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A New Year’s Resolution for Language Learners

kid reading bilingual bookIf your plans for the new year include learning a new language with your kids, or passing on your native language to them, there is one New Year’s resolution that will help your kids learn faster and also make the process more fun for the whole family.

Bilinguals: “Brain Bodybuilders”

Using Music to Help Children Learn Languages

In addition to the many and varied benefits to being bilingual, new research has found something new: bilinguals have more efficient brains that filter out important information from a mass of data faster than brains of monolinguals. This amazing brain benefit is seen as early as infancy. Babies exposed to more than one language have faster image recognition compared to their peers.

Increase Their Language Exposure – And Don’t Give Up!

Parents can become frustrated that their kids aren’t picking up the second language “automatically.” Aren’t their minds supposed to be like sponges? It may be that they need broader language exposure, in more areas of their lives. It’s estimated that kids need to be exposed to a language at least 30% of the time before they begin internalizing it.

There is a growing movement in Europe that disperses foreign language instruction throughout the entire curriculum, instead of keeping it isolated in a single language class. In the US, language immersion schools are becoming more popular, and their students are showing very promising results. True internalization happens when a new language reaches into all different corners of a child’s life.

Make a Resolution to Add a Self-Motivating Activity

In order to learn a new language, your child must learn its essential vocabulary. While this may sound like an enormous task, the bulk of any language is made up of a few hundred words, so you don’t have to know the majority of its words to communicate effectively. Knowing filler words like “and,” “but” and “so” are essential because they buy a few moments to think what to say next. It also helps to practice answers to the most commonly asked questions, like “Where are you from?” and “What do you like to do?” because it boosts a new speaker’s confidence.

To help your kids learn vocabulary faster, try practicing it in a way that is fun and self-motivating! By weaving language into activities they already love, new words will quickly become a real part of their lives. We know, of course, that kids of all ages benefit from the simple act of reading with their parents. Little ones also respond well to singing in a new language. Or, try turning a kids’ treasure or scavenger hunt into a language learning game!

springtime language learning: scavenger and treasure hunts

Parents can find a wealth of kid-friendly content online by using Google or websites like Youtube. Older kids might be interested in foreign kids’ TV shows, foreign music, kids’ blogs in foreign languages, cartoons, recipes, or even video games.

It’s also great to get your kid’s friends involved. You could have a foreign language movie night, or foreign language-themed party with word games like Pictionary and karaoke singing. If you can, set up a play date with other kids who speak fluently. Being in the midst of a foreign language play date can give your child a new appreciation for the language, and greater motivation to participate in the conversation.

Whatever fun, motivating activities you decide to take on in 2015, be proud that you’re making the effort to give your kids the gift of language and culture. Rest assured, it’s a gift they will benefit from every day of their lives.

What kind of language-themed activities do your kids love doing? Post below and share your ideas!


Classroom kids photo by caseywest via Flickr, some rights reserved

Scavenger hunt photo by Umair Mohsin via flicker, some rights reserved.

Tomorrow is the Last Day – Get 10% Off Gift Certificates! Give the Gift of Language & Culture for #GivingTuesday

Photo by peddhapati via flickr, some rights reserved

We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! Just a reminder that our special Language Lizard gift certificate offer will expire at the end of the day tomorrow, #GivingTuesday.

To receive a 10% discount on all Language Lizard Gift Certificates, simply add the item to your cart, choose the amount of your gift and the recipient, and use COUPON CODE LLGiving2014 upon checkout (by Dec 2nd 2014).

Language Lizard gift certificates allow you to share bilingual books with students, teachers, librarians, and others who support dual-language children. Your recipients can choose books in over 40 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Gujarati, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Japanese, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese and more!

You can also add a special note of thanks on your gift certificates, and have them sent via email within one business day!

Happy Reading!


Photo credit: Bhaskar Peddhapati via Flickr, some rights reserved

Now Through #GivingTuesday (12/2/14) Get 10% Off Gift Certificates! Give the Gift of Language & Culture for Less

hands holding the words give thanks

Most of us are preparing to give thanks for our blessings on Thanksgiving.  We at Language Lizard are grateful for all the work you do to promote language learning and multicultural education in the classroom and at home.

This year, we are thinking beyond Thanksgiving and the Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping deals that follow. We are proud to be joining the many organizations around the world celebrating #GivingTuesday.  We’d like to help you get involved too!

What is #GivingTuesday?

#GivingTuesday was founded by New York’s 92nd Street Y, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, as a global movement involving over 10,000 organizations. As their website states, “We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.”

Join Us on this Special Day and Get 10% Off Gift Certificates

Are you interested in giving bilingual books to a school, library or organization that supports dual-language children? Or would you like to give a unique gift to a special teacher or child learning another language?

From Tuesday Nov 25th to Tuesday December 2nd 2014, receive a 10% DISCOUNT on all LANGUAGE LIZARD GIFT CERTIFICATES. Use Coupon Code LLGiving2014 upon checkout.

Gift certificates can be purchased in any dollar amount, and can be sent to you or to the recipient via email or regular mail. (Choose the email option and receive it within one business day!)

Simply go to our gift certificates page, add one or more to your cart and follow the easy instructions!

We wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving!

New (Free) Lesson Plans Support Multicultural Education

Just when you’re looking for new ways to bring more multicultural education to the classroom while meeting the Common Core Standards, we are thrilled to announce that we have another wonderful lesson plan to share, created by our friends at West Chester University.

This newest unit uses two popular and beautifully-illustrated books, Handa’s Hen and Handa’s Surprise, to teach students about Kenya and, at the same time, to help them identify and use descriptive writing. Using this lesson plan, students will learn to distinguish similarities and differences in cultures and communities. They will also be able to hear some African languages spoken!

For those of you who don’t yet know, Language Lizard has many complimentary lesson plans available for teachers to download. There are lessons that are specific to certain holidays (Chinese New Year, Diwali, Ramadan, Thanksgiving) as well as those that focus on certain countries (India, Korea, Japan, Romania). Others teach about understanding and appreciating differences, or bullying and problem solving.  To obtain access to all the lesson plans, simply go to

For those interested in reading more about the adventures of Handa, we are offering a 10% discount on both Handa’s Hen and Handa’s Surprise. You can receive the discount by entering coupon code CCS-HANDA upon checkout (offer good through Nov 30, 2014).HEN_book_image1

It’s Time to Announce our Giveaway Winners

 photo credit: lakennlinnea @

Thank you all for participating in our SMILE giveaway for a free copy of Augustus and His Smile.

Congratulations to our winners – Karen L. from Indiana (Haitian Creole edition), Connie N. from Washington (Spanish edition), and Eman B. from North Carolina  (Arabic edition).

Don’t miss our next giveaway… sign up for our newsletter at  And continue to check our Facebook page and Twitter postings!

Reading under the Trees

by guest blogger Karen Nemeth EdM

 When I was a young girl I told everyone that one day I would have a house with a weeping willow tree in the yard because I loved to hide in the shelter of the cascading leaves and read books.  That is what I loved so much about reading – that I could do it anywhere, anytime.  I also loved to read at night in a tent with a flashlight or early in the morning when the birds were just beginning to chirp.  I think reading outside is something every child should be able to enjoy.   I was reading all the time as I was growing up, even though I sometimes resisted the restrictive reading assignments at school.  Let’s bring back the freedom and joy of reading just for the fun of it!

 I think we can change the way schools, families, camps and librarians approach early literacy in any language with this idea!  I don’t know how we developed the rule that children should go outside for big, physical play, but come inside to read.  A change of venue is a perfect way to get children more interested in reading for pleasure and for interest.  Fresh air, freedom and books go perfectly together.  Here are some ideas you could try:

 * In addition to your stationary bookshelves, how about creating a book basket that can go outside with you? You might add some drawing supplies or dress-up items so the children can draw or act out the stories they are reading.

* Keep a stash of books in the car or school bus or camp van  – a great way to fill the time when you’re riding or waiting.  What if children were greeted every day with “Good morning – what have you been reading about today?”

* Create a collection of books related to your outside environment whether it is your backyard, the neighborhood park, the playground or a balcony.  Look for books about what the child sees in his outside world.  Then – if you provide them in different languages, the children have lots of cues to understand the new words.

*  Join in the reading fun!  Whenever we want children to do something new, the best thing is to do it too!  I would love to see more teachers, librarians, camp counselors, and parents laying on the grass with the kids, enjoying a book of their own.

For more ideas about early learning and language, visit my website at .  And, if you can find a nice, welcoming, shady tree, that would be a perfect place to start reading outside!

Time to Celebrate your Dual Language Learners!

It’s snowing – again.  Inside your classroom, the three and four year olds you teach are restless and frustrated.  Their little noses are pressed up against the windows where paper snowflakes, which looked magical in December, now wilt miserably.  “So much snow,” says a little girl who is growing up learning both English and Korean, her home language.  The boy next to her, whose parents speak only Spanish, nods and says, “I want to play outside.” The children have been working (and playing!) so hard since September.  Now would be a great time to do something to take their minds off the grey skies and slush and celebrate all the good things they’ve achieved since starting school – especially the progress made by Dual Language Learners. Whether you teach preschool or are supporting your class as they move towards their graduation from elementary, middle or high school, a Celebration Evening will really highlight everyone’s success. 

You may have already thought about putting together a Celebration Evening to recognize your DLLs/ELLs.  Maybe you’ve planned something really special, really spectacular…and then you’ve worried about leaving out your monolingual students.  But a Celebration Evening for DLLs doesn’t have to exclude the children who only speak English!  If you focus on home languages rather than just bilingualism, you’ll be able to involve everyone in your classroom.

Start by working with your students to create invitations for their family members and friends.  They could decorate them with flags representing the cultures of all the students in the class, including the American flag, or with the word “invitation” or “celebration” in all of the languages your children speak.  If you have people in your school who can help you translate the text into the appropriate languages, that will encourage parents, caregivers and family friends to attend.

The next step should be designing awards for all of the students in the class.  Your DLLs can get special Language Progress Awards or could be congratulated for completing any ELL programs your school has in place.  Monolingual students could be recognized for other group or individual language achievements: awards for story-telling or vocabulary or reading, for instance.  Each of the class teachers – especially any ELL teachers or classroom assistants with other languages — could introduce themselves and speak briefly about why they like working with this particular group of children and why the certificate they’re about to give out is important.  If they can do it in two languages, even better!

Having fun will be so important on the celebration night itself.  Here are some ideas to help you get started:  

  • ·         Get local musicians in to perform as the students show their families and friends their classroom environment, or find out if some of the bilingual parents (or students) have musical skills and would be willing to perform. 
  • ·         Let the children teach the adults games that they’ve learned and songs from other cultures, sung in different languages! 
  • ·         Provide (or ask parents to bring) a range of kid-friendly food that will represent not only the American culture in your class but the backgrounds of all the children who attend. 
  • ·         Set up a craft center with a focus on language: words in your class languages for adults and children to color or decorate, multi-cultural images and words to cut and paste into a collage, etc.
  • ·         A nice touch would be to ask several students to share how they’ve felt about the DLL/ELL program in your class – which parts have they enjoyed the most?  Reading the bilingual books? Learning new songs and hearing stories from other cultures?  These narratives could then be read out by teachers or older students during the evening to highlight the benefits of bilingualism for everyone, not just DLLs. 
  • ·         Brainstorm with your students for their unique perspective on how to make the night a success!

Of course it is important to keep the celebration of Dual Language Learners going beyond the special evening. You want to help students build relationships throughout the year and give them the foundations for lifelong friendships.  Books such as Karen Nemeth’s New Words New Friends can be a great resource, giving children the tools they need to empathise with, support, and approach the DLLs in their class with snappy rhyming couplets and fun, colorful illustrations.  Nemeth is a national expert on and advocate for DLLs; her website is full of helpful ideas and thought-provoking discussions for everyone working with children who are learning two or more languages. 

Spring is on its way, but until we’ve put the snow and sleet behind us for good, let’s focus on the positives and celebrate the achievements of all of our language learners– and help them to celebrate each other every day!

How do you celebrate the achievements of Dual Language Learners?  And how do you include your entire class in the celebration?  We’d love to hear your ideas!



New Year Celebrations Around the World

Looking for a way to beat the winter blahs? Sweep away the cobwebs (literally!) and join in with celebrations for the traditional Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, on January 31st this year!

A colorful, festive extravaganza, this holiday is celebrated with the cleaning out of the old to make way for the new, money given in auspiciously-colored red envelopes, and a dynamic spectacular that most everyone will recognize: the lion dance.

The children you know will love learning about the fun associated with this holiday through bilingual books like Li’s Chinese New Year.  They may also want to know if other cultures celebrate different new year dates too! Talk to them about the Thai Songkran, or Water Festival, in which the feet of the elderly are cleaned by the young and everyone gathers in the streets for a big community water fight.

You could additionally discuss the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.  It will be observed in late September 2014 and follows a period of repentance after which Jewish people can start with a clean slate, celebrating with the sound of the shofar (a traditional horn) and eating foods like honey-dipped apples to ensure a “sweet” new year.

There’s a growing Ethiopian population in America, yet many people may not know about Enkutatash, the Ethopian new year.  Observed on the 11th of September, or 12th in a leap year, it’s a more understated affair during which families eat together and exchange cards and bouquets of daisies.

Language Lizard would love to know, how do YOU celebrate new years with your children and students?

Make 2014 your Year of the Strong Woman


It’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and who’s that woman with the big grin leading millions of Americans into 2014?  It’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with a commanding view of her hometown and her hand firmly on that all-important crystal button.

Why did organizers choose Justice Sotomayor?  To put it simply, she is an inspiration.  From humble beginnings, she graduated from Princeton and then Yale Law School.  Her law career went from strength to strength, and she rose through the ranks to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice and only the third woman to serve there.

What a great choice of person to bring us into the new year with a bang!  Organizers could have nominated someone like Miley Cyrus, who was performing in Times Square that night as well, but instead went with a hard-working, fearless, intelligent Hispanic woman who is a wonderful example to both boys and girls everywhere.

When Sotomayor pressed that crystal button, it was a call to us all to make 2014 our Year of the Strong Woman.

Of course as parents, caregivers, and teachers, we are always looking for ways to support and encourage our girls to grow into women as amazing as Sotomayor, and show our boys that women should be equally valued members of society. Reading about strong female characters in books is an excellent way to bring these ideas into the home and classroom.

There are a number of excellent bilingual books that feature interesting and feisty female protagonists that will appeal to all children.  Take a look at…

Yeh-Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella

Cinderella’s story is a classic one.  However the Cinderella you know from the movies is meek and passive, while the Chinese Cinderella is a much “stronger character”, according to reviewer Maureen Barlow Pugh.  She describes how our “kind and clever” heroine makes the decision herself to go to the Spring Festival through which she eventually marries the King, and “makes it happen because she is ‘so determined’.”  This Cinderella doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen to her!  What a great example for little girls who want to grow up to be princesses.  You could use this as a talking point, too: maybe being a princess wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling as being a lawyer, or a doctor, or a professor, or a chemical engineer!

Jill and the Beanstalk

Manju Gregory’s retelling of the well-loved Jack and the Beanstalk really puts girls in their place – right on top!  This fairytale female even makes Jack envious of her beanstalk-climbing prowess.  It will be fun and useful for all children to see a girl in the traditional role of the warrior who takes on the giant…and wins.

 Little Red Hen and the Grains of Wheat

This timeless tale is a perfect example of how our culture already has awesome females embedded into its folklore.  Little ones will love the witty illustrations, but will also see how hard the hen works, and how tenacious she is — and how she creates a loaf of bread to be proud of all on her own!  This version of the tale won the UK National Literary Association’s Wow! Award in 2006, and you can use it in your home or classroom to reinforce the idea that all people, regardless of gender, can be successful and contribute to their community through hard work.

The Wild Washerwomen

Sometimes the roles that society stereotypically imposes upon women get to be just too much to bear, and that’s exactly what happens in this story illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Seven put-upon and strong-willed washerwomen throw off the shackles of their miserable existence and decide to have some fun for once!  The Wild Washerwomen effectively undermines the idea that girls are made to do “women’s work”.  It shows that we do have the choice to leave the dirty socks to someone else (maybe some washermen?) — and that we might even find love if we do!  Encourage your girls to let their hair down and go a bit wild with this adorable romp.

Mamy Wata and the Monster
Mamy (or Mami) Wata is an ancient river spirit revered in large parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.  Her many followers perform rituals where they dance themselves into a trance.   She is a beautiful, complex water queen, known to be able to grant either fortune or bad luck.

In Mamy Wata and the Monster, one of the 100 Best African Books of the century, our protagonist confronts a supposedly fearful monster living in a cave, and manages to help him change his ways.

Mamy Wata displays many qualities we want our girls (and boys!) to aspire to: she is caring and kind, while also fearless and proactive.  She deals with tricky situations delicately and fosters a sense of community around her.  She is generous and brave.  She is, quite simply, a great role model in this fable.

Look out for more about Mamy Wata in a later post!



It’s so important that we raise the young women in our lives to be confident, motivated and ready to take on any challenge.  The books they read as children will play a huge part in helping them to develop these qualities, not to mention the fact that learning another language early on will give them a leg up academically and socially!  Give your girls the gift of self-esteem: show her books where women rule!

Top Ten Games to Play with Bilingual Children’s Books


Using flash cards and rote learning to teach an additional language is like looking at pictures of a turkey dinner instead of sitting down to eat the wonderful meal.  There are so many more interesting ways to experience learning and using a new language! And bilingual books are a great place to start.

In April of this year, ran an article supporting what we already know: “playing simple games using words and pictures can help people to learn a new language with greater ease”.  This type of informal learning is “effortless” and supports the retention of the new language “even days afterwards”, according to the quoted study from the University of Nottingham. It makes practical sense too — we all know that we learn better when we’re having fun and not putting too much pressure on ourselves to retain information.

Looking for some inspiration to get involved in informal learning using bilingual books you already have in your library or some you’ve got your eye on for Christmas?  Look no further!  We’ve even grouped our Top Ten Activities according to levels of proficiency in the additional language needed to complete them (the level needed is higher as the numbers go up).

1) Charades

This classic game works really well to help cement children’s understanding of the bilingual books they’ve recently read.  Little ones can choose a favorite character from the story to act out with gestures and no words.  However, to really improve their vocabulary, choosing objects from the book for their peers to identify in the additional language will certainly push them one step further without them realizing they’re doing any language-learning work at all!

2) You Be the Star

For the next activity, let the children choose a favorite scene from the bilingual book they’re reading and act it out for each other.  They should use as many words in the new language as they can to get across the main idea, even if they’re not using dialogue and narrative lifted straight from the page.

3) Key Word Shuffle

This one is a real vocabulary-builder! Using spare index cards you have lying around your classroom or home, or even squares of construction paper, list a number of key words in the new language from the bilingual book you’ve chosen.  For example, the story of Cinderella might produce key words like “prince”, “pumpkin”, “glass slipper”, and “sweep”.  Shuffle the cards and let the children choose them at random, then find the page in the book that contains that word.

4) Scavenger Hunt

Have a little bit more time on your hands and a few more resources at your disposal?  Build on the Key Word Shuffle by allowing little ones to search for bilingual treasure!  They can use index cards with words in the language they’re learning as clues to find objects from a story in the home or classroom.  Maybe you’re reading a bilingual version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears — tots can hunt for chairs, bowls, or even a box of instant porridge!

5) Memory Game

Kids love puzzles at any age, and this quick game will challenge their memories and the language they’ve learned so far.  It’s simple: copy the pages of the bilingual story you’re reading, shuffle them, and ask the children to put them back in order without looking at the book.  For children who need a little more support, you could always copy only a few of the most important pages from the plot, and if your little ones are a bit more advanced, let them try the whole thing.

6) Pictionary

It’s fun; it’s fast-paced; it focuses children’s minds on new-language vocabulary they’re learning! Just like in the game show you remember from the ’90s, in our version you use key words and phrases from bilingual stories your children are familiar with.  The twist is that they must guess in their additional language! The competitive element will add a frisson and keep kids involved in their own learning long after they’ve shut their books for the day.

7) Puppet Show

Looking for a way to combine arts and crafts and bilingual learning?  Our puppet show activity really ticks both boxes.  Children can spend time making creative puppets (like the ones found on this website, perhaps) to represent characters from the book they’re reading before using them to act out a scene with lines of memorized dialogue in their additional language. If they’re working on this project in school, it would be a great one to take home and show their loved ones what they’ve learned too!

8) The Post-it Note Game

If you’ve got some sticky notes, a pen, and a bilingual children’s book, then you’ve got the ingredients for this game.  Our version requires a little bit more knowledge of the new language but it’s great fun once your little ones have advanced to this level!  All you need to do is write the names of characters (or objects- to make it even more challenging!) from the story onto post-its and stick them to the foreheads of your players so they can only read the stickies of the people at whom they’re looking and not their own.  They then ask yes-or-no questions to try to figure out “who” they are, such as, “Am I a girl or a boy? Do I have dark hair?  Do I climb a beanstalk? Am I bigger than everyone else in the story?”  Of course, the higher their level of proficiency, the better questions they can ask, adding to the fun of the game.

9) Hot Seating

A complex role-playing game, this will really test your little learners’ vocabulary.  To play, children take turns performing as a character from the bilingual book they’ve most recently read, while the others ask them questions about how they felt at different points in the story.  As in the Post-It Note Game, the better their skills in their new language, the better the questions they can ask, and the deeper they can go exploring the emotions and characters in the text.  For instance, if students are reading Marek and Alice’s Christmas, they can use the additional language to ask questions like “How did you feel about visiting Poland for Christmas?”  “What were you expecting Christmas to be like?”  “Why do you like spending time with your babcia?”  “What was your favorite part of Christmas?”  Let the kids be creative with this one — a little poetic license is a good thing — but the closer they can stay to the text the more they’ll be reinforcing what they’ve already learned.

10) What Happens Next?

The end of a really good story is always a bit disappointing — you wish the author had carried on!  In our final game, your children can help her do just that by adding an epilogue or sequel to the bilingual book you’ve read.  Learners will obviously need to be able to use their new language to a high level to get involved in this activity, but even a very simple continuation of the story can be fun, satisfying, and an effortless way to reinforce bilingual skills.

Of course this is just a small selection of the great games many teachers and parents use every day to support their kids’ bilingualism, even when they don’t realize they’re doing it!  Maybe you’ve got some ideas up your sleeve.  Why not post them in our comments section and share the joy of informal language learning?