Category Archives: Community Support

Bringing up Multilingual Children with Less Common Home Languages

On a sunny day in London, when the streets are crowded with people enjoying the rare warmth, you can hear an abundance of different languages from the majority migrant groups in the city: families discussing the school day in Somali; teenagers gossiping in Turkish; imams greeting each other in Urdu.   But passing by the shop fronts boasting posters in languages from Polish and Bengali, you won’t hear German or Cape Verdean creole – not unless you go to Andrea and Xaxa’s for tea and cake.

Andrea and Xaxa met on Cape Verde, an island country off the west coast of Africa.  They now live with their eight-month-old baby, Bruno in London.  London is a city in which there are plenty of services and community groups for more commonly found home languages, like Bulgarian and Punjabi, but little availability of these amenities in less-common heritage languages like the ones Bruno will grow up speaking.  Andrea says she wants Bruno to have “the ability to converse with his family both in Germany and Cape Verde when visiting…and to pick up further languages more easily at school”, so she is determined that he will be able to use all three of his languages even though he won’t hear them spoken by his friends and the people he meets in London.  “I speak German to him when alone with him, singing German nursery rhymes and reading German books.  Xaxa speaks Crioulo to him and sings in Crioulo.”

Valentina, who emigrated from Italy, reads to her son Isaac every day in her native language, Italian, hoping that he will grow up to feel “natural and comfortable” with his two tongues.  She’s gone out of her way to to stock up on Italian books and tries to speak to him only in Italian, even when spending time with her English-speaking friends and their children.    It worries her a little that he will miss out on the subtleties of Italian and that “we could be missing a whole level of communication between us” but overall she feels that “the positives of raising a bilingual child outweigh the challenges.”  She’s excited for Isaac to communicate with his Italian family, have the opportunity to travel meaningfully around Italy, and to have the deeper “understanding of his own heritage” that only speaking the language can really bring.

These kinds of experiences happen in many different countries, including the U.S., and in small towns as well as in cities.  Irene lives in Norwich, a smaller, much less ethnically diverse city two hours’ drive northeast of London.  Her son Matthias is growing up bilingual.  “I want him to love both his languages equally.  But I think it is probably unrealistic because he will probably be exposed to it so little and need it so little.”  She says that though she tries “to speak to him in Danish as much as possible”, she regrets that she’s “not always good at being consistent.”  Her husband Roger is English, so she feels, “I always forget and automatically switch to English.  I know this is not good, but it simply happens.”  Like Andrea and Xaxa, Irene sings and reads to Matthias in Danish, including alternating the language of his bedtime story every night.  But she admits that it’s a “major challenge” not being part of a language community: “I do hope I can find some other Danish speakers at some point – kids he can play with.”

“Research says that growing up with more than one language is like exercise for the brain,” reports national early childhood expert Karen Nemeth of www.languagecastle.com.    “It builds thinking skills in school-age children and keeps the brain agile in late adulthood, but meeting the challenge of maintaining home languages is just as important for strengthening the family bond and honouring the family culture.  It really is worth the extra effort,”

This article from the New York Times describes research about the benefits of being bilingual that also supports the efforts that Valentina, Andrea and Irene are making to keep their home language growing with their babies:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html?_r=0

 

So what can Andrea, Valentina and Irene do to ensure their boys feel proud of and confident when speaking their heritage languages?  Nemeth says that these moms and their partners are already doing the right thing by singing and reading to their children in their heritage languages.  This is especially important for Xaxa, whose mother tongue is not Cape Verde’s official language and is only spoken rather than written.  For Matthias, Isaac and other children with one English speaking parent, bilingual books can be a great way to share the same story in two languages with their two parents (or a parent and a teacher)

Bruno, Isaac and Matthias are also benefiting when their parents have conversations with them that are 100% in one language; it’s much less useful to simply identify objects for the child in one language, then another.

To add an extra boost of German, Italian, Dutch or Crioulo conversation power for their children, these parents can also search online for local groups who meet up for chats in their heritage languages.  Valentina’s already looking for playgroups in her area: “having friends who speak Italian too will be invaluable!”  And if they can’t find any ready-made groups, website www.meetup.com allows them to create their own local group and advertise it to others in the community.   They could stop into their local library to ask about family activities in different languages too – they may even be able to work with the library to start their own.

As the children get older, their local schools can be a great connection as well.  Parents like Andrea, Valentina and Irene may meet other families who speak their language at the school gates. They can also use their experiences and the books, stories and songs they’ve collected to bring their culture and language to the school as a valuable resource for all of the children.

 The cultural and linguistic make-up of diverse cities like London is constantly changing — and maybe one day you’ll be able to hear Dutch on the street corners and Italian in the cafes.  But until then, kids like Bruno, Isaac and Matthias will continue to be special and unique, and lucky to be growing up with parents who are so invested in ensuring they grow up multilingual.

 

 

 

Grants and Funding for Bilingual Classrooms

Grants and Funding for Bilingual Classrooms

As we all know, many teachers have a hard time finding funding for all the books, materials and resources they need for their classrooms. For teachers of English Language Learner (ELL) students, access to quality resources, materials, and training is especially important, as ELL students need bilingual books and materials to improve their literacy and language skills. Yet obtaining these resources can be a difficult task for teachers and schools when local funding is not available.

As reported in Ed. Department Awards Grants to Improve ELL Teaching, the U.S. Department of Education is aware that bilingual programs rely on funding simply to exist, let alone thrive. Resources are available through both federal and state government grants as well as private funding. The key for teachers and school administrators is to find out how to tap into these available resources.

To help teachers find ways to purchase the bilingual resources they need, we have compiled a comprehensive (although by no means exhaustive) list of available grant and funding opportunities. This article comprises:

  • tips on how to search and apply for funding as well as sources for where to start looking for grants.
  • a list of federal and state government grants. (Many of these government grants will help pay for materials and resources, so make sure you include those in your proposals.)
  • a catalog of private companies and organizations that provide funding. Private sources can be less restrictive than public ones, and may include financial support for items such as bilingual books and resources.

(Please note: the links in this article were current as of the initial writing of this article.  Links and grant opportunities change over time, but we believe this article will provide a good starting point for your research.) Continue reading Grants and Funding for Bilingual Classrooms

Bilingual Children & Summer Literacy Programs

Bilingual Children and Summer Reading Programs

Summertime is upon us! The school year is coming to an end and our favorite summer activities are right around the corner: Running barefoot through sprinklers, savoring a neon-colored snow cone and sitting in the shade of a favorite tree with a good book. What could be better?

Even though school is letting out, children can strengthen their literacy skills with summertime literacy programs, available through local libraries, community centers, schools, bookstores and even online. Bilingual children, in particular, can significantly improve their literacy during the summer by reading bilingual books in both of their languages.

As we mentioned in our previous article, literacy can grow and develop regardless of language. The most important thing is that bilingual children are provided with quality reading materials and an incentive to read them. Instilling a love of reading should always be the primary goal for our students.

Here is a list of programs that can help students strengthen their literacy skills this summer:
Continue reading Bilingual Children & Summer Literacy Programs

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

Support Early Childhood Literacy in International Preschool Classroom

We’d like to share with you a great opportunity to support early childhood literacy and language development to children in need with bilingual books and educational supplies!

Our friends at Give and Surf Inc. are starting a preschool for ages 3-5 in Bocas del Toro, Panama.  The preschool will be educating children from the indigenous Ngobe villages of this underserved area. Their preschool will be the first of its kind in the area.

We all know the importance of early reading for children, and Give and Surf is currently collecting books and any supplies necessary to start the preschool.  They have an empty classroom and an open canvas to build the ideal preschool!  The children of Bahia Honda have had limited exposure to books and would benefit greatly from any support. Continue reading Support Early Childhood Literacy in International Preschool Classroom