Spanish with Ella [Video Interview]

August 26, 2014


I write a lot about raising our kids bilingual. It's been a mixture of jubilant fist pumping and dramatic declarations that it's never going to work. And mostly, it's been a process of constant recommitment.

So instead of my thoughts on the matter today, I decided to go straight to the source. I asked Ella a few questions about growing up bilingual. You'll hear me fail vocabulary quizzes and her share some garbled Spanglish. She even offers a bonus: your very own Spanish lesson. 

And if it couldn't get any better... she's wearing her "singer" costume. Naturally. Hope you enjoy the video!

(Note: If you're reading this via email or RSS, you may need to click here to watch the video.)


What have you heard kids say about being bilingual? Or what words were easiest for them to learn in more than one language?

Why I Don't Ask "Where Are You From?" (And Why You Shouldn't Either)

August 21, 2014

Knowing where someone is from gives you clues about them. For example, when you find out I'm from the South, you may think, "Oh that's why you ate grits every day as an after school snack... and you think it's totally normal!"

Yes. It's also why I grew up wearing tights... or panty hose for the more sophisticated among us. And finally, I give my Southern heritage for having a college minor in English while still trying to make a case for the phrase "must have could."

"Where are you from?"

This question is a common conversation starter, even among homogeneous groups. Place gives us basic information and a context for getting to know someone.

Oh, I've grown up in Cleveland my whole life.

Well, I was born in Hawaii, but moved to Salt Lake City when I was five, so that's where I say I'm really from.

I grew up in the military. I'm from everywhere and nowhere.

In cross-cultural situations, however, I've found that "Where are you from?" can be a loaded question. 

The person with the accent is tired of the question. And if they take pride in their American identity, it can feel like a slight against being fully accepted into the group.

The multiracial person may feel it's a "polite" attempt to ask "What are you?" which is almost always offensive. And I discovered undocumented immigrants shy away from this question, concerned the asker may be fishing for information about legal status.

Of course, I was never trying to offend anyone by asking "Where are you from?" But just because I didn't mean to be hurtful with my words doesn't make it any less true. When we come from different backgrounds, sometimes changing our language, even if we don't intend disrespect, is the most loving action we can take.

So now I never ask that question. Even when I really, really want to. Even when I'm super nosy. Even when I think I may have visited that person's country of origin, and I'd love to share that experience in common with them.

Nope. I wait for others to choose to tell me about their past on their own terms. I've had conversations with folks from diverse backgrounds about this very topic. Their responses encourage me to encourage you to take this question out of your ice breaker repertoire.

There a different question I ask now instead. This post is an excerpt from an E-guide I wrote entitled 7 Tips for Cross-Cultural Conversation. Download the guide to find out my new go-to question and other conversation starters to avoid. It's FREE when you subscribe to my blog. Sign up below! 

I promise not to spam you (I'm not even sure I know how to). This an email that includes new posts, which I write about twice a week. Once in a blue moon I may make an announcement. That's all!

Racism, Prayer, Tears, & Michael Brown

August 18, 2014


I have started and stopped so many posts after Michael Brown's death last week. Racism and the issues facing minority communities are so close to my heart. I feel compelled to say something.

But words have failed me. I can't seem to articulate my sadness and anger and frustration into a cohesive paragraph. I've had some nightmares on the subject. And I just generally feel overwhelmed.

So I've been trying prayer.

I feel like I have needed God and the church this week in ways I haven't felt in a long time. I need the body of believers to remind me how we live graciously in a world broken with violence, racism, hate, and hurt. Because sometimes I just want to curl up in a ball and cry.

So I did a little of that, too.

And I was listening to Pandora when the song "How He Loves Us" came on. I've always been a bit uncertain about this song. It's always struck me a bit self-involved and some versions include the phrase "sloppy wet kiss." Except you never know if the worship leader is going to use that version until it's too late. It's like the Lord's prayer... when the congregation mumbles because everyone's unsure if we're using "trespasses" or not.

Anyway, this song came on and I was just sitting and listening. Quiet and still. When my mind wandered to what I can only describe as a mental video montage.

Everyone was singing: Protestors. Police officers. Children crossing the border. Islamic extremists. Inmates on death row. College students. Images from the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag. My family.

How He loves us so.

So that's where I am this morning. Praying to a God who hates racism and injustice, and who loves us all so much I can't even comprehend it.

"Surely his salvation is near to them that fear him: that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed." - Psalm 85:9-10

"God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God." - Matthew 5:9

Below are a couple links of thoughts on Ferguson that I want to share as well:

Black Bodies White Souls by Austin Channing Brown
Please Don't Ignore It. 5 Ways that Christians and Churches Must Engage Michael Brown's Death by Eugene Cho
I Raise My Hands: A Prayerful Response to Ferguson by Osheta Moore

Irresistible Revolution for the Mamas & the Papas {+ Free Book Giveaway}

August 14, 2014


Eight years ago, I was living in L.A.'s Filipinotown. I had been trying on this downwardly mobile lifestyle for about six years then. Sometimes it fit, and sometimes it was just too scratchy.

It was around that time I read Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution. I was inspired by the book to be sure. But I also found validation. When I first moved into the city, I only knew a handful of people making similar life choices. Social justice, simplicity, solidarity... these words weren't as trendy as they are now. (Apparently, I'm 108 as I write this.)

Maybe most important of all, Irresistible Revolution offered me language. It helped me talk about the ideas stirring in my heart in mind. The book articulated some of my experiences of faith and the world.

Also, when I read Shane's book, I was single. I had zero children. And I felt free as a bird to live as an ordinary radical.

Recently, I've been reading Jen Hatmaker's Interrupted. She describes her own paradigm shift from giving talks entitled "How to Be a Woman of Confidence" to leaving a church post, future unknown, with a desire for "barefooted church."

Jen's story occurs when she was in a life station more similar to my current one. So the book has helped me reevaluate some of the ways this lifestyle is still influencing and challenging me.

I read about her and her husband feeling deeply that God was asking them to leave their jobs. And then the silence. She writes, "God may be leading you away without a clear final destination yet. As maddening as that is, could it be that He needs you to release what was before you can appropriately grasp what will be?"

I can relate to that tension of feeling certain what God is asking me to do, but panicked because I don't know why or how it's going to play out. That kind of drama was fun... before I had bills and kids and whatnot. So I have appreciated Interrupted because Jen is writing from a place that truly understands how uncomfortable it can be to throw off the comfortable.

When I made the decision to live in urban communities and be a part of the good things happening here, I wasn't really giving anything up. I may have been choosing a life direction that was different than expected. But people weren't shocked as I flung off my titles and my wealth and my influence. I didn't really have any of those things.

Not saying I have those now. But I do have experience and a house and my little plans. I was super challenged by these words:
"When Jesus told us to "take the lowest place" (Luke 14:10), it was more than a strategy for social justice. It was even more than wooing us to the bottom for communion since that is where He is always found. The path of descent becomes our own liberation. We are freed from the exhausting stance of defense. We are no longer compelled to be right and are thus relieved form the burden of maintaining some reputation. we are released from the idols of greed, control, and status. The pressure to protect the house of cards is alleviated when we take the lowest place."
Interrupted is encouraging me to take notice where complacency, materialism, and that "always seeking more" has reared up or taken root in my life. Are there areas I need liberation?

As much as I don't love thinking about that (who does?), I'm thankful for Jen's signature humor throughout the book. (To give you an idea, the first sentence in the Introduction is: "My parents rented our old house to murderers." Well, now that I think of it, maybe that wasn't supposed to be funny...)

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Interrupted from Jen's team. But I'm glad I did. The book has come at a good time for me personally. I'm almost finished, and I'd like to pass it on. I think you'll enjoy her wit, her honesty, and her commitment to the Word and following Jesus.

If you'd like a FREE (gently read) copy of Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker, just leave a comment on this post. (Must have a U.S. address to receive the book.) I'll randomly select a winner on Friday, August 22, 2014.

Speak Spanish. Eat Candy.

August 11, 2014


Okay, so we're not quite at candy yet. But we have definitely started dabbling in bribery in raising a bilingual toddler.

I'll admit. It's not exactly how I imagined teaching our kids another language. I thought we'd stick flawlessly (ok, loosely) to the OPOL method and our daughter would soon be switching back and forth like a bilingual rockstar.

Ella has always been pretty vocal in resisting her bilingualism. She passionately told some friends, "I only speak one language." She held up her lone finger. "Uno." We laughed. She was not amused.

She has also stopped saying, "I can't hear you." Instead, she's replaced it with, "Say it English, Papi. I can't understand you."

But actually, bribery is working pretty well. (And I felt better when I read it on this list of educational strategies.) She has a behavioral chart that basically guides her life. Those stars are made of gold in her little mind.


So after I watched her video chatting with her abuelos, I knew need to once again up the ante on our Spanish. I offered her a star if she would stop complaining and listen to Billy read her two books in Spanish. Worked like a charm.

We're thinking about ways to incorporate bribery into other bilingual areas as well. I'd like to encourage her to speak in sentences in Spanish. She translates a lot or throws out a random vocabulary word. ("Say it, Mom. Tor..... tor... yes, tor... tuga! That means 'turtle' in Spanish.")

So that's where we're at on the bilingual kids front. I'm not sure if her active resistance is normal for this age. It's normal for Ella, so I don't feel worried. I am just always trying to figure out how to encourage her to listen more, say more, and practice more Spanish.

Have you ever bribed your kids?
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