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...]

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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.

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.

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!