Click to Look Inside: MAXIMIZE YOUR CHILD'S BILINGUAL ABILITY

My son is 9 and the other day I gave him a simple writing task, as part of our daily homework routine, to help stretch his ability in English, our minority language.

But as it turns out, I found the results quite revealing in terms of our entire bilingual journey together.

The simple task involved making a list of things of a certain color; in this case, a list of 10 things that are black.

That was all. I offered no further direction or guidance.

And here’s what Roy wrote…

Make a list of 10 things that are black.

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ADAM’S NOTE: How passionate are you about raising bilingual children? And what is the source of that passion? In this guest post, Chontelle Bonfiglio shares the touching story of her monolingual past, and the bilingual future she is determined to create for her own two kids. It’s an inspiring piece about family and passion, and I’m grateful to you, Chontelle, for writing it.

Chontelle with her Italian grandmother

Chontelle with her Italian grandmother, some years ago

Chontelle Bonfiglio is an Australian currently living in Italy with her Italian husband and two young children who are being raised bilingually in English and Italian. With a background in Social Science and Teaching English as a Foreign Language to children, she writes at BilingualKidspot.com about her experience raising bilingual children and her time living and teaching around the world.

Chontelle Bonfiglio

Chontelle Bonfiglio

Though I grew up speaking only English, I am actually half Italian. My father was born in Italy in the 1950s and when he was just 4 years old his family immigrated to Australia. They moved to an Italian community in the suburbs of Melbourne and my father and his siblings started at a local school where they learned to speak English. For my grandparents, however, there was never a reason for them to learn the new language because everyone around them spoke Italian. My “Nonno” (grandfather) learned the basics at work, but my “Nonna” (grandmother) lived her life in Australia and was never able to communicate in English.

When I was born my parents spoke to me only in English, even though my father is a native Italian speaker. My mother encouraged my father to teach me and my siblings Italian, but he never put importance on us learning this language because he didn’t think we would ever need it. We lived in Australia after all, and everyone spoke English. As a result, I grew up monolingual and was unable to communicate with my grandmother, missing out on the kind of close relationship with her that grandparents and grandchildren should have.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Do you have an idea for a language-related product? Maybe a bilingual book, CD, game, or toy, or perhaps another type of item that could benefit the multilingual journey of your family and other families in the world? In this guest post, Una McCarthy-Fakhry describes how she started her own successful venture called LoveYourLingo. Thank you, Una, for generously sharing your hard-won experience and warm encouragement!

LoveYourLingo

Una McCarthy-Fakhry is an Irish mother living in Melbourne, Australia. With her husband, a native French speaker, she is raising two bilingual daughters, currently 6 and 4. Originally a scientist, she can’t resist solving problems and is passionate about language learning and education in general. Observing her daughters’ language learning experience inspired her to found her own business, LoveYourLingo, which creates beautiful, clever products for little linguists.

Una McCarthy-Fakhry

Two years ago, I bit the bullet, gave up my day job, and embarked on an exciting entrepreneurial journey. My mission was to create a very special alphabet which I believed could make life easier for little linguists. I founded a small company called LoveYourLingo, and along came The Little Linguist’s Alphabet, which is the first alphabet to link together 6 different languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch). I successfully crowdfunded the project (my page at Kickstarter) and am delighted to say that hundreds of little linguists around the world are now using the alphabet. Honestly, I have to pinch myself when I think of this. It has been a humbling and challenging experience, but most of all, enormously rewarding and I wouldn’t change it for a second!

Do you have an idea for some type of language-related product? Want to do something about it, but aren’t sure what to expect?

This is what I’ve learned…

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ADAM’S NOTE: How does a monolingual parent go about raising a bilingual child? In this firsthand account, Llacey Simmons relates the early stages of one parent’s journey to promote a second language that she does not speak—yet is now making efforts to learn alongside her son. Thank you, Llacey, for sharing your personal story and helpful insights.

Llacey and her son Cavanaugh

Llacey and her son Cavanaugh

Llacey Simmons is an entrepreneurial mom who spends her days tutoring and her nights finding Chinese resources for her son. She lives in the U.S. state of Maryland with her inquisitive, bilingual four-year-old son, Cavanaugh. She shares her language learning expertise with other monolingual parents at her blog Our 21st Century Kids.

My journey teaching my son Chinese began over 2.5 years ago after an intense researching binge. I read many articles, scientific studies, and scoured the Internet for Chinese language classes for my then soon-to-be one year old.

As a monolingual parent who only speaks English, my lofty goal of raising a bilingual, near-native Chinese-speaking child was a bit daunting, at first. I knew I would have to be creative, think outside the box, and find the best way to stretch my limited budget to get my son the Chinese exposure he needed to become bilingual.

Soon, I begin to build a network of other parents who were in a similar situation, but the fact remained: What more could I do? Or, better yet, if I can’t teach him Chinese myself, where could I turn for help?

Cavanaugh and his Chinese language tutor

Cavanaugh and his Chinese language tutor

I purchased countless books, flashcards, Chinese videos, hired Chinese tutors, even restructured my work schedule to get my son to and from various Chinese playgroups.

But his Chinese language skills seemed to be stalling.

At best, I was only getting him about 5-6 hours of language exposure a week, mostly through play-based programs, but I was looking for more and a way where I could get in on the Chinese learning, too.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Have you ever wondered about the value of bilingual books? This is a common question, and one that I’m so glad to have author Delia Berlin respond to in this guest post. From her thoughtful perspective, she gracefully explains the many ways bilingual books can be beneficial in the home and classroom. Thank you, Delia, for your insight—this is a post that I will now point to whenever this question is asked.

A Writer’s Perspective on the Value of Bilingual Books for Children, Families, and Schools

Delia Berlin grew up in Argentina and Brazil, but spent her adult life in the U.S. state of Connecticut. Her professional career focused on education and administration. With graduate degrees in both Physics and Family Studies, she also worked in early intervention and taught child development at the college level. While living in three countries, Delia’s world view was influenced by the need to navigate different cultures. Throughout her life, friendships with animals also shaped her learning and understanding of nature. For more information, visit www.deliaberlin.com or www.amazon.com/author/deliaberlin.

Delia BerlinInfancy and early childhood are critical periods for language development. During these periods, all children have their highest potential to learn multiple languages without special effort. When families have speakers of different languages, they have the opportunity to easily gift their children with a highly valued and useful competency. For these families and their children, bilingual books are very helpful tools to succeed in this effort.

Benefits for families

Reading to children from early infancy provides permanent benefits, both for children and for those who read to them. When a child enjoys that special interaction with a parent, the parent is rewarded, strengthening the long-term bond that raising a successful person will require. With children, early investment has the highest return. Lots of social stimulation and broad experiences in early childhood will increase curiosity, develop self-confidence, and make future learning easier.

Current research has confirmed that bilingual children learn faster, and that learning languages even supports other types of learning. The cognitive effects of bilingualism are positive through the entire lifespan, and even include protection against some forms of dementia in old age.

But most bilingual or multilingual families have some members who don’t speak all the languages in play. Different relatives will remain limited to communicating only in the languages they can speak. Accordingly, they will be able to read to children only in those languages.

Since books should be part of a child’s environment from infancy, finding enough of them at the appropriate levels in all the desired languages presents a challenge. In infancy, pictionaries are ideal for learning single words bilingually. These books can be used by anyone in the family, regardless of their own language. Since infants can’t read, they focus on the pictures and the accompanying sounds that adults make. Pictionaries are the perfect starting point for teaching labels in more than one language.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Ever feel shy or uncomfortable about speaking the minority language in a majority language setting? In this guest post, Sam Zerin writes eloquently about this emotional challenge and offers some very helpful suggestions. It’s an important post that I think will speak to many parents and I urge you to read it and share it with others. Thank you for writing it, Sam.

Sam and his son

Sam and his son in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, Spring 2016

Sam Zerin is a musicologist and amateur language enthusiast, currently living in the U.S. state of Rhode Island with his wife, toddler, and two adorable bilingual cats. He is raising his son in Yiddish, a language that runs deep in his family history, though he himself only learned it as an adult. You can follow his adventures of raising his son in a non-native language on his blog (at tate-loshn.weebly.com) and on Facebook (at facebook.com/tateloshn).

Like many American Jews of the past few generations, my mother’s parents spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want the kids to know what they were talking about. They wanted their kids to assimilate and become full-fledged Americans, and that meant speaking English, not Yiddish: that so-called “dying” language that symbolized Jewish life in the Old World, before Hitler came along and destroyed it all. And so, my mother, like so many other American Jews, never learned her parents’ native language. Of course, it’s ironic that now I’m speaking Yiddish—and only Yiddish—with my own child, specifically so that he’ll learn and use the language. It’s also an ironic twist of history that when I speak Yiddish with my son, it’s my parents who don’t understand.

Reversing History: Raising My Son in a “Dying” Language

I’ll be honest: I enjoy the irony. It’s a positive reversal—some might say an antidote—to the modern course of Jewish history. Instead of allowing Yiddish to die, by refusing to give it to the next generation, I’m bolstering it and giving it a future. Instead of memorializing it as a nostalgic relic of the forever-gone Old World, I’m embracing it as an essential part of my modern, daily life right here in the New World. Instead of casting it aside in favor of English, in order to assimilate and become “more American,” I’m equally valuing both halves of my “Jewish-American” identity. Instead of defining monolingualism as an essential element of national pride and identity—whether English for Americans or Hebrew for Zionists—I am celebrating multilingualism as a hugely important Jewish, Zionist, and American value.

And you know, I get a lot of compliments for it. Sometimes people think it’s really cool. Others get nostalgic and tell me how they always wished their parents had spoken Yiddish with them, but alas, they hadn’t. The guy who installed our home alarm system told me my son is going to be a genius someday, because I’m raising him bilingually. At our synagogue’s barbecue for new members last weekend, somebody asked if I’d consider teaching a Yiddish class—she thinks it’d be really popular. It’s nice to be met by such positivity.

Is the Yiddish Language Doomed?

An article in the March 23, 1928 edition of The Jewish Transcript. The Yiddish novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer famously quipped: “The Yiddish language has been dying for a thousand years, and I’m sure it will go on dying for at least a thousand more.”

The Challenges of Raising My Son In A Language That My Family Doesn’t Know

But I’ll be honest: the fact that I’m raising my son in a language that none of my parents, siblings, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, or babysitters speak or understand can sometimes be uncomfortable, too. For example, when my son and I are hanging out with my parents, and my parents speak to him in English, I understand what they’re saying—but then when I speak to my son in Yiddish, it unintentionally excludes them. Mealtime conversations are particularly hard, because I want to continue interacting with my son in Yiddish, but at the same time, I want the conversations to include everyone at the table. And it’s not just about being inclusive or exclusive; I don’t want it to feel like I’m hiding secrets from people, or like I’m talking about them in a language that they can’t understand. That can be very uncomfortable when I’m at the playground with my son, for instance, and he’s interacting (or I want him to interact) with other children who are there. Sometimes I point at another child and say to my kid in Yiddish: “Do you want to say hello to them?” or “Look, so-and-so is going down the slide! Weee!” or “Hey, look, those kids want to play with you!” And if those other kids’ parents don’t understand Yiddish, will they worry what this stranger is saying about their children?

Besides all that, I want people to know what I’m saying to my son, because that’s how relationships develop, and that’s also how positive memories form. Birthday parties can be awkward, for example, when everyone laughs and smiles and sings the birthday song in English, and then I sing the Yiddish birthday song and the entire room falls silent. Of course, there’s also the “weirdo” factor, especially in a place like the United States where multilingualism is generally viewed in a negative light (even while it’s celebrated as an academic resumé builder). It sometimes feels like I don’t belong when I’m speaking a language that even my own family and friends don’t understand, and when I’m out in public there are xenophobes to worry about. That’s all really uncomfortable.

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WANTED: Good guest posts for Bilingual Monkeys, a popular blog about raising bilingual children

For the month of August, I’ll take a break from blogging. (It’s been a busy year and I need some rest!) Come September, I’ll have new content to share, including new guest posts and new video.

In the meantime, I’ll continue posting at The Bilingual Zoo and sending out my weekly newsletter every Sunday. (If you’re not already getting my weekly newsletter in your email inbox, it’s the best way to keep up with all the action at Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo! Click here to subscribe.)

And if you haven’t read my new book yet, why not get started in August? This widely-praised book could lend a big boost to your bilingual journey for years to come! Really! Get your copy now.

I began this blog almost four years ago. At this point, there are now 305 articles about raising bilingual kids, but so far only a handful of these (13, to be exact) have been guest posts.

Until now, my call for guest posts at Bilingual Monkeys has been limited, but for two key reasons I think it’s time to make a broader invitation…

1. Three years ago I opened a forum, The Bilingual Zoo, and this lively community, with 3,588 posts produced to date, has made it clear that there are a lot of people out there with stories to tell and suggestions to share—stories and suggestions that could form helpful and engaging blog posts.

2. Honestly, I think it would now be healthier for this blog—and for me, personally—if more people were involved. After writing hundreds of articles myself, a greater number of guest posts would not only add richer variety to this site, it would enable me to keep a saner schedule and pursue other projects, too. (High on my list, for example, is creating videos more regularly for my YouTube channel.)

So if you might be interested in writing a guest post for Bilingual Monkeys, please read on!

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Annick De HouwerA few weeks ago I shared two excellent books on early child bilingualism in the post Recommended Resources: Books on Bilingual Acquisition by Prominent Researcher Annick De Houwer. Along with my impressions of these books, the post included an insightful interview with Dr. De Houwer and a book giveaway, which generated a number of questions from this audience.

Dr. De Houwer, a professor of Language Acquisition and Multilingualism at the University of Erfurt in Germany, generously offered to respond to some of these questions (and expressed regret at not being able to respond to everyone). On behalf of us all at Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo, let me thank Dr. De Houwer for her helpful thoughts today, and more broadly, for the important work she has long pursued to shed brighter light on child bilingualism. The world’s bilingual families are very grateful!

Question from Elodie in Germany: Can bilingualism not happen, even if the parents do everything that can be done? Can children resist that much that it will never work?

Question from Lainy in the U.S.: I’d like to know some strategies to get my children to produce the second language. They understand the spoken language very well, but they are hesitant to speak it.

Question from Stephanie in Japan: What I really want to know is how best to divert the child back into speaking the target language when s/he responds in the “wrong” language. Currently we ask our daughter “How do you say that in English?” Or we say “Please speak to Mama in English”. But I’ve heard from several friends in child development that children can’t actively distinguish between languages until age 4, so I am a bit confused as to whether that’s true (in which case I should just tell her the word in English?) or if that’s not true and I should continue as we have been doing.

Response from Dr. De Houwer: Indeed, children can strongly resist speaking a particular language, Elodie. In the preschool years there certainly are strategies that you can use to counter this. Using the names of languages, Stephanie, will not be particularly helpful, though. If very young children are not using the language you want them to speak, you can do various things to try to get them to change. You can ask: Oh, did you mean so-and-so, where ‘so-and-so’ is the word or phrase in the language you want them to speak. If they say yes, then ask them to repeat what they meant, so you can properly understand them. Or you could say: I really don’t understand that word very well, can you say it differently? (That’s if you think children know the word in the ‘right’ language.) You can try this for a few weeks and often this will be enough to switch very young children over to the ‘right’ language but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Then you could bring a cute hand puppet into the house and tell your child that this puppet only understands Polish, or Spanish, or whatever language you want them to speak. And then…it’s time for your talents as a puppeteer to develop! Play games with your child and the puppet, so that your child gets into the habit of using the right language.

Now with older children I’m afraid it’s nearly impossible to change ingrained habits of using language X with a parent who speaks language Y to them, but it is worth talking to them about it and explaining that you understand that they don’t feel good talking a language they have little fluency in, but that it’s really important to you that they speak your language. Educate your school aged children about your language, and show them (online perhaps?) children who speak it. Try to increase their motivation to speak it, and put them in circumstances where in order to say anything they must use it, because the person they’re talking to doesn’t know another language they know.

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Here's the Bright Side to Bilingual Kids Getting Sick

My son is sick today. He woke up with a headache and fever and stayed home from school. (Summer vacation hasn’t quite begun yet in Japan.)

Of course, I’m not happy that he’s sick. Like any parent, I don’t like to see my kids suffering, even if that suffering is only mild. And in my case, since I work from home (and my wife works outside the home), when my kids are sick this means there’s another presence in the house pulling at my attention.

Still, though I want them to be healthy and in school, I’ve also come to see the bright side of these occasional days of illness at home.

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The Larger Arc of Captive Reading—and Our Lives As Human Beings

For nearly a decade, I’ve pursued a strategy I call “captive reading” and this tactic has made a tremendous contribution to my children’s language and literacy development. At this point, as my children are getting a bit older (they’re now 12 and 9) and their ability in the minority language has reached a fairly advanced level, I’ve now taken what is probably the final step in my captive reading efforts, one I’ll try to sustain through the rest of their childhood.

But before I share that final step, let’s look back at the larger arc of this strategy since my daughter was 3. Obviously, from age 3 to age 12 there has been great growth in her language development and, in line with this growth, I’ve used a progression of captive reading forms and materials over the years.

Below is the broad chronology of my efforts, based on the main blog posts that have described these ideas. For full details, please turn to the original posts.

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It's Quiz Time!

I have another quiz for you about raising bilingual kids! (This is the third quiz at Bilingual Monkeys. Try the first quiz and the second quiz, too.)

For this new quiz, I’ve created questions based on information found in Annick De Houwer’s book Bilingual First Language Acquisition. To read my impressions of the book, see Recommended Resources: Books on Bilingual Acquisition by Prominent Researcher Annick De Houwer. That post also features an insightful interview with the author.

Ready for the quiz? Good luck!

1. BFLA stands for Bilingual First Language Acquisition and, in Dr. De Houwer’s words, refers to “the development of language in young children who hear two languages spoken to them from birth.” On the other hand, when monolingual children begin to acquire a second language on top of their first language, not from birth but from a young age, as in day care or preschool, what is this process called?
a. ESLA, which stands for Early Second Language Acquisition
b. ESLA, which stands for Early Successive Language Acquisition
c. BSLA, which stands for Bilingual Second Language Acquisition
d. BSLA, which stands for Bilingual Successive Language Acquisition

To check your answer, open this box by clicking the plus sign!
a. ESLA, which stands for Early Second Language Acquisition (Along with BFLA and ESLA, the other main language learning context is MFLA, or Monolingual First Language Acquisition, where “children learn to understand and speak only one language.”)

2. Jules Ronjat, a French linguist, wrote the first book about BFLA, a case study of his son growing up with two languages from birth. When was this book published?
a. 1853
b. 1883
c. 1913
d. 1943

The world’s interest in children's bilingual development has grown profoundly since that time!
c. 1913 (In his book, Ronjat describes the bilingual development of his son, Louis, who acquired both German and French.)

3. What is the term used to describe the exaggerated way of speaking, marked by a higher pitch, that adults tend to use when talking to babies?
a. canonical babbling
b. infant soundscape
c. infant-directed speech
d. floating utterances

Isn’t it remarkable how adults will automatically switch to this special way of speaking when interacting with babies?
c. infant-directed speech (IDS) (This instinctive way of speaking by caregivers attracts the attention of young children and heightens early language input. Dr. De Houwer adds: “As babies grow older and appear to understand more, parents will use less and less of the typical characteristics of IDS.” After all, it would be quite funny if we spoke to our children at the age of 10 the same way we spoke to them at 10 months!)

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