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...]

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

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...]

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.

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...]

Discoveries after 4 years of raising bilingual children

My eldest daughter, Martha, as just turned four and her sister, Malena, has just turned two. Both children have existed in a multilingual environment from day one. Martha speaks English and Spanish to more of less equal fluency and fully understands French, with a much lesser propensity to use it.

Looking back over the last four years, these are the discoveries I’ve found most interesting.

The bilingual siblings on the phone to Spain...

The bilingual siblings on the phone to Spain…

1. Being bilingual or multilingual did not significantly ‘stunt’ the age at which language was acquired. Some friends of Martha’s monolingual friends were very quick talkers so for a brief period I wondered but, looking at a wider selection of children, I realised she was just more average rather than precocious. And, of course, she was learning two languages. Malena, by contrast, is very much a ‘quick talker’ and frequently shocks us with the surprisingly elaborate utterances she sometimes produces in English, Spanish and even French. The important thing to note is that children develop at their own pace.

2. Bilingualism makes kids happy! It’s important to note that our approach to raising bilingual children has been about ‘exposing not imposing’. Through a mix of conscious language use in the home, attending play groups and social gatherings conducted in other languages, use of books, media and technology we have attempted to create a lively multilingual environment with no ‘drilling’ of language into the kids. Martha now wants to learn to and write, and is seeking support from us. Children are natural, avid learners and I feel that trying to force learning onto them merely interferes with their natural curiosity. She’s also asking a lot of ‘scientific’ questions so by using our small garden and books about the planets as illustrations I am trying to answer them.

3. Learning a THIRD language has worked. Lidia’s native tongue is Spanish but she also speaks English and French to a near-native level of fluency. She introduced French too from day one and Martha attends a French-speaking nursery school. I have to admit this was something I watched carefully. Would a third language be just too much? Would she be ‘lost’ or stressed by the French school? As it turned out it merely means that she fully understands French language – we believe as well as English and Spanish. Until recently she hadn’t uttered much French with us but is increasingly communicating in French with people she identifies as French speakers. In other words, she can identify the language of and English, Spanish or French speaker and speak the appropriate language, albeit with less ability in the third language. This is remarkable to me.

4. The children have a full and proper relationship with their Spanish extended family. Both girls talk more than once a week with their Aunt and Grandmother on Skype and when Martha visits Madrid she can talk to children she meets like a Spanish native speaker. It would have been terrible to have cut her off linguistically from all this by delaying language learning until later when it then has to be taught rather than acquired naturally.

5. My Spanish has improved and I’ve even picked up a fair amount of French. It was an eye opener one day when Martha asked me for something in Spanish and I had to quickly Google the word for a translation! She’s quickly outpaced my rather intermediate semi-fluent Spanish and I feel the need to keep up.

6. The kids already have a very global outlook. From birth the girls have existed in a multilingual and multicultural environment and know about other countries, different languages. It’s a world away from when I was a kid (I was probably 18 before I had a conversation with someone from the North of England) and I think the girls will definitely be much richer for it.

Four years on… how are we doing?

I am sure that some of you who read our blog come back time and time again to see how we are doing, how are the children coping with the multilingual environment. It could be that you are planning the same, you are unsure of what to expect, you want reassurance there are other people out there doing the same, or you are just curious and want to follow our adventure through time. [Read more...]

Review: Growing up with Languages by Claire Thomas

One of the problems that bilingual or multilingual families encounter quite often is isolation. They may be living in a world filled with people, work colleagues, classmates, neighbours and family, but quite often they are quite on their own when it comes to being bilingual.

Growing Up with Languages

Growing Up with Languages

Some communities are more diverse than others, and will offer the bilingual family a wealth of resources and support groups that will help them. There may even be quite a few families on the same situation. However, many families will find themselves in a foreign country, or speaking a minority language that is not the norm where they live. Some of us have also chosen to teach their children a third language, that is not a local language where we live.

This is what the book by Claire Thomas, “Growing Up with Languages“, talks about. In the words of Jean-Marc Dewaele from Bircbeck University in London, this book looks at the lives and the trajectories of multilinguals and lets them talk abut their experiences. And Xiao-lei Wang from Pace University, USA adds that the book takes a unique approach in addressing the complexity of multilingual families through the voices of multilinguals.

Growing Up with Languages is a unique tool to get an insight in one go into hundreds of lives of multilinguals. See what they experienced, bad or good, and see their results. Personally, I see it as a way of testing the waters, looking at the different approaches other people have taken and their successes and failures, so it can help me plan better form our future as a multilingual family.

The book is divided in 6 parts:
Different types of family and issues that only affect some kinds of family
Issues at home that will affect most, if not all, families at some time
Education
Language Policies and Politics
Interviewees as Adults
Overall Analysis and Recommendations

Each part also includes different chapters with a summary at the end of each one that helps to bring the ideas together and gives you a general idea of the problems and successes that every family experienced.

As bilingualism is not an exact science, all the information available on the book comes from actual interviews with members of bilingual and multilingual families.

All in all, the book makes for interesting reading material for families who are considering bilingualism or who are already doing it, but need some pointers or are looking for reassurance that they are on the right track. It’s helpful division in parts and chapters means that your time, like that of most other families with kids, is restricted, then instead of reading in order, you can start by those chapters and sections that most interest you.

Let us know if you have read or are reading this book, Growing Up with Languages, what are your ideas?