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Bilingual language terms

If you grew up in a bilingual environment, you probably never heard of these terms. However, in an education setting, teachers and speech therapists who work with bilingual children, use a lot of different terms that they should know in order to make the best assessments and eventually develop the appropriate program for these strudents. The following words are used to describe certain chracteristics of the very complicated bilingual language acquisition!

Passively Bilingual = a passively bilingual child of person is one that understands the second language but can’t speak it. This happens mostly to adults and when someone is starting to learn a second language.

Language Loss (or language attrition) = This is a very important characteristic of bilingual language acquisition. It is defined as “a potential consequence of second language acquisition, where the person losses their ability to use the first language due to lack of use or exposure”. Unfortunately this happened a lot in past decades when speaking two languages and having an accent was seen as something negative.

Code Switching =  mixing languages in the same sentence or conversation. This is very important to understand when working with children who are bilingual. It can be seen as lacking enough language skills in both languages. However, when a bilingual person can switch between two languages, it means that their skills are proficient enough to be able to manipulate the languages in different ways.

Borrowing =  speaking in one language and “borrowing” a word/s from the second language. This primarily occurs when there is not a word for that particular object or idea in the language that is been spoken. Very common among bilingual people.

critical period hypothesis = The hypothesis claims that there is an ideal ‘window’ of time (first few years of life) to acquire language in a linguistically rich environment, but that after this period,  language acquisition becomes much more difficult and effortful. This can be applied for first and second language acquisition.

Here , I only gave you a few of the terms that are used in an education setting about bilingual language acquisition. In a future post I will explain some more! 

Have you heard any of these terms?


Silent Period: Suggestions for the classroom teacher

Last week, we learned a little more about what is the the silent period and why is this a natural process in second language learning. Today, I’ll give some suggestions for classroom teachers who have second language learners in their classrooms and what to do to help them, if they suspect they are going through the silent period.

As we know children in the silent period should not be forced to speak before they are ready. They need time to listen to others talk, understand what they hear, and observe their peers’ interactions with each other. Even when they are silent, they are learning the language!

Here are some suggestions for the classroom  teacher:

  • Ask YES/NO questions: Allow the child to respond with nods of “yes” or “no”, this gives them the opportunity to participate in a non-threatening situation.
  • Accept as response facial expressions and body language. Nonverbal cues such as eye contact, flipping through pages, writing, pointing, or grabbing our should be accepted as responses. Again, this allows them to feel welcomed without the pressure of saying it right.
  • Share a word or two in the child’s language: This is also an opportunity to make the child feel welcome and gain trust.
  • Pair them with a buddy who speak their language: Other children can help them understand the rules/routine of the classroom.
  • Focus attention on listening comprehension activities/building a receptive vocabulary: Remember this is the natural process of language acquisition, so you are helping that process.

These are a few suggestions, to make the child feel welcomed, comfortable, without pressures, that will allow learning in a loving, caring environment.

Can you think of some other ideas?

Understanding the Silent Period

Although much research has been done about second language acquisition, it is still a mysterious topic for some people. Which is very strange since 17.9% of the population in the USA (2000 Census) said they spoke a language other than English.

But acquiring a second (or third, etc) language is a complicated process that varies greatly depending on the experience and exposure with the new language, the learner’s  personality, and their emotions around learning a new language. The silent period is an initial phase of the language acquisition process, during which children acquiring a new language in natural settings are silent and concentrate on comprehension. So, literally they don’t speak much during this period but they may respond when necessary in a non-verbal way or by using a set of memorized phrases.

However, this silent period phenomenon is also observed when we see how children acquire their native language. We know that during typical language acquisition, a baby spends many months listening to the people around it long before they start using words. Comprehension always comes before production in a natural process of language acquisition, therefore, when acquiring a second language, it is natural that they also follow this process. But, because usually children who come from bilingual homes start learning or are more consistently exposed to their second language when they come to school, it is expected that they speak their second language quickly, without having them the opportunity to follow the normal acquisition process. This can be frustrating to teachers since the length of the silent period can vary greatly for students in classrooms from a few days to a year, and because the child is silent in the dominant classroom language, it can be hard to know where they are in acquiring English.

Next week, I’ll give some suggestion to the classroom teacher who has a student going through the silent period!

Do you have any experiences with silent period you want to share?

My top 8 posts of 2010

2010 was definitely a year of changes for me! New business, started this blog, joined Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn!

I started this blog in February. It was late (very late) on a Saturday night (actually it was Sunday morning already!) and I just decided to do it! I was nervous and excited at the same time. I was thinking, who would (if anyone) read it? Would someone like it? What would I talk about? 

1o months later, I can tell you that I write what comes to mind, what I’d like to read or what I’d like to learn more about. I like to help my readers get ideas about things that I am passionate about, like language and music. But in the title of the blog I added more, because that allowed me to talk about anything else I found interesting!

I also know someone that ALWAYS reads it… my sister! I am thankful for her unconditional support! And I know of a few (woohoo!) people that have commented (on and off line) how helpful some of the posts are and that they really like it! So, 2011 we’ll continue with this blog!

And because the end of each year is all about reviewing our year, reflecting what we did (good and bad) and think about new beginnings, I reviewed all the posts I have written this year and I came up with my top 8 posts! How did I choose them? Some of them I just liked and some others I think they provided good info!

Here’s my top 8 blog posts of 2010!

1. A birth story: my experience. This is a favorite because the experience was amazing and one of a kind! I am happy to have shared this with all of you!

2. Language and music: Inseparable. I like this one because is a perfect demonstration of my 2 passions!

3. Growing up bilingual: Misa’s story. This is a really cool one because it came from a fan! (yes, I do have them!) and I can definitely relate to her story (a little)

4. How do I raise a bilingual child? . I like this one because it’s a question that, as a bilingual speech therapist, people ask me a lot!

5. Music benefits: language, social-emotional skills and literacy and math. I like all 3 posts, because as a Kindermusik educator, I understand and see how benefitial music is!

6. Your child and the dentist. Love this one because it was written by a fan and my dentist! Also, it’s my first blog post written by a guest.

7. Teachable moments. I like this one because it so important to be aware of those teacheable moments and I feel parents, caregivers and teachers don’t take advantage of them as much as they could.

8.Music @ home. This one was my first real blog! Very special!

Here I gave you MY top 8, which one(s) was your favorite? Happy New year!

Growing up bilingual: Misa’s Story

About a week  ago, I received an email from a reader who, after reading some of my posts about bilingualism, wanted to share her story about growing up bilingual. Here’s Misa’s story. 

What would you do, if your child had to become bilingual? My life changed just like that, when my mom gave birth to me in North Carolina, U.S.A.

            My hair is black, my eyes are brown, my skin is yellow and I could speak both Japanese and English. I was born in North Carolina and stayed there for a year and then moved to Georgia. I don’t actually remember the days when I lived in North Carolina, so my life practically started in Georgia, is what I think. Living in America was nothing different to me. Although my parents are both Japanese, and of course I’m Japanese, my home town is America, so nothing got in my way. I went to school in America and acted like American like every child does. I understood myself as Japanese, but inside my heart was all American. To think about it now, maybe it was weird, but that how I was those days. When I was in 4th grade, I was going to school normally. When one of the students in my class asked me, “You look Japanese, but speak English with no trouble. You speak Japanese too right? So, which one are you?”

            That gave me a shock. Since I was born in America and had been living until then, I never thought about who I really was. As a 4th grader, nothing really came up on my mind. I thought myself as an American because I was born in America and I wanted to be an American because that was how I grew up to be, but is that actually the truth? Then, an idea came up to me, when I thought about my other school, Japanese school, popped into my head. Japanese school is an ordinary school that I went to during my American life, only on Saturdays, studying for 7 hours every week. Those days, I hated to go to Japanese school because I didn’t know why I had to learn Japanese when I was in America. I loved America and prayed that I would never leave America and was just confused of my mixed life. I loved my friends there, but I never liked to study about Japan. Maybe I was just stupid, but that’s how I honestly felt during those days. Though I didn’t like to study in Japanese School, when I thought about the question my classmate asked me, maybe that was why my parents made me go to Japanese school. What I thought was that maybe my parents understood my inside feeling and that’s why they made me go to Japanese school only on Saturdays. They probably didn’t want me to forget the feeling to be Japanese since they are Japanese. Though I thought about that, I still don’t really know the actual answer to the question, but I hope it has got a little closer to the answer of what I wanted.

            On June 26, 2008, my life in America ended. I had to move to Japan for my dad’s work. At first, I begged my parents to leave me in America, but nothing changed their mind. They took me to Japan to let me see the outer world of America. It wasn’t like I had never gone outside of America, but that was what they told me to persuade to come. Once I got there, I took a test to go to the school and succeeded. From September, that was where I went. That school that I went to aimed of policy like America with much freedom like no uniform and you could wear any hairstyle you would like, but probably because it was in Japan, it was nothing like America’s school. Though that was the truth about the school I went to, since each and every one of them was from a different country. I liked the way how each student in school had their very own thought. As I say, they each had their own color to themselves. For example, if you give each country in this world a color, that person that has been living there, would have that color inside of them. And also, if that person moved to another country, that person will get that color inside of them as well. Like that, the school I went to had many colors. Meaning, unless you were not living in the totally the same place everywhere with someone else, no one would have the same color as you. And that was how, I explain my unique school as a rainbow with many more patterns. Thanks to that, I was able to not blend in, but get along well with my very good friends.

            I might go through many troubles living in this country, going to this school, but because everyone has their own thought, I think I will be able to get it over with, with many people’s advice.

            I hope, when I end my life, that I would be able to understand of who I really am and why I was born in this weird colorful life.

Thanks Misa!

What a beautiful way to describe being bilingual! So, what color/s are you?

About Misa: She is a 16 year old high school student who is still living…you guessed it, Japan!

How do I raise a bilingual child?

I know many parents, who are bilingual, that are asking themselves that very same question. Some parents speak a different language than their partner and there are some people who are not bilingual but would like their children to be bilingual. The same question, however, the way each family addresses the bilingual education is very different. So, how do we raise bilingual children? Let’s review a few approaches. 

  • One parent-one language approach. Here each parent speak their native language to the child. That way the child has daily influence of both languages. This really help the child acquire both sets of words at the same time.
  • Time-based approach. Here, both parents have to be bilingual (if possible), and as a family choose when to speak each language. It could be by month (one month one language, then the second language and keep switching), or weekly or even daily (e.g. Spanish in the morning, English at night). This approach reinforces learning both languages with both parents.
  • Home language-community language approach. Here parents speak a different language than the dominant language in the community. For example, Spanish-speaking parents living in the United States. With this approach (very common in the United States, by the way), the child hears the first language (or Native Language) at home and will usually start learning the second language (community language) when he/she goes to school. In this situation the child might have a strong language background to support the second language learning.
  • Mixed language approach. Here both (or one at least) parents are bilingual and the child is exposed to both languages all or most of the time. This approach is slightly different from the one parent-one language approach because the child learns to speak both languages with both parents and does not have to choose a language for a specific parent. 

Things to consider when choosing your approach: When choosing a style of bilingual acquisition, take into consideration that growing up, the child will use more the language that is NEEDED the most. If the home-language is different from the community-language, as they grow, they won’t use the home-language as much, because they realize that they NEED the community-language to “survive”. However, if the home-language is reinforced by all (or most) members of the family as much as they can, the home-language will become “important” as well to “survive” (at least at home!)

Also, consider exposing the child as soon as possible (in the womb, remember?). Early exposure of both languages, will help the child acquire language similar to monolingual children.

I think I will choose the first and second approach for my kids. What do you do? Any other suggestions?

photo: iStock

The bilingual myth

Being bilingual has many, many benefits. I know from experience! However, there are still people who believe that being bilingual can have negative effects on our life, our work and even our ability to communicate effectively. 

Here are some of the most common myths about bilingualism.

Bilinguals acquire their two or more languages in childhood. Not necessarily. Many adults become bilingual because they move from one country (or region) to another and have to acquire a second language. If they practice every day, they will be able to be proficient. However, there are many levels of proficiency, which leads us to our next myth…

Bilinguals have equal and perfect knowledge of their languages. Not true necessarily! Bilinguals will learn the languages as much as they need them and as much as they use them. Some bilinguals are dominant in one language, do not know how to read and write in one of their languages. Only a few people have equal proficiency in both (or more) of their languages. 

Real bilinguals have no accent in their different languages. Also not true!  Having an accent or not in a language does not make you more or less bilingual. It depends on when you acquired your languages, and if you learn the rules of the sounds, you can decrease your accent.

Bilinguals are born translators. Not necessarily. Bilinguals may be able to translate simple things from one language to another, but in order to translate you have to know about the audience and specific vocabulary.

Mixing languages is a sign of laziness in bilinguals. Definitely wrong! Mixing languages such as code-switching and borrowing is a very common behavior in bilinguals speaking to other bilinguals. Mixing languages is mostly used when an expression or words are better said in the one or the other language. (We do this all the time!)

Bilinguals are also bicultural. Not necessarily. Many bilinguals know the two languages but don’t know much about the culture of one of the languages.

Bilingualism will delay language acquisition in children. Definitely wrong! Depending on their age, they are acquiring two languages, simultaneously and they might be bicultural as well. There are many things that can influence their proficiency however, that does not mean they are going to have a language delay. We have to keep in mind that bilingual children, because they have to deal with two or more languages, are different in some ways from monolingual children, but definitely not on rate of language acquisition. (More of this in future posts).

The language spoken in the home will have a negative effect on the acquisition of the school language, when the latter is different. Not true. The home language can be used as a base for acquiring aspects of the second language. It also gives children a known language to communicate in (with parents, caretakers, and, even teachers) while acquiring the other.

If parents want their children to grow up bilingual, they should use the one person – one language approach. Not necessarily. There are many ways of making sure a child grows up bilingual. That is one approach, but not the only one. In a future post I will give some ideas of how to raise a bilingual child. Stay tuned! 

Children raised bilingual will always mix their languages. No again. If bilingual children interact in both bilingual and monolingual situations, then they learn to mix languages at certain times only. Children know when they can be bilingual and when they need to be monolingual (in either language).

What are your thoughts about bilingualism? Are you bilingual?

photo: iStock