25 April 2014

The Language Update

Back in August, I wrote about how we've always been concerned about Little Man's Dutch. We want him to succeed (naturally), and with the new school year starting and the impending transition to the kleuterschool, it was on our minds quite a bit at that point.

Sometimes I wonder why we put these types of worry on ourselves. Little Man is picking the Dutch up well, and gaining speed every day. He used to only speak English at home - he was done with Dutch at the end of the school day - and now I overhear his solo-play in Dutch. Now I hear him telling kids on the playground how old he is in Dutch. Occasionally he comes to tell me something in Dutch (which I may or may not understand). It's astounding to think about when I compare his language skills to just 8 months ago. To be sure, there's still a ways to go. Sometimes English is still mixed into his Dutch sentences or he tries "Dutchifying" an English word when he doesn't have a similar word in his Dutch vocabulary. And like any 4 year old, he's going to build his vocabulary further. But it's coming along quite nicely.

I'm really proud of this kid. While I'm always going to worry about his progress in some respect, I can see he's really starting to come into himself. And he's giving me motivation to keep up with him as best I can. There's a huge difference in a few months, and I'm feeling pretty positive about the next few months to come.

Have you ever been surprised by someone's progress? Or your own?

17 April 2014

5 Things You Don't Understand About Language Learning Until You're a Foreigner

When we live in one place (or one country) it's easy to hold certain ideas about what it means to live in that country. Many of these assumptions are based on being able to speak the official/common language of a land/region. As expats/refugees/immigrants/etc. try to make their way in a new country they face many challenges that revolve around language; and they're sometimes met with scorn, condescension, discrimination, or pity. When you're the native in the land it's easy not to think about what language means for that person or what's really happening in order for them to communicate in a different language.

While it's pretty easy to come to the Netherlands as a native English speaker with so many Dutch people speaking excellent English, it doesn't mean we've been entirely isolated from language-related challenges. I always knew that learning a language isn't a simple process but I never fully understood just how difficult it can be until moving here and trying to learn Dutch. There are situations and ideas that you never face in high school or college language classes because it's not just a matter of "getting by" or "passing the test." I have heaps of respect for people that don't have the advantage of living in a country where so many natives speak their own language and are making their way on a more difficult path. After thinking about this idea of language for some time, here is my list of 5 things you don't understand about language learning until you're a foreigner.

1. When You Start Learning, You Start from the Beginning

You are literally starting over when you learn a new language. I know this is an obvious statement, but when you're already fluent and capable of every type expression in one language, it's sometimes frustrating to find that you don't have the words for commonly used nouns, verbs, and adjectives for basic communication. Every word is new, and needs to find a new place in your brain to remain and be easily recalled. You may have a few lucky moments when the words are the same or very similar between your native and learned language, but mostly you're starting from scratch. And that's daunting when you really stop and thing about it.

2. It's Not Just Vocabulary

"Word for word translation" rarely works. Some words have no equivalents across languages. The word order of a sentence is different between languages. Sometimes you have a bad translation. Sometimes your translation is correct, but there is some nuance that isn't explained in a translation. And everything carries a cultural context, whether it's immediately evident or not. You don't just "learn" a language, you have to "experience" a language - and that doesn't happen in just a few weeks.

3. Processing Ideas Takes Longer

When you want to express an idea, you constantly search for the right words. When you do have the word, you have to seriously think about how to put those words in the correct order and account for all grammatical rules. When someone is speaking to you or you read something, you find yourself first defining each word and then constructing the meaning based on the word combinations and word order. I often find that writing a 2 sentence e-mail in Dutch takes me 3-5 times longer than it would in English. It takes a while for some things to become automatic, and even then it's easy to slip up if you're stressed, tired, sick, etc.

4. You Feel Vulnerable

Two weeks ago, I had to call 112 (emergency services). While cycling along a busy bike path with Little Man, I noticed a mobility scooter overturned in a ditch with an elderly man still in it. I didn't see him go down and I have no idea how long he was there, but I was the first person to stop. I'm glad the woman behind me also saw him at the same time. She went to him while I started the call.

When we're emotionally strained (whether it be nervousness, anger, or even happiness), our brains default to our first language. This started happening to me on the phone with emergency services. I was sputtering through the basics of the beginning of the call before I thrust my phone at another person that stopped to help and stuttered out, "Ik spreek Engels. I kan niet," ("I speak English. I can't") as I pointed at the phone. She took the phone and explained the situation to the dispatcher and gave directions for the ambulance. The ambulance and police came and helped the elderly man, who seemed to be doing pretty well considering what happened.

In the back of my head, I fear a real emergency because of my language skills. Again, we're lucky that someone will more than likely speak excellent English, but I don't like relying on that, just in case I really do need to power through and work harder than normal to keep my brain on track.

5. You Feel (or are Made to Feel) Stupid

If you can't understand or respond to basic questions, you feel stupid. That's feeling deepens when you can tell someone is making a snide comment but you can't quite understand what they're saying or make a retort. When you keep struggling to make certain sounds that don't come naturally to you and people look at you with confusion. Or you just finish saying something and the person starts speaking loudly back to you, as if the volume of the conversation was the issue. Sometimes the feeling of stupidity stems from your own embarrassment of not having as good an understanding of the language you're trying to learn. Sometimes it stems from the unintentional or intentional reactions of others.

I bring up all these points today because it's easy to feel smug about our native language proficiency and make assumptions about non-native speakers. Even the most well-meaning person can find themselves forgetting how challenging it is to learn a new language. As the globe continues to become ever more interconnected, we need to keep in mind that picking up another language isn't easy and a variety of factors go into whether or not someone is or feels successful picking up a new language. Now that I'm actually doing it myself, I'm even more aware of these feelings, and hope that my previous moments judging non-native speakers were few and mild.

On a similar note, Amanda at Expat Life with a Double Buggy recently did an excellent post about constantly communicating in a different language other than your native tongue. It's well worth the read.

Have you tried learning a new language or lived as a foreign speaker? Were there things about language learning you didn't really appreciate until living in a different country?

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Seychelles Mama

14 April 2014

The arcBcrafts Blog

I've mentioned before the small venture that I've started: arcBcrafts on Etsy. I love crocheting and have found that I really like designing stuffed animals and making other things - so I restarted an old Etsy shop a couple months ago to share these things with others. I'm still getting the word out about this new venture, so I'd like to share some new information about it today.

First, the arcBcrafts Etsy store is always gaining new items. I add new listings as I finish them, and I'm always open to making a custom order. If you have an Etsy account, you can "favorite" shops and listings to help boost their visibility and attract others to the shop.

You can also find arcBcrafts on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to give it a "like" and have promotions show up in your Facebook news feed or follow me on Twitter to see featured listings!

And my newest method to connect is the arcBcrafts blog! This blog is going to talk a little more about the process and creation of my projects with full pictures and will announce special offers - like the current 10% discount if you use coupon code SPRING2014 at checkout - and more information will always be posted! If you go to the blog, you can also follow it on Bloglovin'. 

I've already had some great response and feedback with this new venture - and I'd love to have yours as well! Please check these out, and let me know if you have any suggestions!

Do you have any suggestions? Or have you started your own online business? I'd love to hear about it!

13 April 2014

#SundayTraveler: Saint Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London

When we travel, we try not to pick up "tourist junk" too often. Instead, we've started a pattern of purchasing prints from the places we visit to hang on the wall and remember the trip each time we look up. On our recent trip to London we realized that we already had a print from Mark's trip as a child, so I came up with another idea - making a brass rubbing at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church to take home and frame instead.

The church is situated on Trafalgar Square and is well known for it's amazing acoustics and it's reputation as the "Church of the Ever Open Door." As an acoustical space, concerts are held regularly and music holds a very important place in worship services, but despite it's reputation as a place of high culture with it's importance on music, the church is also well known for it's programs to help the homeless.

View of St. Martin in the Fields from Trafalgar Square

The sanctuary of the church

What's easier to miss is the London Brass Rubbing Center in the church's crypt, accessible from an entrance outside of the church. In Victorian England, visitors to churches would often use paper and wax crayon to make a tracing of brass plaques at churches and historic sites all over the UK to keep as souvenirs of their visit. After a while, the frequent "rubbings" proved damaging to the brass, and replicas were created and placed at different centers to allow visitors to continue the tradition without compromising the historic landmarks. Today, the London Brass Rubbing Center keeps that tradition alive.

London Brass Rubbing Centre Image from LondonTown.com
Brass rubbing options. Image courtesy of London Town

The staff lets you pick out which brass you would like, then sets up your paper and gives you a quick tutorial on the best way to proceed. You can easily make a beautiful rubbing with one color of crayon, but braver souls will be able to choose multiple colors. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures while we were doing our own rubbings - apparently I was too excited about the process to document it - but we choose two small pieces (figuring that was as long as Little Man would stay interested) with a single color crayon. We're pretty happy with the results, and I'm in the process of looking for suitable frames.

Close up of my rubbing.

Little Man shows off his rubbing - the Elephant and Castle design.

The London Brass Rubbing Center is open 7 days a week. See here for opening hours. Rubbings start at £4.50 for the smallest and the price increases with the size of the rubbings. Some of the rubbings available are nearly 6 feet tall. For the smallest rubbings, I would recommend at least 45 minutes to make sure you do a good job. And if you're worried about transporting your rubbings home, you can purchase a poster tube for 95 pence that will protect your rubbings for the rest of your day about town and the trip home.

Today's post is linked up with Chasing the Donkey and friends for the #SundayTraveler linkup. Check out the other great posts this week!

08 April 2014

I Dream of Tea

I enjoy a good cup of coffee, but lately, my heart belongs to tea. To me it's easier to sip on a nice big mug of tea, especially on a crappy day when I want to hole up for the day and work on something quietly. It's comforting.

It's hailing as I write this and it's looking to stay pretty grey for a good chunk of the day. We've had some fantastic weather lately, but it looks like everything is going back to "normal" spring weather in the Netherlands. I was already feeling pretty tired and grey skies haven't been helping me feel very motivated today. But a good cup of black tea with milk can put me right again.

Especially when it comes in my very adult-like mug with Scooby-Doo on it.

Do you have a go-to to bring you out of a funk on a grey day? Do you have something you do to motivate you when you're slowing down?

06 April 2014

#SundayTraveler: A Day with the London Pass

I love museums and historic sites and finding deals on their admission costs, so when I was planning our recent trip to London, getting the London Pass just made good sense. It let us hit some of the "touristy" sites with a discount, and it kept an entire day packed with things to do.

We decided when looking into the London Pass that with our short time in London a one-day pass would be our best option at just £47 (the price has since increased to £49). There were four sites on the pass that we wanted to visit and were within easy distance of each other. It was important to make sure they were within a reasonable travel distance so we had time to really see each site. And, of course, I checked the costs before purchasing to make sure that each site was discounted enough by the pass to make the initial cost worth it. With our London Passes, we spent our Tuesday visiting Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Westminster Abbey

We got an early start and arrived at Westminster Abbey before opening time. We weren't clear that the visitors' entrance was in the back, so we ended up further back in line than anticipated, but the line moved quickly and we still got inside pretty early in the day.

Unfortunately, the Abbey's "no photos" rule is strictly enforced, so we have none of the interior, but it's worth checking the website to see the interior. There has been a church on the site since the 10th century, and the church has held the special honor of being England's coronation church since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066. It's quite amazing to see the number of ancient tombs and objects all collected in one spot, and it's hard not to be impressed by the hundreds of influential citizens have been interred at the Abbey.

When visiting the Abbey, be sure to plan well in advance as the Abbey often hosts special events that closes the church to visitors. A calendar of events in available on the website. Typical admission for adults is £18, £8 for children 11-18, free admission for children under 11, with discounts available for seniors and students. Free audio guides are offered to everyone in several different languages. Entry is free with the London Pass, but you will be required to stand in the same queue as those that need to purchase tickets. There is no admission for those attending services. Strollers are allowed inside, but some of the small corners of the church are not accessible. If you're trying to stick to a schedule, you may not have time to listen to the whole audio guide as the Abbey is full of nearly a millennium's worth of history, but it offers lots of very interesting information and you can select what information you want to listen to, making it easy to hear the "highlights".

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

From the Abbey, we took the Underground and did a bit of walking to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. The original Globe Theatre used by William Shakespeare's playing company was demolished in the 1640s, but today a reproduction stands about 750 feet down the road from the original site. The new building was built as accurately as possible to the same specifications (using the same materials and methods) as the original building and hosts plays just as the original theatre did.

Costumes used in performances at the new Globe Theatre

An exhibition and tours are offered to visitors to give the history of theatre in London and Shakespeare's plays and the original play house. During the theatre season (April to mid October) tours are limited due to performances. During the off-season, tours are held throughout the day but the exhibition is open during all opening hours.

During our visit a company was rehearsing for a performance and no photos were allowed of the interior. The exhibition takes about an hour to explore and tours of the theatre are approximately 45 minutes long, check the website for opening times based on the season. Typical admission for adults is £13.50, £8 for children 5-15, free for children under 5, with discounts available for seniors, students, and families. London Pass holders have free admission but stand in the same queues to get official tickets for the exhibition and tour. Separate pricing is available for performances. Strollers are welcome, but need to be closed up and carried when going into the theatre.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London sits about a mile down the Thames from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. We walked the distance between the two after a brief lunch outside the theatre next to the river.

The Tower dates back to the 11th century and is famous as the home for the Crown Jewels, a bloody history as a holding for prisoners and site of their torture and execution, and for the ravens and beefeaters that guard the castle. While the Tower was a sign of the crown's defence and power through most of it's history, it was opened up to visitors in the 1830s during a revival of fascination with England's medieval past. Today the tradition continues and visitors can learn much of from exploring the Tower on their own or by joining a guided tour by the beefeaters.

Photos are allowed in all parts of the Tower except the Crown Jewels exhibit. The Tower is open to visitors every day, but it is a good idea to check the website for closure and event information. Buying tickets in advance through the website gives you a small discount, and all prices shown include an optional £2 donation which you can opt-out of during purchase. The online prices (including £2 donation) for adults is £20.90, £10.45 for children 5-16, and children under 5 are free. Additional discounts are available to seniors, students, and families. Entry for London Pass holders is free and you can go straight to the entrance and skip the ticket line. Strollers are allowed in the Tower but are required to be left outside of some buildings or difficult to carry through.

The Tower Bridge Exhibition

The Tower Bridge is an easy walk from the Tower of London and well worth including on your visit if you're already in the area of the Tower.

Tower Bridge is a marvel of Victorian engineering that provided a second crossing point over the Thames and allowed large ships to continue to move past. The huge bridge used a state of the art hydraulic system to lift the crossing and allow the boats through. A visit to Tower Bridge walks you through the history and construction of the bridge and brings you through the engine rooms to see how the bridge was raised. And the top of the bridge gives a great view of London on both sides of the river. Children are given a "passport" and collect stickers at different stations in the bridge to place on the passport, which is a great hook to further their interest in the bridge or keep them entertained as their interest fades.

View from the Tower Bridge

Kids' Passport

Photos are allowed in every part of the Tower Bridge Experience. Admission prices for adults are £9, £3.50 for children 5-15, and free for children under 5. Discounts are available for families. If you wish to watch the bridge open for ships, check the website as it lists scheduled times (it doesn't happen every day), but the exhibition is open daily.

Our Result

We had a day packed with activity that we all enjoyed. We were on the move the entire day, but we planned for it and had a good time doing it. We paid £94 for 2 adult passes plus £7 delivery fee (Little Man was free since he's still under 5 years old), for a total of £101. Had we paid full admission at each attraction, we would have paid £118.80 (excluding the donation at the Tower) for two adults. The savings were only £17.80, but we felt they were worth it, especially when we factor in the exchange rate into Euros.

Tips for Using your London Pass

Before you purchase, check the website for which sites participate in the pass and go to the individual websites for admission prices without the pass. Also check the location of the sites and how easy/difficult it is to travel between sites. You may find that you don't have the time and/or the cost of the pass is not better than the admission prices (especially if you qualify for discounted admission).

Make a schedule for the day(s) you use the pass and stick to it. This is especially important for those with the one-day pass in order to reach all the sites with enough time to feel like you really got to experience it.

Purchase your London Pass online, in advance. This allows you to hit the ground running as soon as you like in London without having to find time to pick up the pass. The London Pass often offers a discount on certain passes only available online, so you can receive further discounts doing so in advance. It also lets you read the handy booklet that comes with every pass.

Check the free walking tours that come in the London Pass booklet. It provides easy directions to take you past some of the "big sites" (i.e. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc.).

Today's post is part of the #SundayTraveler link up with Chasing the Donkey and friends. Please be sure to check out the other great posts through the linkup!

Have you used the London Pass? What did you see and do?

05 April 2014

It's Spring Time for Nederland

A Break in the Silence

It's been a couple busy weeks around here coupled with a bout of writer's block. We were all a bit sick last week and spent time just getting back to feeling less tired. And then the week was just full of uncommon, jealousy-inducing events, like preparing taxes and observation days at school, but also some really nice weather that kept us outside during the afternoons. Today I'm on my way to a job fair in Amsterdam while Mark and Little Man have a "boys day". This has all been enough to keep me away from the blog for a bit, especially because I felt like I couldn't think of anything worthwhile to write.

So really, this is a non-update update with a promise that I'm getting prepared to start doing normal posts again and very soon. Really.

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