Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: July 2013


Monday, July 29, 2013

Can babies distinguish foreign languages?

A friend of mine, who is an avid traveler, asked me after visiting another country were people speak a language he could not understand: "How do children feel about hearing a foreign language? Can they understand that it is a different language they hear?"

According to the University of British Columbia psychologist Janet Werker, bilingual infants (infants, who were raised in households where two languages were spoken), were able to distinguish foreign languages one from another though facial cues, even before anybody spoke those languages to them. Monolinguals also have the ability to distinguish two languages; however, it does not last long, only until they are 6 month old.

Patricia Kuhl, Professor of Speech & Hearing Sciences at Washington University, says in her talk "The linguistic genius of babies" on TED, that  "babies all over the world can discriminate all sounds of all languages no matter of what country they were testing and what language were using."
However, "by the end of the first year, the infant brain is no longer universally prepared for all languages, but instead primed to acquire the language(s) to which the infant has been exposed", Patricia Kuhl and Maritza Rivera-Gaxiola write in  the paper Neural Substrates of Language Acquisition  published in The Annual Review of Neuroscience 2008.

According to Werker, Canada Research Chair in Psychology and director of UBC's Infant Studies Centre, "The task of language separation is something they (children) are prepared to do from birth – with bilinguals increasingly adept over time."

As parents we should not worry about our newborn children learning multiple languages. They are prepared for this task, which is often not easy for adults. The children's brain works different than ours, and they do not feel overwhelmed as we do. We should not be afraid to start teaching them languages.

Read also an interview with Janet Werker, which was conducted by François Grosjean in the article "How do Bilingual Infants Separate their Languages? Language discrimination and separation in bilingual infants"

You might also like reading:

Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help? 

Pros and Cons of Raising a Trilingual Child.  

9 Steps of Raising a Bilingual Child Successfully. How to Start So You Don't Feel Giving It Up Halfway Through.

Should I correct my child speaking?

The Best Way to Start Building Your Bilingual Child's Vocabulary Is by Taking Your Baby On a Stroll. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mixing art, material objects and imagination - a recipe for language development

Drawing and wood toys for language learning
I  was working on the computer when my daughter came with her wood animals in hands and sat on my laps.
We started playing with her toys saying what they are doing and where they are going to, and suddenly I picked a piece of paper and a marker that my son left before and started drawing with my daughter.

I made a blue river with green fields for her cow, a barn for her pink pig, dirt for them to have a bath. We went wild! I was drawing and we were making up the stories about what her toys do and where they are going.

Just by chance I discover a simple game that is so beneficial to the language development. You mix material objects (the toys), art and your imagination! This makes the game so special and fun.

I will do it again for sure!

You might also like reading:

Walking with your bilingual baby and showing him the world
"No English!" Motivation is the key.  
How much time do we have to influence a child's minority language development? 
How to read to a baby? Advice for parents of monolingual, bilingual, trilingual or multilingual children.  
What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"No English!" Motivation is the key.

Just a couple of days ago I read a very interesting opinion published on the opinion pages of NY Times with a title: No English! A mother, who is an English teacher at  an university in Madrid, tells her story of trying to raise her son bilingual. The things did not go smooth for her and now she stopped speaking English to her son and switched to Spanish. 

The are two ways of seeing this article. One: it is a story about a failure to teach a child the second language, and the other: it is a story about stress free joyful communication with your child. Yes! Stress free as to raise your child to be bilingual or multilingual is a lot of work for the parents. The parents need to be ready for this task right from the day the child is born and keep working with the child by speaking, reading, developing his language skills even when they would like to have time just for themselves.

It is good if one can hire someone to help with either household or raising the children or even both, but if one can not... All the strain falls on the parent. He or she needs to be a good language model to the child, good housekeeper, good spouse. Plus there is a constant pressure from the community, possible lack of friends. 

We should not judge the mother for not continuing with the task of raising her son bilingual. She wants to be happy and live the life together with her son and not seeing him as one of her students. The true is, at list in my case, I am almost like a teacher with my children. I would love to take a break, but for me it is like a new project at work. I enjoy it and would like to succeed, so I do as much as I can.

Everyone needs to have a goal and a reason why to teach the child your mother tongue and that should keep you motivated.

I speak four languages myself. Only one was given to me as a "present" from the parents and the other three I have been learning myself for the last 14 years. Sadly, I do not speak the language I was taught at school; otherwise, it would be the fifth. Learning a language later in life is not an easy task and requires time, which often we do not have.

I know what it means watching movies and readying books in the original language. All the languages are so particular and transfer different feelings in some special way. There are so many Russian poets and writes whose books I would like my children to be able to enjoy.  The richness of epithets, metaphors, comparison in the Russian language works even in children's books is amazing. I would like my children to open this wonderful world and have different visions. I teach them Russian keeping that in mind.

Monday, July 8, 2013

How to prepare yourself to be a speaking model for your child.

You are abroad and talking to your friends in your mother tongue. The first thing you realize is that the way you just constructed the sentence can not possibly fit the word you just intended to use in your language. Ideally you should rephrase everything again, but you just replace the mother tongue word with the English one or another one from some other language that you both know. Everyone understands, no sweat.

This situation and code switching in general cause no problem until you need to either work using your mother tongue, or  teach your child to speak your language and that language is a minority one.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Should I correct my child speaking?

When my son started saying his first words, I remember I asked myself: Should I correct my child speaking? It is probably a typical question of all the parents who either they raise a monolingual, bilingual or multilingual child.

My answer now is Yes! Definitely and especially if you are the ONLY language model for your child. If you correct your child speaking from the time he pronounces his first words he will accept it as a norm. If you wait too long and start correcting him too late, the child might feel self - conscious about talking.

When my son started speaking I was repeating the first the words after him, articulating the way they should be pronounced. Later I was modeling the correct sentences.

Most of the time I just use the correct words in my question or in reply by saying "Oh! it is true. ... " , using the correct sentence instead of dots. When no hidden ways of corrections are possible -- however, it is important to correct -- I just say "You should say: ....".  I use the direct correction sparely and prefer to use the indirect ways instead.

When I feel my children are receptive, I ask them to look at my mouth to see the tongue positioning when I pronounce sounds and words. The kids like to repeat after me. I do not insist though.

It is clear that children can not pronounce all the words and build the sentences correctly right away. It is important to remember not to over correct them. By the age of 5, independently on the language they speak, the pronunciation should in most cases be fully established. I still have one year ahead of me to help my child to master his.

There are two very important rules when you correct somebody (a baby or an adult):

whatever you do, never repeat the incorrect word, phrase or sentence. Just say the correct way right away.  Modeling the correct sentences works best.

And do not interrupt a speaking person in the middle of the sentence. The interruption can have adverse affect on child's talking. It is important to maintain his words flow.

You might also like to read:

Ha ha ha or correcting your child's pronunciation problem.

Bilingual child: when to start reading?

Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help?

What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.

7 principles to keep in mind while teaching your child to read.