I've been meaning to write more directly about some of the tricks our family uses to communicate for some time now.
The other day, while AWOL at Culvers, I read an editorial in our local paper where the writer explained how he would teach people proper English. He had a very tidy 3 point method that I'm sure he spent a lot of time on (I know that because they all started with 'S',) but was completely... um, how should I put this, theoretical. Point one was "syntax" and honestly I didn't get much further into the article than that. Clearly this guy has never tried to explain to crying children in a crowded airport why driving home from Africa is not an option, or he would have known that Point one is "Gesture wildly." So let me tell you what we've figured out through trial and error, but keep in mind that our kids did learn some English before we met. Your results may vary.
-Gesture Wildly. First of all hand motions, funny faces, and noises are generally engaging, memorable, and most importantly duplicateable. They reinforce whatever you're blathering on about and give your child an alternate way to communicate back to you. It's really frustrates our kids when they say something in English and we look at them blankly. "Fish" and "Fix" may sound identical but their hand motions are completely different.
-Generate a list of 'Single Lesson' words. These are words that stick and are instantly usable. In retrospect, we've spent a lot less total time teaching a word by hammering on it for 5 or 10 minutes instead of just using it over and over in context. For instance, early on we put the kids in swings and asked, "Finished?" If they said "Yes," we quit pushing and ask the question again about 3 seconds later. "Finish" became an immediate part of our working vocabulary. The more words you have like that, the better.
-Avoid Homonyms and words with double meanings. This is where English gets stupid because it's practically built on words that sound alike. The only difference between "Don't know" and "Don't, No!" is how angry you're voice sounds when you say it. Stuff like, "Left?" "Right!" is confusing even when you have a good grip on English, so I've made a very conscious effort to replace 'know' with 'understand' and 'right' with 'correct' whenever possible.
-Unless you are a Queen, they will not learn the Queen's English. I wince on the inside when my son responds with, "Yep!" or "Nooope," because I know he didn't pick those up in Ethiopia. Nothing like new ears to remind you how sloppy your speech has become. Enunciation takes energy which is why we usually wait until Sunday or someday later to practice it. (See...) And that leads me to the last point:
-Here's a thought, Use actual WORDS. I know what you're thinking, but this is more difficult than it sounds because we are so accustomed to our own little verbal shorthand. When our children ask a question, they expect an ok, yes, no, or maybe. Not an: uh-huh, uh-uh, huh. huh? nah, eh, meh, pfft, Hmm... heh, HA! err... or *shrug.* Can you imagine trying to sort through all those sounds and picking out which words they represent?
So keep it simple, K? Goddit? Well, dooya? Hmmm? Dunno, huh? Eh... nevermind. Whatevz.
Stay tuned to the tube for part two tomorrow too!