Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Do I stay with this blog, writing every now and then about this and that or do I start up a new blog about...well about a little of this and a little of that. I am leaning towards starting a new blog which is more relevant about my new life here in Australia. When you have written a blog for so long and the blog was always written when you lived in another country it is hard to continue that blog when you now live on the other side of the world. Writing is not hard, that comes easy. Hard is trying to think of things to write about. Hard trying to think if I write what ever I want to write or if I write about things I think people will be interested in. Stay tuned, I may or may not be back!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Bilingual babies on air

The other day bel marito and I were interviewed on SBS radio about raising bilingual children. You can hear the interview here it is in Italian and don't listen too closely because you will hear more then a few mistakes coming out of my mouth!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


I didn't mean to win bocce. I have only played once or twice in my life many moons ago and didn't realise I was so good. It may have helped that the eldest player was a 99 year old lady from up near Padova and the youngest was in his eighties. And to be fair I didn't win every game, just the one and after realising the strength of my bocce ball rolling hand I claimed beginners luck and threw the ball astray from then on. I wasn't playing bocce in Italy even though we were all speaking Italian. I was playing bocce here, in Melbourne in an Italian speaking nursing home. The game started out calmly. I was told that old Adamo (not his real name, none of the names I mention are real names) was the supervisor.

I first met Adamo the week before when he instantly befriended me after I mentioned the words San Marco in Lamis. San Marco in Lamis is where my grandparents are from, now a beautiful but once a poor, struggling town in Puglia. Adamo trapped me last week telling me tales of hidden money planted under the tree in his families old estate. I have a little trouble understanding old Italians (no teeth and a bit of dialect make it hard follow!) and tried to find out about this tree...but then Adamo's mind started to wander and he couldn't remember if he had planted the money in Italy or here in Australia. When he originally migrated he was living in a country town which had a lot of trees just like his old home in San Marco... Anyway, today old Adamo was the bocce supervisor.

There were about 10 of us. Some of the players were abled bodied and minded, bending their legs like a pro bowler, silently plotting their next move. A few of the less able bodied rolled the bocce ball from their chairs or walkers. Some were actually good players and some not so good but they had fun. It was a serious game though. Two of the players have the same colour bocce balls so there was a bit of tension when Adamo could not correctly call the winner. He was supervising from his chair and couldn't see if the bocce ball was with or without a sticker. Simone was also one of the 'organisers.' He was an immaculately dressed man, probably in his 90s who would go and collect the balls after each game. He walked with a walking frame which was useful to rest his box on. Inside the box was his ruler. Sometimes it can be hard to tell who is the winner and he has to measure with his ruler which ball is closest to the small white ball. He didn't have to measure the distance today, and I don't even know if he can bend to measure, but the ruler was in his box and slowly after each game he hobbled over with a more able bodied friend, collected the balls and handed them back to us.

We played bocce to the sound of tone deaf opera singers who were sitting on the floor above. The nursing home is a large 3 level place with the centre from top to bottom all open. The 99 year old, let's call her Pina, had handed over her red bocce balls to me as she went upstairs to sing with a few others. Once a week a volunteer comes to sing with who ever wants to sing, which at the moment is 2 or 3 ladies. They sing ballads from their youth, all in Italian and at one stage we clapped but most of the time we cringed. We were playing a serious bocce game after all and this just wasn't helping with concentration.

We were all thankful when it was finally time for the coffee break. We put the bocce balls away and the opera singers put their soprano voices to rest as we applauded our two winners (I came third.) Now it was time for coffee and then a short nap!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

bilingual babies

A few months after moving to Australia bel marito found a full time job which meant that he would spend less time with the children which meant they would hear a lot less Italian. We were living with my parents at the time and I had asked dad to speak with the children in Italian but he just wasn't used to it. He would start speaking in Italian and then finish the conversation in English, much like my grandfather does with the children too. I don't think they even realise it half the time, but they just keep slipping in and out of either language which I don't think is helpful when trying to teach a child two languages! (We were not raised bilingual you see so my dad and my mothers parents are not used to speaking with any of us in Italian.) Other family members who speak basic Italian tried to help us by throwing the odd Italian word into their conversations, and often these words were wrong so in the end I had to spell it out straight to my family - choose just one language, which ever it be and stick to it. I thanked them for the odd Italian words thrown in with their English but it wasn't going to help the children identify which words go with which language. So the only thing to do was for me to switch from full time English to  full time Italian.

I did it cold turkey. One night I said good night to the children and the next morning I woke them with a buongiorno. For the first day or two bel bambino was confused and he would only reply to me in English. After a few days his little mind clicked that mamma now spoke like papa' and he started speaking with me only in Italian. It was amazing to see and there has been no looking back.

At first it was a little strange for me to speak with my children in Italian. It wasn't that it felt unnatural since I was used to speaking with bel marito in Italian, it was just that I forgot and sometimes had to stop and think before speaking, making sure that Italian would come out of my mouth. It only took me a few days to feel comfortable with this full time Italian and now if I were to speak English to them that would be strange! I did have my doubts however as my Italian is no where near perfect, but bel marito liked to point out that most Italians don't speak perfect Italian and that even if the children learn my mistakes at least they can be understood in Italy which is the main thing! I worry that they will get my Italian accent which is not at all Italian but again bel marito doesn't mind. There is a chance they will get his accent but if they don't then hey, they will be able to speak Italian just with an Australian accent.

Since his second birthday bel bambino has turned into a little chatter box who just won't stop speaking (just like his mamma!). It is impressive watching him float between Italian and English. Other then bel marito and I he is surrounded by English everyday but I would say he is equally strong in both languages. There are words he knows in Italian that he doesn't know in English and vice versa. Sometimes he will speak to us with the odd English word, this is normally a new word he has learnt and normally doesn't know or remember in Italian. When this happens we ask him "come si dice in Italiano?" (how do you say it in Italian) or we say "si dice train in inglese, si dice treno in italiano." (you say train in English and treno in Italian.)  The other day he kept saying train track in English and when we asked him how to say it in Italian he didn't know. That was no surprise as I didn't know so no wonder he didn't know! Once our translator aka bel marito had taught us that train track was binario in Italian he and I both learnt it and we able to use it in our conversation.

We try and get him to watch tv in Italian (not that he watches a lot of tv) and we put a cartoon on youtube, normally Thomas the Tank Engine in Italian. I am trying to see if he understands that he speaks two languages but I am not sure if he really realises yet. I ask him if Thomas is on in English in Italian and sometimes he gets the answer right, and sometimes not which tells me he has not yet registered the two languages. I think he only associates the language with the person. If he meets someone new who speaks to him in Italian normally he will reply in English but he speaks with his Italian relatives in Italian via Skype.

At the end of the day we are happy with his progress and we are happy with bella bambina too. Here we are living in Australia and her first word after mamma and papa' was ciao! So I think she is on her way to being bilingual too.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Bilingual babies

Do bilingual babies exist? Is it possible that a child can switch from one language to the other with such ease that they don't even realise they are doing it? In my opinion and in my experience the answers are yes. How do you raise a child to be bilingual? Everyone has their own method, their own approach and what I write about is just what we found works for us.

When we lived in Italy I spoke to bel bambino in English while bel marito and pretty much everyone else spoke to him in Italian. Sure there were people who frowned upon this bilingual business, there were people who thought that we were confusing him and that he was too small to have these different languages thrown at him, but we didn't pay them any attention. He didn't seem to be confused, he didn't seem to struggle and so we just kept going.

We left Italy when bel bambino was a little under 2 years old. Before leaving he  only spoke a few words and those words were a mixture of both languages. We think he just choose the word he found easier which was normally English. In English we say car and in Italian can see why his little mind used to say car and not macchina, it was just easier. We didn't care, the important thing for us was to be consistent. I always spoke to him in English, in front of other people, even in front of bel marito. Bel marito and I spoke Italian together so if we were at the dinner table I would address bel marito in Italian and when I had something to say to bel bambino I would look at him and switch to English. He knew that his mamma could speak the same as his papa' but his mamma didn't speak to him in papa's language. 

I had a friend who asked me for bilingual advice since her child did not seem to understand the different languages. My advice to her was to be consistent. Her husband was Italian but spoke English so he sometimes spoke to their son in English and sometimes in Italian, she did the same thing. I think this confused the little boy as he needed to get used to hearing the one language come out of the same persons mouth so that he could start to associate. He will not know that papa' speaks Italian and mummy English, but he will start to hear that his papa's voice is different and that papa' says macchina and mummy says car even though they are the same thing. I told her to stick to one language each and to test the child. We used to test bel bambino all the time to make sure that he was understanding both languages. While reading a book I would ask him to point to the car and bel marito would ask the same thing in Italian. Speaking would come later, for us it was important to make sure that he could understand us. We used to love testing him at the dinner table. I would ask him to give me a fork in English and bel marito would ask for some bread in Italian and it was so cute and so exciting to watch him actively respond. Our little boy was bilingual, he couldn't say more then a few words but he was bilingual!

And then we moved to Australia. What do you think happens next? Does our bilingual baby begin to speak? Which language will he speak? Will he forget Italian? We have a bella bambina now. What language will her first word be in?

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Things work = strange...

We lived with my parents for 7 months and before that we lived with bel marito's parents straight after the accident until the move down under. So all in all it was a LONG time living with parents. But this post is not about living with parents. It is about our move to the new unit. For those who don't know what a unit is let me explain. A unit is like an apartment (which is also called a flat) except they are next to each other rather than one on top of the other. Two storey units are called town houses. We are now living in a small, two bedroom unit (there are 5 on our block) and we love it.

We only have one car you see. My parents bought my brother's car when he moved to America so they had mums old car just sitting around. Perfect. We were/are saving for a home loan and thanks to the accident (note sarcasm) our savings are behind where we had anticipated they would be, so we gladly accepted this old, dodgy, but functional car. When we lived with mum and dad a car was essential as there was nothing nearby but now we live in the centre of everything and when bel marito goes to work I get by more then fine without a car. Actually even when he is off we don't have to use the car!

I will take photos of the area where we live and I will tell you all about it. It is a multi-cultural suburb 9 kms north of the Melbourne city centre. But this post is not about where I live. Not really. It is about what we live across from which leads me to talk about how efficient the local council is. I said we live in a great area, with everything literally on our door step including the supermarket just across the road. It takes me 3 minutes to walk from my front door to the supermarket front door and I walk slow. So our small unit is across the road from the loading bays which is where the large and very noisy trucks come and dispose of their goods. We didn't get much sleep the first night we were here. There is a sign on the loading bay saying deliveries are from 6am-10pm which is fine. The beep beep beep of trucks reversing and the bang bang bang of trucks unloading come after 10pm, they come all night long. So little sleep came to us the first few nights.

It was starting to bother me but bel marito said just to ignore it, that I would get used to it. But he knows me too well to think that I would listen to him. You see, I just can't let something go. If something annoys me it will slowly drive me crazy until I try and get it sorted. If I can't get it sorted I at least need to complain to the appropriate people. I just want someone to know that I am annoyed. This is Australia however and when something bothers you, you talk to someone and see if you can solve the problem. Loud noises are not allowed at night in residential areas and everyone knows that. We are a civilised country and like to abide by rules (most of the time.)

The next day, while talking the children for a walk I somehow found myself in the supermarket speaking with the store manager. She openly admitted that the trucks do deliver all night long. They used to only deliver from 6am-10pm (thus the sign hanging up) but now they come when ever because suppliers have changed. I was very pleasant when I told the store manager it was annoying and disturbing my sleep and she, equally pleasant suggested that I call the local council. So I did.

The council pounced on the issue as this could be a violation of the sound legislation or something like that. This was a few weeks ago and today the council called back saying they were negotiating with the store and what times would I feel were acceptable for them to make deliveries. You may be as shocked as I was..! They actually called me back, they are actually looking into my complaint and now they are asking ME what I would be happy with... Insane. I never really thought my complaint would go anywhere but now there is a ray of light at the end of the noisy, truck tunnel and maybe we will be able to get a good nights sleep. It is neither here nor there that I get woken up by bel bambino or bella bambina half the time (so I only hear the trucks by chance,) it not important that I think I am getting used to the is the principle of the matter! I am Australian. If a sign says deliveries from 6am-10pm then I expect that sign be abided by! I was nice on the phone and said I would even be willing to stretch it to 11pm including Sundays. We Australians can be seen as annoying, by the book people, but when you live in a country where nearly everything works, when something doesn't work it makes you a little annoyed (not angry) so you make a call or talk to someone and...normally it gets fixed. I have a lived in a country where things don't get fixed for 6.5 years, where complaints just don't happen as you know no one will listen, or if they do listen they aren't going to do anything about it, so now being back in the land where things work is strange....very strange...but great!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Gosh, so many questions, so many curious people that I am just not sure where to start. One of my readers, Canedolia put things into perspective when she wrote "...Glad to see you posting again! I was wondering how you were getting on on the other side of the world. And don't forget that for you it may be mundane, but for those of us who are still on this side of the world, Australia is exotic!" That got me thinking that yeah...she is right. Ok, exotic may be stretching it, but for me it is all so normal but for others it is exciting.

Australia has always been the dream country, the place where everyone wants to live. In each and every country I have visited there is always at least one person (if not one hundred) who dreamily tell me that they want to move to Australia. When we backpacked around Europe and people found out we were Australian they treated us like old friends. When I worked in the UK my Scottish boss preferred to hire Australians because she thought we were all so friendly (her reasoning was that we got more sun than the UK thus were a happy race.)   You see it from the amount of boat people that are trying to sneak their way into this country everyday...Australia is a popular place to be.

We returned not quite as expected, what with me on two crutches not being able to move around much. Before the accident we had imagined that I would find a part time job while bel marito found full time work. In Italy we had both worked part time so could both look after bel bambino and we decided that we needed one full time worker to try and get more money into our bank account so that our future Australian home would become more of a reality than a dream. Unfortunately I was in no position to work when we returned, I could barely walk let alone drive and so the first few months were spent mostly getting sorted. Don't forget that it was about 10 years since I last lived and worked full time in Australia so there was a lot I just didn't know about. I had never been sick before, never been in an Australian hospital, never had to deal with children issues...10 years ago I was a healthy, single, young girl who didn't have to deal with anything! Thankfully my family and friends were all able to point us in the right direction and now we are still learning a lot about how things work here. Bel marito was obviously full of questions: how do we register with a doctor, how much does xx cost,  how do you get from a to my answer was always the same 'I haven't lived here for 10 years, I don't know!!!'

Our first tasks were easy as often things work here. Small things don't become big issues as I often found in Italy. You need to get your Italian drivers licence transferred to an Australian one? No problem. Just make an appointment, pay the fee and bel marito now has a nice, Victorian drivers licence. Bella bambina was not yet Australian so we had to get that done. Easy. Just photo copy some documents, get them certified, send them off, pay the fee and a few weeks later she is Australian. We needed to add bel bambino, bel marito and bella bambina to the Australian healthcare system. I will write another post about this as I know a lot of people are curious but it can be a complicated thing to explain and I need time to write that post! But getting them on my Medicare card (which is like a codice fiscale) was a simple phone call. Getting bel marito's tax file number changed to that of a permanent resident was also a simple phone call. A lot of things were just a simple phone call which was lucky as our first few months were basically full of doctor and specialist visits...which was not as one would imagine spending the first few months in a new country...

You must remember when you read this blog that bel marito already had permanent residency so he is treated like an Australian, he has access to everything that I have access to, he just doesn't have an Australian passport (he's got to wait 5 years for that!) So when I talk about the health care system in future posts I will always be talking about Australians as foreigners have different rights here depending on things such as what visa are they on and where they come from. To give you a really quick example bella bambina had access to the Australian medical system even before we got her citizenship sorted. I went and got her vaccinations done at the local health care centre and it was all free because she was at the time an Italian citizen and Australia and Italy have a reciprocal health care agreement.  There were a lot of migrants from Asian countries who had to pay for the vaccinations. So you see, explaining things can be complicated.

Let me sum up our lives briefly and then I will write more about them. We don't have a house. For the first 7 months we lived with my parents, now the four of us live alone. Bel marito found a full time job. I stay at home and look after the children as finding a job is still far from my mind (I have had to re-evaluate a lot since the accident.) Our Italian insurance issues from the accident have not yet even begun...

We are happy here. It has not been as hard as we had imagined. It has not been as easy either. I say it all the time but it is just that we had planned on coming under different circumstances, we had not planned to be hit by a car...but things happen and we have to adjust. But we are here. We have not looked back and I don't think we will. There is just such a difference as to how our children are and will continue to grow up. There is so much more on offer here for them. For them we are happy we made the move, and for them we will stay. And to be honest it is fun being a tourist here again!