Kazakhstan! How My Multilingual Child Learned to Write

by Alice · 5 comments

By Alice Lapuerta

Yesterday Dominik’s Kindergarten teacher had a bit of a crisis. She approached me, her face serious. “You know what your son did today?”

Uh-oh. He probably threw a tantrum. He refused to share the Thomas train with another kid. He peed in his pants. He threw the puzzles out of the window. He, he …

“What did he do?”

“Look at this.” She whipped out a piece of paper and showed it to me.

I stared at it.


It looked like any of his gazillion pieces of artworks that he has got littered all over our house.

“Your son,” she takes a big breath, as if she still can’t believe the magnitude of what he did. “Your son – wrote KAZAKHSTAN!”

“Oh,” I reply weakly. Yep, it’s Kazakhstan. Definitely. Unmistakeably Kazakhstan. Impeccable penmanship. Better than my own.

Kazakhstan (as spelled in German) written by Dominik

“Awesome, right?“ I say carefully. I mean, this is nothing new for me. He writes Kazakhstan at home all the time. I could wallpaper my whole living room with Kazakhstan. And every time he writes Kazakhstan anew, he approaches me, beaming:

“Mami, look, what does this say?”

“Good JOB! You wrote …..” I crunch up my face, pretend to think for a long time, “you just wrote Ecuador?”

“NOOOOO Mami! This is Kazakhstan!”

“So it is! How stupid of me! But what a GOOD JOB you did writing this!” It is a game we play all the time. In the meantime it’s lost its spark of novelty for me, but Dominik will insist on repeating this ritual, like three thousand and five times a day. Make that six.

Except his Kindergarten teacher can’t know that, can she?

“YOUR son knows how to write Kazakhstan. But he doesn’t color Mandalas! He refuses to do coloring sheets.” She looks confused. I feel sympathetic but also the indefinite need to defend him. It’s not like I am training him at home to write Kazakhstan for God’s sake. Write Kazakhstan correctly, or else (whiplash!)!

(And no, just in case you were wondering, we don’t watch “Borat”, either.)

No. This was how it happened: it occurred to me that in order to make truly global citizens out of my kids, they should play with multicultural toys. For example: puzzles. And instead of that perpetually drooling puppy or doe-eyed kitty puzzle, I decided to buy them a gigantic floor puzzle with the map of the world on it.

I expected them to see through my devious means of trying to convey them a sense of geography, and hate the puzzle immediately.

They adored it. In particular Dominik, who took to it immediately. And for some sort of odd, inexplicable reason, he just adores Kazakhstan. What can I do.

He knows where Kazakhstan lies. He knows what color the country has (purple, his favorite), and since he’s stared at that particular puzzle-piece love struck every day ever since Christmas, when we gave it to him, he, by default, learned how to write the word.

Yes, he taught himself to write on his own. I swear I didn’t do a thing other than buy that puzzle.

As a variety, he also knows how to write Colombia. In the meantime, he’s memorized all countries in Latin America – Latin America only! – Oh, AND Kazakhstan – but that is understood.

“Yeah well, I guess we can practice coloring Mandalas at home,” I tell his kindergarten teacher. Gosh, now we better start Mandala therapy. I wonder secretly how I can get him to color Mandalas when he absolutely refuses to do so. I hope they don’t send us to ergo-therapy because of this. Apparently it’s not good that the kids skip over the drawing stage and go on right to the writing stage. (“And what seems to be the problem with your son?” “He writes Kazakhstan!”)

“Look, Mami,” butts in my son on the conversation with the kindergarten auntie (in English). “Look Mami, what I did in Kindergarten!” He waves even more sheets in front of me, and he’s nearly bursting with pride.

“Oh WOW! It says …. Green-verde. Azul-blue. GOOOOD job!”

“Aaaaand: morado! Morado is purple,” he explains happily. “Verde ist grün, und azul ist blau, auf Spanisch,” he translates for the kindergarten teacher. Who seems kind of dazed. My son doesn’t draw, no. But he can write Kazakhstan, as well as write the colors in all his three languages.

Dominik’s “painting” in English and Spanish

She pins his “paintings” on the bulletin board in the hallway.

“So everyone can see how beautifully you write,” she says with a smile. “In English AND Spanish!”

Yesterday, my son has added a new word to his writing repertoire.

“Look, Mami,” he shows me a gigantic piece of paper. “What does it say?”

I am stunned. For in large, clear letters, Dominik has written his newest favorite word, in Spanish:


(= pan).

Alice Lapuerta, the Editor of Multilingual Living Magazine, is a regular contributor at Multilingual Living. She grew up in a trilingual household of German, Korean and English. She and her husband from Ecuador live in Austria where they are raising their three children trilingually in German, Spanish and English.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sandrine July 7, 2010 at 9:09 am

What a clever son you’ve got! I’m glad the teacher went from her colouring fixation to admiring his writing!
My son taught himself to write a bunch of words in English, French and Turkish by playing with toy computers. He didn’t learn to read that way – his autism makes everything more complicated – but I’m sure it helped.


2 Alice July 7, 2010 at 11:09 am

Thanks for your comment Sandrine! Funny that you mention that toy computer because one of my next pieces is going to be on this. Amazing what they learn with those gadgets!


3 Romana July 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Before I finish reading I would have say that perhaps he had some memory of his other life in Kazakhstan 😉 . But no, he is just a very, very smart kid.


4 Sharon July 7, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Great story. I’m surprised he could spell it. Funny what they can fixate on. Can he write “Ukraine”?

My son makes French mistakes when speaking English but German mistakes when writing English. The teacher was amused with his “Oktober”. Luckily, she is not privy to my political leanings!

I had a visitor from Australia and she brought lots of Aussie toys, including ones with the shape of the country. Then I had my little one pointing out Australia on every world map, even now. People must have thought I had some sort of geographic genius but I wanted to explain… Once she got out an Aussie magnet (another goodie from Wendy) and put it on the map, on top of Australia.

Where is France? Where is California? She had no idea where she or her parents were from but just ask about kangaroos and where koalas live and she’ll nail it!


5 Lauren @ Hobo Mama July 8, 2010 at 12:49 am

That is excellent! I love your son’s enthusiasm for the purple country and the teacher’s dismay over his coloring failures. Too funny!

My son has inadvertently been picking up Chinese songs from children’s television. (We’re raising him bilingually in German and English, so I have very little idea what he’s singing!) It’s funny what appeals to their imaginations and sticks in their heads, isn’t it?


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