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

I recently tried a new activity that worked so well, I want to share the full details with you. In fact, below you’ll even find scans of the actual stories produced by my kids and their grandmother. I hit upon this idea while reflecting on the serial stories I’ve written, as a form of captive reading, that feature my children in starring roles in order to strengthen their engagement in the minority language (for us, that’s English).

Let’s call this new activity “Story Exchange” and the basic idea involves having the child write a story in the target language that features a partner—like a grandparent—as the main character. The partner, in turn, writes a story that puts the child in a starring role.

The idea is quite simple, but it’s very effective, and in a variety of ways…

  • It provides a creative change of pace from writing letters.
  • The idea of writing a story about a family member or friend is inherently engaging.
  • When creating their stories, children practice and stretch their writing ability in the minority language.
  • After receiving the stories written for them, children feel genuinely motivated to read the text. (Who doesn’t want to read a story that stars you?)
  • Children can also exercise their drawing ability by adding an illustration to accompany the story.
  • The stories themselves become special keepsakes that could last a lifetime.

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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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What the World Is Saying About My Book On Raising Bilingual Children

This week marks the half-year anniversary since my new book was released, on April 17, so I thought it would be a good time to provide an update on the past six months.

I’m happy to report that the early response to the book, from both professionals in the field and parents around the world, has been extremely positive. Below I’ll share a sampling of these impressions, along with links to interviews in which I talk about the book on audio or video.

First, though, please let me make another appeal for your support.

1. If you haven’t read the book yet, I’m confident it can give the same kind of empowering boost to your bilingual journey as it has with hundreds of other readers. At the same time, the proceeds from this book make it possible for me to keep Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo going and growing! All this online content is free—and I want to keep it free—but it’s also true that it’s getting costly for me to maintain these two sites. This means that your purchase helps us both in important ways! Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability is available worldwide, in paperback and as an e-book, at Amazon and other retailers.

2. If you’ve read the book (or after you read it), please share your impressions with others in a review at Amazon, one of the global Amazon sites, or elsewhere online. I know this step can easily be overlooked in the midst of our busy lives, but your review (even a short one is fine!) would be so helpful in spreading the word to others. At the same time, this feedback from each reader means a lot to me personally. So I’d truly appreciate it! (And please feel free to share your impressions in other languages besides English!)

3. Please continue to tell others about the book. Your support through word-of-mouth is another key factor in exposing the book and its value to other bilingual and multilingual families. And with Christmas approaching, you might even consider gifting a few copies of the book, too! It makes a nice present! :mrgreen:

Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids

Thank you! I honestly don’t like “selling” the book, but I believe deeply in its value to other parents and providing support so that families worldwide can experience greater success and joy on this marvelous journey is at the very heart of my work.

Reviews from professionals in the field

Note: If you’re interested in reading and reviewing my book for your website or publication, please email me directly.

Annick De Houwer, one of the world’s leading researchers on bilingualism in children and author of the seminal books Bilingual First Language Acquisition and An Introduction to Bilingual Development, has endorsed my book (in English and German) on her website at the University of Erfurt, in Germany, where she serves as a professor of language acquisition and multilingualism.

Endorsement by Annick De Houwer

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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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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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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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