“A” is for airplane. But “V” is for vliegtuig… the beauty of bilingual resources from Diglot Books

The question of reading – who reads what and in what language? is a common one in bilingual families. Should each parent only read books in their own language? Is it okay to read books in the other language? What if your accent is terrible? What if you only want to read in *your* language but your tantruming toddler wants the favourite book in the other language?
My standard advice is that you can “read” a book in any language you want, especially kids’ books which are not, let’s face it, very challenging in terms of vocabulary and content. So, I can read an English book to my kids in French, and my husband can read a French book in English. It sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Of course, nothing in life is always that simple. And that realization led to a great idea. In 2010 two friends, Alison O’Dornan and Wilma vanRiel were having coffee and chatting and Wilma brought up and issue she was having with her daughter and books. Sophie was being raised with two languages, Dutch and English. And she was finding alphabet books confusing, because words do not always start with the same letter in both languages. This led Wilma to the idea of writing an English/Dutch bilingual alphabet book with only words that work in both languages. From this idea, Diglot Books was born.
These books are fantastic resources for bilingual families. Not only is it easier for children to manage one alphabet, but it also demonstrates to them bilingualism in action – you can read in two languages, and you can use both to say the *same* things. Some of the books are available digitally and some in print version, and the selection of books varies by language pair. Right now they have resources available in Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Welsh and Cornish, all paired with English.

You can browse the store or find out more at Diglot Books

Author’s Note: This is not a sponsored post. I am blogging about Diglot Books because I believe they are a great resource for bilingual families, and I am not getting any compensation, either monetary or other, for this post!

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Amsterdam Seminar: Raising Bilingual Children: Six building-blocks for success

Back by popular demand, the “Raising Bilingual Children: Six building blocks for success” seminar is being offered in Amsterdam, March 31, 2014. This seminar offers an overview of the theory of bilingualism/multilingualism, in an accessible and interesting lecture. We then move into the practicalities of raising children with more than one language: ways and means, and potential pitfalls along the way. The seminar closes with a brief introduction into the science and art of family language planning, as well as answering some common questions and misconceptions.
Come along for the evening, and bring your other half if you can!

For more information or to register, visit our host Jacaranda Tree Montessori

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Changing the language about language

I was reading some online information about the recent local elections, to see what the different parties were campaigning about this time. I was reading it in English, because I am lazy that way… I came across a couple of references to special preschools for children with a “language deficiency”. Hm, I thought. I wonder what they actually mean by this? So I went back to the original sources, in Dutch, to see if it was more clear. And unfortunately, it was definitely more clear. The Dutch word used was “taalachterstand”, which does translate to “language delay”. And it was being used to classify children with “one or more non-Dutch speaking parents”. Wow. What a negative way to refer to the language development process of *bilingual* children. What message does it give to children, to be thrust into early preschool, to help them with their “deficiency”? What impact on their self-confidence, and their attitudes towards the other language(s) spoken in their home? And what message does it send to the parents of these children? That having another language is not a benefit, or a gift, but makes you “deficient”? Seriously, it’s like being back in the 1950s. These children are not delayed. They are language learners who are in the process of learning a new language, in addition to the one they are already proficient in!

We know that being raised bilingual is overall a positive thing for children’s development. We know that a key element of the “positive” comes from the development of both languages. We know that successful bilingualism is far, far better than forced monolingualism. We know that positive attitudes and maintenance of the home language are the best route to successful acquisition of a new community or school language.

Why is it that there is so much information available about bilingualism – research-based, solid information, available from many academic and non-academic sources, and yet the “people making the decisions” seem to have read none of it. Not one word. Do the people running these preschools know this research? I don’t know. I hope so, but given the mandate of these schools, it’s seems that they are unlikely to be havens of positive bilingualism. And if this is true, what attitudes are being espoused, and what advice given, by the teachers and administrators in these preschools, if they are coming from the angle of trying to fix deficient children?

There is no excuse for this kind of dialogue about bilingualism anymore. None. So if you have a child that has an “indicatie” for one of these preschools, please, please talk to them about the importance of the language we use about language for, and with, our children. Or just point them in the direction of this post….

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San Francisco’s Bilingual Programs as Effective as English Only, Study Finds – Learning the Language – Education Week

This is a great study that shows that offering children education in their two languages (in this case Spanish and English) is as effective, if not more effective at helping them achieve “native speaker” results in English language testing. Yes, that’s right – bilingual education does not mean poor English skills and better Spanish skills. It means better Spanish skills as equal or better English skills! Educators, read this and take it to your admin, to promote the support for mother tongue/L1 support in schools!

San Francisco's Bilingual Programs as Effective as English Only, Study Finds – Learning the Language – Education Week.

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Do your kids know their body parts?

The very first report card my 3.5-year old twins brought home from school was a bit of a shock. They got a “B-” in “knows body parts”. Really? My kids don’t know their body parts? I felt like such a failure as a mother – after all, my oldest daughter certainly knew *her* body parts at that age. Her report cards were all “A”s, from the beginning.
Happily, after a bit of pondering, I realised that it wasn’t my parenting at fault, it was the assessment techniques and standards. Yes, my children knew their body parts (believe me, I checked!). However, the languages they used most at home were English and Dutch. The language of school was French. So, the assessment should read “knows the words for body parts in French”. They knew the parts, they knew most of the words in English, a lot of them in Dutch, but not so many in French.
But this, of course, is the root of the problem. The majority of the schools our (bilingual/multilingual) children attend have monolingual standards of assessment. They don’t care if your kids know things in other languages, and they don’t care if the assessment techniques and standards are biased. In fact, many will argue that they are not biased, because they expect bilingual children to be “the same” as monolingual children in both/all of their languages.
So today I am back to Oxford, for the fifth session of our teacher-training program. And tomorrow we are going to be talking about assessment for bilingual learners; how to figure out what they know before they can express it, how to “evaluate” them fairly and with empathy and understanding of their differentiated language skills. This is one of my most important seminars, I think, because children who are “language learners” in schools so often underachieve in evaluations, which sets the teachers off on a road to blaming bilingualism, or trying to send kids for “special education” and in turn sends parents into a tailspin of questioning their decisions and not knowing how to help their children.

Wish me luck!

And for the record, my kids now know their body parts in French And in English. But they have forgotten a few in Dutch, I think. Such is life in a multilingual household.

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Raising Bilingual Children: Six building blocks for success

Back by popular demand, the “Raising Bilingual Children: Six building blocks for success” seminar is being offered in The Hague, March 10, 2014. This seminar offers an overview of the theory of bilingualism/multilingualism, in an accessible and interesting lecture. We then move into the practicalities of raising children with more than one language: ways and means, and potential pitfalls along the way. The seminar closes with a brief introduction into the science and art of family language planning, as well as answering some common questions and misconceptions.
Come along for the evening, and bring your other half if you can!
Registration and more information at: Passionate Parenting Seminars

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International Mother Language Day

February 21 is International Mother Language Day. Recognised by the United Nations as a day

“to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world

It is a day when all involved in multilingualism, whether personally or professionally, should stop and consider where they can make a difference.

February 21 is not a random date choice for this observance. On this date in 1952, student protesters in Pakistan were killed during a demonstration supporting the inclusion of Bengali as the second official language of Pakistan. Yes, they were shot at by police, for daring to insist on their right to use their “mother language”. Throughout history, minorities have been oppressed and discriminated against through the vehicle of language. All over Europe, regional languages died out due to policies disallowing the use and teaching of languages other than the majority, policies that endure, both overtly and covertly, today (France, I’m looking at you!). And all over the world minority languages are dying out due to lack of support: financial, moral and political. Outright violence in the name of language policy may be rare, but people suffer every day from the effects of government attempts to control and proscribe language use.

We don’t always notice it happening, because it isn’t always “newsworthy”. People are more careful about how they phrase things now – instead of saying “Your language is not as good as ours.” they say “Maybe you should speak more of *our* language to your child, so they can learn it better.” Or they say “Only *our* language is allowed in this school, because it is the only necessary language.”. Or they say “Maybe you should only speak one language to your child, so you don’t confuse them.”.

But no matter how they phrase it, the intention is the same – to proscribe to someone what language is acceptable, and which language they should use. And that is why we still need International Mother Language Day (although I’d argue for a more inclusive name). Because linguistic hegemony is still happening, everywhere, and many people still find it acceptable to infringe on the language rights of minority speakers.

I’m trying to make a difference this year by championing the right of every child to have their “mother language” respected and supported at school, and to bring about better attitudes towards multilingualism within schools.

Where can you make a difference this year?

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

—from the United Nations International Mother Language Day microsite

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