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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Language and Music:Inseparable

I’ve told you before about my two passions: Language and Music. Watch this slide show that shows us how music and communication are related. Here is a summary of some of the most important points in this slide show:

  • Music and speech are intertwined starting in the womb. (We knew that!)
  • The melody of our voices is the musical nature of speech and it conveys feelings and meaning. For example, when we are happy we use a high pitch voice and we speak fast. When we are sad our speech is slow and we use deep monotone voice.
  • Taking music lessons helps us understand better the melody of words and interpret the emotions that they convey.
  • Pitch can vary between languages.
  • Our voices start getting shaped in the womb by the voices the baby hear.
  • In tonal languages like mandarin or Vietnamese, pitch determines the meaning of words.
  • Our perception of pitch is critical when we communicate to understand what others feel and mean.
  • When we learn to talk we help our music ability a well.

I loved this slide show because in just a few minutes it helps capture and understand the important relationship between language and music! I love my job!

Did you learn something with this slide show? Share your comments!

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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!

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