto. In singing along language learning happens without even thinking about it. Get hold of your own copy here.

Weekend box review

As a creative family we were very excited to be asked to review the weekend box. I’ll hand you over to our brilliant reviewing team.

Hi, my name is Emily. I am writing this review. The packaging is interesting and you also get it sent in the post so it is the right size to go through the letter box. The weekend box has lots of interesting things including facepaint and stamps you can put on your face. I did my own facepaint and I was a tiger. I followed the instructions in the kit. I used sponge to put the yellow paint and a brush to paint whiskers with black face paint. It was fun.
When you finish the box you get to write on the certificate and colour it in. I would recommend it to boys and girls from age 6 to 14.

Hello my name is Jasmin, and today I will be doing a review of the weekend box Snazaroo. The kit includes a mini face paint pack and a birthday paint stamp kit. There are five different colours and two stamps, a small sponge and a brush. I used the stamp to put a yellow emoji on my cheek.
The packaging is designed to fit through the letterbox and is very bright and colourful.
I liked the weekend box and would recommend it to 3 to 10 year olds.

Disclaimer:
We were sent this box to review in return for and honest blog.

Review Soundpeats D3 headphone

We have a review of Soundpeats D3 from our official tech reviewer Josh.

The packaging for the Soundpeats D3 has a stylish yet quite minimal design on the packaging. The packaging itself is nothing special but is good quality for the price. Inside the box is another smaller box containing the D3 and the accessories that come with it. I found the micro USB cable which comes pre-packaged in the box with the D3 to be too short and found it awkward to plug in as it is so short. Also in the box with the D3 was two other ear tips for the D3 which are for people who need slightly larger ear tips or slightly smaller ear tips as the D3 comes with a medium sized ear tip already on the D3. The included manual was very informative and included diagrams of how to use and operate the D3.

The D3 was very simple to pair to my phone as to pair it all you need to do is hold down the multimedia button for around 5 seconds and then you can pair the D3 to your device. After it is paired I tested the sound quality of the D3 and found that it has good but muddy bass and reasonable mids and highs. The call quality on the D3 was reasonably good as it sounded a little bit tinny but you could still clearly hear the person on the other end. The microphone built into the D3 sounds quite tinny but you can still clearly hear what I was saying from the receiving end of the call.

The multimedia button on the D3 was quite useful as with one tap you can pause or play whatever you are listening to or if you are in a call you can tap the button once to hang up. Tapping the button twice calls the person you have contacted most recently. I found this quite simple to use and I am quite surprised with the responsiveness of it. The battery life on the D3 after intensive use is only three hours, which is the same as Soundpeats claimed the talk time on the D3 were. This meant I had to charge it in the middle of the day after using it. It takes about 3 hours to charge with the micro USB cable included. This just meant that the time I spent using the D3 was slightly reduced as they needed constant charging. The short battery life of the D3 is consequence of it being very small, light and portable. This raised a concern that it could be lost very easily as the D3 is very small.

Overall the Soundpeats D3 are a reasonable quality Bluetooth headset for a fairly low price and as it is such a low price. I feel some corners have been cut quality wise in some areas but are overall good value.

DRONGO language festival 2017 Two days all about language

I love to meet other language lovers so language festivals are great. Unfortunately I came across Drongofest too late last time so I want to make sure you don’t miss out too. so over the them….

This year the DRONGO language festival has assembled a two day programme full of fun sessions, interesting lectures, challenging labs and topical debate.

Like one of the keynote sessions: Artificially Intelligent Language

For dozens of years, we have been laughing at ‘the computer’ for its poor language skills. Computer voices were ugly, monotonous and difficult to understand. Because it went wrong so often, voice recognition was mainly amusing. In the end it wasn’t even funny anymore, the translation engines delivered such crippled sentences.

All this is beginning to change, among other things because the computer has learned to learn. On all forms of language skills, the computer is making spectacular progress. Take for instance Watson, the IBM computer, which beat the best human players in the extreme difficult quiz Jeopardy by understanding and interpreting the questions and most of the time, offering the correct answers in spoken form. Also think of chatbots taking over the communication with customers and making a lot of support staff redundant. Furthermore, free apps are helping tourists looking up words, understanding texts and even making conversation in countries of which they do not know the language. And Ronald Giphart, a Dutch bestseller author, is even trying to produce literature in cooperation with a robot.

What is possible nowadays, and what not yet? Do support staff, interpreters, translators and even authors have to fear for their income? What forms of machine language proficiency do we actually need ? This DRONGO session will try to find the answers. Technology journalist Herbert Blankesteijn will be interviewing questioning guests working in science, industry and the government. Gadget expert Boris Boonzajer Flaes will do the introduction with a couple of amazing examples of machines and apps with language skills.

Curious? There is more to do, see and learn on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 September. Check out www.drongotalenfestival.nl

Celebrating the first day of school with a Schultüte.

As a German English family we have celebrated our children’s first day at school in a typical German fashion as did their Oma and Opa with daddy, with a Schultüte. It is given to children to make this first day of school a little bit sweeter.

In Germany the first day at big school is celebrated with a Schultüte. A large cone is filled with gifts and sweets to celebrate this momentous occasion. Last week, in Germany I had a look in the shops for Schultüten. They come in so many shapes and sizes, ranging from as tall as the child to about 40cm. There were Star Wars and Cars for boys and Princesses, Unicorns and butterflies for girls. The cones alone were 25 Euros before even starting to buy contents.

I asked my mum in law what she put in my Hubby’s Schultüte, 37 years ago. She answered “Sweets, crayons, pens and other things he would use at school”. This is what I had put in the Schultüte for my children too.

This is a special tradition in our family and a lovely way of marking this special day. When I found out Kiddicone were producing cones that could be used in the same way I was very excited. Sourcing cones and contents from Germany is not easy. I wish it had been around when my children were at school starting age.

The cones can be bought individually or ready filled with school supplies and sweets.

We have a special offer from Kiddicone for you Kiddicones are a brilliant way to celebrate your child’s first day at school. We can offer Lingotastic readers an exclusive discount of 10% quoting code LINGOKID.

Free Delivery” to the U.K. only (an additional charge of £4.99 applies for deliveries to the Republic of Ireland).

Summer adventures at Oxford Castle

Though many of us enjoy the prospect of the Summer Holidays, a break in the routine, time together as a family with less pressure whether you stay at home or go away. Days out as a family are a great way to spend time together and learn something too.

As we are such a cultured family, we were thrilled to be offered the opportunity to visit Oxford Castle. It is only an hour from us and we’d not even heard of it before. It is run by the same company, continuum attractions, who run The Canterbury tales experience we visited back in April. http://lingotastic.co.uk/2017/knights-school-and-chaucer-the-canterbury-tales-experience/

We left the car at Thornhill park and ride. and headed into Oxford. The nearest stop to the Castle is Carfax tower.
The castle was a bit tricky to find on foot. We had to rely on Google maps to get there.

The castle has an amazing history, from the Norman keep, the site of the Empress’s escape, the catacombs where scholar Geoffrey of Monmouth taught and penned the king Arthur stories, to the Georgian Prison wing. It is the site of St Georges Chapel where many believe education in Oxford was born 900 years ago.

For hundreds of years, the site has held both famous and infamous residents, serving as a religious site, a home for royalty, a centre of justice and as the County Gaol.

As the Keep has such a long history, there are many people featured in it, and a handful of their stories are brought to life during the entertaining tour.

We arrived a bit early and had time to peruse the shop and cafe. Whilst sat in the cafe the girls did a bit of language spotting. There was a tour going on in Spanish, one in Italian, a group of Mandarin exchange students some French students, a Polish family, a Bulgarian family that we spotted. I was so proud they could identify all those languages.

We’ve visited a few castles in our time but the fact this one had been the site of a prison for 800 years and many executions had happened there made me a bit uneasy. My children are aged 8 and 10 and some parts of the tour made them uneasy, especially the story of the seven year old girl imprisoned for borrowing a perambulator. This tour is suited to older children and adults. The access, (as it is an ancient building) means you need to be steady on your feet to take part. I would not recommend the tour to those of a nervous disposition.

There was some colouring for children in the in exhibition room which the girls did whilst we perused the exhibition.

The highlight of our visit was Knight’s school. The blokes leading it were really knowledgeable and keen. My girls could not wait to get started on swordfighting. The enthusiasm was infectious. It was great to see them really engaging in this. As we chatted to the lads it made more sense. George and Robin are actually keen fencers themselves so running Knight’s school is just a continuation of what they do day by day anyway.

We spent five hours around the site, including climbing the Mound of the 11th century Motte and Bailey Castle.

On balance, the kids enjoyed the tour, the Knight’s school being the highlight for them.


Oxford Castle Unlocked is open daily from 10.00am to 5.30pm (last tour 4.20pm).

Standard admission prices:
Adult: £10.25, Concession: £9.25, Child: £7.75, Family (2 adults, 2 children): £35

Oxford Castle Unlocked is a 1000 year old castle which also served as a prison for over 800 years. The visitor attraction opened on 2 June 2006 and gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the real people who lived and died throughout the site’s turbulent past. Visitors are able to walk through the ancient buildings and experience the stories that connect the real people to these extraordinary events.

If your children would like to hear more about the King Arthur story, we really enjoyed this version.

Disclaimer:
Our family was given free entry to the Castle for the purpose of reviewing the attraction. These are our own opinions.

We are failing as multilingual parents.

OK a major revelation from me…
We may be bringing up our children multilingually, but the aspirations and reality are often very different.
My children all hit an age time for where they refused to speak German unless it really suited them (when they wanted sweets or chocolate for instance). As a bilingual parent this is a nightmare. We did a lot of soul searching as to where we had gone wrong, but just had to let it ride. My middle daughter Jasmin is almost ten and now starting to answer our German by speaking German herself. She made a friend whose parents speak German and who has a German Au-Pair which helped her confidence a lot. Jasmin has even started to ask “How do you say … in German?”

The highlight of my week was when we saw some Apple Strudel on a stall in town. Jasmin said “Apfelstrudel!” and the Hungarian lady on the stall continued the conversation in German. We ordered and bought what we wanted in German and Jasmin followed our conversation and said Danke and Bitte in the correct places.

She finally wants to speak German! We were in the Polish shop recently and she said goodbye in Polish: Dziękuję

The whole exposure to other languages and cultures we have been doing since she was tiny, is finally paying off.

My eldest son is 17 now and I will finally admit he dropped GCSE languages (huge shame for me to admit this). However, if he hears French he continues in French, he learnt some Dutch with Duolingo, he has an awesome accent and knows more Dutch than me and his dad. He learnt some Polish with UTalk and joins us in Polish conversations. Languages are such a part of his life he actually forgot to put them on his CV!

As a multilingual parent, there are no failures, just learning experiences for you all. No parent does a perfect job, our personal parenting goal is not to make too much of a mess of parenting.

So, I’ve finally admitted I’m not a perfect parent or a perfect multilingual parent either and it’s not going too badly. How is your family language learning journey going?

Natural help for depression

We were asked by Focus Supplements to review their product. I think mental health is SO important to talk about, so we jumped at the chance. Maik reviewed the product and wrote this review.

Depression is a disease of modern life, and the solopreneur lifestyle perhaps carries a higher than average risk of developing depression. According to statistics for mental health charity Mind, one in 10 people will develop depression at some point in their lives. Recently the situation has become bad enough for national press to take notice, with headlines such as “Antidepressant descriptions in England double in a Decade” in the Guardian in July 2016.

Without going into too much detail, I can say that as a family we have had quite a difficult year, both in terms of work and on a personal level. Never having been a fan of antidepressants, and coming from Germany where doctors are as likely to prescribe natural and herbal supplements as they are pharmaceutics, I was very pleased when we were approached by Focus Supplements to review their 5-HTP.

5-Hydroxytryptophan, to give it its full name, is produced from the seeds of an African plant known as Griffonia Simplicifolia. It works in the brain and central nervous system by increasing the production of the chemical serotonin, which is why it is used to treat diseases where serotonin is believed to play an important role including depression, insomnia, obesity, and many other conditions.

First impressions? Having received a tub of 180x 200mg capsules, I was immediately impressed at the potent dosage being offered. A lot of other 5-HTP, sold both online and in leading health food stores, is offered in 100 mg or even just 50 mg capsules. So my initial expectation was that this had to be a pricier supplement compared to the ones I had previously seen. Having purchased 5-HTP before, I was used to paying upwards of £15 for a pack of 60x 100mg tablets. But I was in for a surprise when browsing Focus Supplements’ (very nicely laid out) website: for the same price I could have three times as many capsules at twice the strength, in other words a full 6 months worth. Very impressive indeed, especially when first class delivery is also free. Hardly surprising then, that Focus Supplements went from its humble beginnings as a simple eBay store to selling internationally through they own website and Amazon within a few years.

So what about the effects of taking 5-HTP? I took these capsules daily together with St. John’s Wort, another natural antidepressant supplement, as many people have found that the two enhance each other’s effects. A word of warning though, as there is a small risk of a condition called serotonin syndrome which may result from combining the two, with symptoms including confusion and hallucination, so do be careful and seek medical advice when experiencing any adverse reactions! Thankfully, I did not experience any of these effects, but found a significant improvement to my quality of sleep, as well as my mood and general wellbeing.

Conclusion? This is a good quality, high strength supplement at a very, very reasonable price, which I would not hesitate to recommend if you are looking for a natural mood enhancer. We were sent the product free of charge in return for our review, but I can honestly say that I know where I will go when my six month supply runs out, and I suggest you do the same: focussupplements.co.uk

Mental health is just as important a physical health. It makes such a difference when people start to talk about it more openly to each other. My challenge for you this week is to start a converation with another about mental health, whatever the language!Let me know how you get on! Sarah x

Disclaimer:
We were given this product in exchange for a review. These are our own thoughts on the product.

« Older Entries