To Be Or Not To Be Literate

Living abroad as an expat is hard enough for some, especially if the reason for the move is not out of personal choice, but when children start coming then you add the second language dilema, and when they reach primary school age, then another layer Chinese writingof complexity appears, Literacy. [Read more...]

Introducing language at home with a granny-aupair

Nowadays most people have heard at one point or other the term “aupair“. Originally from the French, meaning “equal to”, it defines a foreign worker who in exchange of board, a small salary and the chance to immerse themselves in the local language offers her or his services looking after the children and doing domestic tasks. [Read more...]

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

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Parents Who Want To Improve Their Own Language Skills

By Charles Gregory, January 2015

I know there are lots of parents out there who would love to bring their children up bilingually but unfortunately are not themselves bilingual. If that describes you, this post is written for you.

It’s a tough spot to be in, bringing your children up to be bilingual is a wonderful gift, but to be able to really immerse your children in your target language you need to be able to speak it yourself.

The good news is that becoming fluent in a second language is actually not that hard, I know this because I have done it myself (and am well on the way to fluency in my third language).

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A Common Myth

It is often believed that adults are not as good at language learning as children. This is actually not true… While children are very good at picking up languages, adults have a huge advantage – they can already speak one language!

A dedicated adult can reach a pretty high level in a second language with a year of part-time study. Compare that to a child who will normally take 2 or 3 years before being able to form simple sentences.

So no excuses! If you really want to learn that language, here’s how:

The First Rule: You Need Words

Many language courses focus too much on grammar, but most people find grammar boring. Remember, the reason you want to learn is because you want to be able to speak. The single most important thing then is to learn lots of words.

When starting a new language I like to aim for around 2,000 words…

That may seem like a lot, but if you learn 10 new words per day you will get there in just over 6 months. That’s very doable, but even at 5 or 6 per day it will only take a year. When I started learning Spanish I aimed for 20 words per day on average.

Chinese writing

How To Do It

The first step is to come up with a list of words. Start with a spreadsheet, in one column you will have the English word and in the other the translation.

The list should be a mix of verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs and should be based on which words you will use most often. If you Google “top 100 verbs in X language” that will be a good start.

I also recommend including a separate entry for different conjugations:

                  What is a conjugation?

                  In English we conjugate verbs like this:

                  Verb: to be (irregular)
Conjugations: I am, you are, he is…

                  Verb: to dance (regular)
Conjugations: I dance, you dance, he dances…

                  Here’s an example in Spanish:

                  To be (for traits): Ser
I am: Soy
You are: Eres
He is: Es
Etc…

Do this for all of the most common verbs and uses, and include past and future tenses too (eg, I danced, I was dancing, I have danced, I will dance etc…)

Some people try to just learn the patterns, but learning the actual conjugations will help you to be much more fluent when you start speaking, and you will learn the patterns intuitively, so that eventually you be able to conjugate new verbs based on what sounds right.

Memorising The Words

Ok, so you have a list of 2,000 words to memorise, what next? This may seem like a mammoth challenge, but you will be amazed by what you can achieve when you try.

I like to use a free computer program called Anki.

Anki is a “Spaced Repetition” program. In simple terms, it shows you new vocabulary over and over at timed intervals. So the first time you learn a new word it will show you that same word again a minute later, then 5 minutes later, then 10 minutes…

The more times you review a word the more ingrained it becomes in your memory and so the longer the interval becomes. Each time, you will see the English word and you try to remember the translation, if you remember correctly you mark it as correct and the interval gets a little bit longer. If you forgot it, the interval resets to one day so you can relearn it.

It should only take around 15-30 minutes per day if you do it every day. You will learn 10 new words each day and review any old ones that are due to ensure you don’t forget them.

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The Second Rule: You Need To Speak

Once again: don’t worry too much about grammar. As soon as you have a vocabulary of 500-800 words you have plenty with which to start talking. At first you will speak in a very broken way, but you will be able to make yourself understood.

The great thing is, because you already have the vocab in your brain, when you start using it it will move to your fast memory and things will slot into place incredibly quickly. It often only takes 5-10 hours of speaking practice to get to the point of being able to hold a simple conversation.

So what are the options?

Move Abroad:

If you can live in a country where they speak your target language then that’s ideal (you lucky thing) but if not, don’t worry…

Get A Language Tutor:

Face to face practice with a professional tutor is ideal, especially when starting because the tutor can answer any questions you have about why things are said a certain way and they will be able to plan lessons around your ability level.

You can find a UK based language tutor here, or of course on plenty of other sites online. I would suggest telling your tutor that you mainly want to practice conversation and avoid English as much as possible (even if doing so is tough at first).

Get An Online Tutor:

This is best in addition to a language tutor (and a good way to save money). There are plenty of sites online where you can find online language teachers for conversation practice. This site has plenty of native speakers all over the world.

An advantage to this is that you can select a teacher who doesn’t speak much English. This will force you to use your target language.

Language Exchanges:

If you want to save money, and don’t mind giving up some of your time, you could try a language exchange. The way it normally works is that you find a partner who speaks your target language and wants to practice their English. You then chat (via Skype) for 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in your target language.

                  Bonus Tip:
                  During your conversations you will come across new words, ask your tutor to write them                down and after your session, add them to your Anki deck, this is an excellent way to      supplement your Vocabulary.

The Third Rule: Put In The Time

The reality is that when you are learning the right way, it doesn’t take that much time to improve. If you can put aside 20 minutes per day to review your vocab on Anki and then 3 hours per week for conversation (either with a tutor or online), you will soon be able to converse at a basic level.

If you can get your other half to do the same, then pretty soon you will find that you can chat to one another in the target language, and that is when the true immersion will start!

Other Tips

Finally, don’t be afraid to try other things to help round out your learning. Here are a few suggestions:

  • When learning vocab, use Forvo to check how to pronounce them correctly
  • Get a Kindle and get some children’s books in your target language
  • Find some music in your target language, learn the words and sing along to it

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.

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.