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: In considering a language strategy for your family’s bilingual journey, the highest aim for this important decision is choosing an approach that will be most effectively geared to your particular circumstances and goals. And in some cases—as in Bea Sieradzka’s family—that choice involves consciously modifying traditional methods. Read Bea’s thoughtful guest post for an encouraging look at how one parent made a proactive decision that has paid off in strong bilingual success. Thank you, Bea!

Bilingual Success with a Proactive Language Strategy

Bea Sieradzka is a Polish mother living in the United Kingdom and raising a bilingual and biliterate son, now almost 7 years old. Based on research studies in bilingualism and her own background in linguistics, she introduced two languages from the time he was born: her native Polish and her second language, English. She is now supporting him in learning a third language, Chinese.

At her blog, Born Bilingual, Bea shares information and ideas to help immigrant families succeed at nurturing their children’s bilingualism: introducing the community language from birth, along with their heritage language, and fostering good ability in both languages.

Bea SieradzkaEven before my son was born, now seven years ago, I knew that one day he would be bilingual. Born in the United Kingdom to Polish parents, he had the opportunity to learn two languages at the same time. The question we asked ourselves, though—like so many other parents who have immigrated to the U.K. and speak English as a second language—was how to actually manage the process of his bilingual acquisition.

The downside to a common method

The conventional wisdom in this sort of situation is to speak to your child in your mother tongue, and allow them to learn the majority language out in the community. This is a common strategy known as the “minority language at home” approach. It sounds, at first, like the perfect solution.

The problem with this approach is that simultaneous bilingual acquisition only works if your child is regularly exposed to both languages for a sufficient amount of time. Research that includes The relation of input factors to lexical learning by bilingual infants (Barbara Zurer Pearson), The relationship between bilingual exposure and vocabulary development (Elin Thordadottir), and A Short Guide to Raising Children Bilingually (Fred Genessee) indicates that children need to be exposed to each language for a minimum of 20-30% of their waking hours, and ideally even more than that.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Among the many helpful guest posts at this blog, the articles written by trilingual speech-language pathologist Ana Paula Mumy should be considered must-reads. Her first guest post was Speech-Language Pathologist Tells All About Bilingualism, Speech, and Language Delays, and the second was Battling the Majority Language Giant (While Feeling Like a Minority Language Gnome). In this third guest post for Bilingual Monkeys, Ana Paula writes from personal experience about the widespread challenge of engaging children in the target language and sustaining steady progress. It’s another witty, insightful post and I’m grateful to Ana Paula for sharing her expertise and perspective so generously. :mrgreen:

Engaging Your Incredible Bilingual Child in the Minority Language

Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP, is a mother of two bilingual children, a trilingual speech-language pathologist (SLP), and a clinical assistant professor in the field of speech-language pathology. She has extensive experience working with individuals with communication disorders, particularly bilingual children. She has authored numerous articles as well as intervention materials and guides for diverse populations, and her specialized interests include articulation disorders, stuttering, language-literacy, and bilingualism. Many of her resources for SLPs, educators and parents can be found on her personal website The Speech Stop.

Ana Paula MumyMy favorite line in The Incredibles movie is when in the midst of complete chaos at the dinner table, which goes seemingly unnoticed by Mr. Incredible, his wife Helen (aka Elastigirl) finally pleads for his intervention and yells, “Bob! It’s time to engage!

I have felt like Helen lately, wanting to plead with my children to engage in the minority language. Over the past 7 months, my children have undergone major life changes: moving to another state, mommy working full-time for the first time since they were born, and transitioning from homeschooling in Portuguese and English to schooling in English at a private school where they spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Needless to say, as the primary source of Portuguese in their lives, this stark reduction in teaching and interactions in Portuguese has caused them to disengage significantly despite my efforts to 1) continue reading instruction in Portuguese, 2) maintain daily reading routines in Portuguese, 3) speak Portuguese at home, in the car, when running errands, etc., and 4) maintain connections with any Brazilian cultural events or individuals in the area. I confess I have found myself discouraged in this season!

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ADAM’S NOTE: Today is World Read Aloud Day! To mark this occasion, Gabriela Simmons has written a lively guest post which stresses the importance of reading aloud and shares useful ideas for this practice. In my case, reading aloud has been at the very heart of my efforts for 20 years, with both my students and my own children, and I’ve experienced the power of this daily routine first-hand. Gaby, thank you for shining a spotlight on one of my favorite topics! :mrgreen:

How to Make the Most of Reading Aloud to Your Kids in Two or More Languages

Gabriela Simmons is the mother of two active, sometimes nerve-wracking, but always amazing trilingual pre-teens (German, English, and Spanish). She was born and raised in Peru then moved to the United States for the last two years of high school and university. She later met her German husband in France while earning her masters degree. They have been living in Hong Kong for nearly 10 years.

Gaby is the co-founder of TimTimTom, an online book publisher that has launched its first bilingual storybook: a personalized book printed in the two languages of your choice. For more information on this unique bilingual book, see https://timtimtom.com.

Gabriela SimmonsIn our home, we have a rule: “One more book, bought or borrowed, is always okay.” Things like clothes and candy, they have their limits, but when it comes to books, we can never have too many.

Reading aloud to children is extremely important for their language development, and this is even more true when the child is growing up in a bilingual family and needs ample input in the minority language. In daily conversation, we tend to use the same limited range of vocabulary over and over. Because of this fact, books are an incredibly helpful tool when it comes to building a broader vocabulary.

But reading aloud is not only about expanding vocabulary and fueling language development. There are also important psychological and emotional benefits for you and your child. This aspect should not be underestimated.

Think of the read aloud experience: You and your child are snuggled up together as you read a colorful book and describe the illustrations. The child has questions and you pause to explain. The story sparks new ideas in the child’s mind, and may prompt a stream of comments or a wave of laughter. It might even enable you to talk about your cultural heritage and foster pride in your family’s roots.

All these elements of the experience strengthen the bond between you and your child while promoting their progress in the target language.

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ADAM’S NOTE: As I learned about the efforts Amy González has been making with her trilingual family, through this lively thread at The Bilingual Zoo, I quickly realized that her story could be a source of inspiration for many other parents. And so I asked her to sum up her experience to share with the readers of this blog, which she kindly agreed to do. Naturally, every family is working with different circumstances, but the idea of limiting the influence of the majority language is a fundamental challenge for most of us and I think Amy’s encouraging example can help us become more mindful and proactive in ways that suit our own needs and conditions. Thank you, Amy!

Bilingual Families and the Importance of Limiting the Influence of the Majority Language at Home

Amy González is a bubbly wife and mother of two beautiful trilingual girls (French is their majority language; English and Spanish are their minority languages). Her elder daughter is now 4 and her younger daughter is 10 months. Amy was born in France then raised in Spain, where she was educated in international British schools, before moving to the U.K. She moved back to France for work, over a decade ago, where she met her Spanish husband-to-be.

When I joined Adam’s forum, The Bilingual Zoo, I eagerly read about some of the experiences of other parents of bilingual children and the thread begun by James H really struck a chord in me. Despite using the “one person, one language” (OPOL) approach from day one—I spoke English to the kids and my husband spoke Spanish—my elder daughter tended to respond in French, our majority language, especially since starting nursery school, with a little Spanish when she felt like it, and hardly any English. When I read about James’s experience, I realized where we were going wrong: the “flaw” in our situation was the influence of the majority language at home.

So, last August, I decided to “kick” French out of our home, as I felt it was becoming oppressive and stifling our minority languages. First, I began speaking exclusively in English at home. And incredibly, within just a day, my elder daughter began trying to reply in English!

Right then, my husband and I keenly understood the problem. Not only had we been using the majority language at home to communicate as a couple, but after reading and re-reading posts and articles at The Bilingual Zoo and at Bilingual Monkeys, we recognized how pernicious the influence of the majority language was on our bilingual (trilingual) aim.

Amy with her husband and elder daughter

Amy with her husband and elder daughter, before her second daughter arrived and they realized the need to modify their approach.

Extent of the majority language’s influence

Speaking the minority languages at home was a good start, but living in a majority language country means that that language is always lurking nearby…more so than we might imagine. The influence of the majority language at home can be widespread: TV, radio, books from the local bookshop or library, nursery rhymes or songs learnt at school, text on clothing, decorations on the wall, packaging on food…the list goes on and on.

When I first started looking at the extent of this influence in our home, I felt rather overwhelmed. As a parent seeking to raise multilingual children, I was concerned that all this was interfering with our educational goals and I wondered how far I should go in trying to limit this influence of the majority language…and how realistic this would be.

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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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