Learning in a British school and the foreign perspective

bilingual brain

Lifelong bilingualism is good for your brain says new research.

It is quite normal for everybody, all over the world, to complain about their national school system, it’s either useless, teachers are inept, there is too much homework, or too little, not enough practical activities or too many, and the list goes on. It seems that there is no one single system that we can call “perfect”. School by its own definition will always be imperfect, given that every single individual is very different, and with 25 to 30 kids in a classroom, you can imagine that it’s virtually impossible to really adapt the learning to every single child. It is also true that a lot of what teachers and staff do in schools has nothing to do with education or learning, but has more to do with the necessity of controlling the crowd, setting boundaries and rules, so they don’t end up with 25 kids running riot around the classroom or 500 hundred in the canteen!

I think most parents accept that to an extent, and we also draw from our own experience in school. However, it is quite shocking the difference of expectations and opinions that one can draw from different cultures with regards to education and schools. In Britain especially the expectations of foreign born parents and British born parents can be quite different. Foreign born parents remember their school years through the textbooks, homework and tests, they remember getting their textbooks at the beginning of the year, caring for them, and paying an ocasional fine when they failed to return the book, or they damaged it. They expect the same for their children, to have a book, a basic tool, that they can use at home. They would like to be able to sit with their child, look through his workbooks, his annotations, the teacher’s comments and support their child, do the homework together, revise the last lesson, have a look at the index to see what their child is going to learn that year. Of course, that is not possible currently in the British system, textbooks are not used, and although parents are constantly asked to support their child in school, there is virtually no homework (compared to what we used to get in the old country). Foreign parents are at a loss, “there is no textbook? No workbook?” – “what am I supposed to teach him at home?” British parents, on the other hand, are happily unaware of the existence of school systems where people can easily, actually at a glance by reading the index, know what it is that their child is going to learn that year, without having to get constant email updates from the school. It doesn’t seem to worry them as much as foreign parents the fact that they can’t sit with their children to do homework or revise their workbook, because it’s all in school. Homework is done on worksheets or photocopies, and that’s fine, there is no need to read from the textbook or summarise it. They sigh with relief when foreign parents tell them about the piles of homework the children do in other countries.

 

What is the right answer? Well, a bit of both, I suppose, not piles of homework, but more than they get, and textbooks, please. In a way for foreign families, bilingual families, it is very important to actually have a textbook or a manual for each subject or topic. Isn’t that a bit prescriptive? – Some may ask. Well, yes and no. If you are a good teacher, you can still plan our lessons properly, having a textbook only means that your students, especially your foreign students, can go home and read more, revise what they have done in class. For foreign students, EAL students (English as an Additional Language) as they’re known in the UK, it’s actually a good tool to have. Given that they are new to the language, listening to the stuff in class doesn’t mean it’s going to stick, unless you have 100% recall ability… which I haven’t yet met anybody who does! To a certain extent we all need to re-read things a few times before we are able to recall it, but for foreign students it’s also about language acquisition and learning new terms that are specific to academic subjects.

unschooling?

Is unschooling the ultimate form of natural education or an unrealistic fad?

One of the main issues that schools face these days are “false native speakers”, as I call them. That is children who were either born in the country to foreign parents, or who came into the country when they were very young. These students pass for native speakers, they speak with perfect accents, they have mastered the young adult’s language and turn of phrases, however, they speak a different language at home, and they only time they use “academic” or “school language” is in lessons, with teachers. Most of the time these students go through the system unnoticed, apparently doing well, especially since the UK educational system lacks any examination system that means students need to achieve a certain level before they move on, they just simply trundle along happily. Happily, that is until they get to the dreaded GCSEs, the first official examinations taken in England and Wales, at 14 and 15. There is when problems start popping up, your regular student suddenly realises that he lacks the body of linguistic knowledge necessary to understand and write at the appropriate academic level. This is the plague of the GCSE teacher and his “false native” speakers. Is there an easy solution? Well, yes and no. Nick Gibb, the current Minister of State at the Department for Education, supported the report drawn by Tim Oatesone of the world’s foremost experts on the school curriculum, Why Textbooks Count. Tim Oates emphasised the need for curriculum coherence and the return of quality textbooks to British schools. I think most foreign born parents will read the paper and agree with most of it, or at least think it’s actually a common sense idea. Like most of reports written for the government, we could have said the same thing if asked, without the expense incurred! However, it’s not surprising either that most of the news articles about this paper are riddled with criticism and derisive comments from “well meaning” posters, given the irrational fear most locals have towards textbooks.

Textbooks, in my opinion, good quality textbooks used adequately, will solve a lot of the problems of the school system, to start with, it would give bilingual students a good chance to become acquainted with the specific language used for different academic subjects, as well as in different contexts. Instead of having to draw it from different sources, bad quality photocopies, and notes copied from PowerPoint presentations, often riddled with spelling mistakes, they would have a basic tool that they could use to build on. They would also be useful for native speakers and their parents, who rather than “guess” what the content of the subject is, given that now the schools’ tendency is to keep all work and books in school, could then read the book, pick any topic they feel unsure of or they want to learn more about and do some research. However, I can see one issue, well, two issues really, firstly is the recalcitrant attitude many parents and teachers have developed towards textbooks, a total irrational fear towards something that has for so long held the knowledge of humanity. The second issue is money, of course, in other countries September can be a very difficult month financially, as one has to cough up the money for the textbooks, in other areas the schools simply provide the books on loan for a year, and if you break it you pay for it. In Britain, the tendency has been for schools to provide all learning materials, so parents would resist the idea of having to pay for anything, and although apparently there is money for expensive interactive whiteboards and projectors, that are used mainly, solely, to project PowerPoints and educational video clips, there is no money for actual textbooks.

What are your views on the topic? Are you for or against textbooks? Do you love or do you hate the current education system in your country?

Speaking in Tongues documentary challenges America to think differently about bilingualism

While in multilingual Europe people tend to see fluency in more than one language a distinct advantage, in some countries it can be a political hot potato. Nowhere is this truer than in the United States, where the growth of Spanish speaking in particular has proven controversial.

It’s a common idea that a single official language glues a nation together and that exploring other languages might somehow undermines this. Even progressively-minded people sometimes assume that encouraging bilingualism to flourish among immigrant groups will leave them marginalised and socially disadvantaged. Yet the makers of documentary Speaking in Tongues uncover something very different.

For example, language learning has a positive effect on intellectual growth and cognitive development, improving a child’s understanding of his/her native language and that students in language immersion programs learn to read, write, speak, and listen in English just as well or better as students in all-English programs.

The film begins with an ordinary first day of public school kindergarten – expect the teacher speaks only Chinese to primarily white and Asian American students. They are taking part in a language immersion class, where they receive 90% of their instruction in Cantonese. While this might sound gruelling, the children are clearly curious and enjoying themselves and, remarkably, their school will test first in English and mathematics among the district’s 76 elementary schools.

“Sometimes a small idea has big implications” say the film’s directors Marcia Jarmel & Ken Schneider in a statement. “Consider America’s resolute commitment to remaining an “English only” nation. It turns out that our attitudes about language reflect much bigger concerns: that language is a metaphor for the barriers that come between neighbors, be they across the street or around the world. Our idea in making Speaking in Tongues was to showcase a world where these communication barriers are being addressed.”

Speaking in Tongues follows the linguistic journey of four students: Durrell is a 2nd grader at Starr King Elementary where and his classmates are already reading and writing in Mandarin. 7th grader at Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, Kelly Wong reads and writes both Cantonese and Mandarin. Jason, is maintaining a great grades in middle school, testing above grade level in both English and Spanish. Julian is a sophomore at Lowell High School where he is currently taking the highest level of Chinese offered in the school district. There stories all reveal the potential strength of a multilingual America.

People in the USA can rent the Speaking in Tongues documentary online via Amazon Prime here: Speaking in Tongues (Home/Personal/Nonprofessional Use Only)

To learn more about the documentary, to arrange a screening, visit:

http://speakingintonguesfilm.info

What are iGCSEs and why can they help bilingual families?

iGCSEs are becoming increasingly popular in UK-based bilingual families as a way to gain a language qualification earlier than 16 or as an additional subject outside the school system.

Typically bilingual children are more than capable of passing a GCSE examination earlier or in a language not typically offered by schools. iGSCEs (‘International’ GCSEs) can help by allowing subjects to be studied at home instead.

Books tailored to iGCSE language exams are increasingly common.

Books tailored to iGCSE language exams are increasingly common.

The iGCSE is the world’s most popular international qualification for 14 to 16 year olds and is frequently used in schools overseas with education systems derived from the UK’s or in private international schools used by ex-pats. Like any other GCSE, it is recognised by universities and employers worldwide. The iGSCE is also popular with children that are homeschooled or privately tutored.

Cambridge International Examinations is a major provider of iGCSEs. They offer qualifications in over 70 subjects available at Cambridge IGCSE and 30 of these are languages.

For many of these languages it is possible to either complete the course as a native speaker or as a foreign language learner, so useful for bilingual children who either fancy a challenge or who simply want to convert their second language into an ‘extra GCSE’ easily by choosing the foreign language option.

Although designed for schools, as they are exam-based and do not include coursework, iGCSEs are ideal for home schooling and distance learning. They are ideal for anyone seeking a qualification without having to attend full or part-time classes.

As the iGCSE is assessed by examinations it is often considered to be similar in style to the older O-Levels qualification than to the current GCSE in England, and current government Education Minister, Michael Gove has encouraged more mainstream UK schools to offer them on the basis that examinations are more ‘rigourous’ than courses with a large coursework component.

Remember, the iGCSE itself is merely an examination and qualification. The student will need to follow the syllabus by themselves, perhaps with the aid of their parents, or work with a tutor. If this is a problem there are an increasing number of online distance learning courses from a variety of providers that use the iGCSE and books to guide you through the topics needed to pass.

Are you currently working towards a iGCSE language qualification with your children? Let us know how you’re getting on in the comments.

Lifelong bilingualism keeps you youthful say scientists

New research from the University of Kentucky suggests older people that have been bilingual throughout their life show greater cognitive ability in old age, using less energy when performing cognitive flexibility tasks.

Older people who have spoken two languages throughout life can switch from one task to another more quickly, according to the study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals show different patterns of brain activity when switching tasks.

bilingual brain

Lifelong bilingualism is good for your brain says new research.

It suggests a value in regular stimulating mental activity throughout life. As we get older, the ability to adapt to unfamiliar or unexpected circumstances and related “executive” functions decline. Lifelong bilingualism may help to reduce the decline due to the mental excercise gained by regular language-switching. This new research highlights how brain activity differs between older bilinguals and monolinguals.

Brian T. Gold, PhD and team at the University of Kentucky, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the brain activity of healthy older bilinguals (aged 60-68) with that of healthy monolingual older people as they completed tasks to text cognitive flexibility. The found both groups performed the task accurately but bilinguals were faster at completing the task, expending less energy in the frontal cortex – an area scientists know is involved in task-switching.

“This study provides some of the first evidence of an association between a particular cognitively stimulating activity… and brain function,” said John L. Woodard, PhD, an expert in ageing from Wayne State University, who was not involved with the study. “The authors provide clear evidence of a different pattern of neural functioning in bilingual versus monolingual individuals.”

TResearchers also measured the brain activity of younger bilingual and monolingual adults while they performed the cognitive flexibility task. Overall, they were faster at performing the task. Being bilingual did not affect task performance or brain activity in young participants. By contrast, older bilinguals performed the task faster than their monolingual peers.

Previous science has shown younger people are faster at switching and require less brain power. Bilingual older adults displayed significantly faster reaction times than their peers, much closer to the young participants. The brain is known to shrink with age but there seemed to be no difference in mass between older bilinguals and monolingual so the effect is not structural but likely creative by regular mental exercise.

The researchers also measured the brain activity of younger bilingual and monolingual adults while they performed the cognitive flexibility task.Overall, the young adults were faster than the seniors at performing the task. Being bilingual did not affect task performance or brain activity in the young participants. In contrast, older bilinguals performed the task faster than their monolingual peers and expended less energy in the frontal parts of their brain.

“This suggests that bilingual seniors use their brains more efficiently than monolingual seniors,” Gold said. “Together, these results suggest that lifelong bilingualism may exert its strongest benefits on the functioning of frontal brain regions in aging.”

It is unclear if older adult language learners can also gain some of the benefits enjoyed by lifelong bilinguals but as the effect seems to be born out of mental exercise rather than structural changes it surely can help. Indeed, other form of research has suggested exercising your brain, by whatever method, keeps it healthy.

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.”

Michael Gove to put languages centre stage with English Baccalaureate?

UK Education Minister Michael Gove has suggested plans to create what he calls an ‘English baccalaureate’. It will be a certificate awarded to pupils who pass five or more GCSEs at grade C or higher and must including English, maths, science, a humanties subject and, significantly, a foreign language.

His idea intention is to encourage student to take a broad range of subjects and to firm up traditional ‘solid’ subjects, which have allegedly been downplayed at GCSE and A Level as schools have sought to encourage students into easier options more likely to yield higher grades and make exam tables look good. Science and languages have been especially badly hit as students see that as harder graft and don’t wish to jeopardise their chances of landing enough grades to progress to the next level.

Languages could be given higher priority by the government.

Michael Gove is a fan of the popular International Baccalaureate, an alternative qualification to A Levels that is offered by more and more schools and sixth form colleges.

To my mind it’s a step in the right direction. Pupils at 16 should have a broad education and not be prematurely specialised. Compulsory languages should never have been dropped by the last government. However, it’s not really a true baccalaureate in the continental mould, more a why to shoehorn the existing exam into a fresh idea that it doesn’t really fit. It allows an el cheapo quick fix with a new buzzword but does nothing to tackle falling standards, rapid grade inflation, and the underachievement of boys nor will it tackle the low standards of literacy among students who have achieved high grades. It’ll be the same old GCSEs with students pushed a little harder to ensure a broad mix – something many schools do anyway, especially with brighter pupils.

Gove, then, does not appear to want to tackle the English exam system head on and introduce real reform. However, the English baccalaureate will place languages back on the agenda in mainstream education, and schools, now faced with putting all students through a language GCSE will want to channel more resources into the subjects. That can only be a good thing.

Confessions of a monolingual Brit

Flying the flag for monolingualism?

I’d never learned a foreign language until I started French at 11 years old. My Mother spoke both English and Welsh but had never taught me the celtic language, although she had helped me to read and write in English from a young age.

British monolingualism

Most people would love to learn another language to full fluency.

My introduction to French was not a happy one. The teacher, a French native, seemed to quickly latch on to the fact that a handful to children in the class had attended a local Catholic private school before attending my state comprehensive and already knew some French. It felt as if she was teaching to their higher level and I was quickly left behind and assumed I had no ability in the subject. I was of the first generation where very little English grammar is taught to students, and although I knew my way around a verb, a noun and an adjective, it all seemed more complex in French.

Even so, I liked the subject far more than German, which I began at the same time. The school did not have a culture of trying to push students forward. You just existed at the level to which you naturally settled – high flyer, middler or struggler. As a poor, humble 11 year old from the sticks that had barely met anyone from the North let alone another country, France seemed a remote and ultimately meaningless place and no one was really selling it to me.

When it came to GCSEs the school was very keen on every student taking a modern language so I naturally took French, despite being at a much lower level than I was in the humanities or sciences. My GCSE teacher, a Scot, was a revelation and, for a short time, I suddenly became enthusiastic for learning a language, although as I felt so far behind was not up for the hard graft needed to get back on track and only ended up with a poor grade (possibly made a grade worse by severe hayfever during the exam, to offer a feeble excuse).

In adulthood I toyed with learning other languages, usually spurred on by a foreign friend or enjoying the cinema of a given nation or culture but it was only meeting my future Spanish wife that I managed to finally pick up a language to an intermediate proficiency.

I attended a two week intensive Spanish course at one of the many private language schools in Madrid and was amazed just how fast you can absorb fresh knowledge. The ‘intermediate level’ course wasn’t expensive but the two young tutors were skilled, professional teachers that seemed to live and breathe the language and could communicate enthusiasm as well as complex conjugations.

The experience made me wonder why language learning seemed so hard in school? How can it be possible to attend lessons at school for five years and still have huge craters in your knowledge? Why is language learning such a turn off for so many kids at school, with fewer students taking modern language GCSEs and A Levels at a time when so many adults are keen to learn, with huge sales of language learning books and software, and good language tutors in constant demand?

Anyway, with a bilingual baby bouncing through her first year, I probably need a fresh kick up the backside to take my Spanish to the next level. Lidia’s family do not speak English at all, so it’s my Spanish or nothing. I wouldn’t want mother and daughter to have a top secret special language in which to discuss Papa.

Looking for bilingual baby sitters?

One thing Lidia and I are trying to remember is that raising our daughter is not some ‘personal project’ to elevate her against her peers in some kid of horrible competition. We see it as vital for to to fully access both sides of her culture, which will enable her to have more choices and richer experiences later.

Of course, in our case, we have two native tongues – Papa speaks English, Mama Spanish – but some parents may be have reasonable fluency in another language and want to pass on what they know sooner rather than later when little one is most alive to language acquisition. One trend in the US, picked up by the New York Times, are parents who do not speak another language to any fluency themselves but are seeking ways to expose their children to different language early on:

When Maureen Mazumder enrolled her daughter, Sabrina, in a Spanish singalong class a year ago, she hoped it would be the first step in helping her learn a second language. But the class did not seem to do the trick, so Ms. Mazumder decided to hire a baby sitter, one who would not only care for her daughter but also speak to her exclusively in Spanish.

Ms. Mazumder, whose daughter is nearly 3, has company. Although a majority of parents seeking caretakers for their children still seek ones who will speak to their children in English, popular parenting blogs and Web sites indicate that a noticeable number of New York City parents are looking for baby sitters and nannies to help their children learn a second language, one they may not speak themselves.New York Times

Is it a good idea? Why not! Anything that exposes children to another language, whether its foreign babysitters, foreign films or music can only help develop an enthusiasm or awareness.

Lidia, who is highly fluent in French, is keen to expose little one to that language, perhaps a little French, German and Russian too, languages with while she also has some knowledge.

Are you a parent with fluency or perhaps no fluency in a language that you are trying to teach your child? Leave a comment and let us know what techniques you are using.

Second language and Home Education

One of the main issues at the moment in many countries is the state of education. In England I hear lots of complaints about the system and the apparent dumbing down of education, but then I hear the same complaints from other parents in Spain. Whether this is true or not, it is clear that for bilingual families education is a big issue in our lives. Sending your kid to school in a certain country means that their whole mind set will be built around that particular educational experience. It will also add another layer of difficulty as the social language will take over the language spoken at home.

I recently read some good advice, or at least it was for me, I am sure other people may differ. Anyway, I read that it is a good idea to teach children to read in the second language before they learn to read in the main language of the country. The reason given is that if they learn to read first in that language by the time they go to school, they will already be reading comfortably books and resources in the second language, which will help them to build up their vocabulary in that language, thus keeping it alive. To me, it makes total sense. However discussing this with another bilingual mum, she confessed that although she had thought about doing that, she decided to wait till her child could read English properly.

I think deciding if your kid reads in English or the second language first has to be a personal decision. However there are some other things to take into account. If the writing system of your language is quite complicated like Chinese for instance, I suppose it does make sense to get them reading in English first, as it takes years to be quite competent in Chinese. However, in my case, I believe learning to read in Spanish first will be an advantage, as Spanish is mainly phonetic and there are only a few exceptions. I do believe that for similar languages it will be a good thing to start reading in the second language. It can become also like a little nice activity for parent and child, something I would share with my daughter. We could read the same stories together.

However, thinking about reading and education also reminds me of school. It’s only so much one can do in a day, and we spend about 8 hours sleeping… of the 16 hours left you have to go to work or school… it just seems such a short time you have with your kid! Then I start panicking when will I be able to teach her to read in Spanish, to learn about her country and about all those men and women who lived through its history!

Maybe I can start teaching her to read early, she won’t officially have to be in school after she’s five. Although most kids start reception at four. Gosh! Why sending her at four when she can start at five. There are so many things to think about. I really want her to have the best of two worlds, and then it’s when I start thinking about home education.

The thought comes to me more as a necessity than a choice. In England school doesn’t really represent a “qualification”. Students don’t sit official exams until they do their GCSEs or A levels. However in most countries school in itself is a qualification, with that I mean that you have to sit exams every year and you only manage to properly finish school if you attain a certain level. If you don’t, you have to resit your exams.

This may sound harsh, but the truth is that if we ever go back to Spain and she decides to get a job or apply for a job as a civil servant she will need the “official” school certificate, that one only gets by passing exams, not by “turning up” to school for a few years. Maybe I’m worrying about nothing, maybe we won’t move, maybe she’ll never want to live in Spain, who knows? However, since here there is no “official qualification” until GCSEs, it does make more sense to me to try to home educate her so she can at least sit the official exams in Spanish.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t get a good background education in her English heritage and culture. But I feel that we would have accessed to a wider choice of subjects and education working at home and joining different home education groups. Besides, there is the other advantage, if you aren’t in a school you can spend long spells of time abroad. She could spend time in Spain learning there. Which she can’t do if she has to attend a school until the end of July, and have only one month summer holiday.

Anyway, all of this is still too far off. But I’ve always liked planning ahead and now that I’ve got a bit of time I am going to do some reading. Not long ago I was lucky enough to come across two classics in a charity shop, How Children Learn (Penguin Education)
and How Children Fail (Classics in child development)
” by John Holt, so I will start with those. There are also lots of resources and help in local home education networks. When I started researching homeschooling I was surprised to find out how many families were doing it. Some of them were driven to it by circumstances, bullying, illnesses, etc but most people are in it because they made an informed choice. I think for bilingual families it could be a good way to keep their second language alive.

Computers, the new era for bilingualism

Communications have advanced a lot. In the past emigration meant long spells away from home without being able to receive any news from the family for weeks or even months. Nowadays we can travel long distances in less than a day, where in the past it would have taken a few weeks. This means children of immigrant families can go back to their home country often and so keep in touch with their roots.

However, travelling is going to become more difficult, due to rising costs, not just for tickets but for everything else in life. This will mean we won´t have as much money to spend in holidays and plane tickets.

This brings me to computers. More people use computers everywhere, there are lots of companies creating language learning software that promises you “effortless” or almost “effortless” and fun learning. I have worked for a company developing one of these courses. It´s fun and it is great for people who want to learn languages at their own pace. But for me computers mean a new dimension of communication and instant travel, not physically of course.

A couple of weeks ago I visited my mother in Spain. She is almost eighty and not computer literate at all. But she is so eager to see as much of her little English granddaughter as she can. So when I suggested that she asked her neighbour if she could use Skype from her computer, to my great surprise, she didn´t hesitate. It was even more surprising when her neighbour agreed to a weekly Skype session! I put it down to “Cute Power”. It’s the power that babies have over people. Especially Latin people… they can´t get enough of the little ones…

My next little project is getting my family to use Skype for regular communication. I hope this will help my baby to accept her mother’s language as something natural that people use, not just her mum and a few children from Spanish playgroup. Although we talk on the telephone quite often, for me being able to see somebody speaking while hearing them means a great advantage over just hearing the voice. Especially for babies, it makes it easier to establish the relationship between voice and person.

I have a friend who lives in America and uses Skype with her parents regularly. It’s free so she doesn´t have to worry about costs, and they can indulge in granddaughter watching as much as they want, even though they are an ocean apart!

One of the main concerns of bilingual parents is how to break away from the “passive” language, children being able to understand everything but would answer only in the main language of the country where they´re living, and turning it into an active language. Having regular meetings with family and friends using Skype will encourage children to use the second language actively. If grannies, aunties and uncles only speak the second language, children will have to use this language in order to get their message across, even if it’s just to tell them what they want for their birthday.

So, computers can be an amazing thing!