Tag Archives: bilingual

The Last Book My Dad Read to Me

bilingual father reaching for book

by guest blogger Sue Kwon

For my husband, our two young girls and myself, reading a bedtime story together is a much-loved nightly ritual. On our busiest days, it’s our first opportunity to sit down with a single purpose and no distractions. My husband is the official story reader in our family. He has patience (that I lack) with even the longest, most repetitive children’s books. The girls sit still, listen with rapt attention, and gaze up at him with eyes full of love and admiration.

In our household, we all speak and read in English. It’s a commonality that’s easy to take for granted. It means story time is an experience shared equally by everyone. The family I grew up in was different: my parents and older sisters were Korean immigrants, and I was born in the US. They all spoke and read in Korean, and I almost entirely in English. My father and I had a nightly story time routine too, and I remember very clearly the last book he ever read to me.

My father was born and raised in a small town in South Korea. He served a mandatory time in the military, married young, and eventually emigrated to the US with his wife and young daughters, knowing no English whatsoever. Once here, he picked up the language quickly while working at a doughnut shop, where he biked to and fro each day. One night at work, he was held up at gunpoint, and he decided to make a big change: He opened a business installing windows, a skill he had learned as a young man in Korea. We were lucky – the new business grew fast. But that meant he worked very long, stressful hours. By the time he got home at night, he was so exhausted he only paused briefly to eat dinner before going to bed.

I got into the habit of waiting by the front door as soon as my mother started making his dinner. That way, as soon as he walked in, I could pounce on him with a book in hand. Although my father had very impressive verbal English skills, his reading skills were very basic. Still, he would sit and read to me, and it was the few precious moments we spent together each day.

One evening, when I was 5, he came home from work and we sat down right in the entryway, just like always. He opened the book and read the first line: “We like worms!” he said, his English heavily accented. “Not worms, Daddy!” I interrupted. “It says ‘rhymes!’ Why would they like worms?” I doubled over with laughter. I found it hilarious that my dad, the most grown-up person I knew, someone I thought was invincible, didn’t know the word “rhymes.” What was even funnier to me was the fact that we had read that book a hundred times before, and I had thought all along it was a story about worms. I laughed so hard, I didn’t immediately realize that he wasn’t laughing with me. The emotion on his face was so clear, I knew without a doubt I had embarrassed him. It must have been humiliating to be corrected and laughed at by his preschooler. He handed me the book, shrugged, and said it looked like I didn’t need his help anymore.

We never attempted story time after that. Partly because of my father’s embarrassment, but also because I had lost respect for him. I naively thought that if I could read better than he could, I must be smarter than him. Who knows, maybe on some level he thought the same thing. It didn’t occur to me then that his ability to read in English was not a true measure of his intelligence. We never tried reading a book in Korean. I think if we had, I would’ve realized right away how silly my assumption was.

It wasn’t until I was grown with kids of my own, years after his passing, that I realized the enormity of my father’s life. The amount of bravery it must have taken for him to leave his home country. The level of intelligence it must have taken to pick up a new language, and then grow a successful business from scratch. My dad came from such humble beginnings, but managed to achieve so much in his life.

Thirty years after that last story, and 10 years after his passing, I often think about all the knowledge, experience and wisdom my dad must have carried with him. I wish I had given him a chance to hand it down to me. Because we didn’t share a written language, and had no means to bridge that gap, we missed out on a lifetime of knowing each other.

Tonight, as I sat with my husband while he read to the girls, I thought about how lucky we are. Lucky to be able to share bedtime stories, but also lucky to live in a time and place where foreign language is no longer seen as a detriment, but a great asset. Parents don’t have to give up their home language for fear of hindering their kids’ development. Languages can mix, intermingle and live in harmony in the same household. Parents and kids can meet somewhere in the middle, and share bedtime stories that lead to life stories that lead to a lifetime of family togetherness.

Do you have more than one language in your home? Tell us your thoughts and experiences by commenting below.

“No substitute” by Patrick Feller via Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6jEJFb

Ramadan in the Classroom & At Home

Ramadan night photo multicultural bilingualThe Muslim holiday of Ramadan is the 9th and most sacred month in the Islamic calendar. Traditionally, it’s a time of fasting from sun up to sun down each day. Children aren’t required to fast until they’re teenagers, but may fast for part of the day to help them appreciate the significance of the holiday. Fasting is meant to help Muslims practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy. Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, growth, and religious devotion.

Learning about Ramadan: Lesson Plan & Storybook

children's bilingual book Samira's Eid multiculturalLanguage Lizard offers a free, standards-based lesson plan that introduces students to Muslim customs and cultures, new languages and texts, and promotes acceptance of diversity. The lesson plan pairs with the bilingual storybook Samira’s Eid. Samira and her family get a surprise visitor during Ramadan who brings a special gift for them. The story teaches kids about the holiday’s traditions, and the meaning behind them, through Samira’s eyes.

Samira’s Eid is currently available with English and your choice of the following languages: Arabic, Bengali, Farsi, French, Kurdish, Panjabi, Somali, Turkish, and Urdu.

Experience the Food of Ramadan

ramadan meal multicultural bilingualEach night at sunset, families gather for the fast-breaking meal known as iftar. Get in the spirit by trying some traditional dishes served at iftar with your classroom or family. One quick and easy dessert that the kids can help make, and will love to eat, is this traditional mango, pistachio and cream dessert.

Ramadan Arts & Crafts Projects

Ramadan decorations multicultural bilingualRamadan can also be a time of beautiful decorations. Lanterns, in particular, have become symbolic of the holiday. Kids can make simple paper crafts, including lanterns, or try out more complex projects like this drum.

Online Ramadan Resources for Kids

child reading a book ramadan multicultural bilingualFind kid-friendly Ramadan photos online to look through together, and discuss how Ramadan is experienced by the littlest Muslims. The PBS Kids website offers a free, interactive book about Ramadan and its traditions. Or check out this multilingual Ramadan poster that includes illustrations of the call to prayer, fasting, sharing an evening meal, and family time.

Will you be learning about Ramadan with your classroom or family? Share your ideas by commenting below!

 

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: Make Storytime Their Favorite Time of the Day

bilingual children: storytime favorite time of day

Reading out loud is one of the most wonderful ways we can help our children learn language(s). It helps to build vocabulary (in many languages) and helps children fall in love with literature and the written word.

The more we can make storytime a great experience for children, the more they will look forward to reading on their own down the road.

It doesn’t take a lot to make storytime a child’s favorite time of day. However, reminding ourselves of some key elements can help make it even better.

Here are some ideas for how to make your storytime the highlight of every child’s day:
Continue reading Bilingual Children: Make Storytime Their Favorite Time of the Day

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

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

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