bububooks

Helping children develop their American and native cultural identities together.

Posts Tagged ‘bilingual schools’

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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NAEYC Themes, Part 6: Research, Facts and Things to Know about Dual Language Learners

Posted by bububooks on January 25, 2010

In the last (a short and sweet one!) of our blog series on common themes from the 2009 NAEYC’s annual conference, we present a hodge-podge of facts we gathered throughout that week in D.C.  Enjoy!

–Language acquisition depends not only on adequate hearing, the ability to differentiate sounds, and the capacity to link meaning to specific words, but also on the ability to concentrate, pay attention, and engage in meaningful social interaction.

–Learning a second language and learning to read are complex tasks influenced by cognitive, environmental and social factors.

–Bilingual Children
-Exhibit the same language milestones as monolingual children
-May acquire language at a slower rate and have more limited total vocabularies in each language
-Have a combined vocabulary in both languages likely to equal or exceed that of a child who speaks one language

–Preschoolers actively listen to and separate out two languages.  So we can use both languages interchangeably.

–Development of language and literacy in the home language (or first language) facilitates development of language and literacy in the second language and cognitive development.  Academic language ability takes 5-7 years.  Social language ability (i.e. Hello, how are you?) is easy to accomplish.

–For more current guidance, check out:
-Head Start Performance Standards and Head Start Dual Language Report (2008)
-Tabors, Patton O. One Child, Two Languages: Children Learning English as a Second Language. Paul H. Brookes Publishing, 2008.
-Igao, Cristina. The Inner World of the Immigrant Child. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1995.
-Espinosa, Linda. Getting it RIGHT for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds: Applying Research to Improve Practice. Prentice Hall, 2009.

Check out below for the sources of this blog:

1) Using standards-based curriculum to support language and literacy development for English-language learners.

Presented by:
Min-hua Chen, Education Specialist, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education;
Vicky Milstein, Principal of Early Education, Brookline Public Schools;
Min-Jen Wu Taylor, Pre-K Teacher, Brookline Public Schools;
James StClair, Kindergarten Teacher, Cambridge Public Schools;
Sandra Christison, Kindergarten Teacher, Boston Public Schools.

They haven’t posted their slides yet, but if they do, you can find it here.

2) Home Language or English?  Implementing program policies and teaching strategies that meet the needs of dual-language learners

Presented by:
John Gunnarson, Napa Valley College.

Click here for his handout.

3) Getting it right for young children from diverse backgrounds: Applying research to improve practice

Presented by:
Dr Linda Espinosa, University of Missouri-Columbia.

She hasn’t posted her slides yet, but if she does, you can find it here.

Previous Blogs under the NAEYC Annual Conference Theme:
Part 1:  NAEYC Themes, Part 1: Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s Presentation
Part 2:  NAEYC Themes, Part 2: Build Positive Relationships with Dual-Language Learning Children
Part 3:  Common Theme #2:  Develop meaningful relationships with parents and families
Part 4:  Common Theme #3:  Communication strategies
Part 5:  Common Theme #4:  Support the home language and culture

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NAEYC Themes, Part 4: Communication Strategies for Working with Dual Language Learners

Posted by bububooks on January 5, 2010

Another common theme that surfaced at the National Association for the Education of Young Children Annual Conference dealt with plans and strategies for working with dual language learners.  This blog posting provides some tips you can actually use, along with recommendations on how to create a more explicit strategy.

Strategy

Regardless of what you choose to do, the key is to be deliberate, intentional and integrative in your strategy.  Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Create an explicit plan to integrate the needs of your dual language learners with the overall needs of your center.  Check out these steps below to aid in developing your plan.

  1. Consider completing a self-assessment checklist to help you determine where you are in your DLL strategy.  You can access the checklist here.
  2. Find out about the current guidelines for dual language programs.
  3. Analyze your current program needs, specifically the demographic makeup of your students, staff and maybe even growing trends in your area.
  4. Develop a policy for supporting and a plan on how to support dual language learners.  Get buy-in from management, staff and parents.
  5. Pursue and offer professional development for staff who work with dual language learning children.
  6. Collaborate with other services and supporters.

General Tips

Following are 10 tips for communicating with DLLs. Remember to develop a relationship with the child and their family (see Themes, Parts 2 and 3) in order to maximize that child’s potential.  From birth to age 3, children need face-to-face social interaction for language development.  DVDs do not work.

  1. Pair visual tools with oral and print cues.  For example, if you display the daily schedule in printed words (English), place visual pictures of the activities next to their corresponding words.  You can combine these cues in everything you do.  For example, use pictures, gestures and movements when talking to maximize all the cues.

For new language learners:

2. Simplify your language and slow down.
3. Do not assume that a child understands what you say.
4. Do not force the child to make eye contact with you.
5. Do not raise your volume when speaking or force the child to speak.
6. Allow plenty of time for the child to answer a question or wait a bit and then rephrase the question in simpler language.

A little later:

7. Listen for intent not grammar.
8. Accept all attempts.
9. Don’t overcorrect.
10. Never ask a child to say something in English. Let it be spontaneous.

Actual Tactics

Below are some tactics that other centers have used and that I found interesting.

  1. Create a bilingual book with the photo and name of every student in your center.  This book helps all the students—and even parents—get to know the names, including unfamiliar and foreign, of everyone else.
  2. If you have more than two languages in your center, consider using a word wall.  For example, display the word, hello, in every language represented (along with its Romanized pronunciation if it’s not a language with a Latin alphabet).  Also, during morning meeting, have the class say hello or good morning in each language represented in your class.
  3. Bring family members in to share things from their country. Take a photo and post it in the classroom.
  4. If you have a listening center, offer audio books in other languages or bilingually and make them available to all students.

These are some specific tactics I picked up during NAEYC.  Feel free to include them in your strategy, but don’t let them be your only strategy!  Best wishes to you and feel free to contact us for resources in developing your plan.  Also, please share what tactics have worked for you!

Happy New Year!

Check out below for the sources of this blog:

1) Using standards-based curriculum to support language and literacy development for English-language learners.

Presented by:
Min-hua Chen, Education Specialist, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education;
Vicky Milstein, Principal of Early Education, Brookline Public Schools;
Min-Jen Wu Taylor, Pre-K Teacher, Brookline Public Schools;
James StClair, Kindergarten Teacher, Cambridge Public Schools;
Sandra Christison, Kindergarten Teacher, Boston Public Schools.

They haven’t posted their slides yet, but if they do, it will be available here.

2) Home Language or English?  Implementing program policies and teaching strategies that meet the needs of dual-language learners

Presented by:
John Gunnarson, Napa Valley College.

Click here for his handout.

3) Getting it right for young children from diverse backgrounds: Applying research to improve practice

Presented by:
Dr Linda Espinosa, University of Missouri-Columbia.

She hasn’t posted her slides yet, but if she does, they will be available here.

4) Supporting dual-language learners: Identifying strategies for implementing an effective program for a diverse population

Presented by:
Susan Goettl, Fairfax County Office for Children Head Start Program.

She hasn’t posted her slides yet, but if she does, they will be available here.

Upcoming Blogs under the NAEYC Annual Conference Theme:
Part 5:  Common Theme #4:  Support the home language and culture
Part 6:  Research, Facts and Things to Know about Dual Language Learners

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Themes from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Annual Conference

Posted by bububooks on December 1, 2009

I attended the annual NAEYC conference just before Thanksgiving in Washington D.C.  I learned a lot more about the strategies, techniques and trends for teaching dual language learners.  I also got to see some friends and make some new ones who are involved in early education.  Moreover, I got to see Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speak live!  Over the next few blog postings, I’ll be recapping some of the presentations I attended.  For this particular posting, I’d like to discuss four overarching themes that seemed to repeat throughout the various sessions.  I will expand on these themes through the specific postings that will follow.

Common Theme #1:  Teachers need to build positive relationships with dual language learning children.  Help them to feel safe and included. Oftentimes, every single thing is new to them since they have just moved here.  Even their parents are stressed as they try to get settled in a new country.  With everything so new and different (read: scary), a safe and inviting environment will help them to open up more in school.

Common Theme #2:  Teachers need to develop meaningful relationships with parents and families.  Parents and families from different countries display their involvement with their children’s education in various ways. Also, sometimes their current circumstances prevent them from being as involved as they’d like.  This does not mean they are not interested.  Furthermore, language need not be a barrier for a teacher to communicate with the families.  These meaningful relationships help to eliminate misunderstandings and further create a safe environment for the child.

Common Theme #3:  Be deliberate, intentional, integrative and committed with your communication strategies.  I’ll offer suggestions in following postings.  But certainly determine what your policy is for incorporating dual language learners and then set about creating a strategy to do so.  This process will include research and can even mean hiring a consultant.

Common Theme #4:  Support the home language and culture.  Dual language learning children do not come to your school as a blank slate. By supporting their home language and culture, you maximize their potential to learn, send them a message that they are not different, help create that safe and inclusive environment, and lay the foundation for a strong relationship between them and their parents.

I look forward to sharing with you specific details from the sessions as well as expanding upon these four themes.  In the meantime, Happy Holidays and don’t forget to check out our bookstore, where all the books are bilingual: www.bububooks.com.

–Laura

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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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More events this past weekend, SCAEYC and the Georgia Literary Festival

Posted by bububooks on October 19, 2009

Rome Library

Rome Library

Jacey and Laura both represented bububooks at events this past weekend.  Jacey visited beautiful northwest Georgia for the annual Georgia Literary Festival in Rome.  Despite the cold temperatures, she says she enjoyed her time up there and got to meet some pretty cool people, authors and booksellers.  Maybe she and her husband will make a camping trip up there in the near future!

SCAEYCLaura headed up to Columbia, South Carolina, for the South Carolina Association for the Education of Young Children conference.  Having never been to South Carolina before, she thoroughly enjoyed the city of Columbia and the people.  By the end, she was giving hugs as she left the conference!  At the conference, Laura met lots of GREAT people who are all seeking to improve the lives of children and teachers in South Carolina.  She says it was an inspiring weekend and she looks forward to going back as she develops stronger relationships with the people she met from throughout the state.  She’s so sad (and has been chastised by us) that she didn’t get any pictures of her new friends but promises to take more pictures next time. It has been her favorite trip for bububooks by far!  Thank you South Carolina and the SCAEYC!

GA Lit Fest

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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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An Inspiring Story for Reading

Posted by bububooks on September 25, 2009

Donors ChooseWe decided to post this thank you letter not to boast, but because the author, a teacher in a public school, offers a first-hand view of what we at bububooks strongly believe.  We like to say, “L is for literacy, not language.”  This is why we advocate for English Language Learner programs in our schools.  Please read this teacher’s note below for a perspective on what non-native English speakers face while trying to grow up.

This thank you letter comes from Donorschoose.org.  This website connects teachers in public schools who need funding for specific projects and willing donors.  Check it out at www.donorschoose.org!

Dear Laura,

Thank you so much for your generous donations. Reading is so important, and is essential in becoming successful in today’s society. Many of my English language learners are not thought of as the bright kids that they truly are because they struggle with reading. I have learned through my classes that most of my students can read and write in Spanish (their native language). The importance of reading–in any language–is immeasurable!

With the ability to read (in any language) comes vocabulary development; fluency; comprehension; and critical thinking skills, such as, prediction and sequencing. Reading in Spanish will help students transfer their knowledge, and learn more readily in English. Research has shown that students who continue to read and write in their native language, will find it much easier to learn to read and write in a new language.

These bilingual books will help my students this year–and in coming years–by allowing them to continue to read and learn in their native language, while acquiring new English skills. The books will also allow parents who feel “left out” the opportunity to engage in their children’s’ education and help them to develop a love of learning.

Once again, thank you for your generosity and compassion towards my students and me!

With gratitude,
Ms. R.

Thanks for reading.  To see the specific project, visit http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/proposal.html?id=314515&pmaId=409319&pmaHash=-973939887&utm_source=dc&utm_campaign=ity&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Project#bus

Have a great weekend and feel free to share projects you’ve donated to on DonorsChoose.org!

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Tips for teachers of English language learners

Posted by bububooks on September 13, 2009

As teachers get ready for school to start in the fall, they might consider a few tips on making students welcome who don’t speak English as a native language. More students speak Spanish as their first language than any other group in the U.S., but there are over a hundred other mother tongues spoken by kids from kindergarten to twelfth grade around this country. No one teacher can possibly know all of these. So, what’s a teacher to do? Two websites offer some practical advice:

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3747021&FullBreadCrumb=%3Ca+href%3D%22http%3A%2F

and http://www.colorincolorado.org/educators/reachingout/welcoming

There is plenty of research demonstrating that English language learners (or ELLs for short) learn best by drawing on what they already know. That means, they learn best when they start with the language they already speak, their native language (or L1). Children are not blank states when starting kindergarten. This tends to be an unpopular notion in many places, as it was in the Word Geek’s childhood. The idea back in the Olden Days was to punish a child for speaking anything but the “best” meaning the textbook or Standard version of English. The result was, predictably, that kids who didn’t already speak a pretty standard version quit talking altogether in school and made very little progress, then stopped going to school as soon as they could get away with it. This tended to be around the fourth grade (age 8 or 9). Or, because these children struggle to learn math and science in their L2, they get placed in special education classes in which they become bored and disgruntled. This pattern is NOT recommended!

Instead of following this mournful and unsuccessful pattern, consider the tips described by David and Yvonne Freeman at the first site above:

1. Pair a newcomer (an ELL with little or no English) with a partner who speaks his or her L1 as well as some English. Make sure the partner knows this buddy position is a prestigious job and you are very impressed at how well he or she carries it off. The buddy’s job description should include making sure the newcomer knows the class rules, gets the class assignments, and, hopefully, this buddy does some translating.

2. Invite a parent volunteer into the classroom to read aloud to the class in the L1 of the newcomer(s). If this involves showing lots of pictures, even the English speakers should get something out of it. Plus, they’ll get some idea of what it’s like to be unable to understand every word of what’s going on – empathy, in other words. Not a bad idea!

3. Let the kids speak in their L1. The Word Geek wishes to put this one up in lights, so she will repeat it in capital letters and add an exclamation mark: LET THE KIDS SPEAK IN THEIR L1! Maybe she should throw some firecrackers in to get some people’s attention here, adding extra exclamation marks for more emphasis. LET THE KIDS SPEAK IN THEIR L1!!!

4. Build a class library in the students’ L1s. It’s especially helpful if some of these books are what we once called “ponies,” in the Olden Days. That means, there is the L1 on one page. On the facing page, the same text is in English. This way, a student sees that his or her native language is respected and supported, and the child can go from the known (L1) to the unknown (L2), with a lot less pain and hassle. The Word Geek was once very fond of such ponies and still has a few in her possession.

5. Organize bilingual tutoring, for example by partnering with a teacher of a class a year or two older than your own, in which there are students who speak the same L1 as your students. These older kids who presumably also speak a little more English can help tutor your students, do a little translating. It’s good for their education and self-esteem as well as helping your students along. A person never learns better than when helping someone else learn.

6. Provide students pen pals, whether in their L1 or L2, and whether through e-mail or by means of old-fashioned pen and paper. Go to the first website above to find a couple of online sites to locate e-mail pen pals. This type of writing is a lot more interesting than writing boring sentences in response to even duller reading exercises.

7. Encourage writing in a journal, whether in the L1 or L2. Sometimes, writing about the acquisition of L2 (namely English) in the L1 is one of the best ways to get a student to think about it after school.

8. Create books of students’ own writings. That is to say, with the computer it is relatively easy to type up things that students write, duplicate them, print them out, and even bind them in inexpensive ways. These can be done in the L1 or L2. “Ponies” created in this way can be distributed to the entire class, giving a newcomer a new feeling of being part of a class, not an outsider. Many of the fonts required to print, say, Vietnamese or Arabic or whatever are already available on the internet for free – or relatively cheaply.

9. Use L1 storytellers to support the ELLs language and culture and share with the rest of the class. The teacher can help bring in the rest of the class by teaching a story ahead of time, or having the class read the story or act it out, if they are too young to read it yet. That way, no one need feel left out when the storyteller comes and speaks another language.

10. Put up the signs that are displayed in the classroom in both English and any L1s spoken by students. This shows that the L1 is valued and, therefore, the student who speaks it is also valued.

Time for an object lesson:  When the Word Geek took an introductory linguistics class in college, years ago, the professor told of taking a rabbit in a cage to a first grade classroom. The children in the classroom seemed inordinately quiet and the regular teacher agreed, saying that the kiddies were all “culturally deprived” (using the parlance of the times).

The linguistics professor said that she had a cure for that dread condition. The rabbit was part of it. She put the cage on the teacher’s desk and told the silent students that she and the other teacher had to leave the classroom for a moment. “But I need you kids to help me out,” she told them. “Mr. Bunny will get very, very sick if I go away and nobody talks to him. So, while we’re gone, you need to talk to him and keep talking until I get back. Will you do that for me?” 

The kids silently nodded.

The professor and the teacher silently left the classroom. The kids did not see, but the professor had silently started a tape recorder behind the desk.

When the professor got back, as soon as she opened the door of the classroom, the kids were quiet, so she had no idea if her plan had worked. But later, when she played the tape for the teacher, the two adults heard a great cacophony of noise. The whole time the grownups had been out of the room, all the children had been talking to that rabbit, calling him “Mr. Bunny,” telling him not to be scared, letting him know he would be all right. They did not speak perfect Standard English. But they could speak all right and their meaning was clear enough.

Why wouldn’t they talk when their teacher was there? As the professor pointed out to us, when someone gets onto you every time you open your mouth, you stop opening your mouth. So, at the risk of beating a dead horse, LET THE KIDS SPEAK IN THEIR L1. They’ll eventually get to L2 that way. But if they stop talking altogether, they’ll never get anywhere.

This article was written by Diana Gainer, the Word Geek Examiner, on http://www.examiner.com.  Laura Renner added some of her own thoughts as well.

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Teaching your kindergartener to read

Posted by bububooks on August 14, 2009

As school swings into session, we thought we should continue the learning to read checklists.  Below you’ll find Part 3 in our series.  Your child should develop the following skills throughout her kindergarten year.   Keep in mind, she won’t have these skills right away, but usually develops them by the end of kindergarten.  Be sure to talk with your child’s teacher for more details or if you have any questions while your child enters the magical world of reading!

√ My child listens carefully to books read aloud.

√ My child knows the shapes and names for the letters of the alpahbet and writes many uppercase and lowercase letters on his own.

√ My child knows that spoken words are made of separate sounds.

√ My child recognizes and makes rhymes, can tell when words begin with the same sound, and can put together, or blend, spoken sounds.

√ My child can sound out some letters.

√ My child knows that the order of letters in a written word stands for the order of sounds in a spoken word.

√ My child knows some common words such as a, the, I, and you, on sight.

√ My child knows how to hold a book, and follows print from left to right and from top to bottom of a page when she is read to in English.

√ My child asks and answers questions about stories and uses what she already knows to understand a story.

√ My child knows the parts of a book and understands that authors write words and text and illustrators create pictures.

√ My child knows that in most books the main message is in the print, not the pictures.

√ My child predicts what will happen in a story and retells or acts out stories.

√ My child knows the difference between “made up” fiction and “real” nonfiction books and the difference between stories and poems.

√ My child uses what he knows about letters and sounds to write words.

√ My child writes some letters and words as they are said to her and begins to spell some words correctly.

√ My child writes his own first and last name and the first names of some friends and family.

√ My child plays with words and uses new words in her own speech.

√ My child knows and uses words that are important to school work, such as the names for colors, shapes, and numbers.

√ My child knows and uses words from daily life, such as street names and the names for community workers–teacher, mail carrier, etc.

This information is provided by the National Institute for Literacy.  For more, please visit http://www.nifl.gov/nifl/publications.html.

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