Monday, 29 April 2013

Walking in the park in Enlgish - birds, trees and flowers

Every morning we go out for a walk. E. is the most attentive at this time of the day. At the beginning I was rather tense talking in English while we were walking and meeting other people, but by now I've got used to it.

On our way I name whatever we see. I try to pay attention to which direction she looks and what she sees. As I'm behind her, it's not easy. So what I say is:

"Look, there's a pigeon. She's eating." or "The pigeons have flown away."

"The pigeons have flown away."
"Can you see that big tree? The leaves are all green."

Pansies in the flowerbed
"Let's smell the flowers. Atishoo. Atishooooo." (Here she smiles or even laughs at this.)

"Look, this flower is purple, and this one is white. And your favourite colour is here. It's yellow."

"What is buzzing? It's a bee, flying from one flower to the other."

We were blowing dandelions: "Look, mommy's blowing the dandelion." (minimum 10 times :) )

"I'll taste this blowball."

If we see a dog: "Look, what's coming? A doggy. (She screams or says da-da)

If we go on a bumpy road I make it even bumpier and shake the pushchair a little: "Bumpy, bumpy, bumpy" (She enjoys it as well and grabs the sides of the pushchair hard)

Two pigeons
Today we have counted three pigeons and two doves: "One pigeon, two pigeons, three pigeons.""Are those pigeons? Nooooo. They're doves. One dove, two doves"

These are some of the example, but as usual I'm talking to her continuously about what we see around us. She likes touching (and picking) leaves from the bushes. She is pointing at things so I name them (flowers, animals, people etc.)

Of course, I don't know a lot of flowers and tree types, but I'm working on collecting some of the most common ones, which can be found in our area. I don't like the long lists of vocabulary which include ALL the plant names. We need a small part of them only. The other thing is that I, myself, really need to learn them. I'm getting old, I have to spare some memory storage place in my head.

I don't believe saying only "flower" or "tree" when we name plants is natural. In Hungarian I name them exactly (the ones I know, as I have deficiency in this field even in my mother tongue).

So here is a small collection of useful vocabulary concerning nature or rather wildlife in Budapest parks:


house sparrow
great tit ;)



great tit

horse chestnut
beech tree

chestnut tree
  beech tree
oak tree
birch tree



dandelion or the so-called "blowball" or "clock"

dandelion in full bloom

flowering almond
golden chain




violet pansy
of course, tulips


golden chain
gyermekláncfű, pitypang
flowering almond
pünkösdi rózsa

Friday, 26 April 2013

Helen Doron Early English - Baby's Best Start (Booklets and CDs)

Today we have received our package. We were told to wait at least 6-8 weeks for the course material, but it has taken only 2 weeks.

I have just gone through it and I'm quite happy with it. Or I can say more than happy. I found the material nicely designed on quality paper. We got a big Helen Doron (HD) bag, which has 3 pockets:

Baby's Best Start package

  • one for the CDs (4),
  • one for the Sunny the Cat booklets (4)
  • 4 bigger booklets with the lyrics of the songs, baby sign language, pictures of body parts, animals, flowers, birds etc.

Sunny the Cat series

I've read through the whole material and not only does it focus on the language (songs, rhymes, vocabulary, grammar patterns - of course not directly) but also on other fields of developing a baby (movement, senses - feeling, smelling, hearing, sight -, imagination). The baby sign language is more or less the same as the MAKATON signs, luckily. I was a little worried about confusing E. with other signs.

Few things I would change:
  1. the CDs should be in a proper case or two
  2. the paper of the Sunny booklets are quite strong, though they could be board books (I'm sure I won't give them into E.'s hands, she'd fold or tear the pages - I'm not planning to buy the whole material again for our next child)
  3. if we are given a bag it should be little more useful (bigger pockets, suitable for being carried by the mom, not only the child, which is actually impossible at this age anyway)

Our daily activites - mornings and changing table time

When E. has woken up in the morning and I go into her room singing the following song while pulling up the blinds:

Good morning, good morning, good morning to you
Good morning Ms E.... cock-a-doodle-do
Good morning, good morning, good morning to you
Good morning Ms E.... cock-a-doodle-do
Cock-a-doodle-do, cock-a-doodle-do
Good morning to you.

In the original song there's Mr Rooster, but I changed it to Ms E.'.
Even if D. goes in to her first he sings this song too. Though he continues talking to her in Hungarian.

If E. wakes up late and D. has already gone to work we start the whole day in English. So, for instance, I change her nappy and night clothes while talking in English to her:

  • asking about what she dreamt (I always wait a little for her answer)
  • what the problem was during the night (if she was up)
  • tell her milk is on the way
  • while changing the nappy we have a rhyme that I always chant several times:

    Baby's got a dirty nappy
    What shall we do? (What shall we do?)
    Clean it up, clean it up
    For Mommy and for you

    She likes it a lot and smiles, what's more, stays on her back patiently instead of turning onto her tummy or standing up. The rhyme is from here. You can find other games you can play, songs or rhymes to chant while your baby is on the changing table.
  • we play peek-a-boo with her textile nappy (I cover her with the nappy then ask "Where's E.? Where's she gone?" then she takes the nappy off - or I do it) "I see you." or "There you are.". Another variation is I hide behind her feet and ask "Where's Mommy?" or "Where's Mommy gone?" Then I open her legs and say: "Here I am" or "Peek-a-boo"
  • there's a shelf over our changing table and at the bottom of it I stuck up wooden, painted animals, so I name them, make the sounds they make, or sing a song about them. E.g.:

    Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
    your house is on fire, your children are gone
    All, but one her name is Ann,
    and she has crept under a frying pan.

    (I couldn't find the tune online,but I'll link it as soon as I do or please put it in a comment if you know where to find it)


    Five little ducks went swimming one day
    Over the pond and far away
    Mommy duck said: quack-quack-quack
    But only four little duck came back

    Four little ducks went swimming one day
    Over the pond and far away
    Mommy duck said: quack-quack-quack
    But only three little duck came back
    (on the changing table I usually start with 3 ducks and by the time I finish changing the nappy or clothes we'll get to the end)
  • still on the changing table we play "This little pig went to market". E. likes this most on her toes. I grab each of her toes on one foot one by one and wiggle them a bit as I say the rhyme.

    This little pig went to market;
    This little pig stayed at home;
    This little pig had roast beef;
    And this little pig had none;
    This little pig cried, "Wee, wee, wee!
     All the way home
    . (I tickle the bottom of her foot)
  • While I'm putting on her clothes I usually name her body parts and what clothes go where:
    "Here's your left arm, it goes into this sleeve"
    "One foot goes into the tights, then the other foot goes into the tights" etc.
  • at the breakfast table we play with the coffee cup and the matching teapot. Both have four fruit on them and I name them; she loves the grapes and screams with joy when we get there. And of course, we can't miss singing "I'm a little teapot" (4 or 5 times - in fact, this is MY favourite song)
  • E. didn't use to like brushing or combing her hair, but when we sing along she enjoys it:

    This is the way we comb (or brush) our hair
    Comb our hair, comb our hair
    This is the way we comb (or brush) our hair
    Every day in the morning
    (I sing it twice as she expects me to comb my hair too)
  • she often watches me brushing my teeth while she is sitting in her high chair after breakfast. Then we brush her teeth (or rather she just plays with the toothbrush) and I sing "This is the way we brush our teeth" (same as the combing song, the tune has several verses - see an example here )
  • she sometimes watches me clear the breakfast table. I always tell her the name of the objects I put into the dishwasher, and I also tell her what I put into the fridge (the latter is more fun for her as I see because of the colourful things she can have a look at)
  • if E. is whiny in her high chair then I put her into her playpen where she plays alone. This is the time when she listens to her collection of music (compiled from youtube and added the Helen Doron songs). In the meantime I can do some housework.
Yeah, I sing a lot and keep talking all the time. Sometimes by the afternoon I can hardly talk, am totally tired of speaking, not to mention singing. Thank Goodness for coffee. It always gives a little energy back.

When we have our Hungarian sessions we do more or less the same. The morning routine is the same, the games are the same, only the songs are different. Sometimes I sing the combing/teeth brushing song or "I'm a little teapot" in English as I don't know any good Hungarian versions of them.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Helen Doron Early English - First Impressions

Putting aside my scepticism, few weeks ago we took part in a mock lesson at the Helen Doron school nearby. The teacher, Zs., was really kind, gave us all the information we needed (about the course booklets, CDs, prices, summer programmes, the course itself). She was well-prepared for the lesson (even had a little piece of paper with the lesson plan, CD track numbers etc., which E. wanted to steal). She's got a relatively strong Hungarian accent. I would be happier with a native speaker, but you can't have it all.

The lesson was only 20 minutes long. The usual lesson is 45 minutes otherwise. We have already known one of the songs which is also available online and E. recognised it showing it with a wide smile and arm flapping when it started:

In the past I had already visited a lesson in another school, where the teacher was nice as well and the lesson could have gone well, however the parents present were a pain in the neck. So this time I was worried about the other moms. Luckily, the whole session was a pleasant surprise. Three mommies were there with their little ones and after we'd chatted a bit, it turned out they also think in the same way as I do. They want some useful activities for their kids. None of them was smarty, bossy or pushy as for the language learning. (At the previous place moms corrected the teacher, talked in Hungarian with their kids during the lesson, bombarded the teacher with their idiotic questions after the lesson. None of these happened here.)
So we went home cheerfully. I discussed the details with D. and we decided to go for it.

The course has just started we are at the very beginning. It's hard to draw any conclusion, but so far so good. We are enjoying it. I found the CD material quite entertaining, nicely put together and only about 10 minutes long. According to the instructions, E. needs to listen to it twice a day. We manage to do that. We have a long list of songs she listens to while I'm doing housework, so I included the Helen Doron tracks into our morning routine.

The school premises are basic, though. The classrooms are okay, they are well-equipped. Still, I think the flashcard, pictures should be re-laminated every now and then.

The prices are reasonable. If we do not calculate the booklets and CDs, on a monthly basis it costs as if you were going to a costly playhouse once or twice a week.

Of course, hiring a native nanny at the same fee would be the best, but I want E. to be in another surroundings, meeting other people, kids.

In the back of my mind it is also there that some moms might be interested in MEC. I'll give them a flyer soon.

I'll be back posting on Helen Doron Early English more, when I have more to talk about.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


To reach our goals I am not enough as the only English speaker in E.'s life.
First, I tried to find native playmates for E., but she was too little for them. But I'll try it again when she starts being interested in playing with others, as now, at the age of 11 months, she just plays NEXT TO another child, but not WITH them.

B. is reading with E. (who is 7 months old here)
I arranged  with my best friend, B., who is an English teacher as well, to talk to E. in English only. So every Friday when she has no lessons or other programmes she comes over and plays, chats, reads out to E. It's real fun as I can be with my friend and E. is also entertained IN ENGLISH. There are other family occasions where B. is also present (name days, birthdays, Easter etc), and even at these times when Hungarian is the major language used, B. speaks English to E. Sometimes it's a bit chaotic and quite challenging for B. to share her attention between two languages, but we have succeeded so far. (By the way, B. speaks four languages at a near-native level: Hungarian, Romanian, English and German). Nice example for E.

Another helper of ours is A., our British nanny. A. comes once a week (on Thursdays) for 2 hours to play with E. She loves A., smiles at her as soon as she arrives, screams and babbles a lot while A. is at our place. I may claim that E. "talks" to A. the most compared to how rarely they meet. A.'s main task is to talk, talk and talk to E. Another reason why it is so useful for her to be present in our life is that I can brush up my English. If I don't know the exact, or natural expression for some object, activites, baby language, A. is here to help me out. In the future I would like A. to come more frequently or come out with us to the playground or to the zoo. If I go back to work (which will be soon even if it'll be only part-time) I would be happier if an English speaker took care of E. while I'm away. If she has time for us as she is quite popular with moms. A. could be a kind of replacement for me.  I know this idea won't be very welcomed by the Grandmas.

A. is talking to E. (10,5 moths old) about animal flashcards
At the Helen Doron Early English class, our teacher, Zs., is also a kind of helper. She provides us with another occasion to practise and learn English out of our home. E. can see that other people also use this form of communication. And it is also important that she is with other kids, too.

The same applies to MEC (Mums' English Club), except for the fact that it takes place in our home, in E.'s comfort zone.

My plan for the near future (as soon as E. can walk) is to find a playhouse where native or non-Hungarian mommies go with their little one.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Weekly-daily schedule

Our daily schedule concerning English has developed slowly. E. is 11 months old and for a month now we've had a more or less fixed weekly agenda. Here it is:

60% is in Hungarian and 40% is in English - I wish we could keep this balance

We've just started Helen Doron English (in a later post I'll write about our experience), but it definitely increases the time spent on English and we are not at home using the minor language at last. Tuesdays and Thursdays are clearly dedicated to English. Mondays and Wednesdays are the Hungarian days. Still, on these days we have 2 or 3 hours of English input. (What is not in the chart is the 20-30 minutes when D. takes the dog out for a walk in the evening. E. and I change into English and lay the table, put away the toys or watch some videos or books in English while they're away.)

Fridays are changeable, but in general half of the day goes in Hungarian, the other half in English. Before our Hungarian playmate comes to visit us, we go out for a walk together or to the market and then we use Hungarian as English would be unnatural.

My only problem is the weekends. As the whole family is together, it's really difficult to find time and natural situations when we can use English. At weekends 1 hour of English per day is "forced" into our programme (singing, video watching, reading out) but not real communicative interactions. I'll try to find out something for the weekends. If you have any suggestions, just feel free to share it with me.

In the table above you can't see food time (which is in the given language according to which day it is) and daily sleeping time, however the latter takes away 2-3 hours per day.

At the beginning of January we took up baby swimming on Saturday mornings. I found a course at Budapest Moms (you can find the group's facebook page here), which was held in two languages. The tutor is Hungarian and in the water one of the moms do the interpreting. As the swimming pool echoes a lot it is hard to hear the Hungarian words, not to mention the English ones, however, we met a lot of non-Hungarian families (Russians, French, Dutch, Canadians etc). As for the English language, it doesn't make a big difference whether we take part in this swimming course or another, but the trainer is really professional and the pool is clean, the water is warm. So all in all we, and most important of all, E. enjoy it. It's a good family programme for the weekend. The course is finished in a week, now we are thinking of continuing it, but not sure. Good weather has arrived, we might want to spend time outside instead.

I'm a little worried about being able to keep this schedule. One thing is permanent in a baby's life that nothing is permanent. As I'm planning to work part-time soon, probably in a month or two our agenda needs to be revised.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Singing and signing

I promised a post on singing nursery rhymes together with MAKATON signing. So here it is.

The MAKATON signs can be used while you sing the traditional nursery rhymes as the Signing Hands do. These two ladies sign while singing. Have a look at this song, which is the well-known 'Ba Ba Black Sheep' with signs:

Easy to learn, right?Some of their songs, which are available on the net, give us the opportunity to learn more signs.

Some more common songs with MAKATON signs:
The Wheels On The Bus
Row row row your boat
Old MacDonald Had a Farm
Little Peter Rabbit
We wish you a merry Christmas

If you click on this you'll find more videos of other signs grouped in topics.

Something Special, the BBC series, also includes some songs like the Rainbow Song:

After you have learnt a lot of signs, you can use them with other songs or rhymes.
Within 1-2 months you can learn 50-70 signs without an effort. Of course, it doesn't mean you HAVE TO use all of them. You'll see what you and your baby really need.

How we did it when E. was 6-8 months old:

When she couldn't sit properly, but could only crawl, she got tired easily and became grouchy. This was the time when I made her lie on her back looking at me. Then I sang the songs and a signed along. She smiled and even laughed out loudly. She could enjoy it even for 15-20 minutes. This was enough for her to be refreshed and we could play again, or have her food etc.

Now, when she's 11 months old it's changed a little:

E. can stand and cruise (tiptoe along some furniture) so it's very difficult to keep her in one place. I don't bother to make her lie down any more. When we play and she sits for a while I sing two or three songs followed with the signs. No more because she moves on quickly and doesn't really care any longer. But she is screaming and/or flapping her hands with joy during the songs. We do the short singing/signing sessions twice or three times a day.

(Have you noticed how easy to misspell or misread the two words singing and signing? :)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Plans, aims and strategies

I might have started with this post at the beginning.
  1. Why do we want E. to be bilingual?

    First of all, nowadays one language is not enough in our globalised world. If you want to study or work abroad, it is a must to have the English language. Second, our native language is Hungarian, which is far from a world language. A language, which can be used nowhere else in the world but in Hungary. Life in Hungary is not what everybody dreams of. One or two more languages give the opportunity for E. to choose where to live. Third, having another language in our life opens the mind to the other culture; one becomes more empathic, understanding and approachable. When making friends or new connections, language obstacles are non-existent. Last but not least, as far as I have experienced it, language learning is fun, a kind of intellectual entertainment.

    I could go on listing more and more reasons why we want our little one to speak both Hungarian and English on the same (near) native level. And this leads us to the next point:
  2. Main aim

    Perhaps it's a little far-fetched but a sophisticated, near-native level is the main target concerning E.'s level of English by the time she's 18-20 years old. In the short-term, until she's at home with me up to the age of 3 - 3,5, I'll be the main English input with the assistance of some helpers. Whenever we are the two of us we'll speak English (which means now I speak and she babbles). In the long-term, I'm not so sure: English nursery, English speaking school according to the Hungarian national curriculum, moving abroad... these are all question marks. But now I'm trying to concentrate on the short-term aims (loads of English input of different kinds: spoken interactions, songs, rhymes, books, videos, native playmates, Helen Doron Early English... whatever).
  3. Strategy

    Our strategy is simple. I speak English to E. whenever we are alone and there is no Hungarian relatives or companion around. D. speaks Hungarian to her daughter, but there are some activities which they do together in English (such as using the computer or later watching TV etc.). Later on, when I'll spend less time with E. we will introduce 'Language by Time' strategy. It means there are given time periods when only English will be used (e.g.: Saturday mornings, every day after nursery/school from 4-6, craft activities etc.) Another possibility is 'Language by Situation' i.e. every breakfast, homework doing, or bathing is in English. We can also introduce the 'Language by Location' strategy. In this case we would use English at the kitchen or bathroom, at a special playhouse, or at a playmate. At the Helen Doron Early English school. I haven't decided which suits us more (maybe a combination), but we'll try it when the time comes and I'll let you know about the advantages and disadvantages.
And now only one more point is missing: HOW we are doing it. So the rest of the posts will be about our daily life using English (and Hungarian).

Sunday, 7 April 2013

MAKATON - sign language

M., who I met on the facebook, in connection with MEC, advised me to have a look at the MAKATON signs that she uses with her daughter to connect the two languages. No matter which language you use, use the same sign for the same thing, so the child can learn to connect the meaning. You can make up your own signs as well, or do a signing course in Hungarian. I don't want to recommend any courses as we didn't take them. Just google it: baby sign language course Budapest.

Here are some examples, signs we use on a daily basis:

Though we sign the horse in a different way:
You can find more signs here.

You can also learn from a special BBC programme for kids with special needs. The programme itself is called Something Special.

Each programme sees Justin and Mr Tumble (played by Justin) out and about applying signing in a variety of places. Topics covered include babies, pets, toys, weather, clothes, shops, food, all about me, where I live and colours. Mr Tumble always dresses up, wearing brightly-coloured clothes and even big shoes! He moves around clumsily and has lots of fun.

The language used throughout each programme is supported by Makaton signs and symbols and is designed to be understood by children in the early stages of language development. 

Full episodes are 15-20 minutes long. What I did with this programme is that I watched them one by one on youtube. I learnt the signs (they are very straight forward and easy to learn) and started using them both in English and in Hungarian (same sign for the same thing). E. was 6-7 months old when I introduced signing to her. (4-5 signs at a time). When she was familiar with these (after about 2-3 weeks) I introduced new ones. Sometimes I picked a short part of an episode (max. 5-6 minutes long) and we watched it together. This could have begun earlier as well. But never cry over split milk.

Click on the link, the first video I saw and really was fascinated by it - Something Special- Baby

I don't do the signing all the time only if E. is not paying attention or I really want to link a new expression in both languages. Most of the time signing draws her attention. In the next post I'll write about some songs which can be followed with signing. It's a hit with kids. They love it! You'll love it too.

-------------------------UPDATE 2016 -------------------------------

The programme Something Special (Mr Tumble) got renewed still it's great. On Something Special youtube channel you can even find songs signed by Mr Tumble (Justin)

Finding more inspiration - MEC

When E. became 6 months old, I was on the net all the time when she was sleeping to find more inspiration on raising a child bilingual here in Hungary. I wanted to find other moms who were in the same shoes as me. And I found one on facebook: M. organised  the so-called Mums' English Club (MEC) in her district in Budapest. It was totally free of charge.

 M. raises her daughter bilingual, too. MEC is and hour/hour and a half get-together where moms and their babies come together. Moms chat while the kids are playing. Baby rhymes and songs in English could be included but it's not a must. The main point of the club is to create an English environment for the children, where they can hear that English is another, natural way of communicating with one another.

I was over the moon to find M. who is working on the same, creating as many opportunities for her daughter to be in an English-speaking environment. We corresponded a lot, she supported me, and helped me in numerous ways:

  1. M. inspired me to organise a MEC in my district
  2. She introduced me to MAKATON sign language as a possible link between Hungarian and English (I'll write about it in details in another post)
  3. M. recommended many books for babies - self-made, translated, or originals (see a later post)
  4. She encouraged me not to give up, or shilly-shally when facing difficulties or disappointment
Thanks you, M.

You can find this group of Hungarian and non-Hungarian moms here on facebook. And this community is growing, you can find some groups in the country-side, too. It might happen that one day it'll be a Hungary-wide project.

After all, I made a poster and advertised our MEC in the library nearby, and on the net.

Soon the first MEC took place 22 January 2012. It was an hour long and only one mom and her 11-month-old baby came. Still, it was such a victory. Something I managed to make up in order to get closer to my aim.

Later on, within a month, 2 other moms contacted me and by the end of February we were four moms and four kids chatting and playing and having fun in English. Now we meet on a weekly basis, if holidays, sickness do not chime in. If the above ad has drawn your attention and you feel like joining us, do not hesitate to contact me.

Unfortunately, two of the moms are going to take their children to nursery as they're going back to work, so I need to put out some more posters in the area again to find new moms, new playmates.
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