Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

Toddlers

How can you get your child off to a strong bilingual start? See these posts for ideas!

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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Here’s Clear Proof of the Basic Formula for Successfully Raising a Bilingual Child

Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of bilingual and multilingual kids as a teacher and a parent. Although I love all the children I’ve taught, first at Hiroshima International School and now as a private tutor, I’ve had a special fondness for teaching a certain type of child: children who had no English ability when they first entered this school, where English is the language of instruction.

Many of these children have been Japanese or Korean; others have been from a range of countries like Brazil, Germany, and Estonia. Different children, different backgrounds, and yet they’ve all faced, and successfully overcome, the exact same challenge: becoming bilingual in English.

Working with such children isn’t always easy—early on, this lack of language ability can be very frustrating for them. But my experiences as their teacher, witnessing the swift progress they make from week to week, and the joy that accompanies their growing ability to communicate with others in the new language, have been profoundly rewarding.

Anna becomes bilingual

For the past six months I’ve been tutoring a 10-year-old girl I’ll call Anna. When I first started working with Anna, she had just entered Hiroshima International School and spoke no English at all. For the first several months, it’s true, she seemed to struggle with feelings of frustration, even defeat, but I knew it was only a matter of time before her language ability started to bloom. And the other day in our lesson, much to my delight, she began chirping away in English more freely and happily than she ever had before.

Of course, I can hardly take credit for this transformation. Compared to the long days she spends at school, our weekly hour together is brief. And, of course, her English level is still relatively low and she won’t really be fluent until a bit farther in the future. Nevertheless, she’s now rapidly becoming bilingual.

The question is: Why was I so sure this breakthrough would occur?

True, I’ve experienced the same sort of blooming language ability with other children in these circumstances, so, based on those past outcomes, I suppose it’s only natural that I would expect a similar result. But there’s more to it, and this is the important point I want to make, a central principle that every parent raising a bilingual child would be wise to keep firmly in mind.

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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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I'M GONNA BE BILINGUAL!

For more fun “bilingual memes,” visit a whole gallery of these images at The Bilingual Zoo.

Since my book about raising bilingual children was released in the spring, I’ve been interviewed a number of times. These videotaped conversations—connecting me, in Hiroshima, Japan, to kindred spirits in other parts of the world—have been a real joy for me and I’ve been grateful for the invitations to speak about this subject.

The truth is, I’m generally not a big talker, but when the subject is bilingual children, which I have a boundless passion for, I’m afraid it’s hard to get me to stop!

Amanda Hsiung Blodgett, popularly known as Miss Panda Chinese, learned that recently when we spoke for almost an hour about a range of issues related to raising bilingual kids. It was a very lively discussion (watch out for my annoying puppet, Princess Pup!) and I’m happy to now share it with you.

Watch this video at Miss Panda Chinese.

Lil'ollo

When Alexandra Nicoletti, the creative force behind the new UK-based company Lil’ollo, contacted me not long ago, I quickly discovered that she and her team are creating some of the loveliest products available for bilingual children and their families. And not only are the Lil’ollo products well-designed and well-made, but Alex is producing items that are uniquely special, too.

Would you like a beautiful map of the world that can actually be personalized with the names of family members and their locations, to show your children their multicultural heritage?

Lil’ollo will make one for you!

Lil'ollo personalized map

Lil'ollo personalized map

Just through communicating with Alex via email, and eyeing her work in photos and video, I was already impressed and pleased to share Lil’ollo with others. And then, when she also sent us a box of samples so my children and I could see the products first-hand, it became crystal clear that Lil’ollo is creating resources that are both highly appealing for families with bilingual children and as high in quality as any of the best products for children you’ll find in the marketplace.

Ultimately, of course, my recommendations at this blog are not at all swayed by receiving product samples or any other sorts of incentives. I share only my honest opinion, in every case, and my honest opinion is that Alex is doing the world a real service by creating lovely resources that can help promote the bilingual and bicultural development of children everywhere.

For families on a bilingual or multilingual journey—and for schools nurturing multiple languages in their students—these are resources that provide colorful, playful support. I wholeheartedly recommend Lil’ollo and look forward to following Alex’s appealing and meaningful work.

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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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7 Steps to Get Your Bilingual Child Using the Minority Language More Actively

When it comes to raising bilingual children, the most common concern I hear—and this is a frustration felt by families in all parts of the world—involves strengthening the child’s ability in the minority language and getting the child to use that ability more actively.

One of the most-read articles at this blog discusses this difficulty at some length and offers a variety of suggestions for addressing it:

What to Do When Your Bilingual Child Won’t Speak Your Language

With this post, I hope to boil the problem down into 7 essential steps that will enable busy parents to conceptualize this issue clearly and take effective action in order to realize even greater success on their bilingual journey.

7 essential steps

1. Recognize the Problem
When a child is reluctant to actively use the minority language—instead, relying mostly on the majority language to communicate—this can invariably be traced to shortcomings in the two “core conditions” of exposure and need: there must be an ample amount of exposure in the target language and an organic need to actually use it. Exposure and need lie at the heart of the whole challenge of fostering active bilingual ability, and if these two conditions are adequately addressed, then stronger progress can be made. (In fact, if there is adequate exposure and need from the very start of this journey, the problem of reluctance to using the minority language will hopefully be prevented before it even occurs.)

2. Commit to Addressing the Problem
When there are shortcomings in exposure and need, a stronger commitment is required for making mindful, proactive efforts on a daily basis. The bilingual aim—if it’s truly an important goal to you and your family—must be made a higher priority and placed more at the center of your lifestyle. Without this firm commitment to addressing the problem as persistently and resourcefully as you can, it will be hard to fortify the exposure and need that are necessary for promoting stronger language development and more active use. In fact, the majority language, as it continues its relentless progress, will likely grow even more dominant.

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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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