by: Ryan Cole
As a parent with two young bilingual kids, I’m constantly in awe. I’m an American living in Prague, and my two and a half year old Ollie will probably overtake my own understanding of Czech in a few months. Already now after starting preschool I often need to ask my wife “What’s that mean?” New phrases, expressions and words come by the dozen. In addition to the languages, I’m actually a bit jealous of the multi-cultural lifestyle they will have growing up. They get to grow up in a world full of real places and real people.
I’m originally from the DFW area in Texas. My parents still live there. They’re lucky enough to be able to travel easily, and my mom spends anywhere from 2-3 months a year in Prague. She loves being involved with the kids. When she’s not here she’s constantly asking about them via WhatsApp Messenger, or trying to arrange Skype calls. These two pieces of technology allow us to really easily supply Grandma with that stream of video clips and pictures that she craves.
The distance also creates other challenges. Once Ollie started really picking up words my mom started feeling out of the loop. Despite the regular pictures, videos, and Skype calls, when she would visit she had a really hard time understanding what Ollie was trying to say. Many of his first words were hybrids of Czech and English, and often only a toddler’s approximation. She was at a double disadvantage.
I started thinking about how I could teach my mom Ollie’s new words even when she wasn’t here. I’d send her messages with new words, but it was hard to keep up. Then over a break in my teaching schedule, I built a prototype of Little Lexicon. At it’s core it’s a website where me and my wife could publish Ollie’s words for other family members to read.
It was basic, but the core was there. We add words spelled phonetically as he said them. Each phonetic word would have a matching word in “adult speak”, and then a translation into the other family language. For instance he would phonetically say “Strabadoodies” when he was trying to say “Strawberries”. Then the Czech translation gets added automatically as “Jahody”. The benefit was two way. My parents could understand his baby Czech words and his Czech grandparents could understand his English.
It was a big hit in the family, so I offer it as a service that anyone could use. The idea of helping other families break down these toddler language barriers is really exciting to me. Currently we support every language that Google translate works with (about 90). We’ve found it to be a fun new way to keep the whole family in the loop.
Even now as Ollie outgrows (or outpaces anyways) his Little Lexicon book we have a really rich reference with all his first words which we will keep forever. That’s really neat. Digital technology and the web afford such amazing opportunities for communication, and there’s no reason we can’t use that inside our atypical but wonderful global families.
If you think Little Lexicon could help your family stay connected, sign up and I’ll give you a free book upgrade. Just use the code globalfamily when you’re ready to upgrade your book. I’d love to hear how you deal with these types of challenges in your own family.
Ryan Cole is a designer, coder, teacher, father and founder of littlelexicon.com. He lives in Prague with his wife Markéta, sons Oliver and Kilian, and overgrown lapdog dog Bára.