Finnish acquisition: 28 months

Sterling is four and has now lived more than half his life in Finland. He continues to grow in awareness of his bilingual lifestyle - he's always asking who speaks what language ("Does America speak English? Do you speak Finnish?"). He called his grandma "big mom" the other day (that's what the word is in Finnish, isoäiti). Last week during dinner, he asked, "How do you say 'en jaksa syödä' in English?" I told him it meant "I can't finish eating this." He said ok, and then a minute later, as if that exchange hadn't just happened, said, "Mama, I can't finish eating this." Then the other night, we had the TV on and something had the word poro on it and I said out loud, "what does poro mean again?" And Sterling, playing legos on the carpet, piped up all nonchalantly, "it means reindeer."

I recently asked the girls if they felt like Finns, or like Americans living in Finland. Magdalena said she felt like a Finn. So I am still processing that. She has asked that we speak Finnish at home and says that in many ways it is easier for her to speak Finnish than English. On a related but creepier note: when I was a little girl, I read this book called Searching for Shona about two girls during WW2 who switched places and one of them eventually forgot who she actually was and came to believe she was this other person. Magdalena is not Shona, exactly, but she is a social, cultural, and linguistic chameleon.

Miriam had the hardest time of all our kids with Finnish. I mean, can you imagine moving to a foreign country when you're 10 and having to learn the language? That is what we did to her. Looking back, it seems like it took her about a year to passively understand, a year to uncomfortably actively produce, and finally this year she is functioning comfortably in Finnish. Today she brought home a Swedish test, in Finnish (like the test text was in Finnish, and the subject it was testing was Swedish) and I was so, so proud of her.

Obstacles to higher education in Finland (there aren't many)

Tonya Harding

Tonya Harding