Archive for February, 2010

Bilingual Parenting: A Laissez Faire Approach to Raising Bilingual Children

February 26, 2010 10 comments

A bilingual mother discusses raising bilingual children

I want to talk eventually about the decisions we’ve made regarding how we’ve raised our children to be (or not to be?) bilingual, but I should first start out by describing where they actually are on the mono- to bilingual spectrum.

Our daughter, who is eight and a half, was an early speaker and reader in English, and she currently works well beyond her grade level at school. She understands nearly everything of what people say directly to her in French, and she picks up a lot from conversations she overhears, but her speaking skills are fairly limited. She can carry on a conversation, but she has to articulate her end of it in very basic phrases. Consequently, she’s reluctant to speak with people she doesn’t know well; she’s a perfectionist by nature, and a big talker, and it drives her crazy that she can’t produce exactly the same dialogue in French that she would in English. Her accent is exactly right, however, and she has an intuitive grasp of French sentence structure. She reads simple things in French, but it’s a fairly laborious process for her.

Our son is almost six, and we sense that he is perhaps not quite where his sister was at this age. When she was almost six, our cumulative family exposure to full-day public school added up to only one year, and we were still singing our kids to sleep with French children’s songs at night and letting them watch DVDs in French during the day. When our French grandma came to visit, the kids were home all day, too. While I’m a big, big fan of having both of the kids out of the house at school all day, it does really cut back on their exposure to French. (As does our ban on television and video games on weekdays. No, they’re not watching PBS Kids or playing Mario Cart when they’re supposed to be doing their homework, but they’re also not watching French DVDs or doing French activities on the computer, either.) In any case, our son—who, if anything, began reading even earlier than our daughter, but spoke a bit later—understands about half of what people say to him directly in French, and replies exclusively with a handful of memorized phrases. He is a most excellent reader in English, though, and seems to also have an innate understanding of French phonetics. He can sound out simple words and phrases—which is a miracle to me, since I have to say that we’ve done almost no instructive reading with him in French at all. Our son is, if anything, even more of a talker than our daughter (in English), and consequently even more reluctant than she is to deploy his rudimentary French in conversation. He has SO MUCH to say; the sheer volume dictates that he use the most expedient means available to him!

What is a bilingual mother to think of all this?

I have to say that I basically feel unconcerned that they are not yet bilingual. If I had to establish a concrete goal, it would be this: let them be bilingual—or at least fully competent in conversational French—by the time they’re old enough to be out and about on their own. Say, thirteen or fourteen years old. Having taught French to adults who were acquiring it as a second language, I know that the hardest things to master are pronunciation and syntax. (Actually, one of the toughest hurdles for a lot of language learners is accepting that other languages have different syntax.) Our kids have those two things hardwired into their brains; when they decide that they want to really pursue learning French, they will be miles ahead of people with no exposure.

So I guess you could say that we’ve taken a laissez faire approach to raising bilingual children. They’ll get there eventually, and hopefully they will enjoy the process and be glad that we gave them some time and space to make it their own project—being literate and fluent in French will be something they can take pride it when it all finally comes together.

But here’s the thing, and the joke is definitely on us parents: we may very well be moving to Montreal this summer…

Coming soon: implementing the One Person One Language approach with elementary school-aged children! Can it be done??

About the Author: Christine Thuau is mom to two kids (8 and 6) who might, with a little bit of luck, be bilingual someday! She is currently working as a freelance translator and editor, and has a doctorate in medieval French literature (yes, really). She enjoys reading, walking, gardening, photography, painting, writing, baking and the internet—among other things.

Other Posts by Christine Thuau:

Bilingual Parenting: It’s About More Than Just Bilingualism

Categories: bilingual parenting

Daily Dose of Anti-Bilingual Passive Aggression

February 25, 2010 9 comments

Today I was working with a group of colleagues on a project that that has to do with assessment. I work with bilingual programs, so we were naturally working on the assessment piece in Spanish language arts in kinder through sixth grade. We were in a large group and at one point a group of us got together so that we could focus our efforts on working on assessments in Spanish while other groups finished up the work on the English assessments.

The California Spanish language arts standards that we were using to guide the project are written in Spanish and we were discussing how to translate some pieces  into English so that we could make a user friendly document accessible to English-speaking administrators. We were mainly speaking in English, but at times we were reading aloud the standards in Spanish and discussing some of the content in our table group.

At one point, I stood up from the table and walked quickly to another table to get my computer. I turned and asked one of the colleagues, “How do you say artículo determinado in English?” Two of my colleagues at the table began to have a conversation as to whether “artículo determinado” and “artículo definido” were two different ways to say the same thing.

Suddenly, a manager at another table turned around and said, “How do I know you aren’t talking about us in Spanish?”

For a moment I felt a flash of anger, and I almost turned around to say something to her, but I decided against it because lately I have been trying to not have immediate emotional responses to such things. I had already pushed a couple of buttons throughout the day because I had the audacity to urge that we have an “English learner lens” when we look at creating valid and reliable assessments.

Instead of saying anything, I just looked at my bilingual colleagues at the table and we gave one another “the eye” that we were all very aware of what she was actually saying to us.

If I had a penny for every time that I have heard someone make a comment that they are unsure as to whether people in another language might be talking about them, I would definitely be able to go into early retirement. I mean-give me a break-I think that it is a tad bit arrogant to assume that people sit around and flip into another language in order to talk about you right in front of your face. I’m sure that it has happened before, but I bet that most of the time that people are actually doing what language is designed for-to communicate with one another about something.

I used to think that I was being too overly sensitive and reading racism and discrimination into something that was said innocently, but over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the time there is always a passive aggressive message behind such comments: Stop speaking Spanish (or insert any other language).

It’s been a rare occurrence when someone actually has blatantly told me to stop speaking Spanish. Last month I wrote about the time when someone blatantly yelled out, “Speak English!” when I was asking another teacher for ten cents.  A couple of weeks ago, I also blogged about a school secretary who was fired for translating for a distraught parent.

These extreme cases of anti-bilingualism tend to not be frequent occurrences, yet the disdain for speaking another language is often done in a much more passive aggressive way. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the time when people make statements about it being rude when people speak another language or that they are worried people are speaking about them in front of their face is really nothing more than a passive aggressive display of anti-bilingualism.

Sometimes I think to myself that I would prefer for people to just aggressively yell out, “Speak English” because then I would know exactly where they stand and in that case I would be able to defend myself.

Who would have thought that it would ever get to the point for me that I would prefer blatant racism over ambiguous “how do I know you are talking about me” types of comments?

About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs.  As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.

Categories: Bilingualism

The Benefits of Bilingualism

February 24, 2010 3 comments

Why Two Languages Are Better Than One

Are you curious about the advantages of learning another language?  Do you wonder if it is worth it to continue developing your fluency in a second or third tongue?   Have you ever contemplated how bilingualism might benefit your children?  The gift of language is one that truly keeps on giving.  The process of learning and mastering more than one language yields lifelong rewards for both children and adults.  Being bilingual improves an individual’s mental agility, cultural sensitivity, and listening skills while also giving an individual a proven competitive advantage in both the classroom and the workplace.  Keep reading if you are interested in learning more about the many ways that bilingualism can benefit you and your family.

Cognitive Benefits

Studies of both children and adults have repeatedly confirmed that the ability to speak two or more languages increases a person’s mental flexibility and capacity for creative thinking.  Other cognitive benefits of billingualism include the development of a strong working memory and a better ability to multi-task than monolingual individuals.  In addition, research has shown that speaking two or more languages over the course of a lifetime can delay the loss of mental ability later on in life and slow the onset of dimensia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cultural Benefits

Being bilingual exposes an individual to diverse customs, ideas, and perspectives from different cultures.  Ease in more than one language opens up travel opportunities and the capacity to study or work in different countries.  Accordingly, those with the ability to speak a second or third language are able to develop relationships with people that language barriers would have otherwise prevented.  As a result, bilingual children and adults are often more culturally sensitive than single language speakers.  Bilingualism can also deepen family bonds by allowing younger generations to communicate with older generations in their family’s native tongue.

Communication Benefits

When a person learns a second or third language they also heighten their overall language sensitivity which allows them to deepen their understanding of their native language.  Bilingual children have an easier time grasping the symbolic nature of language than their multilingual counterparts.  This leads to a more thorough comprehension of how language works and the most effective ways to use it.  Additionally, because bilingualism requires an individual to choose a language in which to communicate or quickly switch between two or more tongues, multilingual individuals are often more attentive listeners.

Classroom Benefits

Research has indicated that bilingual children are better at focusing their attention and coping with distractions than monolingual children.  Resultingly, bilingual children generally perform better in the classroom because of their increased ability to concentrate and multi-task.  Bilingual children also score higher on standardized tests like the SAT.  In addition, language skills make a student more competitive when applying for college.  And the benefits of bilingualism are not confined to the classroom.  Bilingual abilities give individuals a jump in the job market.  In today’s global economy, employers all over the world are looking for job applicants with the ability to speak more than one language.  Bilingual individuals have the real competitive edge!

About the Author: R.K. Albers is a freelance writer and translator living in Mexico, where she serves as a volunteer English teacher, computer instructor, and web designer for several social and environmental justice non-profit organizations. In her spare time, she loves to sustain and improve her bilingualism by reading novels and watching movies in Spanish.

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The Importance of Raising Bilingual Children

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Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs

Categories: Bilingualism

Voices of Bilingual Teachers: Marta’s Story

February 20, 2010 3 comments

A bilingual teacher explains how her views of bilingual education have changed over time.

When I was a child, I was placed in what they called a “bilingual program”. Since I have grown up and learned more about bilingual education, I now know that I was not in a bilingual program per se, but I was in an English pull-out program where I was pulled out once a day to work with an instructional assistant on my English.

As a child I hated being in an English pull-out program. Other students labeled us as the “bilingual kids” and we were treated as if we were stupid. I always thought that teachers treated me like I was stupid also because as a small child I didn’t have enough English to explain to them that I could understand what they were teaching. My teachers didn’t speak Spanish and wouldn’t let any of the other Spanish-speaking students help translate for me. I even had a teacher who put tape on my mouth for asking someone in Spanish for clarification of what we were learning in class. One teacher even retained me in the third grade, telling my father that I didn’t know enough English. Being retained harmed my self-esteem for many years.

As an early adult, I used to tell people how harmful bilingual education was. When I was in the teaching credential program, my sister asked me if she should put her child in the bilingual program and I stated that I was completely opposed to bilingual education because it was harmful to children. I can remember speaking out in class and telling people how much it had harmed me.

When I got my first job as a teacher, I was placed into a bilingual classroom and I can remember going home and crying for days because I was so upset about it. But one day the bilingual coordinator for the district came to visit me and she invited me to a training for new teachers about bilingual program. That training changed my life and forever changed my perceptions about bilingual education.

Through working with people who were knowledgeable advocates for bilingual education, I learned that my experience was what many students experience throughout the nation. I learned that I was not in a bilingual program, but I was in an English classroom with ESL pull-out. I came to learn that maybe my difficulty was because I was NOT given support in my primary language, and maybe I would have had a more successful experience if I was provided literacy and support in my native language. I learned that my “bilingual program” that I had been in as a child had only been a bilingual program in name only.

The most important thing that I learned from the training about effective forms of bilingual education was that I was missing a part of myself, having felt ashamed for years that I spoke Spanish because someone in the school system made me feel ashamed.

I have now been a bilingual educator for ten years and I would never want to only teach in an English classroom. I see my students soar as they learn two languages, and I enjoy celebrating the cultural heritage with my students that I lost as a child. I also enjoy teaching English-speaking children the joy of being bilingual.

As a bilingual teacher, I have learned over the years that much of what I was taught about bilingual education not working was nothing but false information. I work in a bilingual program where our students outscore English-speaking classrooms, although they are learning in two languages.

I wouldn’t trade being a bilingual educator for anything in the world. I am so grateful that someone came along and touched my life in order to teach my about how successful bilingual programs can be if done well.

About the Author: Marta Jimenez is a third grade Dual Immersion teacher in Southern California. She has taught for ten years and has taught kinder through third grade in a Dual Immersion programs as well as a transitional bilingual education program. During her vacation, she also loves to travel extensively throughout Latin America.

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Secret Diary of a Bilingual Educator: Linguistic Discrimination in the Schoolhouse

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Categories: Bilingual Education

Tech News: Multilingual Proofreading Tools

WordPress has released a new multilingual proofreading plugin for self-hosted WordPress blogs for people who blog in French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Additional information on the “After  the Deadline” multilingual proofreading technology can be found here.

WordPress is also calling for volunteers who can assist with translation of the proofreading feature in the following languages: Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Japanese, Hindi, Dutch, Finnish, Bulgarian, Persian, Polytonic Greek, Bosnian, Russian, and other languages. Additional information on the call for translation assistance can be found here.

Categories: Bilingualism

Bilingual Parenting: It’s About More Than Just Bilingualism

February 17, 2010 5 comments

Today we have  new writer who will be writing a series about her attempts to raise bilingual children. Christine Thuau is mom to two kids (8 and 6) who might, with a little bit of luck, be bilingual someday! She is currently working as a freelance translator and editor, and has a doctorate in medieval French literature (yes, really). She enjoys reading, walking, gardening, photography, painting, writing, baking and the internet—among other things. You will be hearing more from her, so check out her first post:

I spent all morning following links through the world of the online bilingual parenting sphere, and I came to the conclusion that I really need an angle—a fresh angle—if I’m going to be able to contribute anything worthwhile to this discussion. So I thought and thought. I felt in awe of many of these parents and educators, and I felt a little like a poseur, since our kids could be truly bilingual but aren’t… and then it came to me: I could be the bilingual parenting world’s voice of underachievement!

But I’m mostly a glass-half-full kind of girl, so you can expect me to go fairly lightly on the self-recrimination.

Here’s what I’d like to do: I’d like to speak for, to and with all of those parents who could have seized the day and created a happy and super-brilliant bilingual family, but who instead seized a baguette sandwich and decided (consciously or not) to champion biculturalism through earnest and joyful consumption of carbohydrates and fat. I’m not alone in this, right? Because, I mean, speaking to our own situation (I’m American, my husband is French, we live in Los Angeles), yes, the French language is beautiful and widely-spoken, and French literature is grand and important (although frequently dark and full of “Um… what?” moments). But what I really, really love about France and French culture (besides my husband, of course) (and my in-laws!) is breakfast and that snack you can have at four o’clock in the afternoon.

Let us all just take a moment to think about coffee, chocolate and croissants.


So anyway, back to our sheep… revenons à nos moutons: I think there really must be a sizeable population of parents who have done a lot of the groundwork for bilingualism, but who haven’t gone all the way—for one reason or another. When that is the case, it is natural to ask ourselves what we can do to keep pushing toward bilingualism. But I think we also need to ask ourselves, “What sort of positive things have we given our children in place of outright bilingualism?” Because I’ve met bilingual people with no particular affinity for their “second” language or culture, and I’ve also met adults who speak a second language atrociously but who are crazy about the culture that it comes from and about the process of acquiring the second language. Of course I would prefer that my children speak French perfectly, but if I had to choose between enthusiasm motivated by a certain sense of incompletion and perfect indifference, I would choose enthusiasm.

When I look at our family’s situation and where our children are vis-à-vis bilingualism, I see that we got to this place through both circumstance and a number of decisions that were made consciously, unconsciously and (probably most often) semi-consciously. Our decisions are, of course, informed by our hopes as parents, and so I’ll end this first entry on bilingual parenting by outlining my own personal hopes for my kids:

I hope they will continue to be good people. I hope their prejudices will be benign. I would love for them to eventually be completely bilingual, but more than that, I want them to identify as French and to have more in common with their father than just the language. I want them to eat the same foods he ate as a child, watch the same shows, read the same books and know his people and their homes. I want them to run in the parklands behind their paternal great-grandmother’s home, and to remember the smell of old books in their maternal great-grandmother’s library. (And also, where she hides the candy.) I want this for them, of course, but also for their father—for whom the continuity that facilitates bilingualism and biculturalism is also a pleasure and a comfort.

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Categories: Bilingualism

Bilingual Advocacy: Even the Small Things Make a Huge Difference

February 12, 2010 4 comments

A few days ago I wrote about a school secretary who had been fired for speaking Spanish to parents in North Carolina. Yesterday I saw that there is a petition that is being sent to the district to change the English-only, “no Spanish” rule.

If you have a few moments, please take the time by filling out the petition here.

I’m an administrator of bilingual education programs, and trust me when I say that this type of disgrace happens even in schools with bilingual programs as well as school where the population is bilingual.

It’s unacceptable, and it often continues to happen because as bilingual advocates we don’t speak out and hold people accountable for discriminatory behavior.

Sometimes people have told me that they think that something as slight as signing a petition has no ability to change policy. This is far from the truth. As a school district level administrator, it has been my personal experience that many things do not change until parents or the public cause an uproar. Even a small uproar has a huge impact on getting schools and school districts to change policies.

Many people who read my blog are parents of young children who may not have children yet in bilingual programs, or their children recently started school. Sometimes I think that many people who I have met through my blog are in that “romantic stage” of bilingualism, and often underestimate the struggles and fights that we have to maintain our bilingual programs, or provide support to Spanish-speaking parents as evidenced in this particular case.

As parents and bilingual educators, it’s imperative that we understand that bilingual education is a constant struggle and we must be staunch advocates for our programs.

If you have a chance, please fill out the petition. You never know if you will need other people to help you in a cause that is devoted to protecting your bilingual program at your school or your child’s school.

About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs.  As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.

Categories: Uncategorized