Foreign or second language learning through craft

Craft with bilingual childrenThe secret of learning a language is that there is no “secret”, basically a language is a tool for communication, and the best way to learn it and practice it is communicating. However, this can be difficult on a day to day basis, especially if both parents and children are busy with work, school, after school clubs and their social lives. So, this is when we really need our imagination and crafty hands to come up with interesting and fun activities that don’t look too much like “school” work. [Read more...]

Mum, what is sweet in Chinese? 5 Steps to ease your child into a foreign language

Chinese writingWell, I don’t know, sweety, but we can find out… I never thought that it would really get to that point where they actually “think by themselves” and start showing interest in other languages. Of course, it was going to happen, but when you hold your little bundle of joy for the first time, be it in hospital or at home, you just think about protecting it and what you can give it, you don’t think about what they may ask in the future! I don’t really push other languages and I don’t really intend to send them to formal language lessons, unless they want to go, of course. At the moment, making sure we keep the balance with three languages is hard work enough. Also, personally, I don’t believe that acquiring two or three languages when you are a child gives you a wand that magically makes you learn another language effortlessly when you wave it around. [Read more...]

Children’s theatre in Spanish

Stories and storytelling are very important for children. Of course, they love cartoons, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love theatre or plain story telling better when presented to it. If you have the chance to travel abroad to the country where the language your kids are learning is spoken, find out about local venues for children’s theatre. It’s a great experience.

Screenshot 2014-08-18 09.10.03In Madrid I’ve just discovered a little venue in the centre, Lavapies, called “La Escalera de Jacob“, where they put up small plays for children as well as adults. They have two small stages, and a café upstairs. It’s great if you want to take your child to see a play, but your friend or partner doesn’t feel like going, or he needs to stay upstairs with the baby, as they can stay cosy in the bar upstairs, or sitting outside on the “terraza” during summer.

[Read more...]

Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, the Chinese counterpart of Dora de Explorer

ni-hao-kai-lan-characters-mainImageNi Hao in Mandarin Chinese means hello. I’ve known this ever since I started working for a Taiwanese company many years ago. However, in all my language obsessed mothering years, I’ve never even attempted to teach my children any Chinese, not even as a dinner party joke (look at my cute children, they can dance and say “hello” in Chinese!). But, one day, my eldest daughter (4) looked at me with that mischievous face she has when she’s doing something clever or a bit naughty, and smiling said to me “Ni Hao”. At first, me being me, thought, at my age, my hearing was failing me, and she probably was saying something different that sounded like “hello” in Chinese. [Read more...]

What if your child refuses to speak the minority language?

Bilingualism does not follow a straightforward path and it’s not an exact science. There are many different variables that can influence bilingual families and bilingual individuals. Many successful bilingual parents don’t really stop to consider ‘what ifs…?’

What if your kid suddenly turned around and said that he doesn’t want to speak your language? What would you do? Would you feel disappointed, shame, a feeling of failure? This is a very normal, a fresh challenge and a new side of bilingualism, which is totally normal, and quite common for many bilingual families.

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As we mature and gain experience our view of the world changes. Once you begin raising a bilingual child, you will change too. When I was a student I thought bilingual children always spoke perfectly in two languages, with spotless vocabulary and genuine accent. Nothing could be further from the truth. With time and experience, I have realised that individual children are different, their circumstances are different, and I have seen many children with good command of two languages but with “thick” foreign accents in their minority language. So don´t assume a bilingual child will necessarily speak with a flawless accent.

Likewise, I no longer assume that bilingual children will all switch on and off the minority language when you want… they’re not robots after all. I feel lucky that my 4 year old has taken to speaking Spanish like a duck to water, and although she’s not unique, she’s not representative of all bilingual kids either. I know a few bilingual kids who speak their minority language, albeit using a restrictive code, limited vocabulary, mixed grammar, and strong accents, All of these are normal. It really depends on the child and the circumstances.

When the terrible 2's arrive kids love to say 'no' to Mum and Dad...

When the terrible 2′s arrive kids love to say ‘no’ to Mum and Dad…

There are children who simply refuse to speak the minority language. The reasons may be very different. They are also on the normal spectrum, there is nothing strange or weird about it, there is not reason to feel guilty either, you just need to take it a step at a time.

If you’re reading this, I imagine you’re interested in raising your children bilingually and overcoming these challenges. So, let’s look at a few tips and ideas that may help your child.

1. First of all, don’t give up. I know quite a few frustrated adults who complained about their parents listening to them when they were young and asked them to stop talking to them in “that foreign language”. They now deeply regret not being able to communicate with their families in “that language”. However, I haven’t met yet any individual that complains about being able to speak two languages.

Think about what can be affecting your child:

2. Is the environment hostile to your language and the national identity you represent? Do you think your child may be picking up on that hostility and he just wants to fit in?

Be positive and think about the things that you could do to help him feel more at ease with the language. Don’t think about what you or he can’t do, but what is possible: find other families with the same language, celebrate fun festivals, read interesting story books with them, watch TV programmes he may like, use hobbies to channel the language, etc.

3. Is she finding school difficult? Does she have problems with Literacy in school? Sometimes well meaning but misinformed professionals think that the reason a child has problems with school subjects is because the influence the second language is having. In that case, you can address his problems in school, and help her with it. Developing Literacy and language in the home language can also help him with his first language.

4. Is he just going through a phase like the terrible 2s? It may be that he wants to assert his identity making his own decisions, and saying no to something that it´s obviously important to you may be one way of doing it… just keep using the language! Toddlers and young children love saying ‘no’ to everything.

5. Ultimately, the reasons why a child may not want to speak the minority language are as many as children there are in the world. So, just be patient and try to find out if there is a reason, so you can deal with it.

Remember, that it´s really never too late to learn a foreign language, but it´s also true that it´s easier when one is younger. So, keep at it!

The importance of early years bilingualism

This is an issue at the top of the to-do lists of many parents, along with music, sport, school and many other activities that are thought important for children nowadays. The British Council in Madrid, an education centre established to bring English education to those Britons living abroad as well as many local families who want their children to grow up bilingual, will host the II Jornada de Bilingüismo en Edades Tempranas (the Second Conference of Early Years Bilingualism). Ellen Bialystok, a Canadian psychologist with a specialization in cognitive and language development in children, will speak at the conference about the benefits of bilingualism. 

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Ellen believes that the fact that children can absorb and assimilate information very easily means that the early years are the ideal time to learn another language. She also supports the theory that learning a second language has great cognitive advantages that will help the brain stay healthy and prevent early degeneration. She also highlights other, more mundane, advantages like helping people living in a global world and giving them those extra tools for survival in our modern economy.

In a previous conference held by the Spanish branch of the British Council, a bilingual educator, Alexander Sokol gave some pointers to parents who wanted to bring up their children bilingually. Some of them are things that I have already mentioned in Bilingual Parenting as being important for the relation between bilingual parents and children, like making sure that you are not just pointing at things and saying the name, just teaching vocabulary, but speaking in simple sentences in context. Even if you have just started speaking to your child in the second language, using it in a meaningful context will make things much easier.

Sokol also believes that all approaches are okay if they work for your family. He suggests that parents shouldn’t worry so much about “teaching” their children, because he thinks that their function is not so much academic as it is educational in a playful way. Any activities and language acquired through the parents can then be reinforced if necessary at school or with private tutors.

He points out that before undertaking any “language” activities with your children, parents should think about their reasons for wanting their children to learn that language, living in the country, having family abroad, or they just want them to speak a foreign language. There are other variables to take into account like age of the children, previous knowledge, resources available, etc.

Sokol has suggested some ground rules that may help us plan our strategy:

1. Start with sentences rather than single words.
2. Translate without translating (explaining in simpler language, things they may know, use body language to explain concepts)
3. Be patient and don’t expect too much (remember the silent period)
4. Subtle corrections.
5. Take advantage of those moments when they are doing their favourite activities.
6. Give them time to get ready to speak (silent period)
7. The best resources are their environment and their games.

Alexander Sokol is bilingual, from Riga, he learnt to speak Russian and Lithuanian at the same time, as most people in the city. He also learnt English and speaks to his children in English.

These two people are, in my opinion, great examples of people who support bilingualism in the early years, and like Alexander Sokol, there are more and more  people educating their children in a language that is not their native language at home. Teachers and tutors can support the work done by the parents at home, but at the end of the day, the parents are the people who spend more time with the children and there lies the key to success, the amount of time and the quality of activities in the language we want them to learn.

 

 

7 steps to teaching your kids a second language

In the world we live in speaking at least two languages is rapidly becoming a necessity. So, one either has the money to pay for tutors, or has the opportunity to live abroad or speak another language to pass on to the children. Many parents around hat world are catching up to the idea that one doesn’t have to be a native speaker of language to be able to teach it to their children, especially if one can afford a bilingual education.

Teaching your child a second language that you learnt yourself in a classroom as an adult or as a young adult is possible. As anything the extent to which your children will become fluent in that language depends on many different factors, like how much exposure they get in that language, if they have enough motivation, if there is a large enough community around you speaking that same language or how much opportunity there is to visit the country where they speak that language.

Here is a bit of advice for those of you who are thinking of teaching your children a second language:

1. Get them early. It is obvious that one can learn a language at any time, after all, many parents speak a foreign language they learnt as adults. However, it is also true that if you start speaking to your child when he’s still a baby, he will have the opportunity to absorb it at the same time as the local language. For him, hearing two languages at the same time will be normal, that will be his norm.

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2. Find a pattern of language use that fits your purposes. If both parents speak one language each, that is called OPOL (one parent one language). Although, not necessary to follow that pattern, it is useful in the sense that it provides maximum exposure time, 50-50. Of course, this could vary in different situations, for instance, if one parent is out working most of the day, and this would affect the balance of languages, or if the parent who speaks the second language also wants to speak his/her native language. In this case, one good solution would be to choose a suitable time of day or situation where this parent would speak the second language. For instance, deciding to speak the second language for two full days every week, and the rest the local language, or speaking it in certain situations, like a second language playgroup.

3. Build a support group around of people who speak that second language and have committed to speak it to their children at home. Sometimes there are already established playgroups that you can attend to enhance the language learning experience of your child, other times, finding a group is slightly harder, and you may want to consider starting your own group of parents by placing ads in local playgroups, free newspapers, etc.

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4. One of the obvious steps is looking for educational establishments that cater for bilingual children, like bilingual nurseries or primary schools. However, this may not be readily available in your area, or they may not be available in the language you require. In that case, do not despair, having a full time parent with the knowledge of a second language in his or her head, is a great advantage already, especially if you make sure you provide your child with enough input in the shape of books, cartoons, educational activities and materials, etc.

5. Talk, talk, talk and read, read, read. You have to talk, because, as anybody will tell you, you learn language by hearing it. The more you talk the more your baby will hear and will learn. The more you read the broader your vocabulary and structures in that language will become, and you will be able to speak more and better to your kid.

6. Stop worrying. Many people worry about passing on the wrong accent or the wrong meanings. This is not something I’d like to dismiss lightly, but on the other hand, you should consider the alternative to having your child speaking, let’s say, German with English accent and making mistakes sometimes, which would be a kids who would just speak English. The answer it’s obvious. Also, consider that having a teacher available almost 24/7, that means you, the parent, is much better that having a teacher available just 2 to 3 hours a week, even if this teacher is a native speaker, which in many schools they aren’t.

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7. Turn language learning into quality parent child time. Even if your child doesn’t achieve fluency, having him understand or even speak a bit of that second language virtually without effort, when you had to learn it in the classroom is already a great advantage. Also, consider all the hours of quality time you can spend with your child enjoying fun activities, or eating that typical food that you both love so much. That is priceless!

Last but not least, I hope you enjoy your language sharing adventure with your little ones, and please, let us know if  you have decided to start exposing your child to a second language.

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4 ideas to help international families with childcare

One of the main issues that I have found as a mum living in a foreign country, away from friends and family back home, is that simple things like babysitting can become complicated experiments, or childcare like a juggling act. When you have been living in a place for most of your life, there are always trusted neighbours or family friends that are helpfully unemployed or retired, and have time to babysit or take the children off your hands for a bit of me time.

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1. One thing that has worked in the past for one of my friends was a babysitting circle. Granted, it takes time to get to know people you can trust with your children, however, most people who have their babies in the same area will be invited to anti-natal or post-natal courses, where you can meet other mums and future friends. This is how my friend, Linda, met the people who would go on to become her babysitting circle. They worked a system of vouchers, the more babysitting you did, the more vouchers you had, and then you could spend then getting your children babysat.

2. Keeping the tally can be difficult, and mistakes can be made. Nowadays, the babysitting circle has gone one step further. In my area, we have set up a babysitting circle on a website called MyNightOff. This is a website accessible from any computer, each participant has their on login details, receiving emails when a new babysitting request is placed, so they can go on the site and accept the request. The site administers the credits, everybody starts with the same number, and then one earns or spends credits babysitting or asking for baby-sitting.

 

3. Nanny-sharing is also a solution that many people use. If you can’t afford regular full-time nurseries, and grannies and granddads live too far away, nanny-sharing may be a good solution. Nannies tend to be more expensive per hour that childminders or nurseries, but they are more flexible, look after the kids in your own home, so there is no rush to get them to the childcare, and if you share the care with a neighbour, it can actually work cheaper. Besides a nanny can pick up your older kids from school and take them back home. For international families, it can also be helpful if they can find a nanny who speak their language to help strengthen the minority language at home.kids-785727-m

4. Swap day time sitting with trusted friends from playgroup or neighbours. Sometimes, other mums around may work from home, or be full-time mums, but needing a break or time free to run some errands.

Learning Spanish on a budget, a parent’s approach

lets-play-bingo-1-602195-mNowadays, most people realise the importance of knowing  how to speak a foreign language, and consequently they want their children to have this great gift as well. However, not everybody does speak a foreign language as an adult, are these monolinguals doomed, then, to have monolingual children? [Read more...]