Category Archives: At Home

Teaching Children Languages: Benefits & Strategies

The benefits of bilingualism has been a hot topic in recent years. Magazines, newspapers and blogs extol the fascinating ways in which the bilingual brain effortlessly manipulates more than one language at a time, working more effectively and efficiently than a monolingual one on specific types of tasks.

Thanks to their brain’s more robust executive control system (which comes from switching off the language that is not needed), bilinguals are believed to have better skills in tuning out distractions, which means that they are able to focus on what is most relevant at the moment. This can be a very important life skill. In addition, Prof. Ellen Bialystok discovered through her research on bilinguals that bilingualism helped those with Alzheimer’s continue functioning at higher cognitive levels despite having this debilitating disease. Basically, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in bilinguals didn’t show up for five or six years later than those who only spoke one language. Another indication of the robustness of the bilingual brain.

While this research is exciting and inspiring, we also need to make sure that we are careful about how we introduce young children to additional languages. Using a grammar book with a young child may not be the way to go and can even cause a child to never want to learn another language ever again – even though that same strategy may be effective for a teenager or an adult.

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Supporting Bilingualism: 4 Reasons Parents Should Speak Heritage Languages at Home

Although the United States has been dubbed “the graveyard of languages” for its lack of heritage language support, today’s children’s futures need not be so bleak. Given the right encouragement, immigrant families can pass on the best of both worlds to their children: a home language in addition to the community language.

For many decades there has been a common misconception that immigrant families will help their children most by completely switching to English in the home. The belief is that the more a family uses English together, the stronger their English language skills will become.  While it is true that family members can help one another by practicing English together, English should not supplant the native language in the home. In fact, dropping the home language in favor of English can end up having many negative consequences.

Why would a family do this? A strong desire to prepare children for a competitive education system is one very common reason. Continue reading Supporting Bilingualism: 4 Reasons Parents Should Speak Heritage Languages at Home

Bilingual Children: 5 Tips for Using Language in Context

There are so many wonderful ways for our children to learn languages today. Online programs offer interactive multimedia opportunities that we could have only dreamed of having when we were young. Bilingual books and DVDs can be found in many libraries around the country, and children’s language learning classes abound.

What parents and teachers sometimes forget is the value of context when it comes to learning a language. Flash cards and online vocabulary games can be fun, but they don’t offer the kind of language development that human conversation provides. We use language for communication, and therefore it is best learned in its natural form: through discussions, conversations and stories.

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Children’s Books: Stick with the Real Thing!

As a recent article from the New York Times reminds us, when it comes to children’s books, print is still where it’s at. E-books may be perfect for a bus ride home after a long day in the office, easily tucked away into a briefcase or backpack. And an iPad can help distract us and our children during a long wait in the doctor’s office. But when it comes to the beloved bedtime story or a read-aloud at school, parents and teachers turn to the tried-and-true paper and glue book.

There is something magical about children’s books. Our favorites are those which create the perfect marriage between image and text: a magical storyline weaving and dancing against vivid illustrations and images. We each must have a memory of cuddling up with just such a book from our childhood. It isn’t impossible to recreate this in today’s digital age, but it just doesn’t feel quite the same, does it?

Even though children will often select the same book to be read out loud, this doesn’t mean that having plenty around isn’t worthwhile. Looking through piles of books, each with its own size, shape and colors, can be pure bliss for a young child. It  helps children come to realize just how diverse our literary world really is.

Ultimately, the storyline is only part of what matters to a young child when we read out loud to them. The overall experience is the real payback. The way we read a story out loud to children transports them to another world. Holding a book in the hand, feeling the texture of the pages as they are turned, and touching the images is as much part of the experience as reading the text. So is the warmth and comfort of snuggling on a parents’ lap or laying back on a floor pillow while being read to.

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Multicultural Calendar – Diversity Calendar 2012

With the holiday season approaching, we wanted to let you know about a wonderful Multicultural Calendar that we recently discovered.

This calendar would make a great gift for educators, families and organizations who celebrate diversity and teach children about other cultures and holidays.  In fact, we liked it so much that Language Lizard has decided to give a few away!

Developed by artist Sheena Singh, this beautiful calendar includes hundreds of multicultural, multi-faith and diversity related holidays and observances.  It provides accurate dates with explanations for each of the world’s twelve major religions and the cultural festivals of most ethnic groups in North America, including Aboriginal People, Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islam, Jain, Jewish, Shinto, Sikh and more.  It also includes cultural festivals of over 140 countries.   Continue reading Multicultural Calendar — Diversity Calendar 2012

8 Tips to Protect English Language Learners from Bullying in Your Classroom and School

As schools open their doors each fall, students from all walks of life enter. Each has the opportunity to share with other students in the amazing experience of education. Wide-eyed and anxious, children slowly lower their guard and allow themselves to get comfortable with their teachers, fellow students and surroundings. The hope is that this experience will be filled with joy and comfort for each and every student.

For many English Language Learners (ELLs), school is a place of laughter, fun and expansion. Bit by bit language and cultural elements are learned, shared and savored. For other ELLs it is a place of fear, humiliation and intimidation.

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Learning Foreign Languages: 5 Reasons Why a Small Amount of Language Exposure Is Beneficial

Research abounds about the benefits of bilingualism: the more exposure to languages from as early an age as possible is the best. Being that our brains are still growing and developing rapidly when we are young, multiple languages can be assimilated as seamlessly as a single language at this age. Some research even goes as far as defining optimal age limits within which languages should be learned for greatest benefits, primarily for picking up a native-like accent. However, experts enthusiastically agree that it is never too late to learn a language and to learn it well.

Not all children will have the opportunity to be exposed to multiple languages in their childhood. They may not grow up with parents who speak another language at home. They may not have the benefits of attending a bilingual school. However, just because our children may not benefit from delayed Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean that even a small amount of language exposure isn’t beneficial in a number of ways. In fact, the small amount of language and cultural exposure children receive in their early years may have the most lasting impact.

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Bilingual Books: Read Them Out Loud!

Long before our children have learned to read they will have been exposed to the magic of books. Stories of pixies and trolls, adventure and suspense will have filled their minds with fascination and beauty. We can probably still remember moments snuggled on the sofa as our parents read out loud to us. Magical story lines blossomed before our eyes.

When we were young, so much depended on the way an adult read out loud to us: the eerie intonation of a goblin, the gentle melody of a fairy, the loud rumble of a dragon’s roar. Even though we savored every word in the story, how we were read to made all of the difference. The more our parents or teachers took on the role of the characters, the more captivated we became. The more involved they were in the story, the more it came to life for us.

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Keep Literacy Alive for Bilingual Children During the Summer

Summer is such a wonderful time for children: playing with neighbors in the sprinkler, splashing with friends at the local pool, eating popsicles on the back porch. Summertime freedom is expansive and overwhelming.

The downside of summer for many teachers, especially those teaching English Language Learners (ELLs), is that they often worry that all of the hard work that their students put in during the school year will decline during the summer months. Without daily input of spoken and written language, a student often starts to forget what she has learned and ends up working hard to get back on track in the fall. However, this need not be the case.

There is no reason why literacy has to be put on hold during the summer months with bilingual children. In fact, summer is a perfect time to give home and school languages the undivided attention they deserve. Without the need to focus on homework and after school activities, bilingual children and parents can have a wonderful time with literacy. It doesn’t take a lot of work. It just demands a good set of resources to work with and the willingness to follow through. Continue reading Keep Literacy Alive for Bilingual Children During the Summer

10 Ways to Use Bilingual Books with Children

Research continues to show that support for the home language is an essential element in supporting children’s academic skills. Parents who engage with their children in their home language through discussion, reading books out loud and in everyday activities help children to do better in school, even if the school language is different from the home language. This is in contrast to research many decades ago that encouraged parents to speak the community language at home with their children, believing this would strengthen their children’s academic language skills. We now know that this past research was flawed and that, in fact, the opposite is true.

Bilingual books are wonderful tools to help create a bridge between languages. They give teachers the opportunity to educate children in the school language, while at the same time they foster an appreciation for the home language. Bilingual books encourage parents to continue using their home language, knowing that it will benefit, not detract from, their children’s school language learning. Continue reading 10 Ways to Use Bilingual Books with Children