Being Bilingual with Betty and Cat books

BC-in-car

 

What makes a good bilingual book for children?

I get a lot of requests from various companies to partner on my blog, or to have me promote their services or products. I rarely do so, because I rarely find anything worth sharing. But every once and a while I get an email about a service or product that I really like, and I’m happy to talk about. So today I am introducing you to Betty and Cat, who share books but not a language.

Betty (who is a dog), originally speaks Dutch, and Cat (who is a cat!), originally speaks English, are housemates and friends. Betty and Cat have adventures together, each speaking their own language, but understanding each other. The vast majority of children’s books that are identified as bilingual are actually parallel monolingual; they are the same text, translated and put in a dual-language format in the book. While these can be used for some purposes educationally, they don’t represent the reality of bilingual children, who interact with most people in their lives in only one of their languages. The back and forth between the two characters allows bilingual children to use both their languages in reading or listening in an integrated manner, not translating but continuing the story. A side positive note aside from the educational value is that the illustrations are lovely!

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Author Hennie Jacobs became bilingual at the age of six years old, when she moved from the Netherlands to Canada, and her journey inspired these delightful books. They have now been interpreted into other language pairs, including English-French, Dutch-French, English-Spanish and Spanish-French. Click on either illustration to visit the website.

 

What is research and who is it for?

This is such an important issue – and this blog explains exactly (perhaps without meaning to) why few teachers engage in research, either actively or as a consumer. There is so much out there, from poor research to great, and from poor events to great, and teachers have such limited time (and budgets) that trying to weed the chaff from the wheat must feel overwhelming. Thankfully, there are more and more researchers now like Victoria Murphy who are making the bridge from research to practice and to make the critical work they are doing accessible and applicable to the teachers and schools it should be helping!

EAL Journal

In the last of our mini-series of research blogs, Victoria Murphy asks what counts as research and whether everything that teachers are presented with should be given equal weight.


Victoria Murphy

Research comes in many forms, from reading reports of previous studies to carrying out randomised control trials (RCTs), and everything in between. There’s often an implicit hierarchy at work, and we are told that only large scale studies are more reliable, for example, or that only action research can capture the truth of teachers’ everyday experiences. The truth, though, is that the quality of the research cannot be determined simply by identifying the nature of it. For example, a systematic review (which takes a well-defined, systematic approach to reviewing the research literature to address a particular research question) is very different from, for example, a study where teachers are interviewed to determine their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs about a specific issue…

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Promoting home language use: How do we make a difference?

When I was in Hong Kong last week and meeting with parents and teachers, the subject of discussion was often the issues raised in my previous blog post about HK parents choosing to speak English with their children rather than Cantonese. Inevitably, someone would ask how we can change this pattern of choosing the higher-status English over the natural mother tongue of Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong families. It’s certainly not a problem unique to Hong Kong, I’ve had similar discussions about Arabic in the UAE, Kiswahili in Kenya, and Dutch in international schools in the Netherlands, just to name a few. Although these languages and situations may seem unrelated and distant, in fact the pathways to making a difference are very similar.

How families can make a difference:

Make sure you are addressing the various languages in your family and your environment with your children, and having positive discussions about the role of each. No matter how long you will be in a country, and whether or not you personally choose to learn any of the language, you can make a difference for your child by being positive about their opportunities to learn and use another language, if only briefly. Model positive attitudes about all languages, whether you can speak them or not, and model making an effort to communicate with others – we can all learn to say “Hello, how are you?” or “Thank you” in other languages, and if we expect it of our children we should surely be willing ourselves.

If you are a parent passing on a minority or low-status language, be firm in your own belief about the usefulness and benefit of your language, and pass this belief on to your children. They need to know that the parents’ languages have value, no matter what other people say, and they will be able to use these languages to access their own heritage. Praise them for their efforts in using multiple languages, and acknowledge to them the hard work they are doing!

How teachers can make a difference:

Show, through your words and actions, that all the languages of the children in your classes are equal in value and status. Practice language-integration in your classroom, by varying the language of greetings, taking the roll, and other classroom routines. If children are unable to answer questions or respond in the school language, let them do it in their own language and then use the resources available to you (other students, teaching assistants, technology) to translate the answer if necessary. In areas where the local language is perceived as being of lesser status than the school language, address this issue in class, to let the children know that you value their language and support them in continuing to use and grow in that language.

How administrators and policy makers can make a difference: 

Create in-school (and community) environments in which language diversity is celebrated rather than discouraged or shamed. Provide staff (teaching and support) with adequate professional development to understand bilingualism in development and how to support students who are learning language while also learning content in the classroom. If “every teacher is a language teacher” in your school, make sure you are giving the teachers the knowledge and tools they need to fulfill that role. Create a school language policy that is inclusive rather than exclusive, and that creates spaces in the school for the students to develop their home languages as well. This can be metaphorical space, in the classrooms, or physical space, for home language/mother tongue teaching. And when staffing these programs, ensure that the pedagogy and methodology of these lessons is a good fit for the mission and vision of the school and the daily school experiences of the students – the quality of the programs and the alignment with the school curriculum sends a powerful message to students and families about the value of their languages.

And finally, the most difficult aspect… consider carefully the value of language-based requirements for school entry. Many parents make decisions about language use with their children based on what school/schools they hope to have them attend. However, a child who “speaks English” at home with their parents who are not fluent speakers of the language is not necessarily better set up for success in an English-language school than a child who speaks no English but arrives at school with a well-developed home language/mother tongue (and the latter child is easier to provide support for in many ways).

How the government can make a difference (why not aim high?): 

Have knowledge about language development, bilingual language development and the importance of home languages/mother tongue as a fundamental part of any support or information you provide for parents and parents-to-be. Ensure that all professionals who work with young families (pediatricians, nurses, child care workers, etc.) also have accurate information about these topics, so they can advise parents accurately; they are the front-line for parental support and they need to be able to convince parents to make the right decisions. Engage the community in discussions on language use and development – blog, tweet, spread the word in whatever ways work in your community. The more knowledge and support parents, educators, professionals, have about language development and bilingual language development the more the children in your communities will become successfully bilingual and able to participate fully in education and society.

The bottom line is that in complex language situations, there is no one stakeholder who can make all the difference. Each parent, teacher, administrator, policy-maker, has a role to play in changing the linguistic landscape to create together an environment in which the language priorities for children – parents’ languages, school language(s), community language(s), other languages – are clearly understood and supported.

Throwback Thursday: Language Status: How cool is your language?

on raising bilingual children

I’ve written many, many posts about bilingualism over the years, and some I think deserve to be resurrected from the archives of my blog… last weekend I gave a seminar at the DRONGO Festival of Multilingualism in Utrecht, talking about bilingual education. People generally agree that bilingual education is a good thing when two “important” languages are involved, but as soon as we start talking about bilingual education involving immigrant minority languages, many people become uncomfortable. Why is that? It’s because of language status issues, described in this post from 2012.

One of the unfortunate realities of bilingualism is that success or failure is often determined by language status. Yes, it’s true, languages have “status”. Some languages are high status, some are low status, some are in the middle. It’s not an unchangeable rating – it depends on where you are and what other languages are involved. Here in the…

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LKALE on stage: The Bangor International Conference on Bilingualism in Education

I wrote this post on a round table I co-hosted with four other members of the Language and Linguistics in Education research group. We are all working on the critical issue of teacher knowledge for the task of teaching language alongside content in schools. Enjoy!

Linguistics and Knowledge about Language in Education

by Eowyn Crisfield

To round off the 2015-2016 academic year, five LKALE members hosted a round table at the first Bangor International Conference on Bilingualism in Education. Convened by Urszula Clark, the round table entitled “Teaching with and for diversity: What teachers need to know about language and how researchers can (and should!) support them” addressed key aspects of LKALE’s mission to broaden teacher knowledge about linguistics and how it influences classroom learning.
The round table was opened by Eowyn Crisfield, with a paper that contextualised the common mantra “Every teacher is a language teacher”. Eowyn explored the types of training that “language teachers” receive, and compared to the skills needed by regular classroom teachers in order to function as language teachers alongside their roles as subject teachers. She discussed results of a teacher-training pilot project and findings that indicate that targeted INSET can make a difference in both attitudes…

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Bilingual education in NYC set for big expansion – NY Daily News

What great news! Over 30 more bilingual education programs, in languages that matter to the community! The focus of bilingual education should first be enhancing the languages of the community, before turning to adding in other (high-status, of course) languages. Kudos to NYC educators and policy-makers for getting it right!

Big Apple public schools are going to become a bit more of a melting pot — at least linguistically.

Source: Bilingual education in NYC set for big expansion – NY Daily News

ELL Programs Often Focus on Basic Skills, Not Higher-Order Thinking, Study Finds – Learning the Language – Education Week

“We need to reframe our English learners and our children of immigrants not through a deficit lens but as children with tremendous assets,” including the potential for full biliteracy.

Source: ELL Programs Often Focus on Basic Skills, Not Higher-Order Thinking, Study Finds – Learning the Language – Education Week