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.
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.
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.
The air is becoming cold and crisp. Leaves are turning a vibrant gold, red and purple. Pumpkins dot the countryside and hay rides are a dime a dozen. Autumn is in full swing.
In addition to the changing of the seasons and the euphoric smell of hot apple cider, this time of year brings with it a wealth of cultural traditions from around the world. This has always been a time to be thankful for the summer bounty that was produced and to start preparing for the coming of the winter chill and darkness.
This time of year is also for remembering those who are no longer with us – to honor our family, friends and loved ones who have passed on. Celebrations and festivals centered around the dead and departed can be found in cultures all over the world, each with their own set of traditions.
Given that this time of year is bursting with global festivals and celebrations, it is a perfect opportunity to help your children and students appreciate the different ways that communities celebrate around the world. You can encourage children to share their own family’s traditions as well as introduce celebrations that are new to them. Continue reading Traditions Around the World: Celebrate Autumn→
THANK YOU to everyone who participated in Language Lizard’s $250 Bilingual Book Giveaway! We were impressed with the number of entrants and very inspired by the feedback we received from participants! You are all working so hard to improve literacy and language skills among dual language learners.
We also appreciate all your efforts to teach children about other cultures and support a greater understanding of diversity and our multicultural community. If you would like to read some of the comments of our entrants, simply click here.
We know there is a need to offer additional grants and giveaways to support the dual language learners and educators that we serve. And we would like to do more! Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas for future giveaways or grants (e.g., one larger prize or more smaller prizes?). We appreciate your feedback and you can contact us at any time.
The research extolling the benefits of bilingualism abounds in today’s day and age. Bilingualism helps us better understand the structure of languages and can give us an in-depth view of another culture. Bilingualism can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. It can help people find jobs here in the United States and in other countries.
Although most of us in the United States don’t start learning additional languages until middle school or college, for some time now studies have shown that this is not the ideal time to begin learning new languages. In fact, recent studies are showing that the best time to pick up a new language is when we are very young. Rather than causing linguistic disorders or difficulties (as was once believed), being exposed to additional languages from birth is actually the best time to start.
Does this mean that we can not learn languages when we are older? No! It just means that if we are trying to decide when to introduce a new language to our children, the earlier the better.
Whether bilingual children speak both of their languages well or are in the process of learning a second language, summer foreign language programs can be a great way to help them become more comfortable in their languages. Without the need to focus on daily schoolwork, summer provides a wonderful opportunity for bilingual children to experience a daily language bath without the pressure of assessment.
The key is to find a program that works well for your child. The first step is to get an idea of what a child’s strengthens and weaknesses are in the target language before beginning a search for a summer foreign language program. This will help in deciding which program might be the best fit. A child who is struggling with reading and writing would likely benefit most from a summer program that incorporates as much literacy as possible in fun and engaging ways. For a child who is having difficulties with pronunciation or general communication, a summer program that focuses on verbal elements would be preferable. The overall goal is to help a bilingual child feel more comfortable in the target language and to boost overall language confidence. Continue reading Bilingual Children Benefit from Summer Foreign Language Programs→
Bilinguals around the world will tell you that they do not have the same degree of fluency in all of their languages. A language that is used primarily in academic situations may come across as stiff and stilted when used in less formal situations. Family issues are often more easily discussed in a home language. Depending on where we live when our first child is born, we may only know the vocabulary for baby items in one language and find the same discussions difficult when visiting family in our country of origin. The concept of a “balanced bilingual” is rarely a reality in the world of multilingualism.
Despite this, we very easily fall into the trap of believing that bilingual children are the exception to the rule. We have come to expect that they should have equal mastery of both of their languages. However, just as with adults, a child’s level of linguistic ability will differ depending on situation and language. For example, it may be difficult for a bilingual child to recount events in a home language that took place in the school language. Words, phrases and meanings used in a school setting are not necessarily used in the home language. Continue reading Dual Language Books Benefit Bilingual Children→
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→
Supporting Dual Language Learners and Bringing Multiculturism to the Classroom!