by Jess Cropsey
People often assume that our children are fluent in French and Kirundi (or at least one of them, right?) Well our kids certainly have been exposed to multiple languages and have picked up lots of useful phrases along the way, but most of them could not carry on a very long or significant conversation….yet. In order for this to happen, you need LOTS of input in the target language. (Remember it takes kids 2-3 years of input in their first language before they start talking much.)
Serving together as a team is a HUGE blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Our kids have built-in friends that have traveled the globe with them since they were really young. The one down-side to this (and it may be the only one) is that it provides little motivation for our kids to have relationships outside of the American bubble. When that is combined with the fact that all of their classes are in English (except French & Kirundi), it leaves very little time in their day when they are exposed to French & Kirundi.
I would really love to spare my children the many hours of grueling toil in language learning as an adult, but even more than that I have been praying that each one of them would have a special Burundian friend. Believe it or not, it takes a lot of effort to provide these kinds of opportunities! The language and cultural barriers are immense in addition to the sheer curiosity that people have about our children that can lead to negative experiences for them (being stared at, teased, laughed at, touched, …).
One small baby step that we are taking is sending some of our kids for small periods of time to the local Burundian school (that educates 1,200 kids from pre-K to 9th grade). Last week Wednesday was our first foray this school year. Since Anna is significantly more advanced in her French than the others, she went to the 5th grade French class. It sounds like the level was great for her and provided a good academic challenge. You can pray that she will make some good friends in that class.
Due to some miscommunication (which happens frequently around here!), Micah, Abi, Elise, & Sam ended up all together in the pre-school class learning some Kirundi instead of French. The pre-schoolers are adorable and our kids had a good time. The teacher, Thérèse is the same woman who comes to our school to teach Kirundi twice a week, so the kids already had a rapport with her.
Our most recent visit on Wednesday to the 2nd grade French class was a little less successful. The emphasis was on reading French and the younger kids have only been working on listening comprehension and speaking, so they struggled to enjoy the class. The good news is that they were begging to go back to Kirundi pre-school class! :) The jury is still out on how to best proceed with this group.
The kids do have Kirundi and French class every weekday, so they have a lot on their plates learning 3 languages. This week in Kirundi class, we inadvertently got focused on learning words related to buying goat kebobs, so we decided to take a trip to practice our newfound vocabulary! I was surprised at how tender and delicious they were and will definitely be going back for another round at some point in the future. Déo and Danyeli (the “abayangayanga”) also became favorites in my book because they shooed away a man who was in my face asking to take Sam home with him. That’s what I call good customer service!
So please pray that our kids would continue to develop good relationships with each other and that they would grow in their love for the people, culture, and languages of Burundi. And pray for wisdom for us moms as we try to find creative ways to engage our children in the local community and provide them with good learning experiences.