Category Archives: Multilingual children

Bilingual teens and young adults (#IMLD 2015)

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We can find many suggestions about how to support our children to become bilinguals* when they are toddlers, in preschool or primary school. But what happens when they are teenagers and young adults? Can we still support them with their family languages or other languages they’re learning along the way?

If culture was a house,

then language was the key to the front door,

to all the rooms inside

(Khaled Housseini)

Being bilingual and a teenager can be challenging, for both parents and children. Adolescence is a very intense period of physical and mental change, and all seems to revolve around finding an identity and fitting in with a group of friends.

How do teenagers juggle speaking two (or more) languages and belonging to two nationalities or cultures?

In my personal experience, talking two or more languages is not a problem per se during those years. Discovering literature in all the other languages I learned during my childhood and being able to really immerse into the cultures and the mindset of these cultures during holidays was (and still is!) very fascinating and enriching.

If we want our teenagers to stay  bilingual,

they need to know about the cultures

(U.E.L.)

What I found more challenging was the expectation locals would have. People would expect me to know what peers in that other culture and country would rave about.

My parents made sure that we would visit Germany once or twice per year for an extended period. They wanted to make sure that we could meet peers. Even if only for a few days we had the great opportunity to get to know the culture through peers’ eyes.

I recall that despite very easy beginnings – after all, we all spoke the same language! – we would soon discover that we have different expectations. Locals would expect us to understand their slang, jokes and to know what they were talking about (TV shows, what is “in” etc.).

I quickly realised that I didn’t share the same taste in food, music, literature. I wouldn’t know about the latest movies, spots, sport idols. I wouldn’t know the newest gossips and soon feel alienated and “different”. Knowing that I didn’t have to stay for a long time, made me yet enjoy those moments and appreciate the short but intense friendships.

Nowadays, thanks to internet etc., being in touch with cultures around the world is much easier. – We can all access informations in no time and get a virtual impression of the “other” culture.

Today, I encourage my children to watch news from the different countries we want them to be more familiar with. They know about the idols, they understand the (most of the) jokes and, up to now, do not feel alienated when they spend some days with peers in Germany or Switzerland twice per year. Even if my children are not teenagers yet, I know that peer pressure is very high and being the one who talks German (and Italian) to them, who explains the other culture to them is not going to suffice.

 

 

Some tips for parents who want to support their teens bilingualism and biculturalism:

  • bear in mind that teenagers rate peers higher than parents!
  • foster social networking: chatting via webcams is a great way to keep the other language alive. It is a great alternative to Saturday schools or parents teaching these languages at home!
  • be open minded when it comes to slang (and swearwords!). While growing up abroad, bilinguals will use the language in an “artificial context”. Allowing your child to use the slang their monolingual peers use, will help them fit in easier once you visit the country.
  • help them find resources to have access to the local slang.
  • make sure they know about the habits and values of peers in the other culture.
  • travel as often as you can to different places of your family languages and offer them opportunities to meet peers (by enrolling them in some local activities they like).
  • if you can’t travel that often and provide full language immersion, look out to other families that speak the same language where you live.
  • find panpals for your children – using social media may also be an option, but if you would like your children to improve their written skills in the other language(s), writing in the “old fashioned way” is advisable.

I wrote this post for our International Mother Language Day Campain on Facebook (cfr. #IMLD), where we published links about several topics related to raising the awareness of “mother (and father) languages” since January the 21rst.

 

(* I use the term of bilingual also for multilinguals.)

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Bilingualism and homework (part 1)

I recently discussed this topic with linguists and parents who are raising their children bilingually and I noticed that people generally tend to jump onto general conclusions way too quickly.

Parents who send their children to an international school where lessons are held in another language often struggle when it comes to doing homeworks.

The question I often hear from parents and that induces me to write this post is: “Do I need to do homework with my child in his/her mothertongue or is it enough if she/he does the homework in the school language?”

There is not an overall answer, because there are differenct appraisal factors to consider.

First of all, if using the mother language helps to understand the topic of the homework, it would surely be important to switch to it.

Especially with literacy homework it is very helpful to discuss the topic of a text or book in the first language so that the child really gets the meaning of the text in the school language.

Parents often assume that their children fully understand a text because they are able to “perfectly” read it phonetically. We can’t be ” perfectly bilingual” after 2 weeks or a few months at school.

Fact is that children first of all learn the phonetics. They simply repeat the soundchains. So, for example, they would be able to say “Good morning”, “Thank you”, “May I have… please” very quickly. But only when they use a broader spectrum of sentences with similar words they will be able to understand that for example, “good” can be combined with “morning” , “evening”, “job”, “girl”, “boy” etc. Very slowly they will divide those sound chains into actual words and morphemes.

It takes children from 5 to 9/10 years to catch up on monolingual peers language-wise.

Therefore, when we send our children to a school where they’ll be immersed into another language the whole day, we’ll need to support them process what they’ve learned at home by using our family languages.

When our children come home with a book to read aloud, our task is to question them about the text. Asking them to paraphrase the text is a great way to understand whether they understand the plot or not.

We can ask them to find other words, synonyms for words that may be more difficult. – Obviously, in order to do this we should have a great proficiency in the school language too! – But what if this is not the case?

Many parents struggle with this and I know that some take extra language lessons in order to be able to help their children at school.

But if one doesn’t have the time to do so, or finds it really hard to catch up with the language, my advice is to try to find other words in the family language and if the child asks for more synonyms in the school language, don’t hesitate to use the dictionary. I know many parents who improved their languages by learning alongside their children.

What seems very logical and relatively easy for literacy, becomes more complex for other disciplines. (see part 2 soon)

 

International Mother Language Day #IMLD campaign

IMLD2015

Since the General Conference of UNESCO proclaimed it officially on 19th November 1999, the International Mother Language Day is celebrated every year on the 21st of February since 2000. The aim is to develop awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions all over the world by promoting linguistic diversity and multilingual education.

The 21st of February represents the remembrence day in 1952, “when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bengali, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka”, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

On the 16th of May 2007, the United Nations General Assembly called upon Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”.

Speaking one’s motherlanguage (or fatherlanguage!) is still not something we all can take for granted, especially in places where local mother tongues are threatened by more dominant languages.

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Language is not only a means of communication but it is the most powerful instrument of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage.

Please join us in celebrating all our languages with a month of events, posts, promotions etc. leading up to the International Mother Language Day on 21st  February 2015!

On facebook we’ve started an #IMLD campaign that aims to raise awareness that mother (and father!) languages are precious, valuable heritages in our global lifes. Our goal is to see the day celebrated widely all over the world by families, schools, communities on national and global level.

This year’s theme for the day is “Inclusion in and through education: Language counts”. This and other topics related to the values the day represents will be highlighted in the campaign which starts today, 22 January, runs for 30 days and culminates on Saturday the 21st of February when we can all celebrate together.

Join us in the campaign by visiting and liking the International Mother Language Day Celebration Facebook page and by sharing the daily posts through social media in the run-up to the day. The Facebook page will be a treasure throve of quotes, pictures, links to posts, articles, and activities to do with mother tongue, language, multilingualism, education, multiculturalism and diversity. Use the #IMLD hashtag to find others’ messages on social media and share them.

Online news sites for children

When children reach a certain age, parents want them to learn about what happens in the world. Many parents struggle with the way news are presented on TV. In fact, pictures and the way news are presented in the evening news can be quite traumatising. A great alternative are online news sites for children, where children and parents can choose the kind of news they think are appropriate and get more information about some topics in a child friendly way. What I personally like about online news is the choice to either read or watch the news.

Like in many multilingual families, my children like to have access to news in different languages. As I’m far from knowing about online news programms for children in other languages, asked some parents from the Multicultual Kid Blogs group to share news sites they recommend for children and am glad to share this here below.

Danish:

Rita Rosenback recommends the Danish site Kidsnews. You have to subscribe to the magazine, but the news videos are for free.

Dutch:

The Dutch Jeugdjournaal is a news programm for children that goes live every day at 18:45 and can also be watched online. There is also a Jeugdjournaal app that permits you to access news in a child appropriate format on mobile devices.

English (British):

Amanda van Mulligen suggested the BBC site for news. This site is very interesting not only for news but also for general information about different topics.

Another site that my children like to visit is the First News Site.

French:

Annabelle Humanes recommends the real paper newspaper that has also a news website. This website is, as far as I could see, without videos, therefore children need to be able to read to access the news.

Isabelle Barth points out that in France and in French-speaking countries, there is no News Channel just for children. But they have few channels just for childern an they have news in their programs. These channels are: Gulli, Tivi5mondeplus and canalj.

German:

On the German tivi site, children can watch news and choose the topics they’re interested in.

Italian:

The Italian site Bambininews offers news for children who already can read. In fact, there are no videos available (so far). Also, some Italian newspapers publish news sites for children, like Il Giorno. The TV channel RaiGulp offers also online access to some series and news, but, as far as I know, there is no video news programm online.

Norwegian:

And on the Norwegian site nrksuper children can access the news that are also aired on TV online.

Portuguese:

For Portuguese, Annabelle Humanes‘ husband recommends the Folinha de São Paulo, a website or supplement from an adult newspaper. It is Brazilian.

Russian:

Anna Watt recommends two Russian websites, one for a younger audience and one for 10-16 year olds and older.

Spanish:

The Spanish site educatumundo is an educational site for children, parents and teachers. Under noticias you can find several topics, written for children. These news are not available on video, but maybe there is another site that offers news clips in Spanish?

Swedish:

Rita Rosenback recommends the Swedish site SVT, where children can watch the news.

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Of course, these are only a few online news sites for children and I really would like to extend this list. Therefore, I would really be glad if you could recommend any further online news sites for children in the comments section here below (indicating your name and, if you have one, your website). – Thank you very much!