Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann

Here we are, a largish family seven years into living on this tropical island. We range in age from 5 to 40. One would think seven years is sufficient time for every member of this largish family to have learned the language. One would think that children could (should?) pick up a new language quicker than adults. One would think that Haitian-born children that were only outside of Haiti for 3 years might recall their mother tongue easily with just a little brush up session.  

One would be wrong on all fronts. 

The five kids pictured above cannot yet be considered bilingual.

As parents raising kids cross-culturally we so desire children that are culturally sensitive, far from ethnocentric, and lovers of all nations. (too much to hope for?) We imagine them sitting in international airports soaking up the surroundings and hearing multiple languages as music to their diversified and well rounded eardrums. 
We walk around with ridiculous and grandiose dreams of utopia in their hearts and minds  -- even though we ourselves cannot figure out how we feel moment to moment about the cultures we engage with on a daily basis.  
We rock the double-standard like a boss. 

So for seven years we've forced encouraged Kreyol here and there, without consistency. Paige has taught them, we have worked with them, one of them went to a class, Geronne (first language Kreyol) patiently speaks clearly and listens to them repeat back ... All for a net gain of close to zilch. 

They have many siblings and not that many friends.That is both sad and happy.  In general they are content to be best buddies with one another. They are far from immersed in the culture and don't really NEED Kreyol to get through a day. We lament this but we are willing to admit we don't have it in us to be hard nosed or totally committed to another style of living at this juncture.

Our Haitian kids are oftentimes odd man out in their birth culture and they seem to resist committing to learning Kreyol in earnest. This is possibly due to teasing in the past. Our little paler ones follow suit. Raising third-culture-kid(s),  we walk a line in our attempt to make this 'home' and also to make that 'home'. We're trying to choose wisely, desiring  to make choices that won't  result in more than your average run-of-the-mill levels of resentment come adulthood. 

We've considered forcing the issue on about 19 different occasions, some of which were probably documented right here on the interwebs. Before the 2010 earthquake we had some real traction and both Lydia and Phoebe spoke only Kreyol to one another and Geronne.That was all lost in the months of displacement that followed.  

Things come up occasionally, when we feel self-conscious of their inability to speak Kreyol. The "should we push them on this" question has been volleyed between the weary parental-force frequently, always left hanging unanswered until we ask all over again à la mode de boring Badminton match.

Suddenly, last week something changed in the attitudes of the smallish people toward the question "So, you think you'd want to try a Kreyol class together soon?"  Noah didn't cross his arms.  Hope didn't passively ignore.  Phoebe didn't shrug.  Isaac smiled, his lower face swallowed whole by the width of his grin. Lydia watched their reactions carefully, ready to mirror them.

Peace and joy washed over me as I gazed upon my little Jesus-loving-people-loving-multi-cultural- cherubims. They care, they care to speak  to the beautiful people of this island, I thought.  Oh, the moment of motherly pride when your children conquer their fear in the name of LOVE.  

"Guys, WHY are you ready to do this now?" I eagerly asked.

"We realized something really cool Mom!  We realized that when we are in Texas or Minnesota later this year we can say things about rude people when we are out and they won't know what we're saying!"  "We can talk about people right in front of them like you and Dad do to us." "It is gonna be awesome!!!!"

Oh. So not so much in the name of love then?

Today at 4:30 their Kreyol teacher will arrive for the first official lesson of this go-round. 

Wish her luck. 

She will need it.

  ~     ~     ~     ~

About the title: In Haitian Kreyòl, there is an expression, “Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann.”  Literally meaning, “Kreyòl speaks, Kreyòl understands,” it more broadly declares that the speaker intends her words for those who understand—and for those who don’t, no translation will help, or be offered. 


Anonymous said...


Jacq & Jason said...

:) Love it! What a great example of God's grace... I find I often begrudgingly obey God or finally step up to bat for all the wrong reasons but when the time comes to use it, Grace will rain down and what I meant for sin, God meant for glory. I am sure in the long run... the Livesay kids might find the same. Glad to be back reading your blog, haven't had great access to the internet and a computer for sometime. I sure enjoy praying for your family.

Marla Taviano said...

That is so hard. Woohoo that they're ready to learn!!

I feel their (and your) pain. The girls and I are trying to learn Khmer (Cambodian). It is soooooooo hard.

angela said...

confession: i often wish my mother could understand kreyol so that i could talk to her in a crowd. i used it often with carsen. :)

Samantha said...

Take that evil motivation and run with it kids!

T & T Livesay said...

J&J, Marla, Samantha -

Thanks for your prayers and sweet words. The first class was super cute and fun and their teacher told me that they actually have a lot of vocabulary they just need to start trying to put it together :) Isaac is going to get it fast, we can tell already. They raved about the teacher so we are off to a great start!

Britney said...

glad to hear the first class went well. hope they continue to enjoy it and learn quickly!

Susannah said...

It's so great to learn the language of the culture in which you're living. I grew up in Taiwan and, although I never was anywhere near being bilingual, I loved Chinese classes. Good luck to your kiddos!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's great that even this young they realize that having a talk-about-people language is useful. With that kind of motivation they'll be speaking in no time! Thanks for the laugh (which I did, out loud!)! It IS gonna be awesome!

Love reading about your family. We raised ours abroad also and so your stories bring back memories of things we went through too.Though they are different, they are the same too. Barb

GDE Haiti said...

Oh how I hear you on this! My husband, a native Kreyol speaker, has tried speaking only Kreyol to our children and it just never lasts. We always fall back into English. We are on the upswing too trying to get as much into our 4 year old as possible before he goes off to school. I mean, come on, they have this opportunity right? It should be easy! not so much :) Praying for a fun and successful learning experience for your kiddos!

Saintly Nurse said...

This is a fantastic story. (I find myself saying this about a lot of your blog are a great storyteller AND you have lots of interesting stories.)

Speaking Kreyol will come in very very handy for them, I predict. Of course, it seems they have already predicted that for themselves. :)

Sharon said...

Love this!

Kris Thede said...

Our son was 1 when we moved here over 14 years ago and daughter was only 4 months when we returned with her. They both went to Haitian pre-school for at least a couple years. Some of learning just happens, some depends on the personality of the child. The teasing is part of the issue but agree that motivation helps. Anna loves to surprise nationals by talking to them in Creole airports or around bigger towns where she isn't know. And yes we enjoy the 'freedom' to talk in front of folks in the USA in 'code' if need be. You can also use this if need be for misbehaving children as long as you keep a smiling face on while discussing actions or attitudes in public in the USA. HA!