Chinese Language & Chinese Children’s Books: Facts, Figures & Resources

chinese language

Today’s spotlight languages are Mandarin and Cantonese – two languages spoken in China. Get some background info and interesting facts about the language, and recommendations for children’s books in Mandarin and Cantonese.  Interested in learning about more languages?  Check out our series of posts on various world languages including Hindi, Russian, Japanese and French!

Where is it spoken?

Mandarin (sometimes referred to as Standard Chinese) is the official language of China, Taiwan, and Singapore. Nearly 1 billion people around the world speak Mandarin, more than any other language.

Cantonese (sometimes referred to as Traditional Chinese) is spoken in and around the area of Canton, in southern China. There about 80 million Cantonese speakers in the world. Chinese people living overseas more frequently speak Cantonese than Mandarin.

How Many People Speak a Chinese Language in the US?

According to the most recent US Census data, there are about 2.8 million Chinese language speakers (of all varieties and dialects) in the US. That is a 290 percent increase since the 1980 Census.

There are large Chinese language speaking populations in New York, California, Texas and New Jersey. There are about as many Mandarin speakers as Cantonese speakers in the US, and also many others residents who speak other dialects.

Interesting Facts About Chinese Languages

Mandarin and Cantonese are both tonal languages, meaning intonation and pitch affect the meaning of words.

Chinese languages have no verb conjugation, gender-specific nouns or tenses (past, present, future).

“Pinyin” is a method of writing Mandarin words using the Roman alphabet.

Chinese Bilingual Children’s Books

If the kids in your life speak a Chinese language, or are learning, you may want suggestions on some of the best bilingual storybooks and Chinese audiobooks for kids.  Some popular and engaging stories with text in both English and Mandarin or Cantonese include: Yeh-hsien (A Chinese Cinderella), Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and The Giant Turnip.  You may also want to check out the illustrated dictionary with audio for children, available in Mandarin and Cantonese.

Do you speak Mandarin or Cantonese, or are you learning? Comment below and share your interesting language facts!

“China – Fenghuang” by melenama via Flickr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/8mf6ET

Newcomer Toolkit: Supporting New Immigrant Students

newcomer toolkit

In the past, we’ve written about online resources that can help educators trying to accommodate an increasingly diverse student population, as well as tips to make the critical first days of school go more smoothly for bilingual students in your classroom.

Today, we take a look at the US Department of Education’s recently updated, detailed Newcomer Toolkit, designed to help educators (teachers, principals and school staff) working with foreign-born students who have recently arrived in the US. In addition to providing general background information like correct terminology, census data and the many contributions of immigrants to our society,  the toolkit offers a wealth of additional resources and extensive chapters on a wide array of topics.

Welcoming Newcomers

We know it’s crucial to create a safe and inclusive environment for new immigrant students arriving at your school. The Toolkit’s second chapter provides guidance on the most effective ways to communicate with parents of newcomers, so they understand their children’s rights, as well as the way your school operates. There is a close look at developing a safe and supportive framework at your school that includes engagement through strong relationships, safety from bullying and other dangers, and creating an environment with appropriate facilities and disciplinary policies.

Provide High Quality Instruction

This chapter in the Toolkit is focused on ways to identify and build on a student’s strengths, and how to help each student reach his/her full potential. Some highlights are addressing common misconceptions about newcomers, and helping the entire school community appreciate the unique global view that newcomers can contribute.

Social Emotional Needs

In the fourth chapter, the importance of addressing a newcomer’s social and emotional needs is examined. Strategies that are specific to teachers, other students, an entire classroom, and the whole school are discussed. There is also a look at the most common social emotional stressors newcomers face.

Partnering with Families

The final chapter of the Toolkit looks at the importance of collaborating with the families of newcomers. You can learn about the 4 stages of parent involvement (survivor, learner, connector and leader), and how each type requires a different approach.

Another section is dedicated to the role of the Parent Center, where families can connect with each other, and parents can feel safe seeking answers from a volunteer or staff member.

The Toolkit is not only a detailed guide for educators working with newcomers and their families, it also offers a wealth of further online resources within, and at the end of, each chapter.  We strongly recommend this Toolkit as an important resource for all educators working with newcomers.

What outstanding resources does your school offer families that have newly arrived in the US? Share them below!

“Classroom” by Allison Meier via Flickr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/5KRnrx

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Teaching Tolerance in Turbulent Times

many hands together
It may feel like every time you turn on the TV or check your Facebook or Twitter feed, you are inundated with news of yet another violent tragedy in some part of the world. Terrorist attacks and political upheaval seem to be the norm now, not the exception. We are all asking ourselves what can be done to stop the endless stream of violence. A crucial step is one that is closest to us: one of the most important, immediate ways to create a better, safer future is to raise children with tolerance in their hearts.

Changes in Immigration

Recent terrorist attacks have brought ISIS, radical Islam and immigration to the forefront of discussion, at home and in the political arena. Countries around the world are trying to figure out the best way to strike at the heart of the matter to prevent future terrorist attacks. The recent passage of Brexit in the UK is evidence that many people fear immigration, without fully understanding the complexity of the issue. One example in particular is the disturbing trend of people not distinguishing between “Muslims” and “Islamic terrorists.” This leads to a host of fears, animosity, and disparaging talk that are counterproductive in a country and educational system as diverse as ours.

Honest & Age-Appropriate Conversations

As parents and teachers, it’s tempting to think of these issues as grown-up problems. We’d like to think our kids are oblivious to such serious, frightening and overwhelming problems. But in reality, those little ears pick up much more than we realize, from conversations between parents or from other kids on the playground. Children do not always understand the impact of what they are saying on those around them, and can benefit from discussions with adults to help them dig below the surface of what they hear.
With such intense media coverage and the inevitable conversations, debates or even arguments that result from it, we can’t leave our kids to draw their own conclusions, or pick up whatever is being passed around by their peers. Children, and ultimately all of society, benefit from honest, age-appropriate communication with the trusted adults in their lives.

Important Learning Opportunities

Look at these conversations as a chance to get a clear understanding of what kids are hearing, and how that makes them feel.
  • Discuss tolerance and the beauty of diversity in our society.
  • Teach lessons of empathy and caring. Talk about why refugees and other immigrants come to this country. Imagine the challenges of starting life in a new country. Discuss how children might feel who are part of the religious groups that are being vilified.
  • For older kids, have fact-based discussions in the classroom about gun control and immigration reform. Just be sure to set ground rules first that eliminate hateful speech from discussions, so students in a diverse classroom won’t feel threatened.

Online Resources about Tolerance & Diversity

Here are just a few of the many online resources available to help you in these discussions:

Some Quotes to Inspire Tolerance

The highest result of education is tolerance. – Helen Keller
Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population. – Albert Einstein

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? – Henry David Thoreau

School diversity many hands held together” by Wonder woman0731 via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/J5Ys9N

 

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French Language: Facts, Figures & French Children’s Books

France french languageToday’s spotlight language is French. We have background and interesting facts about the language, as well as information to help you find children’s books in French.  Interested in learning interesting facts about other languages?  Check out our series of posts on various world languages including Hindi, Russian and Japanese!

Where is it spoken?

French is the official language of France, and it is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. There are about 300 million French speakers worldwide. It has official status in 32 countries, second only to English.

How Many People Speak French in the US?

According to the most recent US Census data, there are about 1.3 million French speakers in the US (not including French Creole, which is counted separately). There are large French speaking populations in New York, Louisiana, Washington DC, Massachusetts, Texas and California.

Interesting Facts About French

There are many food-related idioms in French. One example is “En faire tout un fromage,” which translates to “make a whole cheese of it.” This saying is used to when a person is making a bigger deal of something than it deserves. In English, its equivalent is “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

French didn’t become widely used in France until after the French Revolution in the late 1700s.

“Salut” can be used as both a casual hello or good-bye.

French Books – Bilingual Children’s Books

If the kids in your life speak French, or are learning the language, you may want suggestions on some of the best bilingual French storybooks and audio books for kids.  Some popular and engaging stories with text in both English and the French language include: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and The Giant Turnip.  You may also want to check out the illustrated French-English dictionary with audio for children.

Do you speak French, or are you learning the language? Comment below and share your interesting language facts!

“Eiffel Tower, Paris (France)” by Tommie Hansen via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/gEnCEM

3 Controversies in Bilingual Education

language controversies

by guest blogger Rachael Everly

The benefits of both learning and speaking many languages are well documented in our ever-shrinking world. Language can shape our view of the world and as more and more people become engaged in international business and travel it’s important for adults to have a working knowledge of, and fluency in, various languages and cultures on a global scale. 

Not surprisingly, Mandarin Chinese is the language most used for business after English. Mandarin is spoken by over 845 million people in China, the world’s second-largest economy, and nearby Taiwan. French comes in at the number two position, Arabic (the key to the Middle East) at number three, and Spanish ranking fourth.

However, there are some controversies when it comes to language learning. Most notably this occurs in countries with large immigrant populations changing the demographic and influencing what languages are spoken most often in business and commerce.

Here are 3 of the most notable language controversies:

Language of Instruction

According to UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning Learning Portal, there are 7000 languages spoken worldwide in only 200 countries. Multilingualism is the norm around the world with many children growing up speaking one or two languages in the home, with often a third language spoken in institutional and governmental settings.

This can make it difficult for educational institutions to determine in which language to conduct their instruction. There’s an ongoing debate on whether courses should be taught in the students’ native languages – to ensure students can actually learn and understand the information presented – or whether courses and classes should be presented in the national language or other international language in order to open the door wider to further educational and economic opportunities. Some also feel the two approaches are best combined.

English as a medium of instruction (EMI) is a controversial topic of discussion in non-anglophone countries, as it has become the language of instruction in subjects as diverse as mathematics, geometry, and medicine.

Establishing National Languages

In the U.S., Spanish is spoken as a first or second language by an estimated 45 million people. This makes it the most spoken language in the contiguous United States after English. It’s such a powerful force in business that many managers and other employees are learning the language in order to have a competitive edge over their peers and communicate with others.

There’s been talk of making Spanish an official second language of the USA. But without an official first language, another movement worth mentioning, this makes establishing Spanish as a second national language difficult to push forward. Spanish is not going to be chosen as an official language anytime soon, especially considering that the PEW Research Center reports a downward trend in usage in the home. While there have been efforts to push Spanish forward as an official language, the U.S. remains too pluralistic for any one cultural group to make theirs the official language.

Recently issued U.S. Census tables, based on American Community Survey data collected from 2009 to 2013, have expanded the languages and language groups tabulated from 39 to 350. The data, released on November 3, 2015, is the most comprehensive look at languages and communities in the U.S. including “Pennsylvania Dutch, Ukrainian, Turkish, Romanian, Amharic and many others. Also included are 150 different Native North American languages, collectively spoken by more than 350,000 people, including Yupik, Dakota, Apache, Keres and Cherokee.”

Erik Vickstrom, a Census Bureau statistician reported, “While most of the U.S. population speaks only English at home or a handful of other languages like Spanish or Vietnamese, the American Community Survey reveals the wide-ranging language diversity of the United States.” He added, “In the New York metro area alone, more than a third of the population speaks a language other than English at home, and close to 200 different languages are spoken. Knowing the number of languages and how many speak these languages in a particular area provides valuable information to policymakers, planners and researchers.”

Other countries, like India, face similar political challenges and controversies when it comes to Sanskrit, the ancient language of the region and mother to languages like Hindi, Bengali, and Marathi.

This is due to the fact that reviving the ancient language of Sanskrit, closely linked to Hinduism and Hindu religious texts, is an ongoing project of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the right-wing Hindu nationalist party currently leading the new Indian government since 2016. Minorities feel that the push towards reviving this ancient language is a direct affront to the secular striving of the nation.

Higher education and language learning

A growing number of U.S. high school graduates are looking for alternative ways to avoid the high cost of higher education by travelling and studying abroad, especially in Europe – an area where most European students started studying their first foreign language before the age of nine.

At the University of Helsinki in Finland, the cost of a four year decree is only $40,000. This is roughly only one-third what it costs for a similar diploma from the University of California San Diego. Other European countries, including Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, offer free tuition in their public universities.

Savvy international students are striving to secure seats in these studying opportunities – if they can pass the native language exams – to both avoid soaring tuition costs in the U.S., and gain invaluable life experiences. Planning in advance to minimize or avoid student debt altogether is a sound alternative compared to the debt dodgers who flee to Europe after becoming delinquent or defaulting on their student loans.

Final thoughts

Language learning can open doors and create more opportunities for those who want to leverage their skills in an increasingly global village. Gaining fluency in the languages of learning and international business can take students far – even as far as other countries – to grow their network and careers. Language learning, while controversial and political at times, has the ability to connect cultures and increase compassion and tolerance to those different from us – a worthy goal.

 

“Language School, Teams, Interns” by Sprachschuleaktiv via Pixabay is licensed under CC0 https://pixabay.com/photo-834138/

Father’s Day Inspiration From Around the World

father walking with kids on the beach

While Father’s Day traditions may vary all of the world, one thing is for sure, they deserve to be celebrated! Did you know that dads in Mexico wake up early to compete in a 21 km race around the capital city? Alternatively, fathers in Finland sleep in and enjoy their favorite breakfast.

If you are looking for a fun way to show your dad you care, why not look to another country for some cultural inspiration? You never know where you may find a new tradition for your family!

fathers day

This guest post was provided by Personal Creations.  You may also enjoy last year’s inspirational father’s day post, “The Last Book My Dad Read to Me“.  Note: For Father’s Day 2016, Language Lizard is offering a 10% discount on our popular bilingual book, “My Daddy is a Giant” (through June 2016, using coupon code Daddy-16).

“Family By the Beach” by FHG Photo via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/8odLni

3 Ways to Ease the School-to-Summer Transition (and Back)

transition to summer vacation

Not everyone feels the same about the start of summer break. Yes, there’s excitement over long days to play and a more relaxed pace. But there can also be sadness and anxiety about big changes to the daily routine, not seeing schoolmates, travel and the start of the next school year looming on the horizon. Adults and kids alike can be caught unprepared for this unique mix of emotions. Here, we offer 3 tips to ease your transition into summer break… and back again.

Keep to a Somewhat-Schedule

june sleeping in

It may be impossible to follow a strict schedule during summer break. There are so many fun things to do, fewer responsibilities and hopefully more relaxation.

Several consecutive days of pool parties and barbecues may be exciting, but can still be over-stimulating for sensitive little ones. Try to space out activities, even if that means you have to politely turn down an invitation or two.

While it’s tempting to let the kids sleep in until mid-morning and play until they run out of steam late at night, keeping consistent bedtimes throughout summer will keep kids (and their adults) from becoming over-tired and cranky.

Keep On Learning

hands reading bilingual book

Taking a months-long hiatus from learning might set your kids up for a rough transition back into the classroom come September. We’ve written about the dreaded “summer slide,” when kids lose some of the progress they made the year before, and how to avoid it. For bilingual learners, especially, a long break from consistent language exposure will erode much of their hard work.

Set aside some time in your schedule – it can be every day or a few days a week – for learning activities. Learning resources can come from last year’s teacher, your school, a local library and online. Don’t feel pressured to make headway into next year’s curriculum on your own. It’s ok to maintain the skill set they were working on last year.

Even when your family is on-the-go, there are plenty of fun summer travel activities to keep the learning alive.

Keep in Touch with School Friends

june playdate

For younger kids especially, it’s important to see familiar faces during the summer break. Setting up a regular playdate with school friends helps alleviate boredom, as well as any lingering anxiety from the change in their routine.

Fresh off the last day of school, the summer may seem to stretch out endlessly before you. But before you know it, you’ll be school supply shopping once again, and you’ll be glad you stuck to a somewhat-schedule all summer. 

What are some of your favorite summer learning activities? Comment below and share your ideas!

 

“Gulf Shores 2013” by rustydollar72 via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/f2noUC

“Sickies.” by Monica H. via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/e2ugur

“playdate” by Krynop via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bEEYva

Hindi Language & Hindi Books: Facts, Figures & Resources

hindi children's books and resources

Today’s spotlight language is Hindi. Below, we offer background and interesting facts about the language, as well as information to help you find Hindi children’s books.

Where is it spoken?

Hindi is the official language of India (along with English). Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. There are approximately 425 million speakers worldwide.

How Many People Speak Hindi in the US?

According to the most recent US Census data, there are about 670,000 Hindi speakers in the US. There are large Hindi speaking populations in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and California.

Interesting Facts About Hindi

Hindi is a relatively easy language to read. It is written left to write, is phonetic, and doesn’t include articles like “a” or “the.”

It’s important to use the correct formal or informal style of speech in context, depending on whom you are addressing.

Nouns are either masculine or feminine, and affect adjective and verb use.

The most common greeting in Hindi is “namaste,” and handshakes are only common in certain situations, not in everyday life.

Hindi Books – Bilingual Children’s Books

Teachers frequently ask for suggestions on some of the best bilingual Hindi storybooks and audio books for kids.  Some popular and engaging stories with text in both English and the Hindi language include: The Wheels on the Bus, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Little Red Hen and the Grains of Wheat.  There is also an illustrated Hindi-English dictionary with audio for children.

Do you speak Hindi, or know someone who does? Comment below and share your interesting language facts!

“India” by Nick Kenrick via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/ojmzob

Parents and Teachers of Bilingual Kids, Make Books and Reading Your Highest Priority!

parent reading bilingual book with childrenby guest blogger Adam Beck

Though I no longer teach at Hiroshima International School, I return there every year, with my family in tow, for the school’s annual spring festival. For me, my main motivation—apart from seeing old friends—is the sale of used books: children’s books of all kinds, from the school library and students’ homes, at rock-bottom prices.

I practically start drooling as I paw through them.

Each year I come home with dozens of books for our home library: books I can read aloud to my kids at breakfast, books we read together for “shared reading” (taking turns, page by page), and books they can read on their own.

A couple of years ago, we came home from the festival and I dumped two heavy shopping bags of books on the kitchen table. I pulled out a chair and sat, happily examining my treasure and taping together the loose covers and pages. That’s when my daughter Lulu, then 9, approached and exclaimed, “Daddy, we have too many books!”

The truth is, if you stepped inside my little house, you’d probably laugh: It’s bursting with books, to the point where there really isn’t room for them all. Our bookshelves overflowed long ago and there are now piles rising from the floor like sunflowers.

But I turned to Lulu and I replied: “Too many books? You can never have too many books!”

My philosophy of education

“You can never have too many books!” These seven words basically sum up my view of language education since I first became a teacher of bilingual children 20 years ago. Books and reading—lots of books and lots of reading—became my main ally in nurturing language development.

During my time at Hiroshima International School, I flooded my classroom with books and read often to my students. And as I watched their English ability grow, I realized that this same approach would become the cornerstone of my efforts to one day raise bilingual children of my own. I would flood the house with books in the minority language and make reading a daily staple of my family’s lifestyle.

baby reading bilingual book

500 books

I have seen the rewarding results of this “method” in my own personal experience, but in fact, there is also prominent research which indicates that a correlation between the number of books in the home and a child’s language development and ability, as well as academic achievement and even career success, is evident in countries and languages around the world.

Pursued over a period of 20 years and published in 2010, the authors of the massive study Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations analyzed the lives of some 70,000 people in a range of countries. At the heart of their research was this key question: About how many books were in your family’s house when you were 14 years old? (Any books, not simply books for children.)

At the same time, they gathered background data on these participants, such as the parents’ level of education and occupation, and their own schooling and work.

What does this research reveal? It demonstrates—even given the parents’ level of education and occupation, as well as such factors as gender, class, nationality, political system, and gross national product—that the impact of books is the same throughout the world and throughout many generations: Children in families with a home library of 500 books or more experience significantly greater educational success. On average, these children pursue their education for 3.7 years longer than children in homes with few or no books.

As the authors themselves write: “We find that parents’ commitment to scholarly culture [which they define as “the way of life in homes where books are numerous, esteemed, read, and enjoyed”], manifest by a large home library, greatly enhances their children’s educational attainment. …  Scholarly culture has a powerful impact on children’s education throughout the world, in rich nations and in poor, under communism and under capitalism, under good governments and bad, in the present generation and as far back in history as now living memory can take us. … A book-oriented home environment, we argue, endows children with tools that are directly useful in learning at school: vocabulary, information, comprehension skills, imagination, broad horizons of history and geography, familiarity with good writing, understanding of the importance of evidence in argument, and many others.”

baby reading a bilingual book

Implications for parents

Although this study was concerned more broadly with books in the majority language of each nation, and success in schooling, there are important implications for parents seeking to support the minority language of their bilingual children. After all, success in schooling is a direct outgrowth of success in language development.

  1. Build a home library of books in the minority language—the bigger, the better.

Even if you don’t own 500 books (both children’s books and books for adults count!), the more books you have, and the more you make use of those books by reading aloud to your children each day and reading together, the more your children’s language ability will grow.

And, as the study suggests, the language-related “tools” that your children will gain in the minority language will also be a source of support to them when attending school in the majority language. For example, the knowledge about the world that my kids have gleaned from our English books at home serves them well when studying similar topics in Japanese.

  1. Create an environment of bookshelves and books, not simply digital readers and e-books.

One important reason I haven’t yet shifted much from “real books” to e-books is because real books, in my view, provide a richer environment for the senses. It’s true, we’re slowly getting buried in books here, but the fact that my kids are surrounded by them (and stumbling over them), day in and day out, makes books and reading a way of life.

With bookshelves, books are continuously on display and available for discovery; this just isn’t the case with e-books lurking inside a digital device. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking e-books—they have many merits, not the least of which would be helping me dig out of my housekeeping dilemma. But, to me, they also run the risk of turning books from “public things” into “private things.”

For the sake of my children’s language development, I want our home environment to support my aims, and I think emphasizing books that are tangible and tactile, as “public things” always beckoning to the eye, is a more effective course during their formative years.

  1. Keep in mind that, as these researchers contend, “a taste for books is largely inherited.”

Of course, our main goal involves supporting the minority language of our bilingual kids. But have you ever considered the fact that, in a way, the support you’re providing to your children today will also affect the language development of their kids, your future grandchildren? (Sorry to turn you into a grandparent so soon!)

The study on “scholarly culture” makes this very clear in exploring the question: Where do libraries come from—who acquires a large library? And the authors conclude that “Scholarly culture, and the taste for books that it brings, persists from generation to generation within families largely of its own accord, independent of education and class.”

In other words, if you build a large library of books in your home, your children probably will, too, when they’re adults! And if your children do, your grandchildren will do the same for their kids! And so it goes, generation after generation, a love of language and literacy—and stronger language development—handed down far after your time.

 

Adapted from the book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids by Adam Beck, founder of the blog Bilingual Monkeys and the forum The Bilingual Zoo. Adam has worked with hundreds of bilingual and multilingual children, from toddlers to teens, as both a classroom teacher and a private tutor. He now lends support to many more families, in all parts of the world, via his book, blog, and forum. He has lived in Hiroshima, Japan since 1996 and is raising two bilingual children in Japanese and English.

How many books do you have in your home library or classroom library? Could strengthening this library help strengthen the language development of your children or students? Please add your thoughts below.

Supporting Oral Language Development in the Classroom & At Home

supporting oral language development

The process of language development in children is an amazing one, and full of so much complexity. Here, we offer 5 fun activity ideas that can help the oral language development of the kids in your home or classroom.

Oral Language and Literacy

So much of language is learned in the early years of life, simply by listening to and interacting with those around us. As time goes by, our oral language skills improve through practice and formal instruction. Oral language is made up of three parts: phonological (how sounds are combined), semantic (the smallest components of words), and syntactic (how sentences are put together).

Literacy begins with good oral language skills. In a classroom setting, it may feel counter-intuitive for a teacher to allow students more time to talk in groups, but there are a number of advantages to doing so. They gain valuable practice with new vocabulary, enhance conversational proficiency, and improve their ability to express their ideas. Also, kids often feel more relaxed when speaking to their peers because they aren’t so worried about giving the “wrong” answer.  As such, they are more open to absorbing and learning from what’s being discussed, in turn improving their overall language skills.

Activities for Oral Language Development

No matter the type of activity, keep these guidelines in mind when planning:

  • Keep the activity free from anxiety by creating a positive environment to limit the fear of embarrassment.
  • Provide clear instructions, possibly in different formats, so that all learning types can understand what’s expected.
  • Keep activities engaging by introducing fun or dramatic elements.
  • Lastly, remember that kids will need lots of repetition to practice their oral language skills.

Here are 5 activity ideas, from our post about language development in the classroom:

  • Mini Circle Chats:  Have your students sit in circles of 4 or 5. Give them a list of fun questions that encourage more than single-word answers. Let students know that they can engage in discussions together so they can talk about similarities and differences.  If you have a very diverse classroom, ensure that each circle includes a mix of cultures.
  • Word Play: Ask students to write 5-10 words (in any language). Have each student share one of their words with the class, and ask the student to explain why he or she chose to write down that word. Does it represent a feeling or an event that took place?
  • Memory Drawings: Have students draw their favorite memories, then share with the rest of the class, explaining the different elements of their picture. Or, spread out a long piece of paper and have students draw their memories at the same time on a wall mural. When the time is up, hang the mural up on the wall and let everyone spend a good amount of time looking at it up close and talking about it. Eventually you can have the students sit down on the floor in front of the mural and talk as a group about what they see and what thoughts come to their minds.
  • Multicultural Traditions:  Have students sit together in a circle to share one of their cultural or family traditions. Then ask others in the circle if they also participate in the tradition with their family and if so, whether or not they celebrate it in the same way. Help students notice that not everyone has the same traditions, and that even the same traditions can be celebrated in different ways.

Differentiated Instruction

For those times when group or peer interaction isn’t realistic, an individualized learning tool like the PENpal Audio Recorder Pen can be invaluable in providing the differentiated instruction needed to help teachers reach every student, of all skill levels, in an effective way. Free video and print resources on the Language Lizard website help educators and parents use the Talking Pen to effectively develop and assess oral language skills, as well as build fluency and improve phonemic awareness with their students.

 

“Girl Talk” by Dean Wissing via Flickr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6r3SmY

 

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Supporting Dual Language Learners and Bringing Multiculturism to the Classroom!