Posts Tagged ‘language’


October 16, 2013

Another breakfast conversation with Fainjin – they seem to be my main source of blog fodder at the moment!

I’d been talking about some medicine with Pearl, and used the word “tablet”.  About five minutes later, Fainjin said, “Mum, I’m confused about tablets.”

“Confused?  Why?”

He thought for a bit.  “Well, they can be different things.”

I saw what he was getting at.  “Do you mean like tablets that are medicine and tablets that are computers?”


“That’s just using the same word to mean two different things.  It’s a little bit confusing, but we do it in the English language all the time.  I wouldn’t worry too much.”

He considered that, then said, “OK”.  I was grateful he didn’t ask for another example, because I didn’t have one ready despite my assertion.  Feel free to leave a list of your favourites in the comments.

Then a few minutes later, he mused, “And some tablets are baby frogs.”

Pearl and I looked at him, and laughed.  “OK Fainjin, now you are confused!”

© UpsideBackwards 2013.


The wrong words

September 27, 2011

When I was little, I was fascinated by the idea of different languages.  One of my kindergarten (pre-school) teachers knew some Maori, and I have a very clear memory of sitting next to her in the sunshine, on a big blue gym mat, demanding to know the Maori word for everything I could think of.  She was very patient with me!

One of Pearl’s birthday presents, intended for the whole family, was a book of the “first 1,000 words” in Japanese – a picture book, with labels in both kana and the Roman alphabet.  We thought it would be a fun thing for all of us to share.

Tonight, Babess chose it as her “story” before bed.  “Great!” I said, “We can learn some Japanese words together!  Let’s pick a page.”

“Yeah!” she enthused, clapping her hands.  “I want the horsey one.”

“Ok… here’s the farm page.  Nojo.  And horse is uma.”

She frowned.  “Let’s play I-spy, Mummy.  I find things.”  We have some other books where you have to find things in the pictures.

“Yes, let’s do that.  Here’s the first one to find – a haystack!  See the little picture here?  Can you find the big one?  In Japanese it’s called, um, hoshikusa no yama.”

She shoved the book away and said, “No! You not doing that! You keep saying the wrong words!”  She was very very cross.  This was apparently not what she had expected at all.  She stormed off into her room and returned with Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers.  “You read dis one.  And you no say da wrong words!”

So fierce.  Perhaps we’ll leave the Japanese for a little while…

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

Anteeksi, puhutteko englantia?*

June 5, 2011

Lilac in front of Finnish house

Every time I come to Finland, and this is my fifth time I think (I’ve lost count!), I find I understand more Finnish and speak a little more.  I understand and can read a lot more than I can speak, and I’m still a babe in the woods if let out alone.  My great triumph this trip has been pronouncing the title of this post and having someone reply, without even flinching, “Yes, of course.”  Whew!

We have been here a week.  When we arrived, we were worn out from the whirlwinds of Washington and particularly London.  We were thankful to arrive in the arms of family and take a day off.  The first day we hid in the house, slept in, and just “blobbed”, reading and sitting and doing not much at all.

The following day we were back on form, shopping and visiting two museums.  The first, Vapriikki, is Tampere’s main museum and is a great experience.  There are several exhibitions on at once, and we didn’t see all of them.  Pearl particularly liked the Natural History section, where we saw an elk (hirvi), a wolverine (ahma), and several other local animals, as well as learning about the local flora.  Spring is in full swing (and into early summer) so lots of things are flowering and it’s nice to be able to identify them now.

Next stop was, obviously, MoominValley, under the library.  Pearl was utterly enchanted by the dioramas, and barely interested in the original pen-and-ink illustrations on the walls.  We were there for a good long time, and spent nearly as much time in the Moomin shop next door.

Lily of the valley

We have also been walking in beautiful Finnish forests, enjoying the sunshine and bright green trees and lush undergrowth.  I adore the lily-of-the-valley growing and flowering profusely around my ankles; Pearl is intrigued by the abundance of strawberries everywhere, even under the slide in the playground we visited today.

Strawberries *everywhere*!

We’ve been treated to pulla, makaronilaatikko, moomin biscuits (cookies), and juice from home-grown berries.  Pearl tried a korvapuusti in a cafe and decided mine are pretty authentic.  I had a rahkapiirakka in another cafe and decided my Finnish “sister”‘s are much much better.

We only have two more days here.  We are enjoying our trip very much, but are also starting to feel the pull of home.  Pearl said today, “I don’t know if I’m happy or sad” to be heading home soon.  I told her it’s ok to be both.

Pearl's borrowed ice skates. She wants to keep them. If only we had ice at home!

*Excuse me, do you speak English?

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

Indirect speech

May 7, 2011

Fainjin can be quite a wordy little man, when it comes to asking for things.  I don’t know why, but about half the time he won’t ask for something straight out.  Instead of saying, “Please can I have some milk?”, he’d rather say, “Please can I have something to drink that’s white?”

Most of the time I have no trouble figuring out what he wants, perhaps because I’ve become used to it.  Sometimes, though, for the life of me I don’t know what he’s asking for – and he won’t clarify.  This can lead to frustration on both sides.  It’s a peculiar sort of stubborness: it seems he would rather stick to his coded messages and wait for the penny to drop, than say it outright and get what he wants at once!

I suppose I should admire his persistence in sticking to his principles.

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2010
Santa's feast

A feast for Father Christmas

Pearl told me a little while ago that she doesn’t believe Father Christmas is real.  Tonight, though, she’s hedging her bets.


Dear Santa...

Dear Santa...

Merry Christmas!

Hyvää Joulua!

Joyeux Noël!

Frohe Weinachten!

Gleðileg jól!

¡Feliz Navidad!

(add another language in the comments…)

© UpsideBackwards 2010.

End of term, end of year

December 18, 2010

So, that’s that then.  School year 2010 is over.

Pearl will be in Year 4 next year, “Standard 2” for old people like me who still need to translate into the old NZ school system.  I have fond memories of Std 2, I had an excellent teacher (all my primary school teachers were outstanding, I was extremely lucky) and a great group of friends.  I hope Pearl will have a year like that.

She will be in a composite Year 4/5 class, which might be good for her in terms of extension and challenge, and she’s excited about her teacher, who is known for his love of literature and writing – very good news for her.

Also good news is that one of her steadiest friends will be with her.  They weren’t together this year because M is a year ahead – but they can be together in the composite class.  M was so excited when she found out, she met me at the door to Pearl’s classroom, having rushed straight there to share the good news.  She’s a lovely little girl, I really like her, so I’m pleased for them both.

I didn’t manage to get those maths worksheets after all, so I’ll be making up my own for us to work on together in the holidays.  I think we’ll do some “basic facts” work and then some fun extension stuff, maybe clock arithmetic…  We’re going to do more Latin, too, at Pearl’s request.  Today I got some books out of the library on Rome and modern Italy for her, so she can compare and contrast.  I think she thinks people in Rome still speak Latin and wear togas.

It’s not going to be all school-work, though, fun as that might be!  Pearl has a list of films she wants to see, craft that needs doing, and biscuits to bake.  I think we’ll probably take walks along the coast and go into the city to visit the observatory/planetarium once or twice too.  (I also need to clean this house top to bottom, there is dust everywhere and I’m blaming the builders!)

That can all start in a couple of weeks.  Christmas and family come first.  Time to kick back, relax, catch up with in-laws and cousins.  There are birthdays, anniversaries, and a wedding to celebrate.

Hooray for summer!

© UpsideBackwards 2010.

Let’s work together

December 10, 2010

In a conversation with Pearl’s teacher this week, we heard that Pearl is more-or-less stuck at a level in her mathematics.  It’s an interesting conundrum, because Pearl claims that the maths is too easy and she wants harder work – but her teacher says that when she tries to give her harder work, Pearl can’t do it and gets upset.

We know that Pearl tends to be a perfectionist and is risk-averse – she would rather not answer a question than take the chance of getting it wrong.  She definitely has the brains, just not the confidence.  Learning a new skill, or taking something up a level, requires intensive effort on her part and the part of whoever is teaching/coaching her – lots of reassurance, patience, repetition and encouragement.  Sooner or later there is a “tipping point” or “a-ha!” moment, and all of a sudden it’s easy for her, she picks up confidence and we’re away laughing.

The exception seems to be languages – she says Japanese is “fun but hard” (exactly what schooling is meant to be, in my opinion – you’re learning, and enjoying it), and has begged me to re-start our Latin lessons, which have been on hold during the renovation chaos.  She really loves the work involved in learning a language, and doesn’t seem to suffer from confidence problems with them.

Back to maths.  With some advice from friends, I decided to ask the school for the “harder” worksheets and skill sets that she’s been struggling with, so I can give her the one-to-one attention she needs, at home over the holidays.  I was a bit worried, though, that she would be resistant to doing school-work over summer, or even feel like it was a punishment – certainly not my intention.  So I asked her what she thought.

Her eyes lit up, she rubbed her hands in glee,  and gasped, “That would be SO! FUN!”

I suppose it’s alright then.  Summer Maths Camp, here we come!

© UpsideBackwards 2010.



December 8, 2010

Babess woke at 4:20am today, needing a “snuggle in Mummy’s bed”.  We think she was cold.  Actually, she was cold, we know that, it’s just we think that’s what woke her.  It was cooler last night than it has been for quite a while, the central heating was still off for the renovations, and she has a habit of wriggling out of her pyjamas and kicking off all her bedclothes.

So, The Dad and I were feeling a little less than sharp as we drove to work this morning (because Babess did not go back to sleep in our bed, and neither did we).  This meant we had more-than-usual difficulty picking up on what Babess was saying to us – not helped by the fact that she was clearly tired too.

“I want a kah-gah.”

“A cuddle?  I’ll give you lots of cuddles when we get out of the car, but I can’t while we’re moving, ok?”

“No!  A kah-gah!  I want a kah-gah!”

“A cracker?!”

“No!  A kah-gah!”

“A… kah-gah?”

“No!” (crossly) “A KAH-gah!”

“Ummm, what does it look like?”

There was a small pause for thought, then rather mournfully, “It looks like a kah-gah.”

The Dad and I exchanged glances.  We tried not to grin.  Neither of us had a clue.  Then I had what I thought was a bright idea.  Her brother often understands her better than we do.

“Fainjin, what does Babess want?”

“A kah-gah,” he said.  Oh dear.

“What does it look like?”

“I don’t know!” he laughed, “I don’t know what it is!”

We never did figure it out, either.

© UpsideBackwards 2010.


November 7, 2010

Pearl has worn me out this evening, with lots of tantrums and drama over every little thing and especially practising for her Christmas concert at the music school.  So it’s only fair that she write tonight’s post for me.

There was once a woman who liked grollrias.  She liked them so much that one day she went to live in the praire.  She was a kiwi but she knew some latin.

She knew enough latin to say “I am stplaya” in latin. Her name was latin which helped.

Next day she went to rome.  She oley need to say “ego sum staplaya*” to get a man to get the taxi going to the praire.  Once she was at the praire she  went to ispict her new house.

* “I am staplaya” in latin.  [Pearl’s own footnote]

One of the characters in her Latin textbook is Staphyla, I’m assuming Staplaya is a variant spelling…

Sadly, there are no further chapters on Staplaya’s adventures in her writing book.  I wonder whether she found any gorillas on the prairie, what her new house there was like, and how much a taxi from Ancient Rome to the prairie costs?

© UpsideBackwards 2010.

Best friends

October 2, 2010

A lovely thing about having children as close in age as Fainjin and Babess are, is listening to them talk to each other as equals.  Pearl talks with her siblings, of course, but she is that much older than them, and it shows in the way they communicate.

Pearl is having a holiday with Nana and Poppa at the moment, so we get to see how Fainjin and Babess interact without her around.  Of course, the first thing they did this morning was go looking for Pearl!  It was very sweet.

They’ve played wonderfully together all day, each coming up with games for them both to play, and improvements on each other’s suggestions.

At dinner-time, they were both more chatty than usual, and in particular were talking to each other rather than to us.  The Dad remarked to me that they almost have their own language!  I had no trouble understanding what they were talking about, but I do agree that they understand each other very well, perhaps better than any other person does.

© UpsideBackwards 2010.

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