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

Guest Posts

What advice do others have about promoting the language and literacy development of bilingual children? Find out in these guest posts!

ADAM’S NOTE: Do you have enough resources to regularly engage your children in the minority language through playful games and activities? In this motivating guest post, Filipa Pinto describes her personal efforts as a parent and workshop leader of small children and offers useful suggestions for specific games and activities that are both fun and effective for language development. With Christmas approaching, maybe you’ll find a few good gift ideas for your kids! Thanks, Filipa!

Filipa's trilingual family

Filipa’s children, Tiago and Elisa, speak French with their mother and Spanish with their father. They’re also acquiring English from school and the community.

Filipa Pinto is a cheerful wife and mother of two beautiful trilingual toddlers (French, Spanish, and English). She was born in Portugal and raised in France. She moved to Perth, Australia to pursue her Masters degree at the university where she met her husband-to-be, who was also an international student. He is from Peru.

Filipa is the owner of Le Toboggan, an online bookshop that specializes in international children’s literature. She runs French and Spanish workshops for kids, and is also an international trade consultant.

My husband and I use the “one person, one language” method to raise our children. We live in Australia and English is the community language. We never speak English with the children inside or outside our home.

I speak French to the children and my husband speaks Spanish to them. Between the two of us, we use Spanish. We’re lucky in a sense because I’m fluent in Spanish and my husband can speak French so we can speak freely to the children without having to translate for each other’s benefit.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Have you gotten sidetracked from your bilingual quest? In this encouraging guest post, Keli Garcia Allen offers helpful advice for when you lose your rhythm and aren’t using the target language actively enough with your kids. Thank you for today’s dose of inspiration, Keli!

Meanwhile, Keli is also involved in an exciting new app project: “Spanish Safari, an iOS game expertly designed to teach Spanish to children 5-9 years old.” If Spanish is your target language, or you’d like to lend your support to a worthy project, please see the crowdfunding campaign for Spanish Safari, now taking place at IndieGogo.

Keli and her kids

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and works as a preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish learning game for children 5-9 years old. Follow Keli and the rest of the Learn Safari team at their website or on Facebook.

As any parent raising multilingual children well knows, teaching kids multiple languages takes hard work and dedication. It can be a frustrating, but extremely rewarding journey. The ways in which parents work to ensure that their children learn two or more languages are varied and can involve “one parent, one language” (OPOL), “minority language at home” (ml@h), or even completely bilingual households. Once parents make these choices, however, it isn’t smooth sailing from there. Often, our language plans can be completely derailed! So, what do you do? Simply give up? Of course not! In this article I’ll share a few tips and tricks to reboot your language use and get you back on track to achieving your language goals.

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ADAM’S NOTE: When we nurture a bilingual or multilingual family, our children aren’t the only ones who experience growth; we, as parents, go through our own learning curve at the same time. In this candid guest post, Jonathan Fisher reflects on his first two years of bilingual parenting and traces the evolution of his thoughts and actions. Fish, thank you for sharing your story and the important discoveries you’re making.

What I’ve Learned From My First Two Years of Bilingual Parenting

The recent birth of our second child has added new challenges and joys to this early stage of our bilingual journey together.

Jonathan “Fish” Fisher is Daddy to Oliver (who just turned 3) and Sophia (a newborn). They live with Mommy Yuco in Kure, Japan. Jonathan teaches English at Hiroshima Girls School, and when there’s time, he likes to play Irish Traditional and Old-Time American fiddle tunes.

When I first came across Bilingual Monkeys, I didn’t know it yet, but it was the beginning of my efforts to pay a lot closer attention to my son’s language learning. I’ve always been fascinated by language. And I like to think I’m pretty good at learning languages. Plus, I teach English as a foreign language for a living. But up until about a year and a half ago, with my son well into his second year, I was taking a lot of his language learning for granted. Actually, I was taking a lot of my son’s development for granted.

Oliver was just beginning to walk and talk. And suddenly, I realized that I needed to be a lot more active about being his father. The days of letting Ollie crawl around the living room while I did chores or read a book were over. Our major interactions used to take place mostly around bedtime and mealtimes. I had begun working longer hours. My personal time was feeling more and more precious. But at the same time, playing with Oliver and giving him my full attention was starting to seem more and more valuable and necessary. So, for me, making a commitment to my son’s English has guaranteed that we spend at least a certain amount of time together. Really, my commitment to Oliver’s English has gone hand-in-hand with my commitment to being a good father.

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Eliza and her family

ADAM’S NOTE: The author of today’s insightful guest post, Eliza Sarnacka-Mahoney, also serves as a coordinator for Polish Bilingual Day, an international event that will take place on October 15-16. Eliza told me:

“Polish Bilingual Day is an annual event, now in its second year, that promotes and celebrates bilingual education and bilingual families, an interest in other cultures, languages, and your own immigrant roots. The festival is organized by the Polish Educational Foundation Dobra Polska Szkola in New York (in English, A Good Polish School) and the Education for Democracy Foundation in Warsaw, Poland. The initiative is co-funded by the Senate of the Republic of Poland as an effort to foster better relations between Poland and Polish communities abroad.”

To learn more about Polish Bilingual Day, and whether you could attend an event in your area, please see the Polish Bilingual Day website.

Information is also available on Facebook—simply search for Polish Bilingual Day or Polonijny Dzien Dwujezycznosci.

Polish Bilingual Day

Eliza Sarnacka-Mahoney is a Polish journalist and author, writing about bilingualism at www.DobraPolskaSzkola.com. She lives in the U.S. state of Colorado with her American husband and two bilingual daughters, currently 17 and 12. She also serves as a coordinator for the Polish Bilingual Day festival in Denver, Colorado.

Eliza Sarnacka-MahoneySummer visits to Poland are an important part of my daughters’ bilingual upbringing. They accelerate and solidify their language skills while allowing for both the language and culture to be experienced in their most natural setting. My Polish friends often ask me for advice on aiding their own children in mastering a second language, which, in their case, is usually English.

A few years ago I was spending a week-long vacation at the Baltic seaside with a friend from high school and her family.

“I should do what you do and next summer send my daughter to America,” said my friend, whose daughter was 11 at the time. “She could stay with you and would perfect her English if she had the opportunity to use it every day!” My friend seemed very pleased with that vision.

“That would be wonderful,” I replied. “But I’m afraid she wouldn’t learn English in my house. You know that my girls and I speak only Polish.”

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NOTE: Below my review of Maintaining Your Second Language is a special list of tips by the author, Eve Lindemuth Bodeux, for motivating and maximizing language learning.

Maintaining Your Second Language

Are you a parent seeking to raise a bilingual child in a non-native language?

A teacher who teaches a language that isn’t your mother tongue, or a subject where you must use a second language in your instruction?

A translator or interpreter who wants to continue sharpening your language skills?

Or maybe a student or language lover who would like to improve your ability more quickly and more enjoyably?

If you fit one (or more) of these profiles, I urge you to read the book Maintaining Your Second Language by Eve Lindemuth Bodeux. Eve, a professional translator and parent to two bilingual children, has done the language-learning world a tremendous service by compiling a treasure trove of practical tips and tools for sustaining and strengthening one’s second (or additional) language.

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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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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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