Category Archives: Dual Language

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.

 

 

 

Bilingual Children: Summer Travel Activities

bilingual children: Summertime Travel Activities

Summer is a wonderful time of year to travel: Children are out of school and the warm days beacon for lazy hours at the beach or walks through cool forests. Whether we are traveling by land, air or sea, we can make bilingualism part of every bilingual child’s summertime adventures.

Both parents and teachers can engage bilingual children in fun travel activities, whether it is during a bus ride with a summer class or as a family on the way to visit grandma and grandpa. Nothing helps the time pass more quickly (and more enjoyably) than with travel activities. Why not make bilingualism a part of it?

Here is a list of some favorite travel activities to do with bilingual children:  Continue reading Bilingual Children: Summer Travel Activities

Bilingual Children: Benefits of Learning to Read in the Home Language

bilingual children: Benefits of Learning to Read in the Home Language

We only learn how to read once. This is true for all of us: monolingual, bilingual or multilingual. Once we figure out how literacy works, it is with us forever.

The best part about bilingual children learning to read is that once they figure it out in one language, they can transfer their literacy to their other language(s)! It is a feat that can be mastered in leaps and bounds in any of a number of languages once the process is underway.

As we know, the key to literacy is language. For those first “ah ha” moments of literacy to occur, bilingual children need to know what the words are that they are reading. Sounding out a word on the page is useless if in the end the student still doesn’t know what the word actually means. This is an important reason why bilingual children should be encouraged to work on their literacy skills in their stronger language, which, for most children, is the language spoken at home. Continue reading Bilingual Children: Benefits of Learning to Read in the Home Language

Bilingual Storytime: 5 Different Types

Nowadays many libraries and bookstores are delighting their patrons with storytimes. Children love the magic of a good book that is brought to life through the skills of a good presenter. It is an opportunity for children to travel to new places that have never been explored and to experience adventures that have never been undertaken.

The elements of a successful storytime are essential: A book with a great storyline, captivating pictures and an energetic presenter who is willing to act out the parts.  Poor stories, illustration or delivery can disappoint children who were hoping to be swept away.

In many places around the world, bilingual storytimes are becoming extremely popular. In addition to the basic criteria listed above, presenters must be attentive to the language mix of the target audience. Some storytimes are only in one language (e.g. Spanish or Chinese) while others have a more bilingual approach (e.g. using both English and Spanish during the same storytime). While some storytimes are intended to support the home language, others are focused on helping students learn a new language.

Here are 5 different types of storytimes that you might find in your school or community: Continue reading Bilingual Storytime: 5 Different Types

Bilingual Books in Bilingual Classrooms

Bilingual Books for Bilingual Classrooms

Picture this: A classroom bustling with students engaged in a variety of activities. On one side of the room, the teacher mingles with a group of students who are working on a collage. It is spread out across a wide table and students are discussing, in English and Spanish, where to place the different items. The teacher meanders by, a student asks for some advice in English, and a short discussion takes place.

A few minutes later the same teacher approaches a student sitting in a bean bag chair on the floor reading a book in English. The student asks the teacher, in Spanish, about the meaning of one of the words in the book, and together they talk about the word and its context in the sentence.

This easy movement between two languages is happening in many bilingual classrooms throughout the United States.  Not only do classrooms such as these help non-English speaking students learn English, it also helps native English speakers learn a second language.  Bilingual classrooms give students the opportunity to become truly bilingual. Continue reading Bilingual Books in Bilingual Classrooms

Support Your Dual Language Learners with $250 Worth of Bilingual Books!

We are delighted to announce a chance for you to win $250 worth of bilingual books in your choice of languages!

Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, German, Gujarati, Haitian-Creole, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Panjabi, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tamil, Turkish, Twi, Urdu, Vietnamese, and many more languages!

It is easy to enter! All you have to do is go to www.LanguageLizard.com/giveaway.htm and submit the entry form.

We’d love it if you could spread the word about this wonderful opportunity! By doing so, you may even increase your chances of winning!

Good luck!

Continue reading Support Your Dual Language Learners with $250 Worth of Bilingual Books!

5 Tips to Help Bilingual Children Shine in the Classroom

Back-to-school sales line the aisles of supermarkets and drug stores; children roam department stores picking out new fall clothes; and parents rush around with check-lists of items their children will need in the coming weeks and months.

Yes, the school year is about to begin.

For bilingual children, this time of year may feel a little daunting, especially for those who will be starting school for the very first time. In addition to all of the feelings that many students face on their first day of school (nervousness about what the teacher may be like, excitement about meeting new friends, concerns about what will be expected), bilingual children may have additional worries: Will they fit it? Will their English language skills be up to par. Will they understand everything that the teacher says? Will other students make fun of them because of their accent?

For teachers who are not used to working with bilingual children, there may be an assumption that to help these bilingual children feel comfortable in the classroom they will need extra attention. This may very well be the case, but if it is not done with care it can backfire. A bilingual child who already feels out of place may feel even more so if a teacher ends up giving him too much special attention. What a bilingual child may want the most is to have the chance to fit in and to be just like everyone else, not singled out due to special circumstances.

Continue reading 5 Tips to Help Bilingual Children Shine in the Classroom

Bilingual Story Time at Your School Library

It’s free, it’s fun and it’s in your language: bilingual story time!

Across the United States libraries offer story times in a myriad of languages based on the demands of the community: Spanish, Russian, Gujarati, French, Japanese… just to name a few! Children sit wide-eyed in awe as an adult reads to them in their own language: Amazing! Someone other than my parents can speak and read my language – how exciting!

The only problem with story time for many children is that it is often targeted toward preschoolers and takes place in the middle of the day. What about school-age children? Wouldn’t they benefit from a bilingual story time as well?

Yes!

Bilingual children in particular would benefit greatly from a bilingual story time in their school. Not only would such a story time offer children who speak the same language the chance to gather, it would help with literacy, cultural appreciation and a sense of community. As we discussed in Dual Language Books Benefit Bilingual Children, contrary to popular belief, reading out loud to children in their native languages does not negatively impact their English language literacy. In fact, it can help strengthen it in many ways.

Continue reading Bilingual Story Time at Your School Library

Dual Language Books Benefit Bilingual Children

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

A Child’s Place in the World – PART II: Using dual language books to initiate social studies learning at home and at school

By guest author: Heather Leaman

Schools and families have acknowledged the importance of extending children’s learning beyond an understanding of our country to include an understanding of the world. While social studies is an ideal school subject to help children understand the world around them, many schools have significantly reduced their social studies instruction due in part to the influence of No Child Left Behind.

However, reducing class time for social studies instruction does not mean that teachers must eliminate instruction about our world for elementary school children. There are outstanding tools available for teaching social studies in tandem with instruction in reading, writing and math. In addition, there are many activities parents and families can engage in at home to supplement their children’s social studies education. Dual language books are an ideal example of a tool that can be used to introduce children to their world and to initiate deeper learning. Continue reading A Child’s Place in the World – PART II: Using dual language books to initiate social studies learning at home and at school