Being a Fish in Foreign Waters

Author Laura Caputo-Wickham discusses her Children’s book, A Fish in Foreign Waters

I was born in the gorgeous city of Rome where I graduated from college in Languages and Foreign Cultures. In 2008, love brought me to the United Kingdom where I taught Italian for many years and loved every minute of it.
Three years later my first daughter came along and with her I developed a great interest in bilingualism.

I had always known that I would raise my children to be bilingual. I was raised bilingual myself as was my mother, whose parents migrated from Italy to South Africa in the Seventies.

A Fish in Foreign Waters by Laura Caputo-Wickham

A Fish in Foreign Waters by Laura Caputo-Wickham

When you have the privilege of being part of three generations of bilinguals you inevitably start noticing you have things in common.
Some of these are the fun aspects of being bilingual like the constant code switching used while telling a very important story. You cannot waste precious time looking for the right words, so you pick the first words that come to your head regardless of language.

Or the “secret language” that you share with your parent, often used to gossip about people standing next to you assuming they don’t understand (and sometimes your assumption is wrong!).

Other common aspects are less amusing, though – like the feeling of awkwardness for being different, especially as a child.

I realised this when my daughter was around three years old. I detected some hesitation in speaking the minority language and could see the same in the older bilingual children of friends.

I started doing a bit of research on the matter and I came across a quote by Professor Colin Baker, who writes in his book, A Parent’s and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (Multilingual Matters, Third Edition): “Children often don’t want to appear different. They want to conform to the status-giving behavior of the peer group. This may entail a temporary non-use of one of their languages.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that children don’t want to be different. They want to wear the same clothes as their friends, they want to watch the same shows as their friends and, most of all, they want to speak the same language. In addition, I learned that very early on children develop awareness of what language they should invest energy in learning. In other words, they don’t see any reason why they should “waste” time learning a language that, as far as they are concerned, only the grandmother they see every so often on Skype speaks.

Suddenly I started seeing a pattern in my daughter’s reluctance with my own experience as a child and the stories that my mother used to tell me: I realised that we used to perceive bilingualism as a burden rather than a privilege.

Children are often unaware of the benefits speaking two languages can bring and by the time they realise they have probably wasted precious years when their brain would have been very receptive to the languages.
This thought made me feel quite sad. Something needed to be done! And this was the inspiration for my book.

A Fish in Foreign Waters is the story of Rosie Ray, a fish whose world gets thrown upside down when she has to move to a different bay. She will have to learn a new language, make new friends and face some of the challenges that bilingual children often face – like being embarrassed by their parent’s accent or the different food in their lunchboxes. But on the day of her birthday she will make an exciting discovery that will help her see how much she has actually gained from being able to speak two languages.

My hope is that this book can be a helpful tool in getting our children excited about being bilingual and help, in some way, to lighten the burden of all the parents out there who are doing so much to help them through this challenging yet beautiful journey.

To order copy of the book, please visit http://www.longbridgepublishing.com/Pages/AFishinForeignWaters.aspx

Teaching to read and write in English

If you are an English speaker living abroad, in a non-English speaking country, you may well have to be the one to teach your children how to read and write in English. Don’t panic! It´s not as difficult as they would have us believe. You don´t have to be living abroad either, maybe you want to teach your little one at home for other reasons. First Reader Schlafly [Read more...]

5 activities to support foreign or second language acquisition

The 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.

Craft with bilingual children

1. Stop-motion and modelling clay day: I got this idea one day at my local library. A couple of youngsters working in a local association had put up an activity for the arts week. Basically they were using a load of modelling clay and crafty bits so children could make their own monsters. Later they would set up the characters in front of a camera, with a background and record a stop-motion movie. I did this activity with my French group and everybody loved it, the children got engrossed in creating little monsters and the parents helped them later on with a short movie. All the time everybody was speaking in French, and children heard and learnt new words, while at the same time meeting new and old friends and having a great time. We only did a very, very short movie, but the experience was very interesting especially as all the kids were under 5. You can check our movie out here.

You only need some modelling clay, crafty bits like goggly eyes, a bit of cardboard, pipe cleaners, or even short spaghetti (that I’ve just learnt can be used to make hedgehogs sticking them in a bit of modelling clay). For the software, we used an iPad and downloaded a very cheap app, it was only 5.99. With it you could record the movie and even record voice.

The feedback was very positive, given that everybody had fun, they felt they were doing something meaningful, and on top of that we covered the main aim of our group, getting the children immersed in the French language!

 

2. Music and rhythm: This is an activity I learnt from a reception class in a British school. In the UK kids start reception when they are 4 years old, so you would have 4 and 5 year olds in the same class.

The idea is getting them sitting and listening while doing something with their hands and feet, active learning. So, create a rhythm, ask them to clap their hands, then clap faster, then slower, then ask to skip one, so for instance first kids claps fast, next kid slow, next kid fast, and so on. You can repeat this with tapping feet, or any other movement or action you can think of. The idea is creating something like a rhythm and sequence. You can add musician instruments in the mix.

This way you will use language that the children will think it’s meaningful, as when you say “clap your hands” they will do this, so they know there is immediate reward, to get it right, join in and have fun. It is a nice way also to learn parts of the body and names of actions. You can adapt it to your own language. For instance, if there is a difference in how you use a word when it’s just one and when there are two, you can use this difference, “do this with one hand, now do these with two hands”, and so on.

3. Show and tell: In some groups this may work very well, if they kids are already speaking your home language. Also, shy children may be encouraged to speak, or even in they don’t this time, they may get the idea and have a go the next time. Ask children to bring something to the meeting, for instance their favourite toy, or something that they really like. They have to show it to the others, talk about it and answer questions.

4. Christmas card recycling: You can do this activity either after Christmas, or ask people to give you their old Christmas cards and keep them for the following year and do the activity before Christmas. Get the kids to bring their old Christmas cards, cut them up and you can get them to do a collage. Individual collages are a good idea, so they have something to show at home, or you can do a group one and show it as an example of collaboration.

Use the activity to encourage the use of vocabulary, by saying out loud what people are doing and what they have to do, for instance, “now we are cutting the cards”, “Peter is gluing the card”, “we have many different things, a Christmas tree, a flower, etc.”

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5. Bookmark making activity: Laminators are simple but great inventions. With a few sheets of craft card in different colours, a few pictures cut out from magazines, dry flowers and any other bits and pieces people like, you can create amazing bookmarks. Just get the kids to glue their items on a bit of card that you have previously cut in the shape of a bookmark. Get a few together, place them in a laminating pouch, laminate and voilà, your bookmarks. Now you just have to cut them individually and punch a hole with a hole punch. Threat a bit of wool or ribbon through the hole, tie it up and that’s it.

Again as in the activity above, you can use the crafty time to encourage children and parents to talk in the language and use the vocabulary related to that activity. You can decide on a topic, so it could be animals, so children could practice that vocabulary, or it could be something else, you decide!

 

These are just a few basic ideas, it is by no means a comprehensive list of things that you can do to boost your children’s language acquisition. But what it is, however, is an example of how “normal” activities, those that you would do at any playgroup or even in a play date with friends, can be converted and adapted to language acquisition, even language learning in the foreign language classroom.

 

Do you have any other ideas that you would like to share with us?

 

 

 

 

 

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...]

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...]

Review: Salsa, Spanish resources for children

Learning a foreign language in the family is not an activity exclusive to families with one or two bilingual adults. People who don’t speak a language or who speak it to limited proficiency can also make language learning into a fun activity to do with their children. Nowadays we have many resources at our disposal and thanks to the world wide web you can literally take advantage of resources created on the other side of the world.  [Read more...]

Five ways to boost your bilingual learning environment

Creating a great bilingual learning environment for your children can take a little bit of work and creativity but it needn’t be a chore. Here are some ways we used to keep three languages ticking over.

1. Ensure both languages are spoken at home

This may sound painfully obvious but it’s surprising how many bilingual families start conversing in one language. The ‘one parent, one language’ (OPOL) strategy is a good one as it ensures children interact in both language throughout the day.

Join local language groups or start one yourself!

Join local language groups or start one yourself!

2. Connect with others locally

Unless you live in a very remote area chances are there are language exchanges, parent groups, and playgroups in your town and city. Our children go to a Spanish-speaking playgroup most weeks and a French family meet-up too. If you can’t find anything going on locally, why not start something with likeminded individuals by posting notices on social media or local advertising boards? By interacting with others that speak the language outside the immediate family, the language will seem more ‘real’ and alive.

3. Use media media in the other language

Find books, music, radio and films in the other language and make sure they are easily available to enjoy. Our children enjoy watching unique Spanish and French cartoons but on YouTube we can find British favourites like the ubiquitous Peppa Pig dubbed into those languages too.

Video conferencing with friends and family overseas can really help!

Video conferencing with friends and family overseas can really help!

4. Exploit technology to connect with friends and family overseas

Webcams and Skype are a brilliant way to interact with friends and family overseas. Our kids love to talk on Skype with their Aunt and Grandmother and sometimes Spanish-speaking friends in the USA. Skype can be a great tool when there are no speakers of the second language in your locality.

5. Explore Apps and computer software

For better or worse, our children love to use an iPad and, like some tech-skeptical parents, it’s something I’m not too concerned by as I’ve discovered all sorts of beautiful interactive story books and educational games that they really enjoy.

How do you keep language alive at home? Let us know in the comments

A Tour Of The British Isles in accents

The sheer number of accents in the British Isles often confuses England language learners. Actually, it quite often confuses native speakers too – I sometimes had a hard time understanding Glaswegian taxi drivers.

In this YouTube clip Google Maps-generated video is set to speech from from a BBC Radio 4 programme featuring expert dialect coach, Andrew Jack.

If you’re British, now accurate do think they are? If you have English as a second language, did any confuse you?

Has Santa visited you with a new iPad?

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British sign language to support language development

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