Tag Archives: Education

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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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.

Finding British Schools For Your Expat Children, by Luke Rees

A few weeks ago I found a very useful map about British Schools Abroad and shared it on social media. I’m now glad to publish Luke Rees’ very insightful post about it here.

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Parents who are planning to move abroad face a number of initial challenges. To start with there are the stresses that go along with finding a house, setting up a bank account, buying a car and sorting out healthcare. However there is perhaps nothing quite as tricky as setting your children up in a new foreign school.

Emigrating with children often stirs up a variety of feelings within the family. On the one hand there is the excitement of a new climate, a new culture and a whole new land of opportunities, but on the other there is the fear of change – the stresses of which can wreak havoc on a family. It therefore always pays to be prepared, and to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Taking your kids away from their friends and teachers whilst they are still at primary and secondary school is a delicate process. It is well know that young children need stability, and to wrench everything away from under their feet is no doubt going to be traumatic. If the new country speaks a foreign language or uses their own national curriculum then this can make the transition even harder on your child, who has to learn to negotiate an entirely new educational system.

For British parents there is the option to keep their child at a British school no matter where they are in the world. The British curriculum, from the key stages up to the GCSE exams, are taught in over 1,000 schools around the world. Cambridge IGCSEs are also taught in many schools, which are the international equivalent of GCSEs and accepted by all higher institutions in the UK.

In order to help parents locate British schools an interactive map was created by Expat & Offshore – an online information resource for expats. The map has over 1,000 primary, secondary and through schools to choose from all over the world. In order to find a school in your host country, click on a star and you will find information on the school’s address, website, phone number, and student population. You can view the map here:

British Schools Abroad

British Schools Abroad

Setting your children up in a school where they feel at ease and have the same educational opportunities as back home is everything a parent could hope for, however there are a number of extra strategies to ensure your child’s move is as tear-free as possible.

If your child is particularly sensitive then you must give them lots of time to get used to the idea of moving. Reading books and researching the new country with your children can help them to build an impression before they arrive so that it doesn’t seem so foreign on arrival. Also getting friends and family to put together something to remember them by before you leave – something like a signed T-shirt or a photo album – gives your child time to let go of their home whilst also allowing them to still feel connected to friends after the move.

Some tips to help your child settle into school even quicker include speaking to their new teachers and informing them of your child’s likes and dislikes, as well as giving them the names of important people in their life. Teachers can then reference these people and make your child feel like they’re still at home.

Children with United Kingdom, Guinean, United States and Chinese flags painted on faces

Moving country is one of the biggest steps a family with young children can take and so it always pays to extensively research your country of destination before the move. There are British schools in almost every country in the world (barring a few in Africa), so parents are likely to find an appropriate school no matter where they are.

Luke Rees

Luke Rees

Luke Rees is a travel writer from London who currently writes on behalf of Expat & Offshore.

8 things to say to a bilingual

Bildschirmfoto 2012-08-27 um 11.53.00This post is somehow a response in a dialogical way, to the brilliant post by Rita Rosenback “7 things you should not say to a bilingual child“.

I did experience some of the 7 things she listed up and I totally agree with her that “children can be (very) sensitive about almost anything to do with themselves”, no matter if monolingual, bilingual, multilingual. It’s just a fact. I think that also young adults and some adults feel annoyed by the kind of questions she mentions. Therefore I decided to figure out questions that would not bother a bilingual or multilingual, indipendently if it’s a child or an adult.

1. “Did you live in all the places you know the language from?”

Multilinguals are often also multicultural and they usually grow up very open minded. Therefore questions like “Where do you come from?” seem too restrictive and some consider them really alienating. Multilinguals often possess more than one passport and have lived in more than one place. Or at least they visit their passport countries on a regular basis. But they don’t need to have lived in all the places they know the language from. – “Did you live in all the places you know the language from?” always gives us the possibility to either answer it by a simple “yes” or “no”, or to start a broader discussion about where the languages are spoken around the world, how many people talk them or why we didn’t or did live in the places they’re the national language.

2. “How would you say [fill in the blank] in [one of the languages the person talks]?”

People often are very curious to hear a child (or a grown up!) talking the other languages. Especially if it are more “exotic” ones for them. It’s not unusual to be asked to tell something in that other language. The only thing others don’t consider is that it’s difficult to “just say something in the other language”. What exactly do thy want to hear? Therefore, suggesting a sentence like “Hello, how are you?” or “Hi, my name is X and I come from Y” or a more complex one, helps the multilingual to not just be struck dump… – The positive side effect of this kind of questions is that we can point out the syntactical, lexical, phonetical differences among the languages we know. And this is something most bilinguals or multilinguals like doing.

3. “It’s amazing how you can switch from one language to the other!”

I know that this might sound a bit too much, but many multilingual children get to hear that they surely are not as proficient in language A as in language B (and C, D etc.) and that their tendency to switch from one language to the other is a sign of weakness or that they don’t master the languages yet. – Against all those clichés or false myths: code switching is actually a sign of great mastery of both languages, people should recognize it as a sign of mastery!

4. “You’re such a great example to (other) children!”

When children grow up multilingual they usually not only switch languages frequently but they also change from one cultural group to the other, adapting and embracing diversity. This is a very positive side effect and it is worth to be recognized because it gives those children a very open mindset. They usually don’t judge others by the language they speak or by the culture they come from, they tend to be much more curious and accepting. And this is, in this time of increasingly more global living families, an important asset that should be praised. – The same applies, of course, to adults!

5. “When did you learn all those languages?”

This is actually a question I’ve been asked a few times and I really liked it for two reasons: first, because I felt like the other person is really interested in the languages I speak, and second, because it gave me the possibility to tell more about myself. The conversation was not as superficial as it sometimes can be with monolinguals, or multilinguals who speak other languages than ourselves. In fact, one person who asked me this was a multilingual herself and we ended up talking about how difficult or easy it is to learn certain languages at some point of our life, and about when to start to learn an imparented language or when even it would be appropriate not to.

6. “Which language was easier to learn for you and why, except for those you learned naturally?”

This is a very intelligent question and it reflects that the other person is aware of the different level of difficulty in learning a language. Some are completely different from the mothertongue or one of the “family-tongues” (i.e. languages spoken within one family) but this doesn’t mean that they are more difficult to learn. Sometimes it’s even easier to learn a language from a completely different language-family than one that is imparented with one we already know.

And the second part of the question shows that the person is aware of the different ways someone can acquire (=naturally learning) and learn (=at school) a language.

7. “Do you speak all those languages on a regular basis?”

Being bilingual or multilingual is hard work. Keeping up with all the languages we learned and using them actively on a regular basis is not very easy. First, our parents need to provide inputs for us in all the languages we’re supposed to become proficient for social, emotional or very practical reasons. And then, once we’re adults, we need to find people who speak all our languages in order to keep them active and we need to find situations where to practice those languages. This is the challenge of a lifetime for people who want to stay bilingual or multilingual. – Personally, I couldn’t imagine to live in a strictly monolingual culture, it would be too hard for me to give up one of my languages…

8. “Do you have one (or more) dominant languages?”

This kind of question is obviously not very common. Surely nobody would ask this to a child. It is a question that linguists or people who know about linguistics would ask. We all have one or more dominant languages, also depending on the social context we’re living in: if we need more than one language in order to interact with our environment, those will probably be our most dominant languages. We still know the others too, but if we don’t practice them regularly, they’ll become more passive, secondary. – By asking this kind of question, people can get an idea about our linguistic situation and our preferences.

And what really should be avoided….

Even though I usually avoid telling what not to do and prefer giving positive advice about what to do, there are some really inappropriate things people can say to a bilingual or multilingual person that I would shortly mention here.

First of all, one should always avoid to be judgmental.

Rita mentioned several questions that could be interpreted in different ways, depending on who asks them: “you have hardly any accent”, for example. Some people might really be honestly thinking that you don’t have any accent, i.e. you really speak like a native. Others would say this just because they really think you have one… – But accents are not a sign of weakness or of not being proficient in a language. They just are our very personal “finger-print” and surely shouldn’t be criticized.

In general, a bilingual or multilingual person shouldn’t be corrected in the presence of others. Rita mentioned “You said that wrong!” as one of the many things one should avoid saying to a bilingual child and I can only agree. This shouldn’t be said to anyone. If someone really makes a mistake, remodelling is the key: “You mean [and say the sentence in the correct way, or like you think it should be said…]”.

One other thing that should be avoided is to compare to siblings, friends, partners, spouses etc.. We all pick up languages and speak them in our own very personal way. We all have preferences when it comes to languages and this is as natural as having an accent or having blond or brown hair etc..

One last thing: never ask which language they prefer the most. Every time people asked me this, I felt like they asked me to decide if I loved my father or my mother the most. This is just impossible!

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