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...]

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

Challenges in bilingual families no one tells you about

By Nicole Brown

I am a mother to a ten-year-old bilingual and a university lecturer and therefore interested in bilingualism professionally and privately. When my husband and I decided to bring up our child bilingually we delved into a range of guidebooks to make sure we were not going to make mistakes. But when I investigated language learning in bilingual families in greater detail I came across issues and challenges that bilingual families encounter that are not mentioned in any of those handbooks or parent guides. [Read more...]

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...]

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.

lets-play-bingo-1-602195-m
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!

Top tips for happy bilingual kids

When I started on my bilingual family trip, I did some reading about bilingualism and bilingual family. One of the things that really surprised me at the time was how the many articles of information written by the “so called experts” and parents quoting those experts made free use of the term “bilingual”. Let’s be clear on something, a person like me who speaks only one native language and a second foreign language well is bilingual, a child who has being brought up with two mother tongues is bilingual, yes, of course, if we take the term “bilingual” as meaning “two languages”. However, it’s plainly obvious that their bilingualism is inherently different. I will use the term bilingual kids here to mean children who speak two mother tongues. [Read more...]

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.

Television and Video for Bilingual Baby

One of the challenges that most parents face nowadays is the battle against TV and computers. The way the world is going it seems we will lose that one. Technology natives they call them. All these little darlings we are bringing up will breath technology. We will feel old and outdated in a few years!
Hold on! Do we have to? Well, of course not. In Spanish we say, “si no puedes con ellos, únete a ellos”, if you can’t win, then join them!

That’s it. Let’s not see computers and TV as our enemy, but our ally in our battle to protect bilingualism. I’m doing just that. Recently I asked my nephew to record from Spanish telly a handful of children’s shows, so I can play them to my daughter when she’s a bit older and so getting maximum exposure to the language. I thought DVD would be great. But I was wrong, there is even a better way, a hard disk! These days the thing to do is go smaller, instead of having hundreds of DVDs piled up and gathering dust in your shelves, have a hard disk with all your favourite shows plugged into your TV.

There's loads of great TV in other languages

It’s not a great idea if you are addicted to the X-Factor and the like, but used wisely it can be a great tool for keeping language alive. Also recording from the TV and keeping the programme for your personal use isn’t breaking any copyright rule. My nephew gave me this idea, he’s bought a hard drive for me and is recording all the appropriate children’s shows from TV.

If the shows are chosen wisely it can be a great thing even for later years when they go to school. Get your family in your home country to record good programmes about history, culture, documentaries, etc even if you are not going to watch them just now. They may come in handy when the topic comes up in school a couple of years down the line.

Some of the programmes I can recommend for Spanish kids are:
Los Lunnis, las Tres Mellizas from TVE also available on their play on demand system http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/

If you have any other suggestions, please post them below. They can be for any other languages.

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.