Children’s theatre in Spanish

Stories and storytelling are very important for children. Of course, they love cartoons, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love theatre or plain story telling better when presented to it. If you have the chance to travel abroad to the country where the language your kids are learning is spoken, find out about local venues for children’s theatre. It’s a great experience.

Screenshot 2014-08-18 09.10.03In Madrid I’ve just discovered a little venue in the centre, Lavapies, called “La Escalera de Jacob“, where they put up small plays for children as well as adults. They have two small stages, and a café upstairs. It’s great if you want to take your child to see a play, but your friend or partner doesn’t feel like going, or he needs to stay upstairs with the baby, as they can stay cosy in the bar upstairs, or sitting outside on the “terraza” during summer.

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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.

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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!

Bilingualism increases mental agility says new research

A large amount of scientific data points to the benefits of growing up bilingual and fresh research from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland reinforces this view.

The study, published in the Journal of Bilingualism, found that bilingual children outperform monolingual children in problem-solving skills and creative thinking. Researchers examined primary school pupils who spoke English or Italian, half of whom also spoke Gaelic or Sardinian, and found that bilingual children were significantly more successful in tasks set for them.

A total of 121 children around the age of 9 in Scotland and Sardinia, 62 of them bilingual, were given tasks where they need to reproduce patterns of coloured blocks, repeat a series of numbers, to give definitions of words and resolve mentally a set of arithmetic problems. Tasks were all set in English or Italian.

New research suggest bilingualism benefits mental agility.

New research suggest bilingualism benefits mental agility.

Differences in performance between the groups were linked to the mental alertness required to switch between languages, which could develop skills useful in other types of thinking. The Gaelic-speaking children were even more successful than their Sardinian counterparts, which may have been due to the formal teaching of the language and literature. Sardinian is not widely taught in schools.

Dr Fraser Lauchlan, of Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences & Health, led the research. He said: “Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them.

“Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively. We also assessed the children’s vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils.

“We also found they had an aptitude for selective attention- the ability to identify and focus on information which is important, while filtering out what is not- which could come from the ‘code-switching’ of thinking in two different languages.”

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.

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.