Bilingual Families

'It must be nice to be bilingual.'

I have been reflecting on my family’s recent road trip to France to visit our daughter who is studying in a language programme there for part of the summer. It’s not unusual for Swedish teens to head to all corners of the globe for språkresor (language trips). In fact, it might well be part of why you’ll find Swedes just about wherever you go in the world. They love to travel and do it well. At the heart of our trip was language, a subject that is constant in any bilingual family – only we tend not to think about it until we’re faced with those whose “normal” is different from ours.

While visiting some old family friends on the way home, they were asking us how it worked with two languages constantly on the go within one family and one conversation. Swedes are extremely good at switching to English when a person who does not speak Swedish enters a conversation (out of respect), but it’s rare that they would continue with two languages at once. Or is it? In my experience here, it’s not actually so rare at all, not if your spouse’s native language is different from yours, your children attend international schools and you work in a bilingual or multilingual environment.

The issue of language has always fascinated me. While some people may think it’s strange to speak two languages at home, others can’t imagine living any other way. It’s normal to us and normal to many families we know here. When our children were born, we had never even discussed which language we should speak. It was simply natural for both of us to speak our native language to our children. We’ve faced some criticism for this but if the shoe was on the other foot, I wonder how readily one would give up their language just to fit the status quo. More to the point, we feel it is the greatest gift we could ever have given our children – to grow up with two native languages. From the time they began speaking, they naturally associated Swedish with their father and English with their mother and switched back and forth between the languages without giving it a single thought. I remember having monolingual friends for dinner when the children were toddlers and how perplexing it had seemed to them to watch these young children at the table switching back and forth between the parents without even thinking.

What the children chose to speak from early childhood to each other was simply up to them, whatever came naturally. This happened to be Swedish. I asked my son when he was about five years old why he spoke only Swedish to his sister. His answer, “Why would I speak English to a Swedish girl?” So that was that.

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Our trip to France and our daughter’s experience at the college there has shown us once again that there are many, many families just like ours. Several of her new friends there speak two, and in some cases three languages at home. We visited a friend of mine on the way down to the Riviera. We had studied French together twenty-eight years ago while we were both au pairs. She had married a Frenchman and settled there. On our visit, I met her daughter who is bilingual. I noticed she was speaking both languages to her mom at any given time. I asked her about this and she said that she simply says whatever comes into her head first. This is their family’s normal, which didn’t faze me at all. In fact, it’s exactly what happens time and time again in my work and at the children’s schools.

Whether it is colleagues switching languages in one conversation depending on the person with whom they are speaking or parents gathered at a school function, switching languages continuously or speaking one language while the other person responds in another language, it works. In fact, I had two students years ago who (at the age of 6/7) spoke French to their mother, Dutch to their father, English in class, Swedish to some friends and English to other friends. Then they moved to Shanghai and learned Chinese! For this reason, I was particularly baffled by our friends’ curiosity, considering here in Scandinavia, if you put a Swede, Norwegian and Dane together, all three will speak their native language to each other as though it is normal. Which it is here! Scandinavians grow up hearing and interacting with all three languages.

So why question me about English and living in a family with two active languages? When my children and husband speak Swedish in front of me, I understand everything, I simply respond in English. If it’s not considered rude when Scandinavians speak their native languages to each other and everyone can understand, why then would it be rude to add English to the mix when everyone in the family understands English? Outside the home, and certainly with those who do not speak English, I speak Swedish. I speak Swedish to my neighbours and my in-laws, in the shops, a variety of friends and anywhere else it calls for that language. Swedish is an integral part of my life, but I am English and I won’t apologize for wanting my children to learn it equally as well.

In the 2014 article, “12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know” by Rita Rosenback on Multilingual Parenting site, she states that bilingualism doesn’t happen by magic and that parents need to have a plan. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Although this is true, in our case we never laid out a plan as such. Everything moved forward in a very natural way. Of course, being a true blue Canadian and a lover of language, I was adamant from the onset that English would be part of our family’s daily life and yes, I wanted the children to have an English education as well as a Swedish one. With that in mind and a very, very early application to The English School Gothenburg, where both languages thrive, life as a bilingual family evolved naturally from there, addressing all the key points in Rosenback’s article. My favourite point she makes, “There will be doubters. Ignore them, they do not know what they are talking about.” Probably the most important point in the article, however, is to be consistent. This is something we have taken seriously. It is for this reason that our children are consistent in return.  Video here based on the article.

Every family is different, choosing what works best for them. There is no right or wrong, it’s just what it is. If I were to do it all again, for my family, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’d love to hear what languages you speak at home and how it works in your family.

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Spring Writing

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Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to live in a coastal city with the sea only steps away. It is something I longed for as a child and although I long for more sun as an adult, the west coast archipelago of Sweden is undoubtedly something to be treasured.

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Its riches for me come in the form of stories. How easy it is to set the imagination adrift whilst sitting on the rocky shore gathering a hot cup of tea into my hands. Those beaches of rock, more like walruses lazing about after a good meal! The blustery winds that catch my breath until it all settles once again. The sunset of surprising colours!

IMG_3804I’ve been working on story ideas for my new novel while my latest work of fiction is out there trying to find its way across the North Sea. My hope is that it will settle into the right hands so that one day readers will be taken away to 1917 maritime Canada and a lost girl from the Borough of Lambeth during WWII, yet still be connected to the present. Three storylines weave in and out of each other like tapestry woven over generations—each silk thread knotted until the next colour is introduced. When you step back, the whole picture is revealed.

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My new novel will also be set in a few places, rugged in their geography (by the sea, of course) and historical. I’ve been debating whether to bring Scandinavia into this one in some form, since I have lived here for nearly twenty years and know it rather well. The possibilities are intriguing to me.

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Yet as I watch two (skator) magpies building a nest in my raggedy old apple tree, those possibilities become clearer. I am fascinated by the birds’ ingenuity, vision and communication skills. They’re not bothered by the dreary weather today. They do what they need to do to get the job done. They targeted my apple tree, my ugly yet beloved tree in which my children’s swing still hangs beneath and decided that it would be the perfect home for a new baby. So, I shall go to the seaside for my cup of tea where my inspiration lies, build my new story and make it a home.

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Wishing you a happy spring with wonderful reading and writing!

Susan

A Source of Inspiration

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I’m afraid Nicholas Sparks was teasing when he said that he grew an idea tree in his garden. Ideas can be painful to conceive yet plentiful if you know where to look. They all start with inspiration. The question is, what inspires you? More to the point, how do you get inspired to start your next project as a writer when your last is sitting in the hands of fate? Yes, nature is inspiring. The sun certainly has a profound affect on me, my energy, my enthusiasm, my drive. Likewise the sea.

But it’s those dreary days of grey on grey as the Scandinavian autumn darkness swells into the landscape that I find inspiration elsewhere – mainly through people. Over the last couple of years, perhaps none has inspired me more than artist, Danielle van Schooneveld. I’ve known Danielle for years but never knew the talent she possessed, the talent she was harnessing quietly in her own way, in her own time.   Perhaps I’ve been living in a box until now, not realizing that she’s been painting all along, the way I have been writing all these years, but only recently sharing my work and taking risks.
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Danielle has clearly worked hard to achieve the success that is now gracing her life—an art degree, exhibitions and churning out one painting after another. Though I watch this rise in her career from afar (since we are living in different countries), and celebrate her achievement through social media along with all of her friends, I feel directly affected by her work. I have always been partial to paintings of children and have a number of framed Nancy Noel prints from years past.

I am not an art critic. All I can express is how Danielle’s work affects me. Apart from the obvious, her incredible talent, how thoughtful her portraits are, her portrayal of people, there is something calming in her work, something raw. Perhaps it’s her use of colour. Perhaps it’s in knowing the calm, elegant person that Danielle is. What she achieves is not only a breathtaking finished product, but making one see the value of persistence, the importance of honing one’s talents and driving them forward to create a more fulfilling life.

danielle6As a writer, I can see a story begin to unravel as I look at her paintings. They cannot help but intrigue me. In the top painting, at least five stories scramble over each other to get my attention. A slew of questions instantly formulates. What is the little girl looking at? Her reflection? A fish? Something glittery caught between two rocks under the surface? How did it get there? What is it? Did she drop it? Was it her mother’s? Where is her mother? Is she still alive? Are the girls sisters? Twins perhaps? The questions and answers can grow dark, mysterious or be the seed to a loving, family saga. What the painting affords a writer is possibility. Regardless of the artist’s intention or what inspired the painting, everyone is likely to see something different. The feelings generated are likely to vary as well. In any case, Danielle’s painting above provides a starting point. It is incredible how quickly a web of ideas grows based on that starting point or seed. For that, I am grateful. SONY DSC

All the pieces seem to be fitting together nicely for Danielle, but while traveling the creative road myself, especially the last couple of years, I am under no disillusionment that it’s been a smooth ride. The painstaking work involved in creating her pieces, accompanied by the skill needed to market oneself in this incredibly competitive world and the uncertainties it bestows, requires agility, thick skin and exceptional talent. Danielle possesses these qualities and is carving out her future one painting at a time. I am excited to see where it heads.

In the meantime, if she doesn’t mind, I will use Danielle as a source of inspiration while delving into my next project. Sometimes all a writer needs is a painting.

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Please visit Danielle:

Website http://www.kunstinzicht.nl/portfolio/werk/daniellevanschooneveld/index.html

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/daniellevanschooneveld

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/dvanschooneveld/

Isle of Mull, Scotland – Sometimes Words are not Enough

A sure fire way to get the inspiration you need – just go there!

For months, I had been trying to sort out the ending to my new novel.  Forcing it was clearly not working.  It needed to come naturally, in its own time, at its own pace.  What I needed was a change of scenery and though the Isle of Mull is only a memory in my novel, it has proven to be worth all the words in the world to me.

Staying in a remote area on the mainland this past week, with the sea in my garden and the highlands wrapped around me, I was able to soak in this magical place.  Just across the water was the Isle of Mull and it was in my two day trips there by ferry that inspired my writing – the ending that I needed.  Here are some of the photos I took on the west coast of Scotland and Isle of Mull.  Indeed, sometimes words are not enough.

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Honouring Our Creative Selves

I found myself at a dinner party last night talking to two very creative men. One who has followed his artistic passion and developed an outstanding career in exterior car design. The other is a physician, whose personal passion lies in music and has submitted several of his songs to Melodifestivalen over the years. The conversation drew me back to my earliest passion and made me question, Where did that little girl go?

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From as early as I can remember, I was drawing floor plans. Not just a handful of floor plans, but reams and reams of floor plans. They were stuffed in draws and under the bed. I sat in front of the television drawing floor plans. I drew floor plans on rainy days at the cottage. Floor plans were part of my every day life at a ripe old age of eight or younger. I simply cannot remember. Paper was always needed and well used. I was building floor plans with books for my Barbies to live in, filling the basement floor, always changing the design. At eleven years old, I submitted my first project at school on architecture and started designing corporate building floor plans. In high school, I took drafting, a year-long project that culminated in my first completed house design, model and all and ready for building.

So what happened? I know that rowing dominated my time through my teens and early twenties and satisfied all of those worldly dreams that crept into my life the more I competed. I was hooked. I loved crossing the finish line first. Rowing was an addiction and I couldn’t get enough of it. Yet a little further past the finish line, beyond the stands and well into the forgotten banks down river, if I squinted just so, I could still see my little creative self cheering me on.

She’s still there, a little weathered perhaps from popping out of the reeds for visits over the years, but she’s there.

Through my career in teaching, I’ve always done my best to tap into my creative side in the hope of bringing out those unique nuances that make each student special. Despite the intrinsic rewards of helping to develop others’ creativity, a part of me yearned for more, to be true to that side of me that was born creative. I wanted no boundaries, or at least as few as possible. I wanted the vision that I’d dreamed of as a little architect in the making. I was a designer then. Looking back over the years, I realize I’ve always been one. I just wanted to be fully creative again. But did it have to be in designing buildings?

Our creative selves might manifest in unexpected ways throughout our careers and personal lives, but they need to be honoured and given a chance. It is creating something from nothing that can give us some of the greatest joy in life. Where would this world be without music and art after all? Whatever steers us in another direction, I believe a part of us will always want to find that forgotten or neglected path again. It will nag us until we do something about it. For those who wait until it is too late, I am certain regret is painful. I believe we need to listen to that little person we were once, tugging at our sleeve.

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At university, I wrote a children’s book on the side and showed one of my professors. Her words have never escaped me. “You should do something with this one day,” she said. It was her earnest expression that triggered something inside me. She was the first person to validate my writing apart from my high school German teacher who was apparently taken aback when I translated and illustrated The Night Before Christmas for fun. But alas, this story was my design, my creation and there was something remarkable in that realization—that I could write.

I had always enjoyed talking. Anyone who knows me knows this well. Then something grew in the sweet storytelling after I tucked my children in bed at night. I reveled in the stories. They would choose the characters and setting and I would create a story, every night for years, a different story for each of our two children. Soon that rolled into writing down stories on my own then reading those stories to them. Stories were coming out of the woodwork and the kids couldn’t get enough of them. I adore those memories. Now they’ve grown up, young adults in the making.

The designer in me is adjusting to those life changes as I write novels now, creating something again from nothing. Only that nothing is far from empty. I am one of the lucky ones to have grown creatively, even though I couldn’t see it fully at the time. It is through all of these life experiences that I have built a foundation on which to generate new stories. A close-knit family, friends, travel and education have all played a role in keeping that little creative me cheering from the riverbank.

I may not design houses for a living, but I’m finally giving my creative me a voice. I am a writer. I am a storyteller. It took me many years to believe that was true, many, many stories to believe in myself as a writer. I’m thrilled to be nearing the final leg of a new novel, at least the first draft. Honouring the commitment I made to writing this novel is precisely the reason I haven’t posted recently on my blog.  At first I felt guilty about that, until I not only saw how much more productive I had become, I felt better about myself and my work.

It’s not the end of the world if we acknowledge our creative selves later in life, having built a career in another field altogether. Once we do, though, once we let it out the gates, free to run as it will, be prepared for a never-ending journey, but one that feels right. If we don’t honour our creative selves, our lives become a series of short breaths. And don’t most of us really want to breathe deeply, and take in life to its fullest?

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The Far Reach of Conferences for Writers Abroad

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Year after year, there is a frustration that slips under my skin living abroad with no redeeming qualities—the distance between me and the English writing world. I nearly considered the internet as a redeeming quality, but in the case of English writers’ conferences, they are still far out of reach for most of us who live in a non-English country. Case in point, the awards galas for which I am a finalist in historical fiction are held at conferences not just in the United States, but on the other side of the US, about three times closer to Hawaii than to Sweden (where I live). I can understand anyone who chooses to shrug their shoulders at such a predicament. But for those of us who live abroad, it is no shrugging matter. Yes, it was our choice to live where we live and yes, all that could be changed with just one move. Rarely is it that simple, however, at least not when you have a family to consider. query

At what point do we put our writing first? The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley is my first book published and let me say, it hasn’t been an easy writing road with manuscripts dangling from cobwebs within the crevices of my laptop. They served a grand purpose by improving my writing to the point where agents and finally a publisher took notice. Polished and gleaming, it was released into the book world nearly one year ago, along with the thousands of other books out there. Never for a moment did I think it would get noticed and pulled from the crowd as a contender in any competition. I believe all writers hope for it, but when it actually happened, when I received notification from my publisher on all four competitions, as Gillian would say, “You could have tipped me over with a guinea pig’s whiskers.”

So my predicament lingers—my debut novel is being recognized in such an unexpected way and I likely cannot be there. Even though the outcome of any of these competitions isn’t what would drive me to go, the fact that my writing is being validated and recognized publicly, that someone has seen its value and appreciated my hard work, means more than I can possibly say. hns-oxford-2016-small-white-border

Most writers need to pick and choose which writers’ functions they can attend, so I am no exception in that regard. In fairness, there is a selection of conferences and writers’ retreats throughout Europe, eg. Iceland Writers Retreat coming up in mid April and the Historical Novel Society Conference in early September.

It’s simply that the frustration under my skin seems to have bubbled up this time, for the sole reason a novel I gave so much of myself to, a story I grew to love as each page was written, is being recognized and I may not be there to support it. On the bright side, the best side actually, is that it was shortlisted and made a finalist at all. So whether I attend or not, I will forever be grateful and honoured.

If you feel like you are the only English writer living in a non-English country, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley is a Finalist!

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What a week of excitement!  Four separate days of announcements recognizing The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley:

  1. The CHATELAINE Awards for Romantic Fiction 2015 First Place Category Winner in Historical Romance
  2. The CHAUCER Awards for Historical Fiction 2015 Finalist
  3. The IBPA BENJAMIN FRANKLIN Book Awards – one of three finalists in Fiction Romance (already a silver winner)
  4. Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB BOOK OF THE YEAR Award finalist

I am still trying to get my head around it all.  Certainly, the best moments in life are those that are unexpected.  I am immensely grateful.

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Below is the Press Release from Light Messages Publishing regarding the Indiefab Awards

NC Small Press Celebrates Book Award Finalists

Three titles from Light Messages Publishing have been named Foreword Reviews‘ 18th annual INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards Finalists: The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley by Susan Örnbratt, Relentless Savage by Dave Edlund, and A Theory of Expanded Love by Caitlin Hicks. 

Each year, Foreword Reviews shines a light on a select group of indie publishers, university presses, and self-published authors whose work stands out from the crowd. Over the next three months, a panel of more than 100 volunteer librarians and booksellers will determine the winners in 63 categories based on their experience with readers and patrons.

The three books chosen from Light Messages were lead titles for 2015. The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley and A Theory of Expanded Love received resounding praise from reviewers and readers alike. They were each recognized as Top 50 Reads of 2015. Shortly after its release, Relentless Savage topped the charts on iBooks for Best New Mysteries and & Thrillers. The announcement comes just weeks ahead of the release of Edlund’s third Peter Savage novel, Deadly Savage, which Kirkus Reviews has praised for its “crackling action, brisk pace, timely topic…”

“As a small press in today’s climate, we feel like we have to work twice as hard to secure strong authors and meaningful books and ten times as hard to get their works into the hands of readers. Having a voice as influential as Foreword Reviews recognize three of our titles for their excellence and their contributions to the literary community means the world to us,” says Elizabeth Turnbull, Light Messages Senior Editor. “As the fictional Gillian Pugsley would say, we’re so tickled you could push us over with a guinea pig’s whiskers!”

Foreword Reviews will celebrate the winners during a program at the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco on Friday, June 26 at 6 p.m. at the Pop Top Stage in the exhibit hall. Everyone is welcome. The Editor’s Choice Prize for Fiction, Nonfiction, and Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Publisher of the Year Award will also be announced during the presentation.

About Light Messages

Light Messages Publishing, founded in 1998, is a family-run, general trade publisher located in Durham, North Carolina. We pride ourselves in bringing to light meaningful books by emerging and award-winning authors. For more information about Light Messages Publishing and its services, please visit our website.

About Foreword

Foreword Magazine, Inc is a media company featuring a Folio-award-winning quarterly print magazine, Foreword Reviews, and a website devoted to independently published books. In the magazine, they feature reviews of the best 170 new titles from independent publishers, university presses, and noteworthy self-published authors. Their website features daily updates: reviews along with in-depth coverage and analysis of independent publishing from a team of more than 100 reviewers, journalists, and bloggers. The print magazine is available at most Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million newsstands or by subscription. You can also connect with them on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and Pinterest. They are headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan, USA.