This is such important work, and shows clearly the need to support the home language of children who are learning English (or another language) at school. When will policymakers start listening to what research clearly shows to be best practice?
Category Archives: Introduction
Is speech sound development related to grammatical development in bilinguals? In a new paper by Cooperson, Bedore & Peña in Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, we report on a couple of studies where we explored the relationship between children’s articulation accuracy in Spanish and English as related to grammatical production in both languages.
For all my local readers, this Thursday night I am doing a seminar in The Hague. This is a seminar for parents who are already raising bilingual/multilingual children, are thinking about raising bilingual children, or for professionals who work with bilingual children and want to understand them better.
The seminar is part theory – how bilingual children differ from monolinguals, and the benefits of bilingualism, and part practical – what are the ways and means to achieve success for your children. The “six building blocks for success” have been developed out of the work I have done with hundreds of families over the years, and apply to all types of bilingual/multilingual families and family situations.
The seminar is being hosted by Passionate Parenting, you can register through their website, or contact me for details.
Hope to see you there!
It happens, we’ve all heard the stories. Bilingualism comes easily to some, and in some situations, and for other families and situations, it’s a struggle. So if you are a few years down your bilingualism road and you feel like you are not getting the “results” you expected with your child, what can you do? In many cases, professionals will tell you to just drop the “extra” languages and be happy with having a monolingual child. I think that is very rarely good advice (see this post: Dropping a language?). If you are dedicated to your languages (and in most cases you should be!) what are your options if things just aren’t working?
Basically, you can look for help in one of three areas.
Firstly, if your child is showing delays in all languages, it would be a good idea to have an evaluation with a Speech Language Therapist (SLP). Ideally, a child should be evaluated in both/all languages, in order to get a clear picture of language development in each. If that is not possible, it’s very important to work with an SLP who understands bilingual development and who will work with the parents to understand the child’s global language development.
A second option is to work with a professional in bilingual development. This is useful if you feel that your child is really only using one language, and isn’t developing the second/other language alongside. A professional with training in bilingual development may be able to help you identify ways and means to adjust your family language plan in order to better work towards your goals. This can be as simple as identifying input needs, or helping to plan for a structured enhanced input for a lesser used language. In all cases, they can help parents understand what elements are within their control in terms of maximizing their children’s potential.
Finally, in more complex cases, an educational psychologist can help parents identify learning issues that may be impacting language use or development. Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders struggle with different aspects of language development, and other educational challenges also impact language or involve language use. While children who have special educational needs may struggle more, they can certainly, with the help of their parents and a dedicated and knowledgeable professional, successfully learn to use more than one language.
In all cases, I advise parents to reach out for help as soon as they start to have concerns. The right professional can either put your mind at ease, or get your child immediate and accurate help if needed. In either case, parents are saved the stress of worrying “what if”, and of trying to figure things out themselves.
Thanks so much to all of you who contributed to my OPOL discussion. To do a final post on this subject (for now) I have two more stories to share with you.
Ute, from Expat Since Birth, shares the story of how her multilingual kids communicate: OPOL among multilingual siblings.
Gail Charrion shares her family journey to OPOL (thankfully bypassing some very bad advice) on her blog here: Hello World – it’s an OPOL success story, and inspired her to write Italian/English bilingual books for her kids (Pippo and Poppy).
Enjoy their stories, and I’ll be back next week.
Since I published this blog, two bloggers that I know and love to read have posted their stories and their take on the OPOL issue, so I thought I’d share them with you.
Stephanie Meade of InCultureParent shares her family’s OPOL experiment here: Why OPOL Doesn’t Always Work.
Annabelle Humanes of the piri-piri lexicon tells of her journey from OPOL researcher to OPOL parent here: From linguist to mum: looking back
I’d love to hear your OPOL stories if you’d like to share them too.
Over the weekend, I spent many hours running the canteen at an Irish dance “Feis”. My daughter is a dancer, and every year they host a competition, attracting dancers from various parts of Europe. Over the weekend, I spoke to people from Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Finland, England, Ireland, the US and Canada. The most satisfying part of the experience was being able to help people in their own language. People say that English is the global language, and that if you speak English you don’t need anything else. I disagree, and this weekend was a good example of why. When people approached my canteen counter, I could often tell they were hesitant to order – worried about which language to use, and not wanting to get it wrong. I quickly figured out that the best way to put them at ease was to offer “English, francais or nederlands?”. I only speak a little German, but there was a German woman helping out and she took over the German side of things. It was such an amazing experience to see how people relax and feel more at ease when someone offers them linguistic options – and communication becomes an act of inclusion rather than exclusion when both people are making an effort.
But watching my daughter do the same was equally moving as well – she speaks English and French fluently and her Dutch is reasonably good, but she is shy about using it. Having the opportunity to use all three languages, sometimes in the same conversation was something that really brought home to her how lucky she is to have the opportunity to be multilingual, and how powerful it can be to speak to people in their own languages, rather than always through the medium of English.
The whole event was surrounded by an impressive linguistic atmosphere, with people speaking in many languages, and moving back and forth between them to achieve the best communication. Germans speaking French with Belgians, and Belgians speaking English with Italians and so many other combinations. It led me to reflect, once again, on the idea of “translanguaging” in bilingualism. Once we move past our ideas that a language is static and must be used as such, we realize that language is infinitely changeable and malleable and that we can do whatever we want with it to promote communication and inclusion. Seeing translanguaging in action was a brief insight into what communication could be like if we all make an effort to use the languages of people around us.
Next week: An introduction to translanguaging for bilingual education and bilingual families.
We are presently having our house renovated, so the corner of the sofa that serves as my office and thinking space is no longer available to me… thus the short and shallow post from today.
Firstly, an update on TinyEYE online speech therapy. A few months ago I posted about this fantastic effort to provide online, multilingual speech services to children who live outside their community of practice. At the time, they had Dutch and English speech therapists and platforms available, and were working on French. They’ve now let me know that they have introduced therapy in French and in Italian as well. They can do speech therapy online with children at home, anywhere in the world. They also work with schools, to offer speech therapy in these languages where it might not otherwise be available. You can find out more information on their website TinyEYE. At the moment, the website is only in Dutch, but they are working on multilingual information brochures for parents. You can also email them for more information, their English is fantastic.
A great article to share: I follow a very interesting site called InCultureParent, which is broadly focused on parenting Third-Culture Kids (TCKs). Today they have a great article about personality type and bilingualism, based on her experience with her two daughters. I know I have mentioned here before that no two bilingual children are alike, even in the same family, and personality and learning style impact bilingual success as well. Here is the article, read and enjoy:
On language and politics: The very nice team of builders working on our apartment are Polish. The boss speaks very good English, but spent the first part of his school career learning Russian… after the fall of the Iron Curtain, he estimates it took about three weeks for the school to switch from teaching Russian to teaching English. How closely language and politics are related, and how quickly one language can go from favoured status to pariah.
And on that note, I’m signing off for today to go think about plinths…
I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while, and was finally motivated to write about it by a post on a parenting board. A Spanish-speaking American mother was considering her language use with her children, and how much Spanish she does or should use with her children. This sparked a discussion with some other children of immigrants, and even from that small sample, the trends of language use in the US came through. Statistically, by the third generation, Americans have lost the language that came to the country with their grandparents. Despite the recent increase in xenophobic panic and “English only” movements, this trend is still firmly in place (Source). First generation immigrants tend to arrive with limited English, so they continue to speak to their children in their own language (Mother Tongue, heritage language, first language, community language…). The second generation grows up bilingual, in their parents’ language and in English, but they raise their own children, the third generation, to be English monolinguals.
Why is this? Is it something we should be worried about? Is there anything that can be done? The answers to the first and last questions are quite clear-cut. The answer to the second one, however, is much more personal.
The reasons for the shift away from bilingualism can’t be described in one short post, but in a nutshell, I think the most important elements are language status and lack of information. You can read more about language status here but basically, home languages in the US are viewed as unnecessary and not worthy of serious effort to sustain. On the flip side, in Canada, where “Heritage Languages” receive government support, in policy and in funding, the results are quite different. Over the last 50 years, the number of immigrants succeeding in transferring their language through three generations has increased greatly (Source. The difference in perceived value and institutional support helps immigrants maintain their language, and pass it on to their children. So, that’s the “why”, in brief (and only for a certain situation).
Now let’s look at what can be done. Firstly, every immigrant, migrant, refugee needs to understand the value of the language and the culture they bring with them. You can be American, or Canadian, and be bilingual, or not speak English perfectly. After all, the first languages of these countries were hugely diverse, and none of them were English. Secondly, there needs to be a better transmission of knowledge about the benefits of bilingualism. There are so many potential cognitive, linguistic and social benefits to bilingualism that people don’t always know about, or understand. There needs to be a better societal and educational understanding of why bilingualism is beneficial, to refute the on-going discussions about bilingualism being a threat. This starts with everyone who works with parents and small children – doctors, nurses, health clinics, social workers, teachers – these people all need a better understanding of why bilingualism should be encouraged, and how to do so.
And now the stickier question – should we be worried? In my opinion, absolutely, but of course I am going to say that. In reality, every family facing the choice of moving to a new monolingual standard after immigration, or keeping bilingualism alive in their family has to make their own choice. For families who arrive in a new language location with young children, the best choice is to maintain bilingualism. The potential risks of “dropping” a language for a child are great – these populations are at risk of not “mastering” any language and therefore suffering academically. But for families who are raising the third generation, parents who can speak English (or the main language of their new home) fluently, is there an imperative to pass on the “old” language and aim for bilingualism? And if this choice is made, is it possible to pass on another language when faced with the juggernaut of English in the US (or Canada, or the UK…)? Yes, it is possible, but it takes dedication and planning. Do some research, and understand first all of the really great things your kids will take away from being bilingual. Consider how hard it will be for them to try and learn another language later, through an imperfect education system. Consider also the benefits that you, yourself, have had from being bilingual- linguistic benefits, but also the contact with your culture and your heritage. If all of these combine to make you sure that you want to pass your language on, then make a plan that will get you there. You need to consistently expose your children to the other language, you need to have resources for reading, and encourage other family members and friends to use the language with your children. You need to bring the language alive for your children, so that they can understand and communicate and feel a part of the people represented by the language.
For more information on Family Language Planning you can read here.
For more information on minority language support you can read this post about creating monolingual situations to support minority language growth, and this post for families where only one parent speaks the minority language.
In my opinion, not only as a specialist, but also as a bilingual who worked very hard as an adult to become bilingual, it’s absolutely worth the effort and planning to pass another language, and a cultural heritage, on to a new generation.
A few weeks ago I was approached by a writer, asking to submit a guest post to my blog. This isn’t something I do very often, but she is a former ESL teacher and is interested in bilingualism. She works for a UK college that supports international students preparing for university studies in the UK. So, I thought, why not give a guest post a chance? (NB. I was not paid to publish this…) Here is the article from Corina David.
Bilingualism and Survival of the Toughest Language
There are more and more scientists and researchers that dedicate their time to the study of languages, and the discovery of their common ancestor. According to Mark Pagel, in one of his TED lectures: “Each of you possesses the most powerful, dangerous and subversive trait that natural selection has ever devised. It’s a piece of neural audio technology for rewiring other people’s minds. I’m talking about your language”.
Language and the way language is acquired is indeed a fascinating subject.
Consider children: they start with strange sounds, then half words, then funny words, then proper words and proper sentences. They need no explanation as far as how to link words, how to start a sentence or how to ask a question. They know it instinctively. Now, in families where two languages are spoken this is all the more interesting. Of course, only if the parents decide that both languages will be spoken.
Now, one of the major concerns in bilingual families is that being exposed to two languages, the child might be a bit confused and therefore start using language only later. While this is a popular concern, it is also a myth, as researchers do not have any data to support that bilingual children start developing language with a certain delay.
On the contrary; according to an article in Science Daily babies as young as seven months can distinguish between, and begin to learn two languages with vastly different grammatical structures. The research was done by University of British Columbia and Université Paris Descartes. The study revealed that infants in bilingual milieus use pitch and duration cues to distinguish between English and Japanese – languages that have opposite word orders.
Werker, a linguist at the Université Paris Descartes and co-author of the new study said: “If you speak two languages at home, don’t be afraid, it’s not a zero-sum game.” “Your baby is very equipped to keep these languages separate and they do so in remarkable ways.”
Even if other researchers state that talking to children in two languages, mixing words or borrowing them from the other language might confuse the child at first, they still admit that bilingualism has much more advantages in the long term. It is also recognised that bilingual children have a better “working memory” than monolingual children.
Bilingualism as part of international mobility
Children are exposed to a second language not only because of a bilingual family, but because of international mobility. This makes it all the more interesting as the parents themselves may not speak the new language, and therefore cannot explain it to their children, yet these manage to master it. Age plays an important role here. If children are exposed to the new language as babies, they will acquire and speak it as if it were their native language, without parents contributing to this. The older they get, the more difficult it will be for children to acquire the new language without any help.
Now, with international mobility, the use of the internet and globalisation, English has come to be the dominant language. It may not be so in 20 years’ time, but for the time being it is. And what if there were really gifted children who cannot get their ideas across because English might constitute a barrier?
This is a very interesting question and it was voiced by Patricia Ryan, English teacher (30 years of experience) in the Arabic countries. One of her brilliant questions is: “What if Einstein had to pass a TOEFL test?” Her TED talk can be seen here.
The question is absolutely mind boggling, and although there is great truth in her statements and efforts are made to preserve the endangered languages, the rule of success is that children, students, adults and entrepreneurs will have to accept that the same rule of the survival of the toughest applies in the fascinating universe of languages. Some languages slowly fade away, some struggle and others just bloom. It’s a matter of getting adapted to the new rules.
This is a guest post on behalf of an International College in the UK. Their main goal is to help international students achieve their ambitions, and therefore offer various courses to help them do that. English language courses and IELTS preparation courses are also available.