Four years ago, when my daughter was born, my partner, a Mexican, and me, a Slovenian, decided we would teach her to embrace both cultures with the same respect and enthusiasm. We decided that she would speak both languages equally fluently and that she would consider herself Mexican as much as Slovenian. Considering that we’re living in Mexico, I’m the one who has to assume more efforts to achieve that. This is how I motivate my daughter to embrace Slovenian culture.
I talk with my daughter in Slovene all the time.
I learned the hard way how easy it is to lose fluency in a language, even the one you have been speaking your whole life. When I was traveling through Central America five years ago, I barely had any chance to speak my mother tongue except for short e-mails to my parents and quick Skype calls every three months. In more than eleven months of traveling, I didn’t meet any other Slovenes, so I held all my conversations in Spanish or English. Once back at home, I realized that my Slovene had become weak — I couldn’t remember particular words, my sentences were awkward, and I’d even acquired an accent.
When my daughter was born, I promised myself that I would teach her Slovene, so I decided to talk with her only in that language. I never use Spanish with her, not even when my partner or other people are around. I regularly switch from Spanish to Slovene, depending on the person I talk to, and it has been working (almost) perfectly. I admit her bilingualism isn’t as good as I would like it to, as she regularly responds to me in Spanish; however, she does understand every single word I say, and as the years go by she’s showing more and more interest in the language.
I read her Slovene books and we watch cartoons in Slovene.
Another good way to promote the use of my mother tongue with my daughter is to read her Slovene books. It’s impossible to buy them in Mexico, so every time I visit my home country I return with a stack of them, and my family members bring some over when they come and visit me. Sometimes, she gets bored of reading the Slovene ones and prefers the ones in Spanish. As she looks at the pictures, I translate the text into Slovene.
The only way to find Slovene cartoons in Mexico is via YouTube. I mostly find old cartoons, the ones I watched when I was a child, so the quality isn’t remotely comparable to the new ones she could watch in Spanish on Netflix, but, luckily enough, that doesn’t bother her.
Recently, my partner bought cards with pictures of everyday objects meant to teach the indigenous language Nahuatl, but we transformed them into a Spanish-Slovene game. Making the learning process fun is always a good idea.
We cook Slovene food.
Being a freelancer who doesn’t need to warm the office chair from 9 to 5 allows me to take time to cook healthy Slovene food for the whole family. I cook millet and buckwheat; I make pancakes that are made of wholegrain spelt flour and sweetened by homemade blackcurrant marmalade; our salad is seasoned with pumpkinseed oil and we make our sandwiches with prosciutto and aged cheese. Of course, this means that my suitcases are bursting with food products when I return from Slovenia since it’s impossible to find these things in Mexico.
Despite being surrounded by Mexican food, my daughter loves my Slovene cooking. Introducing my traditional food to my daughter from the moment she started to eat solid food was the key to achieving a favorable reaction.
We watch sports competitions where Slovenians participate.
It was winter the last time we visited Slovenia, and watching ski competitions was our regular activity during the weekends. The whole family gathered in front of the TV and we cheered when a Slovenian ski jumper or skier was rushing towards a medal. At the time, she didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about and non-discriminately burst into joy every time an athlete ended was shown on the screen, regardless of his or her nationality. But it was fun, so she was excited to repeat the experience.
Back in Mexico, she started to enjoy soccer matches. We took her to watch the local team and bought her the furry mascot. At the age of four, she already distinguishes between winning and losing, so she understands the source of her father’s happiness. She’s also old enough to comprehend that Mexico and Slovenia are two different places and that mom and dad are not “the same.”
I don’t watch sports regularly, but I do follow important competitions where Slovenian teams have an opportunity for winning. I transform these occasions into familiar and fun events, a sort of picnic in the living room. This way, my daughter is even more eager to participate in the event. The best part of it is that my partner genuinely shares my enthusiasm so the success of a Slovenian team brings cheers from everyone.
We visit Slovenia every year.
Traveling to my home country is one of the crucial elements of developing my daughter’s Slovenian identity. Being immersed in the culture for weeks on end has much more weight than all the things mentioned above combined, so I try to visit my home country once a year. We also tend to stay there more than a month so it starts to feel like her second home. She gets to spend time with my family, speak Slovenian, and participate in local customs and traditions. We travel around the country so she can discover its beauty and diversity.
Summer is without a doubt one of the best times to be in Europe but we deliberately took our last trip to Slovenia in winter so she could appreciate the joys of snow — she took skiing classes and we went sledding several times. These are activities we could not do in Mexico, so we created fun memories that are only associated with Slovenia.
When in Slovenia, I always encourage her to play with my friends’ and family’s kids as often as possible. On our last visit she befriended her cousin so much that, even today, 10 months after our return, she refers to her as her sister and often expresses that she misses her very much. Now she has another reason that will make her wish to visit Slovenia soon.