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...]

Bright, colourful and musical Spanish language learning

Tren de vocalesLong gone are the days of chalky fingers and monochromatic lessons delivered in a monotone voice heavy with the local accent. Just like the monkey-man in 2001 A Space Odyssey set up a long chain of events when he realised that using rock as a tool was a lot cooler than trying to open a coconut with his teeth, language geeks all over felt the Eureka moment when the first computer entered their homes.  [Read more...]

Learning a Language with Professor Toto

Children have a knack for learning languages. This comes mainly from their not questioning what bit of information you are giving them, not like adults. “Mary, open the door” – Mary then opens the door. That is it. You do not need to explain why you put the words in the order you do, or why you do not say “you open the door” instead of “open the door”. This is why with small children we do not teach them language, but expose them to it.
There are many ways and opportunities in our day to day life to do this. However sometimes, it is useful to have some materials or courses that are already prepared, giving you ideas and helping you to introduce language in a meaningful way.
In this post, I am going to review a series called Professor Toto. It has been developed in the US and it is sold directly through their website “www.professortoto.com”, from Amazon.com and it can also be found on Ebay.co.uk Professor Toto is a language series that offers French, German, Chinese, Spanish and Italian.
The idea behind Professor Toto is to expose the child to language as it is spoken but with topics that appeal to children and that are likely to interest them.

Professor Toto teaches you French, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and German


This is how the website describes Professor Toto “Throughout this interactive experience, your child gets to meet Professor Toto’s friends: Sophia, an adorable little girl and Professor Toto’s exemplary student and Eric; an amusing boy who introduces his entire family and chats about his day.”
I think Professor Toto is a good tool to help you introduce a language to your children. It will be very useful for home educators or parents in general who wish to start their children learning a new language early. The DVDs and materials are interactive, they encourage the child to use language in the right context and they will also hear native speakers’ pronunciation. If you are teaching your child a language that you are not fluent in, you can use Professor Toto to expose your child to the right pronunciation and you can use it as a revision for yourself. It also gives you the opportunity to spend some time with your child, doing an interesting activity together.

Although very useful for non fluent speaking parents, Professor Toto can be used for native parents as well. It may help you to reinforce concepts that may get lost in the culture of the country you child is growing in. Some native speaking parents find it difficult to use their language for certain aspect of their life, it can be because you are busy when going shopping and it is quicker to use the language from the country you are living in, maybe you share that activity with your partner who does not speak your language, etc. There are many situation where the language of the country you are living in tends to get the upper hand. Using DVDs and resources developed for foreign language learning and may also be a good way to increase the exposure of your children to your language.

All in all, this looks like a nice resource to try. The idea behind it is learning while enjoying yourself, and the company that sells Professor Toto asks parents not to turn Professor Toto into a chore. I totally agree with them. Learning a foreign language should not be one more activity to get through in the daily routine of an already overscheduled kid. It should be a moment for parent and child to enjoy something together and share a passion. The same way you may sit down and listen to your favorite songs in the hope that your child will develop a taste for music. If you have a passion for language, then turn that passion into a way of building a relationship with your child. You do not have to be a native speaker to have a passion for language, the same way that you do not have to be Beethoven to teach your child to play the guitar.

Baby on Skype

Yesterday we had our first session on Skype with granny’s new computer. It’s actually not HER computer, but her neighbour’s computer. You see, when there is a baby involved people are prepared to go the extra mile!

Anyway, our first session went well. Cameras worked, voice worked, internet worked. It was only about five minutes on Skype, but granny sure enjoyed seeing her little new grandchild life on a screen.

At the moment M doesn’t pay much attention to the screen. For her the keyboard is a new thing to play with, and from time to time she’s also amused by the sounds and the image coming from the screen. But I’m happy that I’m maximizing her exposure to her mother tongue through these sessions, and eventually she’ll grow to appreciate those moments spent talking online with granny from Spain.

Language Acquisition in Bilingual Countries

Much of Spain is bilingual with various regional languages spoken.

When faced with the decision of bringing up our children bilingual or giving up and just live with the main language of the country, we are influenced by many factors. One of the reasons for giving up for many people is social pressure. Despite the increasing research out there showing that learning two languages at the same time “won’t confuse” your children, many people still would throw this back at you.

However, we forget often that there are many countries and smaller areas out there where learning at least two languages is the norm. We have several examples in Spain, where there are four official languages cohabiting together with Castilian, and a couple of unofficial ones!

In this article, I’d like to introduce you to my cousing, Paula. She is a bilingual Spaniard. However she didn’t start her life as a bilingual. Her first mother tongue is Spanish and she became bilingual in her second language when she moved to Catalunya at the age of 7, and learnt to speak Catalan to a native standard.

This is what she says about her experience bringing up two bilingual children, in a one-parent-one-language household:

My experience as a bilingual mother is very good. I’ve never had any problem at all. My children got used to communicate in both languages equally. They chose the language they use depending on who they’re talking to.
It was a bit more difficult for me, because I started to hear spoken Catalan when I was about 7 years old. I was lucky because I had a teacher in school who always spoke in Catalan, so that meant that I had to pay more attention to be able to understand what she was saying.
Now, I do the same thing that my children do. I just choose my language depending on the person, and I just switch from one to the other without even noticing.

Mi experiencia como madre bilingüe es muy buena, no he tenido nunca el más mínimo problema.Los niños se acostumbran ha expresarse en los dos
idiomas por igual.
Según con quien hablen utilizan con idioma o bien otro.
A mi me costo un poco más, pues yo empecé a oír el catalán cuando tenía unos 7 años, lo bueno para mi fue que la profesora que tenía en el cole
se expresaba siempre en catalán, ello implicaba que yo prestaba más atención para poderla entender.
Actualmente me pasa como a mis hijos dependiendo de la persona que hablo inmediatamente uso catalán o bien castellano sin darme cuenta.

Hola
La meva experiència com a mare bilingüe és molt bona, no he tingut mai el més mínim problema.Los nens s’acostumen ha expressar-se en els dos
idiomes per igual.
Segons amb qui parlin utilitzen amb idioma o bé un altre.
A mi em va costa una mica més, ja que jo vaig començar a sentir el català quan tenia uns 7 anys, una cose bone per a mi va ser que la professora que tenia a l’escola
s’expressava sempre em català, això implicava que jo parava més atenció per poder entendre.
Actualment em passa com els meus fills depenent de la persona que parlo immediatament ´parlo castella o bé català sense donar-me compte.

Obviously the experience is going to be different for a child growing up in a bilingual country, where he is going to be exposed to both language quite a lot of the time. A bilingual child growing up in England for instance, will be exposed to English for most of the day in the outside. This is why it’s important to get as much input in the second language as you can.

It would be great to hear of people with experience in a bilingual country.

Four Months on…

Little Baby is here already, growing fast and tall. At the moment the only thing she’s worried about is where her next feed is coming from. She doesn’t mind what language we speak to her as long as she gets fed!

She’s already trying to communicate by grunting and grabbing. It’s cute to see how she “talks” to her dollies or her granddad, in her baby language talk that only she understand.

In terms of mummy’s plan of talking to her in two different languages, well this is what we have got up to. We have set a more or less fixed routine so some days we speak only Spanish and some days only French, but when daddy is home we speak English to daddy.

I’m also trying to set up a group of like-minded parents and with good French level who want to speak to their children in French. The group would be something like a support group, so we can meet, organize activities for the children, sing French songs, etc.

There are a couple of people on the group so far, and I need to do some marketing to get the word out.

There are also some language activities around which sound interesting, groups where they teach nursery rhymes in French to kids, or French classes for toddles and little ones. I think these are brilliant in terms of the fun factor, although this shouldn’t be the only activity for immersion. I’ve read somewhere recently that for a kid to really become anything like bilingual, they need to be exposed to the language at least 1/3 of their waking time. So, unfortunately one hour a week of nursery rhymes is hardly going to do the trick. Although, I still believe it’s great in terms of the fun factor for baby and parent, and the social factor as well. Getting out and about and meeting other parents is also important.

So, anyway at the moment we are sticking to our program of one day French one day Spanish. I’m collecting baby books and nursery rhymes in both languages. Our local second hand bookshop has a very good section, and sometimes you can find French and Spanish baby books.

At the moment songs are the most important. As Baby enjoys music and seeing me jumping about and doing funny faces. But the main thing is that nursery rhymes in any language are really aimed to teach babies words and actions, so they’re perfect for learning without studying!

And that’s all for now.

Why I wanted to bring up my child bilingual

I moved to England a few years ago, I am originally from Spain. I never planned to marry here, and have children. But you can’t plan love and life sometimes happens to you.

As I am a bilingual parent myself, or almost bilingual, it makes sense to pass on this skill on to my children. Spanish is my native tongue, and I speak English to a high standard. I always liked learning languages, I started studying English in school when I was eleven years old, and then I continued at university.

After years of grammar drills, conversation exchanges and sitting down to learn long lists of vocabulary, it is quite disheartening to find out that it is actually quite difficult to understand anything at all when you actually talk to a native speaker. In my first long stay abroad, I spent a year in Ireland, I improved my conversation skills a lot. I still remember the first day I landed in Dublin, the father of my host family came to pick me up from the airport, and it was a shock to find out I could not understand a single word he was saying, after 10 years of English lessons.

This is not uncommon, it is quite easy to learn to read and write a language, but the hard bit are the sounds!

Living abroad in a bilingual household, it does make sense to help my child to become conversant with two languages. English she is going to learn anyway, as she will live in England, immersed in the language. Spanish she will learn from me, and she will need it to communicate with her Spanish family. It will be more difficult as she will not have a “Spanish” society around her, but that’s where my input and effort will have to take on their role.

I also speak French fluently, although it’s not my native language, and I don’t speak it as well as English. But it was also very hard for me learning it, it took me years of effort, trips abroad and hard-core grammar drills. I wanted to save my child from going through the same struggle, so I decided to pass this language on to my daughter as she grows up.

Now, lots of people have said to me that it may be a good idea to teach her (teach is not the right word here, but I will get to that later) Spanish as it’s my native tongue and the language of my family. They said something about it close to your heart… but most people have tried to discourage me from also “teaching” her French. Apparently, as it’s not my native tongue, I will not feel it close to my “heart”, whatever that means. What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching my daughter a language which is not my native language:

Disadvantages.

She will pick up a foreign accent, she may well pick up wrong grammar as I’m not a native speaker, she will not have family to speak it with, apparently (so I’m told) there is no “feeling” for the language…

Advantages

Better to speak French with a foreign accent than no French at all, you also pick up wrong grammar from teachers at school but it’s easier to polish it if you have a good grounding and you can then communicate with native speakers, read and watch telly/listen to radio, teachers in school are not necessarily native speakers so if she learns from a tender age at home she will not have to learn grammar/vocabulary at school,

So, basically if I “teach” or rather talk to my daughter in French from a very tender age (read from birth), I will end up with a child who speaks French with a strong Spanish/English accent, who can understand TV/radio and generally native speakers, who will be able to read French books independently and therefore improve her vocabulary/grammar. It’s terrible I know, speaking French with a foreign accent and making mistakes… of course in England there aren’t any people working in all types of jobs, from business to education who after twenty odd years in the country still have a strong accent… it’s a crime having a foreign accent, isn’t it? To be fair, I know quite a few bilingual kids in England, offspring of bilingual parents who speak fluently their parents’ language but with a strong foreign accent! So, what’s the problem?

In my next posts, I will be writing about what methods and strategies I want to use, and also why I think that the term “teach” a language shouldn’t be used when bringing up bilingual children.