Today is International Literacy Day! Created by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in 1965, International Literacy Day’s goal is to emphasize and celebrate literacy around the world, for all individuals and in all communities. According to UN statistics almost 774 million adults throughout the world have at most only basic reading skills.
Many libraries and community centers around the country use this day as an opportunity to reach out for volunteers to tutor and assist adults and children in improving their reading skills (such as our local San Francisco Library). If you’re in New York City, check out today’s blog post about International Literacy Day, and see how you can get involved.
At Tea we celebrate reading through our Children’s Books. We donate the proceeds from their sale to the Global Fund for Children, which funds grassroots organizations throughout the world, and focuses on promoting education for disadvantaged youth.
If you want to find more ways to contribute to organizations that focus on literacy, here are some useful suggestions.
What were your favorite books when you were a child? What are your favorite books now? Leave a post in the comments below.
Last month, we took our six and a half month old daughter Amelie to meet some relatives who were in town for my cousin’s graduation. My side of the family is Vietnamese, and except for some early cooing from my parents when she was two months old, this was the first time Amelie was surrounded by her Vietnamese relatives, all who baby talked and interacted with her in their native language.
I never learned to speak fluent Vietnamese. As new refugees in this country just after the fall of Saigon, my parents felt incredibly self-conscious speaking English in public because of their perceived heavy accents. Determined that their own children wouldn’t experience the same prejudice they faced, my parents had decided to speak to my brother and me only in English. In retrospect, it has been a great disappointment not to communicate in the native language of my relatives and have the ability to pass it down to my own child.
Amelie loves attention and eagerly allowed herself to be passed around between her great aunts and great uncles. I sat listening to them chat with her, ask her questions and hug her. One of my uncles even pulled out the karaoke machine and sang Vietnamese love songs to her. She cried at the end, possibly because of the high decibels, but perhaps because the serenade was over. I was thrilled with the attention too, taking way too many pictures and video clips. Even though I knew she was too young to understand, I wanted to retain these memories for her, especially the words they spoke, which were full of love and history.
My parents remind me all the time that I could take language lessons. They are convinced the Vietnamese is buried within me, since I still can understand what they say to me—I just can’t generate the words to reply. But I don’t hear Vietnamese on a regular basis anymore. My parents tend to speak in English when we’re on the phone. So when I do hear it, either in passing on the street, or on the car radio, or in a restaurant, I sit transfixed, silencing everything else around me, attempting to translate and understand.
My husband and I have talked for years about taking Vietnamese language classes. My father is getting older and although he has spoken English for over thirty years, I know he feels more comfortable speaking in Vietnamese. I don’t want that kind of language barrier between us. We always found reasons to put these classes off, but this weekend convinced us we needed to make it a priority. Children retain languages best when they are young, and I want us to be prepared when Amelie is able to speak her first words.
I know it will be difficult. This is probably why I’ve been delaying it for so long. But I’d like to believe what my parents say, that my fluency will not be so hard to attain, after years of listening to my family.
Sometimes, I feel the language swelling up in me. Little endearments I remember my parents used to say to me, I now find myself saying to Amelie. Although I cannot literally translate even to myself what I am saying, I hope she can feel the affection in the words, and trust that I mean them.
My little girl is the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and it certainly shows with the abundance of gifts she has received.So when my mother asked me what she might ‘need’ this past Christmas, I had trouble coming up with anything specific. I told her that I would think about it.What could a child, who has plenty, possibly need?Finally, the thought came to me; my little one could use something educational.She had just turned two and was just beginning to structure words into sentences.Maybe we could begin to slowly introduce her to a second language.That was when I came across Muzzy, a BBC series of cartoons designed to introduce children to a new language of choice.
I was not sure what to expect as my little one received her gift and immediately asked to watch it onscreen.I certainly had reservations about the idea of a toddler learning a second language.Would she actually enjoy the program?Would the cartoon be remotely entertaining?Would I be able to follow along as well?When the DVD began and Muzzy, a large, fuzzy green creature with a deep voice began speaking, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my daughter was quite engaged in the cartoon.I found it amusing that her favorite character is not the king, queen or princess, but a furry green thing that enjoys eating clocks and parking meters.She thought this creature was the most hilarious thing and now insists on watching him daily!
Although my little one thoroughly enjoyed the DVDs, I certainly still had reservations about a toddler learning a second language.How soon would she catch on?Well, I am pleased to say that my little one, without any prodding, randomly counted to five in French last week.I was so shocked that I asked her to repeat it, and she did!With a master’s in education, I was well aware of the malleability of a child’s brain, but to see it actively apparent in your own child is a completely different experience and well worth the effort.The DVD’s also come with a parent’s booklet that translates the DVD’s dialogue for moms and dads so we are able to guide our children through this remarkable learning process.Merci beaucoup BBC!
At 4 months, Kai started to call me “Uma”, his version of the word. This sparked my interested in the linguistic origins of the word “mother”.It derives from the root “mater” which means measure. Other words with this common root are: matriarchy, maternal, and matron. Did you know that the word mama means “breast” in Latin?Go figure.
Check out the word “mother” in other languages:
- Madre(Spanish, Italian)
- Okasan (Japanese)
No matter what, the word “mother” in any language is powerful. Ask any child, I’m sure the word conjures up comfort, nourishment, and authority.
Around the holidays last year, I thought it might be fun to try out a foreign language class with my then 2 and a half-year-old son. I briefly wrestled with which language, with my top choices being Spanish, French and Mandarin. Not surprisingly, those were the options that I found with the greatest frequency when I poked around for classes online.
I finally settled on Mandarin for a variety of reasons, which included: choosing a useful language for where we live in Northern California, wanting to learn something new along with my son, and giving him some early exposure to something he might not get later in school (i.e., we are hopeful that Spanish and French will be available options when the time comes for him to start elementary school, but Mandarin might not be offered). So, partly driven by curiosity, partly by the sheer foreignness of the language and alphabet, and partly by the bandwagon mentality of China-mania (booming economy, Olympic fever), I chose Mandarin.
I found a class that sounded perfect through Language at Play, which offered different courses for babies and early talkers in the three languages I had considered at a few locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The closest one for us was held weekly at the Beresford Recreation Center in San Mateo.
The class exceeded my expectations, and I was really impressed with the quality of the teachers, the variety of instruction and activities to hold the children’s interest, and the usability of the lessons taught. Every class had a logical flow that made the hour long sessions predictable even though they flew by! We started and ended each class by sitting in a circle and singing a simple Mandarin greeting song to all of the children (about 8-10 in all): “ni hao” (hello) and “zai jian” (good-bye). The teachers wove in book reading, puppets, dancing, singing, snack, and other activities. It was really fun. Now, four months later, my son can still say a few key phrases, including “pai pai sho” (clap your hands) and “xie xie” (thank you). I am strongly considering enrolling us in another class, time permitting.