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

A Powerful Way to Inspire a Positive Attitude in Your Bilingual Child

November 19, 2012

Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace

In Getting a Bilingual Child to Feel the Value of the Minority Language, I talk about the importance of promoting a positive attitude toward the target language—in our case, English. After all, if the child doesn’t hold positive feelings toward the minority language, it will be much, much harder to make the sort of strong, steady progress necessary to match the relentless development of the majority language.

A positive attitude toward the minority language—a heartfelt grasp of its value—is what ultimately will power the child toward the highest levels of bilingual ability.

In the article above, I made two suggestions to help instill in a child the sense that the minority language is useful to her life. (Apart from parents regularly talking up the value of being bilingual to her future.)

  1. Create opportunities for the child to interact in the target language with other children.
  2. Serve as a homestay family for international visitors who speak the target language.

With my own kids, these have both been powerful ways of promoting the value—the usefulness—of their minority language.

Just yesterday, though, I discovered another way to deepen that feeling of value—and its impact may even be stronger than these other ideas.

Eager to use her English

Yesterday a large international event was held in Hiroshima. It’s an annual event called the “Day of International Exchange and Cooperation,” and it brings together a variety of international groups and activities at the conference center in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

For the second time, Lulu and I took part in a workshop by the Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace, a group whose members serve as volunteer guides for international visitors to the city.

Like last year, we helped with the workshop by participating in role plays involving “guides” and “visitors,” pretending to interact at various sites of interest in Hiroshima (like Peace Memorial Museum). These role plays were scripted, in English, and the participants stood in front of an audience of about 80 people.

Last time, when Lulu was 7, she enjoyed the experience, but was reluctant to stand in front of the audience by herself; she would only take part while standing by my side.

Over the course of this year’s workshop, however, she grew eager to read the role plays by herself and did a really fine job.

Lulu at Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace

One reason, perhaps, is that she follows in my footsteps: we’re both a bit shy naturally, but turn on the spotlight, and we become little hams. (I have a long background in theater.)

Being helpful to others

The other reason, though—and here’s my point today—I think Lulu felt inspired by the opportunity to be helpful with her English ability.

Consider this: Don’t we all get a good feeling when we’re being helpful to others in some way? It’s only natural, isn’t it? And doesn’t that good feeling stir further motivation? (Example: I’m thrilled every time I get a message from someone telling me this blog is helpful to them! And these comments definitely give my efforts a boost! :mrgreen: )

Well, yesterday I think Lulu unconsciously grasped the value of her English ability in a way that goes even deeper than her experiences interacting with other English-speaking children or homestay guests. In those situations, English has been felt as useful to herself, but this time I believe Lulu felt something even stronger: English can be helpful to others.

And now I wonder: Could this be the most powerful way to promote the value of the minority language and inspire a positive attitude? By creating opportunities for the child to be genuinely helpful to others through the use of her minority language ability?

How about you? Have your children had an experience where the use of their ability in the minority language was helpful to others? Please share your story!

1 Roger November 21, 2012 at 11:35 am

Adam; This sounds as though it was a great experience for Lulu. I am so happy it worked out so well. It is difficult to find places where my daughter can use her English outside of the house, and I can see the value of having Lulu actually contribute something with one of her languages. It was a good idea. I may take it up next year, at least perhaps participate with my daughter as she will still be too young to read by herself. Thanks for the idea.

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2 Adam November 21, 2012 at 11:48 am

Roger, thanks for your comment. Yes, I’m already scheming about ways for Lulu and Roy, as they grow, to use their English ability to assist others. Such opportunities are a real win-win situation for everyone.

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3 Alisa January 31, 2013 at 7:50 pm

My 7-year-old’s teacher last year and this year (same teacher, one room schoolhouse) has been particularly helpful to us in making him value his English skills by looking to him for “help” when she teaches English to the class. He feels quite important, as the only one who “knows all the answers.” We certainly appreciate her making him feel helpful in this way.

He has a sub this week, and he told us he knew all the answers during English lessons – but he took pity on the sub and told her afterwards, “It’s normal I know it, I’m American!” 😉

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4 Adam January 31, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Good for you and your son, Alisa! My kids have also taken pride in their English ability at school. In fact, so far at least, they seem to enjoy being singled out by the teacher when English activities arise. My daughter may feel differently when she’s a teen, but right now she’ll even sing an (off-key) solo when her teacher wants to model an English song for the rest of the class!

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5 Vera September 22, 2013 at 9:38 am

I am a early childhood educator working in a German-English bilingual child care centre in Sydney, Australia. I have a boy (4yrs) in my class who recently has come out of his shell. While he has always spoken German with me in a one on one conversation, he now does so even with his friends around. He will translate the things he said to me for his friends afterwards and also helps me throughout our German group times with translations.

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6 Adam September 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Vera, thank you for sharing your experience. It’s really nice to hear how this boy is blossoming in your class. The fact that he feels “helpful” with his language ability has apparently had a powerful impact on him.

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