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Helping children develop their American and native cultural identities together.

Archive for the ‘Raising bilingual children’ Category

Repost of an excellent article on bilingual children, the benefits for children, challenges for parents and tips for success

Posted by bububooks on March 2, 2010

We’ve already shared this article on Facebook and Twitter, but we love it so much we decided to post it here too!  You can find the original article at: www.northjersey.com

Raising multilingual children
Monday, March 1, 2010
BY KATHRYN DAVIS
THE PARENT PAPER

We live in a multilingual world. It is not uncommon to walk down the street in any U.S. city and hear several different languages being spoken. Around the world, children are learning English as a second language at a very young age, enabling them to develop the skills necessary to interact with people all over the globe. There is no doubt about the benefits of being able to communicate in more than one language. Such ability offers the opportunity for independence, whether for business, education, leisure or travel.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 10 million children between the ages of 5 and 17, or about 20 percent of children over 5, already speak a language other than English at home. Experts are citing more and more evidence of the benefits of multilingual development from an early age. While there has been some suggestion that learning a second language can delay speech acquisition and language development, research demonstrates otherwise.

More and more parents are seeking to provide their children with the advantages that bilingualism offers. That goal leads to some basic questions. When does language acquisition start? When and how should children begin learning a second language?

The basics

The young mind, particularly in infancy, is malleable. In the first few months, crying, whimpering and cooing are the primary forms of communication. Soon a baby starts to distinguish individual sounds and will begin to mimic those sounds or syllables. He will learn to distinguish between “ma” and “da” and will start to babble.

Vocalization is a baby’s way of entertaining himself, but it is also how he discovers ways to use his mouth, his tongue and vocal chords to make sounds. At one point, his speech may sound almost as though he is making sense. This is because his tones and patterns are based on the language he hears around him. Eventually, these babblings will develop into individual words that will facilitate true communication. The individual phonemes, or words sounds, that develop are primarily based on the language spoken in the home. Young children who hear more than one language develop additional sounds and, eventually, additional words that represent concepts, objects or people.

Programs that teach infants sign language have claimed to help babies as young as 10 months to communicate, before they are able to articulate with words. Experts say learning to communicate through a second language, even sign language, can be beneficial to cognitive development. However, raising a bilingual child requires a commitment of consistency in the long-term.

In her article, “Two or More Languages in Early Childhood: Some General Points and Practical Recommendations,” Annick De Houwer of the University of Antwerp and Science Foundation in Flanders, Belgium says, “A prevailing idea is that it is very easy for children to learn a new language and that hardly any effort is involved. However, learning language, even one, is a process that takes many years.”

While it is true that language acquisition is easier when it is done at a young age, it is the opportunities to hear and use a language consistently over time that brings success. De Houwer points out, “Languages are very complex. To learn all their complexities, one needs a lot of life experience…The environment plays an important role in learning to speak. Children learn to speak only when they hear people talk to them in many different circumstances.”

Pros and cons

Is there a downside to bilingualism? Not so many years ago, the prevailing wisdom was that children who learn to speak two languages tended to confuse the two, interchanging words from both languages in their speech, even within the same sentence. However, studies have shown otherwise.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Ottawa studied infants to find out whether the demand of acquiring more sounds and words leads to differences in language development. The experiment involved repeatedly presenting two different objects labeled as “bih” and “dih.” In every group tested, the bilingual infants noticed the change in the object’s name at a later age (20 months vs. 17 months) than the monolingual babies. While this may seem like the monolingual infants were more successful, the researchers theorized that the bilingual infants were focusing more on making a connection between objects and words, rather than just attending to details of sound.

Another study of 40 7-month-old babies by The Language, Cognition, and Development Lab at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy also suggests exposure to more than one language at an early age has benefits. Half of the babies in this study came from homes where two different languages were spoken. The experiment involved using a computer where characters were displayed on one of two screens just after word-like sounds were played. Researchers tested the babies’ ability to anticipate upon which screen a character would appear based on various sounds. Only the babies from the bilingual homes were able to use the newly learned sounds to predict where the cartoon would appear. The author of the study, Jacques Mehler, points out that this skill can apply to more than just the ability to switch between languages.

Experts say babies raised in a bilingual environment may exhibit some slight delays in speech development, but that delay is only temporary. Overall, the benefits can be far-reaching.

According to Carey Myles, author of Raising Bilingual Children, “Bilingual language skills have also been correlated with improved cognitive performance in children. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., bilinguals take a more creative approach to problem-solving, read earlier on average than their monolingual peers, and score higher on standardized tests like the SAT.”

Beyond the obvious benefits of a second language, Myles points out, “…language is a powerful factor in shaping a child’s identity. When children in bilingual families understand the culture of each parent, family bonds are strengthened.”

Giving children fluency in more than one language is possible, but it is not simple. Parents should have realistic expectations about the process and results of raising a bilingual child. “Even parents able to spend every summer in the ‘home country’ or to enroll their children in language immersion programs at school may find that their children’s language proficiency is not exactly the same in each language,” Myles notes. “The good news is that this is completely normal and what most adult bilinguals typically experience, too.”

Methods of instruction

Families wishing to promote their child’s second language acquisition have options. One parent, one language, (OPOL) is one method in which each parent speaks only one language. In this way, the child learns to distinguish between the two languages. Another method is the “home language approach.” Here the family speaks one language inside the home, while the child acquires the community’s language outside the home. A third option is immersion, often done through a formal program.

“I think there are probably as many ways as there are families,” says Myles. “Parents should consider their situation and what resources they have to support their minority language. I don’t think one can say a certain method is better than others; although I don’t think artificial schedules, like French at dinnertime, really work.”

There are drawbacks to any method. Myles points out that when only one parent is providing exposure to a second language, “it can be hard on that parent. With limited exposure to the minority language, children are naturally stronger in the majority language. It is not uncommon for a parent in that situation to give up using the minority language exclusively with the children, in favor of better communication.”

Some parents turn to immersion programs through formal education at schools like the French Academy of Bergen County. “At 2 years old, 90 percent of the curriculum is taught in French,” explains Executive Director Anne-Sophie Gueguen. “As the children get older, the number of hours taught in English slowly increases.”

By the time children are in fourth grade, Gueguen says they receive equal teaching in both French and English. “The ultimate goal at FABC is to raise children equally in both languages.”

Gueguen understands the advantages of speaking two languages, citing skills many do not usually associate with language. “The intellectual stimulation involved in learning two languages, knowing two words for one meaning, reinforces abstraction and problem solving skills. The benefits of this stimulation are remarkable in math.”

Another way children often “pick up” a second language is referred to as “receptive bilingualism.” In this case, children understand the minority language spoken at home, but do not speak it. “This kind of bilingualism is more common than people realize in the United States,” says Myles. There are ways in which parents can encourage children to speak their second language. Sometimes parents tell their children that the grandparents do not understand English. “Some parents simply don’t respond until rebellious older children use the appropriate language,” Myles explains.

No matter which method parents use, reading books is an excellent means of supporting language acquisition. Early language development depends on vocabulary development. Parents can take advantage of this time spent reading with their children to encourage vocabulary growth in both languages. In fact, any time parents read with their children, the benefits are extensive and it is never too soon to begin this practice.

Though most children who grow up with two languages do so because they live in bilingual homes, there are an increasing number of parents who make the choice of bilingualism for their children. The advantages of a second language are clear, and that’s the same in any language.

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A Cool Resource for Parents: Mamapedia

Posted by bububooks on November 10, 2009

mamapediaMamapedia and its predecessor, Mamasource, are two online options for parents with children at all ages and types. Parents share with each other their questions, concerns, answers and advice about every topic imaginable.  It is quite extensive, easy to use, updated daily and collaborative (other parents answer questions by parents).  If you are a parent, be sure to check it out!  Ask a question, meet other moms, or browse all the information.

We at bububooks are happy to be a part of this awesome parenting tool.  Mamapedia recently launched a new item called “Lists.” List covers a specific topic and parents can take a look at the list, vote for items on the list and even add their own items to the list.  We’ve started a list called, “Raising your child to be bilingual.”  Be sure to check it out, vote and add your items!  Here is the link: http://www.mamapedia.com/lists/18153777016128733185

About Mamapedia (taken from their webite):

Mamapedia connects moms at every stage of their children’s lives to compelling content from the source they trust most: other moms. Each month, nearly one million moms come to Mamapedia for advice on everything moms need: parenting, health, family, finance, pregnancy, nutrition, and travel; and on children of every age from infant to adult.

Launched in May 2009, Mamapedia gets all of its content from the questions and answers posted to Mamasource, a network of local communities for moms across the US. CEO Artie Wu founded Mamasource in 2004, when, as new parents, he and his wife were scrambling to find resources. Mamapedia followed to put all of those answers on one place to be easily searchable and accessible. Today, Mamapedia.com and the Mamasource communities reach more than two million moms.

 

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Latino teens happier, healthier if families embrace biculturalism

Posted by bububooks on October 23, 2009

Latino Print NetworkI wanted to share this article I received from the Latino Print Network by Kirk Whisler.  A new study from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill shows that Latino teens who embrace their Latino culture and whose parents embrace U.S. culture live healthier lives, academically, socially and emotionally.  I think the benefits of biculturalism would apply to all ethnic groups in the US because embracing both cultures in a family and environment supports a family and community bond. Read on and share your thoughts!

Over the years, research has shown that Latino youth face numerous risk factors when integrating into American culture, including increased rates of alcohol and substance use and higher rates of dropping out of school.

But a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows adolescents who actively embrace their native culture – and whose parents become more involved in U.S. culture – stand a greater chance of avoiding these risks and developing healthier behaviors overall.

The findings are from a longitudinal study by the UNC-based Latino Acculturation and Health Project, which is supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and directed by Paul Smokowski, Ph.D., an associate professor at the UNC School of Social Work. Researchers interviewed 281 Latino youths and parents in North Carolina and Arizona, asking questions about a wide range of measures of lifestyle and mental health. Participants answered according to how much they agreed with each question (for example, from “not at all” to “very much”), resulting in scores on a scale for each measure.

“We found teens who maintain strong ties to their Latino cultures perform better academically and adjust more easily socially,” Smokowski said. “When we repeated the survey a year later, for every 1-point increase in involvement in their Latino cultures, we saw a 13 percent rise in self-esteem and a 12 to 13 percent decrease in hopelessness, social problems and aggressive behavior.

“Also, the study showed parents who develop a strong bicultural perspective have teen children who are less likely to feel anxiety and face fewer social problems,” he said. “For every increase in a parent’s involvement in United States culture, we saw a 15 to 18 percent decrease in adolescent social problems, aggression and anxiety one year later. Parents who were more involved in U.S. culture were in a better position to proactively help their adolescents with peer relations, forming friendships and staying engaged in school. This decreases the chances of social problems arising.”

“Such results suggest that Latino youth and their parents benefit from biculturalism,” Smokowski said.

The findings are presented as part of a series of articles featured next month in a special issue of The Journal of Primary Prevention, a collaborative initiative between UNC and the CDC. The special issue presents the latest research on how cultural adaptation influences Latino youth behaviors – including involvement in violence, smoking and substance use, as well as overall emotional well-being – and offers suggestions for primary prevention programs that support minority families.

“Bicultural adolescents tend to do better in school, report higher self esteem, and experience less anxiety, depression and aggression,” said study co-author Martica Bacallao, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, whose work is also featured in the special issue. “It is interesting that, in order to obtain these benefits of biculturalism, adolescents and parents often need to do the opposite of what their natural tendencies tell them. Parents who are strongly tied to their native cultures must reach out to learn skills in the new culture. Adolescents who quickly soak up new cultural behaviors should slow down and cultivate the richness in their native cultures.”

Smokowski added: “The burgeoning size of the Latino population and the increasingly important roles that Latino youth will play in American culture are worthy of community attention. Communities can either invest in prevention to nurture Latino youth as a national resource or pay a heavy price later in trying to help these youth address social problems such as substance use, aggression or dropping out of school; all of which often results from the stress of acculturation.”

Along with Smokowski and Bacallao, Rachel L. Buchanan, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work at Salisbury University in Maryland, was a co-author of the study, titled “Acculturation and Adjustment in Latino Adolescents: How Cultural Risk Factors and Assets Influence Multiple Domains of Adolescent Mental Health.”

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Bilingual babies learn better!

Posted by bububooks on October 5, 2009

A man reading with his sonResearch has shown that bilingual babies learn two languages at the same pace as monolingual babies learn one language, even though they’re learning twice as much.  Even better, two researchers recently learned in their scientific study that bilingual babies are ‘flexible learners’ and use their learning skills more efficiently.  They pick up on skills faster and can apply them to other aspects in their learning. Read the article we’ve posted below by Jean Mercer, Ph.D. from Psychology Today to see her full explanation of the study and its findings.

What great encouragement to raise your kids bilingually!!

Taken from: Child Myths
Straight Talk About Child Development

by Jean Mercer, Ph.D.

Jean Mercer is a developmental psychologist with a special interest in parent-infant relationships.

Bilingual Babies: Another Myth Busted

Surprise! Bilingual babies do better at learning.

In my last post, I commented on some preferences and behaviors that help babies pay attention to talking adults and learn about language from what they hear. Babies’ social interest in other people and their attentiveness to high-pitched, emphatic speech are factors that help them learn from baby talk. When adults talk to other adults, or when television or an audiotape provides speech experience, babies don’t learn as much as they do from baby talk.

What are some other relevant factors about babies’ experience with the spoken language? One situation of considerable interest is the experience of two or more different languages, whether spoken by the same person or by different people. Many of us would guess that life could be very confusing for bilingual babies and that they might be slowed down in their general language learning. At least, that’s what many people would guess in the United States, where a large proportion of the population is monolingual, and where language learning is generally regarded as difficult. Assumptions are probably different in the many parts of the world where most people are fluent from an early age in two, three, or more languages. Different groups treasure different myths, and the one about the language difficulties of bilingual babies is one that belongs primarily to monolingual English-speaking Americans.

A recent article by Agnes Kovacs and Jacques Mehler ( “Flexible learning of multiple speech structures in bilingual infants”, Science, 2009, Vol. 325, pp. 611-612) includes some surprising reports about bilingual 12-monh-olds. For starters, Kovacs and Mehler point out previous research showing that bilingual children achieve language developmental milestones at about the same age as learners of a single language, even though that means they have to learn about twice as much. Whether they are learning one language or two, babies say their first words at an average of about 12 months ( although there are many individual differences in this, and that average is made up of babies whose first word comes anywhere from 9 months to perhaps 18 months).

Can it be that bilingual babies learn more than just language from their bilingual experiences? Kovacs and Mehler were interested in this question and wondered whether the bilingual children’s experience might help them become more efficient in understanding and using information from speech. The researchers set up a situation in which 12-month-olds could learn that the structure of a “nonsense word” would tell them whether an interesting toy was going to appear on the left or on the right. There were two kinds of nonsense words, each consisting of three syllables. For one kind, the first and the last syllables were the same, and the middle syllable was different for (instance, “lo-vu-lo”). For the other kind, the first two syllables were the same, and the last one was different (for instance, “lo-lo-vu”). The babies saw and heard the appearance of the toy and the sound pattern associated in a consistent way. “Lo-vu-lo” could mean that the toy would be on the left, and “lo-lo-vu” could mean that the toy would be on the right, for example. Kovacs and Mehler had a device that measured the babies’ eye movements and showed in which direction a baby was looking at a given time, so they could see whether each baby learned to look in the direction indicated by a particular sound pattern.

Now, here’s the myth-busting surprise: although all the babies learned that one pattern (such as “lo-lo-vu”) meant that the toy was in a particular place, only the bilingual babies learned both associations– that “lo-lo-vu” meant “look left”, and “lo-vu-lo” meant “look right.” In a further experiment, the monolingual babies could learn that a male voice saying the nonsense word meant to look one direction and a female voice meant to look the other direction, so they were capable of learning something about speech sounds and directions. But the monolingual babies did not manage to learn at this early age that different but similar sound patterns had different meanings.

Kovacs and Mehler concluded that the experience of bilingual life had made these babies “flexible learners” who could apply their very efficient learning skills to get a lot of information out of the speech sounds they heard, selecting the right response out of the two they had learned. Of course, choosing the right response is an essential part of much school performance. If you subtract even though you see a plus sign, or add even though you see a minus sign, you won’t get the right answer, no matter how many facts you know.

Watch for the first commercial application of this research– but don’t buy it unless there’s good evidence that it helps facilitate flexible learning outside the laboratory!

Thanks for reading. By the way, October 3, 2009, was the Mid-Autumn holiday in China and many other countries. We hope you enjoyed the festivities!

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Shared from Sinews: How can I convince my husband to speak to our son in his native language?

Posted by bububooks on August 31, 2009

We at bububooks wanted to share some insight into raising bilingual children, debunk myths and offer tips.  This article comes from http://www.bilingualreaders.com.

My husband is Portuguese, but we live in Spain. My husband says that it feels unnatural for him to speak to our seven month old son Marco in Portuguese, although he plans to speak Portuguese to him when he is old enough to speak back. I’m always telling my husband it will be too late by then. How can I convince him to speak to our son in Portuguese now? What are the technical reasons why it is so important for Marco to hear both languages from the beginning?
–María, Bilbao, Spain

Dear María:

When you feel comfortable speaking to your child in one language, it can be difficult to switch gears and speak to him in another language. Forcing this type of change can even cause emotional difficulties, since it is already hard enough to learn to be a parent, establish emotional ties with your child, etc. This is especially true when your baby’s communication skills are still rudimentary. I would encourage you not to worry too much because IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE.

At this point it seems like I support your husband’s decision, right? The truth is I’m not radically opposed to him waiting until your son is older to speak to him in his native language or even never speaking to him in Portuguese at all if that would somehow damage his relationship with his child. BUT…there would have to be a very good reason for him not to do so.

The following is a list of common myths which are NOT good reasons for your husband to avoid speaking to your son in his native language:

Myth 1: Portuguese would not be useful for my child, since it’s not as “prestigious” as languages such as English, German or French. Portuguese and its variants are spoken by millions of people worldwide (Brazil, Africa, etc.), and sometimes learning a less “popular” language can provide unexpected academic and career advantages for your child. Who knows if Brazil, like China, may one day become an important trade location for multinational companies?

Myth 2: If my child learns both Spanish and Portuguese at the same time, this choice may prevent him from learning other important world languages like English. On the contrary, speaking two languages from the time he is small will help your child learn a third language later in life.

Myth 3: All of my efforts to communicate with my son are in vain until he learns to speak. If that were the case, why should we speak to our children in any language if they don’t understand us?

I would like to help you both make the best possible decision for your family by giving you a few reasons why your son would benefit from hearing both languages as soon as possible:

Language development begins when the fetus begins to hear. Babies can hear you from the very beginning, even when they’re in their mother’s womb. This process is passive at first, then it becomes more active as the child grows.
A four month old baby is perfectly capable of distinguishing between the sounds and musicality of both his languages and reacts in a different way to each one.
Four month olds are also able to learn (by imitating) the movements their parents’ mouths make when speaking with them. According to recent studies, they can even distinguish between facial movements of those who are speaking with them when presented with visual recordings with no sound.
When a baby begins to babble, he is producing only those sounds included in the phonetic repertoire of the languages he hears at home. He generally produces the easiest sounds first and the more complicated ones later.
One of the first steps in learning a language is to distinguish its musicality and phonetics. It has also been demonstrated that the earlier a child learns a second language, the easier it will be for him to speak without a foreign accent in that language.

Even if these arguments do convince your husband, he may still need some help deciding how to make the transition from one language to another. Here are few suggestions:

A visit from a Portuguese family member or a vacation in Portugal would be a great help. When we hear others around us speaking in a language, it feels more natural for us to speak to our child in that language. In this context, the change may not feel as forced.
It may be easier to make this transition when your husband is alone with your son in a relaxed environment such as bath time, when telling him a bedtime story or singing him a lullaby. The presence of a person he is not used to speaking Portuguese around may make the transition more uncomfortable or artificial.
Sometimes reading a book in the native language can be a more practical first step. In this way your husband would only have to read what is written. The text could also inspire him to add his own comments or discuss the story with your son. Babies as young as nine months old already love to help turn the pages and look at the illustrations. Reading bilingual books is especially helpful, as each of you can read the text in your own language, which will help your son to associate two different words with the same illustration and actions.
Playing some of the same games our parents played with us as children can also be helpful. Each culture has its own games, so have fun playing with your son!

Sometimes making these small changes can make the transition from one language to another easier. It also allows us to experiment before deciding whether or not we are capable of making this change, and just how fast or slow we want things to go.

María, I’m afraid this change won’t be immediate or forced, but I wish you both the best of luck with finding the right path for your bilingual family.

All the best,
Dr. Orlanda Varela

Dr. Orlanda Varela is a Child Psychiatrist and the Coordinator of the educational project for Bilingual Families at SINEWS Multilingual Therapy Institute in Madrid. SINEWS organizes bilingualism workshops for parents in Madrid, as well as personalized speech therapy sessions to bilingual families with specific language development problems. For more information, please visit sinews.es.

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