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...]

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.

Ten amazing facts about bilingualism

Wondering whether it’s worth raising a child bilingually? Here are some amazing facts about the benefits of speaking more than one language.

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1. Bilingualism actually grows grey matter!

In the recent past, parents and teachers assumed that teaching children to another language at an early an age would delay their language skills and somehow stunt their overall intellectual growth. It was quite common to find children with foreign mothers or fathers who had not made any particular effort to immediately pass on their language to their English-speaking children. Indeed, by own mother did not teach my Welsh, despite growing up bilingual herself, which, with hindsight is a bit of a shame. As scientific research progresses, however, it is increasingly clear than bilingual children reach major language milestones at broadly the same age as monolingual children. Moreover, science is discovering that learning that speaking more than one language may have cognitive benefits childhood through to old age, keeping the mind youthful and lessening senility. Even brain scans reveal a greater density of grey matter in areas of the brain associated with language processing in people who learned a second language under the age of five. (Mechelli A., et al. Nature. Oct. 14,(2004).

ellderly_bilingual_man

2. Bilingualism can help to ward off the mental ageing process

It’s long been understand that actively exercising the brain can ward can help people to remain sharper in old age and lessen the effects of senility. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, bilinguals exercise their brains automatically as they switch from one language to another. According to one study, the onset of dementia was delayed by 4 years in bilinguals compared to monolinguals with dementia. (Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. (2011). Dual Language Development and Disorders: A handbook on bilingualism & second language learning.)

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3. Bilingualism is increasingly common in today’s world.

People are more likely than ever to live in a country other than where they were born and where another language is spoken. As you’d expect English is the most popular second language of all but did you know that now people who speak english fluently as a second language outnumber native speakers?

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4. Bilingual children do better in education
Being bilingual may give children an advantage at school. Bilingual children have been shown to be better than their monolingual peers at focusing on a task while tuning out distractions. This seemingly enhanced ability to concentrate has also been found in bilingual adults, especially those who became fluent in two languages at an early age. It is thought that being able to filter things out when switching language enhances the brain’s ability to focus and ignore irrelevant information.

bilingual_confusion

5. Bilingual children do NOT often struggle with ‘language confusion’

Ever met an adult who could barely talk because he or she was a ‘bilingual child’? Of course not! Some parents may choose to use the “one parent-one language” approach, where each parent speaks a different language to the child. However, even in culture that are naturally bilingual and children may hear family members frequently switching languages confusion does not occur. While children may ‘code mix’ to an extent they soon learn to separate out the languages.

bilingual_dictionary
6. Bilinguals are not always equally proficient in both languages

Most bilinguals, whatever their sage, are not equally proficient in both languages, and will have a ‘dominant language’ The dominant language is usually influenced by the majority language of the society in which the individual lives and can change several times – for example if a person moves country where their second language is spoken, or changes to a job where they need to use it much more, they may after a while feel more proficient in the other language.

Adult_Language_learners

7. You can still learn a language as an adult!

Many people feel they cannot learn a new language when they reach a certain age. Countless studies reveal that while our ability to hear and understand a second language becomes more difficult with age, the adult brain can be retrained to pick up foreign sounds more easily again. According to research by UCL, the difficulties that adults have in learning languages are not biological, but perceptual. Given the right stimuli, then, even adult brains can overcome the habits they have developed to effectively crowd out certain sounds and learn new ones. Moreover, while the effects are not as pronounced as with people that learned a second language from an early age, learning a language in adulthood can stimulate and protect the brain into old age.

8. Bilingual promotes all areas of cognitive functioning.

It’s not just in language processing that bilinguals have an advantage. Mastering two languages helps bilingual children them solve logic problems and multi-task more effectively. Dr. Kuhl, in research carried out at the University of Washington, says bilingual babies “more cognitively flexible” than monolingual infants. Her research group examines baby brains with an even newer imaging device, magnetoencephalography, or MEG, which combines an M.R.I. scan with a recording of magnetic field changes as the brain transmits information.

listening_skills_language_learning

9. Bilinguals are better listeners
Perhaps because they are used to differentiating between two or more languages, studies have shown that all foreign language learners develop on average better listening skills than monolingual peers.

glocal languages

10. Bilingualism encourages people to think globally

Speaking more than one language from an early age introduces the idea that the world is a diverse place with different languages and cultures to explore.

Image of The Bilingual Family: A Handbook for Parents

Image of Raising a Bilingual Child (Living Language Series)

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.

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!

Learning versus acquiring

In my opinion when you are talking to your child in a foreign language they are  not learning it,  but you are not teaching them. I would like to expand no a bit on this.
[Read more...]