Izzy Language Series – Bilingual Picture Books

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Quick, tell me the last five bilingual books you have read to your children… In my experience, I can’t even think of five titles other than the English-Spanish books we used to find in the Cheerios boxes. If you have never heard of Cheerios, it’s a morning cereal in the USA. Sometimes sponsors will pay for these free books to be inserted in cereal boxes, which I think is a smashing idea.

So… I decided to get a bilingual picture book series going myself, in 10 different bilingual editions, with English being the one language that stays. I have lots of international friends all over the world and many with professional translation skills. I am glad to share with you the first volume in the Izzy Language Series – Kitten in the Storm. For now, I have published the English-Romanian edition on Kindle. Very soon, you will see me promote the Russian, German, and Italian versions.

The first volume of the Izzy Language Series, in the English-Romanian Bilingual Edition

The first volume of the Izzy Language Series, in the English-Romanian Bilingual Edition

Later on, there will be French, Japanese, Mandarin, and Swedish. Last by not least, Korean and Danish will follow. If I receive a request for another language, I will definitely look into it. Just let me know in a comment below. To be clear, these books will all be bilingual editions.

If you have any Romanian friends, by all means, please spread the word. Kitten in the Storm is a heart-warming story which introduces readers to Izzy, a kitten whose adventures will teach children vocabulary in different languages. Paperback versions will also be available later on this summer.

Should you want a cute kitten story for your children’s bedtime reading tonight, feel free to get this one. You don’t even need to own a Kindle. Amazon.com will let you download a Free Kindle Reading App. You can read the English version and the kids can look at the illustrations. You don’t even have to study Romanian… In less than a minute, you could be reading Kitten in the Storm to your children.

Izzy is the name of our cat and these stories are based on true events. In Kitten in the Storm, I tell the story of how Izzy came to know my husband, Matt, and be his pet. The vocabulary covers introductions and greetings – perfect for a first language lesson – as long as you are not an absolute beginner in either language.

Where Am I From? Romania

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I place a strong emphasis on foreign languages in our homeschool because I am a European. More precisely, I am from Romania. I learned French and English in school like most Romanian kids. Two foreign languages were mandatory school subjects grades 5-12. I am not sure what they do now, but I expect they still do two languages. We also took one year of Latin in the eighth grade. That’s when we learned “Gaudeamus Igitur” by heart.

Romania used to be a Roman province – hence the name and the strong presence of Latin words in our language.

Latin poet Ovid was exiled to Tomis (modern day Constanta, Romania, a Black Sea port). Back then, he complained nobody spoke Latin. Little did he know how much the local language would be influenced by Latin over the centuries.

Statue of Roman poet Ovid in Constanta, Romania - about two blocks from where I used to spend my summer holidays

Statue of Roman poet Ovid in Constanta, Romania – about two blocks from where I used to spend my summer holidays

Indeed, the Romanian language finds itself in the same group as Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French – the Romance languages of the world.

Just to give you a glimpse into the similarities… We say “casa de moda” – like in Spanish, “fashion house.” We say “merci” like in French for “thank you.” We say “noi” for “we,” just like in Italian.

We do have some Slavic words, naturally. We are surrounded by Slavic nations: Bulgaria to the south, former Yougoslavia to the southwest, Ukraine to the North and the Republic of Moldova (a bit of Russia) to the East. But we use the Roman alphabet and have been called an island of Latinity in a Sea of Slavic Languages.

No wonder Romania is part of the francophone world and even hosted one of their summits a few years ago. Here’s a map of the Francophone countries of the world:

Map of francophone countries, with Romania being one of them

Map of francophone countries, with Romania being one of them

My husband (who is American) jokes that we Romanians like to get in the news about once a week and, alas, he is right. Sometimes it’s good news. Most of the time, it’s not. Ever since we started dating, he noticed that American media reports on at least one weekly incident involving Romanians. You watch and tell me if it’s true.

They say there are a lot of Romanians working for Microsoft in Seattle. In fact, they say Romanian is the second most spoken language in those offices – after English. That’s according to this youtube video which extols some other great facts about my country. A world without Romania would be, well, not exactly what we have today. You will have to watch to believe. (Viewer discretion advised for some references to alcohol and a short provocative collage of Romanian fashion models.)

If you want to listen to some of Romanian pop/folk music, just youtube names like Angela Similea, Gabriel Cotabita, Mircea Baniciu and Tudor Gheorghe – these are some of my favorites from the 80s. I left Romania in 1993 and have returned several times, but have lost touch with most of the culture. For traditional Romanian music, look for names like Ion Dolanescu and Maria Ciobanu. I have never been a fan, but my mom loves it.

I am proud of my heritage – for the most part – and want to pass on to my children some of the things that made me “me”. Recently, my son told me, “Mommy, I wish I had been with you in Romania when you were growing up.” He is six.

This post is part of a Multilingual Kids Blog carnival, hosted this month my Stephen of Head of the Heard.

Gentle, My Word for 2014

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I chose a word to represent my hopes and plans for 2014 in homeschooling, blogging and family life: gentle.

I have been working on being more gentle all my life, but I will take things to a new level in 2014. My children have inspired me to go in that direction, as children often do to parents.

Where do I begin to explain how difficult this word is for me?

  • I’m Romanian. We are passionate, emotional, and action-oriented people. Gentleness does not come naturally.
  • I am goal-oriented and high-achieving.
  • They keep moving the goal posts on me. Translation: I am never satisfied with the status quo for more than a few days.
  • I have a Type A personality. I could not even type “gentle” above without making it bold. Sigh.

When I thought about what my word should be for 2014, I thought of my goals, of course. I have goals. I am in the process of reading not one, but two books on planning and getting things done. However, as ambitious as my plans are for 2014, nothing is as daring as reaching the mountain top of gentleness.

Butterflies on a flower. Gentleness exemplified.

“Oh! that gentleness! how far more potent is it than force!”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Nothing is as important, either. What is gaining the whole world while trampling others in the process? So I decided that as long as I accomplish things without being gentle, I might as well not accomplish them.

And here’s the funny part:

My children are high-strung, hard-working, stubborn, and independent. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

I have found out that I can only guide them the way I like to be guided: gently. It’s an uphill battle which requires:

1. Lots of time spent with the One who is meek and lowly.

2. Numerous trips to the throne of mercy, asking for forgiveness.

3. Apologizing to my children every time I am not gentle.

4. Lots of courage to start the process all over again every day.

I marvel at such words as “still, small voice” or “meek and lowly in heart” or “peace maker” or “the Lord was not in the earthquake” or “Let your gentleness be known to all men.”

So glad I homeschool. I have all this time with my children, to practice gentleness and guide them in that direction as well. What is your word for 2014?

Word for 2014

How to Come Up with 4 Hours of Homeschooling Kindergarten

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Some states ask homeschoolers to perform four hours of instruction in each of the 180 days of school they must report at the end of the school year. Tennessee, where I live, is one of those states.

State officials do not ask for specifics on what we did each day during those four hours. However, for my own sake, I keep tabs on what we do daily and how long each activity took. I use a simple notebook on each child, even though my daughter is in preschool and, as such, her instruction is not “official.”

Now, let’s define instruction. Any time knowledge is imparted, instruction happens. Children do not receive instruction only if they are seatead at a desk with their textbooks opened at a specific page as directed by an adult licensed as a teacher, who is standing in front of a blackboard or white board or SMART interactive board.

Children learn all the time. It’s what children do. They learn. They haven’t been around much, so most of what they see around them is new and exciting. Our task as parents is to surround them with positive, age-appropriate sources of information, according to their learning styles.

My daughter, a preschooler, joins us for most activities, so I use plural when I describe what we do. Here’s how I come up with four hours of instruction for my son, who is in homeschool kindergarten.


First Hour

30 minutes – Bible. This represents both our morning and evening devotional times, during which we read stories from age-appropriate Bible curriculum, learn hymns and praise songs, memorize passages of Scripture, pray, and do crafts or activities that will solidify and make real the knowledge of God. This time also covers those precious moments throughout the day when we talk about God because they ask about life and I direct their minds to the truths of the Bible.

30 minutes – Home Ec. Think making the bed, taking dirty clothes to the hamper, putting toys and school supplies up at the end of the day, dusting, wiping the table after meals, doing laundry, setting the table, stirring the oatmeal I cook for breakfast, pouring flour from the measuring cup into the mixing bowl for pancakes, pushing buttons on the blender filled with yummy ingredients under my supervision, learning to mow with daddy, emptying the dishwasher… I could go on and on. Home ec. skills are life skills which establish habits that will make them great spouses and parents and responsible adults with healthy self-images. Instruction happens throughout the day in small bits. I have approximated this to be half an hour daily.


Second Hour

1 hour – Romanian (mother tongue). I speak with them in Romanian 90% of the time I am with them. I also read to them in Romanian. It adds up to more than one hour a day, but I keep it simple for recording purposes.


Third Hour

30 minutes – Recess. Why not? If they count it as school time in public schools, we can, too.

30 minutes – Reading with mommy. I read picture books and various readers to them. We worked our way through “Before Five in a Row” and SimplyCharlotteMason.com reading lists. Now we are working through “Books Children Love.” Sometimes I have my son read a page or a whole reader, depending on how motivated he feels that morning.

Fourth Hour

30 minutes – P.E. Every day, as long as it is over 46F and dry, my children spend time outside on their bikes or doing various ball activities with me or with each other. Today we played a bit of tennis, for instance. Catching, throwing, rolling, and bouncing a ball are important large motor skills. Some days they bike the Gatlinburg trail. Daddy and I run alongside them. It is four miles both ways and we do it in 70 minutes, including a five-minute break when we turn around at Sugarlands Visitor Center. Great cardio workout. When it’s warm, we go to the pool. Every other month, they take swim lessons.

30 minutes – The 3Rs, i.e. formal instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. Ten minutes per subject is plenty for a five-year-old. A child’s attention span is their age in minutes plus one. So a three-year-old can focus for about four minutes and a five-year-old for about six minutes. I make sure I don’t push my son beyond his limits. We might take a break and talk about something (he always has a story to share) before we go on to the next concept. We will probably do fifteen minutes per subject in the second semester; by then, my son will be six.


Fifth Hour

30 minutes – Reading with daddy. This is a nightly routine which happens after supper and just before bedtime.

10 minutes – Music. I play classical music for them throughout the day, during meals, or in the car. If they are interested, I tell them it is Telemann or Handel or Mozart etc.

10 minutes – Arts & Crafts. They make cards for different events and people on a regular basis. They draw, cut and paste in their lapbooks. They decorate their bedroom according to their fancy with old ribbons and scotch tape. They paint. They draw with chalk in the driveway.

10 minutes – Science. Once a month, they take a class at Ripley’s Aquarium. Nature walks or simply being in the yard provide an opportunity for spotting insects and animals. We melt ice. We make popsicles. We grow butterflies out of caterpillars we mail ordered. We write in our nature journals. We learn to cook and can and garden.

10 minutes – Foreign Languages. I tell them things in French and Spanish every day. Simple things. “Thank you” or “here you are” or “please” or whatever simple phrase I may use in Romanian, I repeat it in French. Or Spanish. Or English. I find myself saying the same thing in three or four different ways. Sometimes I make them repeat it, but other times, if we are hard at play, I just say it and we move on. We also repeat the days of the week and the months of the year in several languages for our calendar activities.

As you can see, I easily come up with more than five hours of “instruction” per day. Which means that I can leave out certain activities based on what we have on our schedule as a family that particular day. Activities can carry over for recording purposes, too. It works out well. I told you homeschooling was a flexible endeavor.

Homeschooling and Multilingualism

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Before I say anything about the languages that I speak and teach to my children, let me make it clear that if I don’t have love (i.e. the genuine article, a.k.a. agape in Greek), I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal and who wants to do that for a living? Not me. Not in my home. Not in our homeschooling process.

If that gong and cymbal comparison sounds familiar, it’s because it is. I got it from a gentleman who spoke several languages himself and wrote a dozen small books which have been translated into many, many languages. I am referring, of course, to the Apostle Paul.

Comparing a loveless polyglot to a resounding gong is found in 1 Corinthians 13:1, to be precise. In this chapter, Paul talks about other accomplishments which mean very little in the absence of agape, but he starts out with multilingualism – a detail that has always resonated with me. Pun intended.

Having said all that, I must mention that am fluent in Romanian, French, and English. I have a good knowledge of Swedish, Spanish, Italian, and Latin. And I have basic knowledge of German, Norwegian and Portuguese. Here’s how…

I was born in Romania and lived there until I was 19. I took French in school (two hours a week, grades 5-12). I took English in school (two hours a week, grades 6-12). I also took Latin in the eighth grade. Two foreign languages plus Latin were mandatory subjects in Romania back then – not sure what they do now – but they did not have to be for me.

I have always loved languages and found it easy to learn words and grammar rules. Words to me are like toys to a child. I always want new ones.

Homeschooling and multilingualism

I majored in French and English at the University of Bucharest (UB). While there, I took Latin and Ancient French (Ancien Français) classes. It was incredibly helpful to see the evolution of French words from Roman times to the Middle Ages versus today.

Most people do not know that Romanian is a Romance language right along French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. We use the Roman alphabet, even though we are surrounded by nations who use the Cyrillic. So yes, I had some home advantage to all this language learning.

I learned Italian by watching Italian movies and TV – if you saw Michele Placido in La Piovra, you would, too – and by listening to Eros Ramazzotti’s music. It occurs to me that I have been a Ramazzotti fan since 1986 – almost three decades. His lyrics are deep poetry.

I learned Spanish on the go, during my lunch breaks in college, preparing for a mission trip to Ecuador in 1995. While there, immersion did the trick.

Swedish and Norwegian come from my three years of living in Sweden – I loved my Scandinavian period, especially the last year, when I lived in Stockholm. You might know this, Swedish vs. Norwegian is like British English vs. American English.

I took German classes here and there, from the TV, from conversation guides, from German friends. Swedish, Norwegian, German and English, of course, fall in the Germanic language family and the similarities help solidify new vocabulary.

Recently, I was watching an interview in Portuguese with English subtitles and I was relying heavily on reading the translation. At one point, I heard the words in Portuguese and the subtitles were delayed. I understood what was said and when the translation popped on the screen, it confirmed it. I tuned my ears and focused more. It was not hard to get it. I was very surprised, but I guess I should not be. Once you have most of the languages in one language family, it’s only a matter of imagination and fine tuning the endings of the words and some grammar rules.

My children are bilingual (Romanian and English) because daddy has always addressed them in English (he is American) and I have always talked to them in Romanian. I am working on adding French and Spanish to their repertoire. I sprinkle Latin here and there throughout the day, when I point out Latin roots of English words and how similar certain words are in many languages (e.g., rapid – English, rapid – Romanian, rápido – Spanish, rapide – French).

If my children went to “regular” school for seven hours a day, I would have very little time to expose them to other languages. That’s one of the big reasons why I chose to homeschool. Time. Time to pursue what we want, after we get basic academic skills out of the way.

For instance, the other day, we had to take a car trip right after breakfast to run an errand. We did our calendar and foreign language activities in the car. We said the days of the week and the months of the year in English, Romanian and French. Then, we counted to 20 in all three languages. I have written briefly about car schooling before.

That’s just another reason why I like homeschooling: learning happens everywhere you go, while you run errands and live your life together as a family, even when you are away from a desk. I linked to

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