Archive for March, 2010

Why Should My Child Learn a Second Language?

March 30, 2010 4 comments

Why should my child learn a second language?  Can growing up in a bilingual home actually yield long term benefits?  Is multilingualism right for my family?  If these questions sound familiar, you are not alone.  Plenty of parents puzzle over whether or not to introduce a second or third language into the household mix.  A little research quickly reveals the endless advantages associated with raising your child to be bilingual:  rewards that he or she will continue to reap well into multilingual adulthood.  Follow along to learn more about why your child should say “¡Sí!” to a second language.

The best time to learn a new language is before the age of ten

Young brains are specially equipped to process and understand new languages.  Within six months a baby is able to discern between different languages while learning how to listen to and repeat various sounds.  In fact, some research suggests that babies begin adapting to two or more languages while in the womb.  This research supplements the contemporary understanding that it is never too early to learn a second language.  Moreover, children who start off as bilingual babies and toddlers are also more likely to master native-like pronunciation.

Learning a second language enhances a child’s mastery of her native tongue

Bilingual children consistently exhibit high levels of metalinguistic awareness:  the ability to process and analyze language codes.  Monolingual children often struggle to grasp the symbolic function of language, while multilingual children instinctively objectify and compare different dialects .  A child’s capacity for understanding language as an abstract system will increase her reading aptitude and overall communication skills in any tongue, including her native one.

Being bilingual improves academic performance and problem solving skills

In addition to higher metalinguistic awareness, bilingual children also exhibit other types of enhanced cognitive function.  A high aptitude for flexible and creative thinking is shown to strengthen a bilingual child’s problem solving abilities and literacy skills.  This often translates into higher grades and overall scholastic success.

Multilingual children score higher on standardized tests like the SAT

Studies show that steady bilingual education can improve a child’s test scores as early as in the third grade.  Research on bilingual education techniques consistently confirms that children who are exposed to at least four years of consistent language study routinely outperform monolingual students in standardized testing situations.  This is especially true of the SAT; students who pursue a rigorous foreign language curriculum in high school typically score higher than other students on the college admissions exam.

Bilingualism will open doors for your child for the rest of his life

Foreign language study is linked to higher rates of college attendance and overall collegiate performance.  Adding multilingual skills to a resume also helps to give job seekers the competitive edge in the expanding global economy.  Bilingual employees often earn higher wages than their monolingual colleagues.  And in addition to collegiate and career success, bilingualism will hone your child’s sensitivity to different cultures, expand his travel opportunities, and broaden his social horizons.

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.

You Might Also Like:

The Myths and Realities of Raising Bilingual Children

The Benefits of Bilingualism

Safeguarding Your Home Language: Do Our Children Have to Choose Between Two Languages?

Categories: Bilingualism

Your Questions: Which Language Should I Use At Home?

We recently received a question in the discussion section of our facebook page. Melissa is a mother of a one year old daughter who will be placed in a Spanish immersion program in the next four to six months. Melissa stated that her own proficiency/fluency level in Spanish is at the intermediate level. Her question was:

I intend to place her in a Spanish immersion program in 4-6 months… she will be about 16-18 months… and it is 100% Spanish immersion. Should I focus on English right now or continue speaking both simultaneously? I’ve read that students in these 100% programs experience delays in their grammatical, verbal or writing in the native (English) language if they do not have a solid foundation prior to entering an immersion program. I want my daughter to speak both languages yet I do not want to hinder her English. Thanks for the help and clarification!

Dear Melissa,

We recommend that you continue to engage in literacy practices and oral language development at home with your daughter in both languages.  The concept of literacy is the same in both languages and what she is taught in English she will later be able to apply to Spanish, and vice versa. For example, recognizing letters/letter sounds, listening to stories, identifying characters in stories and many other skills are the same in both languages. The underlying structure of English and Spanish are more alike than different.

When she finally enters the full immersion program, you might decide to engage in frequent literacy practices in English with her, since you are stronger in English and can better develop her oral language and vocabulary development in her primary language.  It’s always advisable that parents engage in literacy practices in the language in which they are most fluent; however, considering that you have some proficiency in Spanish,  it would also help to sometimes reinforce and practice what she is learning in school in Spanish.

The younger children are, the easier they are able to simultaneously acquire two languages. Always remember that when children first learn language, they make frequent errors and overgeneralizations even in their primary language. One frequent example is that young children begin to put -ed on every past tense verb and make comments such as, “I goed to the store”. When bilingual children are beginning to acquire two languages, parents sometimes become concerned that they are making errors or are becoming confused as a result of bilingualism. It’s important to keep in mind that errors, overgeneralization of rules and sometimes mixing languages are a natural stage of language development at the beginning stages of acquisition.

It’s your decision as a parent as to whether you want to engage in literacy practices exclusively in English at home while she learns Spanish at school, or whether you want to practice both languages at home. At some point in the immersion program, you will notice that children may tend to gravitate towards English because English tends to become more dominate in society and popular culture (i.e., songs, their cartoons, friends, family, books, etc), and so it is advisable at that point to begin to nurture Spanish as well as English at home.

Hope this helps!


You Might Also Find Useful:

The Myths and Realities of Raising Bilingual Children

Books for Parents About Raising Bilingual Children

Bilingual Education 101: Past Articles

We’ll be starting a weekly series called Bilingual Education 101 that will provide information about various forms of bilingual education and frequently asked questions associated with bilingual ed. To kick off this series, we dug into our archives for some informational posts that we have already created about bilingual education. If you haven’t read these posts already, check them out:

Language Programs in California for English Learners: A brief overview of the various programs: English language Mainstream, structured English immersion (SEI), transitional bilingual education, developmental maintenance bilingual education, and Dual Immersion.

Is Bilingual Education Against the Law in California?: Outlines California education code and the stipulations for parental exception waivers that are to be instituted after Proposition 227 for parents who would like their children to participate in a bilingual program.

Initial Identification and Assessment of Bilingual Learners: Discusses the process that students are identified as bilingual learners in the public school system, and provides an overview of the first and second language assessments that students are provided.

Can Schools Force a Child to Stay in a Bilingual Program?: Discusses the misconception that students are arbitrarily placed in bilingual programs or are not allowed to exit from bilingual programs.

How Do You Get a BCLAD Credential?: Discusses the options for getting a bilingual teaching credential in the state of California.

Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs: Provides an overview of five essential characteristics of effective bilingual education programs.

A Parent’s Guide to the Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs: Takes a look at the five essential characteristics outlined in the “Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs” through the lens of parents.

Stay tuned for additional articles next week!!

Categories: Bilingual Ed 101

Immigration: Don’t California Republicans Have Anything Else to Talk About?

Author: Anarela Mondragón

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times printed an opinion piece by Meg Whitman, California republican candidate for governor. The piece was titled Meg Whitman: immigration reform, with respect where Whitman discusses that the debate surrounding immigration reform has often been disrespectful to Latin American citizens, and that we must have a more “non-divisive” way of discussing the issue.

What a nice and thoughtful thing for Whitman to do, to acknowledge that Latin American citizens are being disrespected by the racist rhetoric that swirls around about the immigration debate. I suppose many of us Latin American citizens are supposed to be okay with the incessant and blatant disrespect that the republican party continues to have for Latin American “legal” residents who aren’t yet citizens as well as Latin American undocumented workers, many of whom are our family, co-workers, neighbors and friends?

Why does the immigration conversation with republicans always turn into a Latino issue? A couple of years ago when many of us took to the streets to march for immigrant rights, I marched both in Los Angeles and later in San Francisco hand in hand with many other undocumented immigrants, including Canadians, Asians, Irish, British, French, Africans, and the list goes on and on. Yet the conversation always comes back around to Latinos.

Because we all know that the debate is really not just about immigration, don’t we? What is it REALLY about?

Don’t the republicans have anything else to talk about in California? Over the past few months we’ve been subjected to many of the ridiculous political commercials by Poizner, another republican candidate for governor, who spewed tons of “illegal immigrant” propoganda throughout the entire commercial. Is this all republicans have to talk about anymore?

What is most amusing about Meg Whitman’s Los Angeles Times piece is that although she claims that we must have respect for Latino American citizens in this debate, she continues to drone on about the same old repetitive “let’s get them out of here” and “we need to protect our borders from the tides of illegals” rhetoric that many of us in the Latina/o community are (hopefully) just getting sick and tired of.

Let’s not forget that the former California governor Pete Wilson is Meg Whitman’s campaign chairman, the last I heard. You know, the same governor who added fuel to to all of this racist rhetoric about immigration during his support of Proposition 187 campaign, the anti-immigration proposition designed to deny public education and other social services to undocumented adults and innocent children. Meg Whitman claims in her opinion piece that she didn’t support the proposition because “kids should not be punished for the sins of their parents” , yet she has chosen one of the key proponents of the proposition to chair her campaign?

Of course she didn’t support the proposition because according to this website, she has only voted twice in over twenty years. I don’t know about you, but I sure want a governor who is invested enough in taking the time to vote on important issues that are taking place in our state.

Let’s also not forget that republicans also sparked the Proposition 227 campaign in 1998 during Pete Wilson’s time as governor, a proposition designed to restrict primary language instruction (i.e., Spanish) to school children in California. Not to mention that Proposition 209 was also instituted during Pete Wilson’s time as governor, the anti-affirmative action proposition ironically named the “California Civil Rights Initiative”.

So you can see why it’s a little hard for me to take Whitman’s suggestion seriously when she states that need for a more respectful conversation about immigration, considering that the man chairing her campaign was one of the most divisive and disrespectful politicians towards Latinos in California.

Are Latinos going to fall into this trap? I sure hope not.

About the Author: Anarela Mondragón is a daughter of “illegal immigrants” who paid their taxes every year, had their tax returns and bank interest seized by the government for years to be used towards making this state a better place for everyone, paid into social security at the time that they will never be able to draw on in the future, were later granted amnesty (you know, what Meg Whitman doesn’t support?) and are currently hard-working citizens who have raised children who actually care enough about this state to actually take the time to vote.

Categories: Politics

A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi”

Picture this scenario: You’re having a tête-à-tête with an old friend from your alma mater, who is a wine aficionado. So you pick an al fresco table at a chic little café, and order from the a la carte menu. However, your companion won’t stop exchanging double entendres with the woman in the sarong at the next table. So you’re stuck listening to the klutz of a waiter droning on ad nauseam about the soup du jour. At that point, you’re ready to say hasta la vista — but you don’t want to seem like a diva.

Try to say all that in “English.” You probably wouldn’t change a single word. How else would you describe such a scene if it weren’t for the thousands of foreign words and phrases we’ve snuck into our conversations over the years? We all use them without a second thought. But how much do you really know about the origins of the borrowed words and phrases you use every day?

Did you know, for example, that when you place an order for apple pie a la mode, that you are using a phrase that dates back to the days of King Louis XIV? His court became such a standard of good taste that the British aristocracy wanted to do more than dress in French fashion; they wanted to use their phrase for it, too. In the seventeenth century the term was anglicized to become alamode — a light silk used to make scarves. And at some point in small-town America, the combined flavors of cooked apple, sweet pastry, and cool, creamy vanilla represented the very latest in fashionable, cutting-edge gastronomy, giving the term its modern meaning of “with ice cream.”

And there’s hundreds of other examples from France: laissez faire, joie de vivre, fait accompli, faux pas, I could go on but you’d only become blasé. And with good reason; English speakers have been word collectors since the fifth century, when the dialects of Anglo-Saxon settlers, Celts, and Norse invaders were cobbled together to create Old English. When the Norman conquerors arrived in 1066 it must have seemed natural to steal some of their vocabulary, too. By the end of the thirteenth century, more than 10,000 French words were absorbed into English — and we still use 75 percent of them today.

But we’ve done more than add a French lilt to our lingo. Those Normans also introduced us to Latin. In medicine, we have words like post-mortem and placebo, while in legal language, Latin phrases such as in camera and quid pro quo are still bounced around the courtroom. And others have crossed over into broader use; an agreement or contract signed in good faith is said to be bona fide. However, in everyday use, the phrase has become interchangeable with the word genuine and usually describes someone or something whose authenticity can be trusted.

More foreign phrases joined the fray during the marauding, seafaring days of our English-speaking ancestors, who filled their boats with strange Asian spices, exotic fabrics, and loads of new words for all the animals, garments and foods they had discovered.

Even ketchup, that favorite sidekick of French fries, is an import, starting life as a spicy pickled fish sauce in seventeenth-century China. The word is a Westernized version of the Malay word kichap, which came from koechiap, meaning fish brine. The sweet red version we love with began to take shape when American sailors added tomatoes, which are excellent for preventing scurvy. In 1876 John Heinz launched his infamous tomato ketchup and the rest, as they say, is history.

And there are stowaway words in your wardrobe as well as your pantry; your pajamas, dungarees, and even your bandanna have their origins on foreign shores. Bandanna comes from the Sanskrit word bandhana, meaning to tie, from the tie-dying technique used to decorate scarves and handkerchiefs in India. The anglicized “bandanna” was incorporated into the English language during the days of the British Raj, though they’re now more popular with wrestlers and cowboys who want to give their look a certain panache.

And while the Brits went abroad to gather additions for their dictionary, in seventeenth-century North America, words were coming to the English language by the boatload. Soon words from Italy, Poland, German, and Eastern Europe were leaping off immigrant ships and landing in the American English lexicon. To uncover the backstory on some of these, from alter ego to zeitgeist, explore the pages of A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi — The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English by Chloe Rhodes, published by Reader’s Digest, and voilá! Soon you’ll easily be able to schmooze with everyone at the next cocktail party without making a single faux pas.

© 2010 Chloe Rhodes, author of A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi”: The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English

Author Bio
Chloe Rhodes, author of A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi”: The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English, is a freelance journalist who has worked for The Telegraph, Guardian and The Times as well as numerous other respected publications. She lives in North London with her husband. For more information please visit

Categories: Bilingualism

The Myths and Realities of Raising Bilingual Children

March 24, 2010 6 comments

Author: R.K. Albers

Many bilingual parents shy away from introducing their children to a second language because of rumors that multilingualism stunts learning or requires parents to commit to a grueling language regimen.  In reality, raising your children to be bilingual will benefit them in terms of short term classroom success as well as long term college and career opportunities.  And it does not require a Ph.D in lingusitics on your part!  Read on to  separate fact from fiction when it comes to multilingual families.

Myth:  A child should learn one language at a time

Reality:  Children under the age of ten are most receptive to dual language learning

Studies have shown that children as young as a few months old have the ability to discern between two or more languages.  Learning a second or third language at a young age is proven to enhance a child’s cognitive abilities, academic performance, and standardized test scores.

Myth:  At home dual language learning must follow a strict formula

Reality:  Consistency, not rigidity, is the key to raising bilingual children

There is no “right” or “wrong” path to bilingualism.  In some dual-parent households, each parent chooses to speak only his or her native language.  Other families prefer to exclusively practice a minority language at home to offset their children’s exposure to a majority language when at school or in public.  No matter what you choose, the most important thing is to commit to an approach and be consistent.

Myth:  Raising a bilingual child must begin at birth

Reality:  It is never too late to introduce a second or third language into your home

Many parents mistakenly give up on bilingual child rearing after a certain point because they fear it is too late.  While research shows that young children absorb languages most quickly, multilingualism has no expiration date.  Even retirees can learn and master a second or third tongue with regular practice and exposure.  Studies suggest that, regardless of age, a language learner needs at least 30% daily exposure to become fluent.

Myth:  Bilingual parents must be perfect linguists

Reality:  Bilingualism is about effective communication, not perfection

Although some bilingual parents go to great lengths in order to avoid mistakes, every day errors are natural and harmless.  Fluency is defined as the ability to communicate smoothly and effortlessly.  Parents who focus on developing each of the four language disciplines (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) are far more likely to be successful in cultivating a bilingual household than those who painstakingly pursue perfection.

Myth:  Bilingual families are a rare breed

Reality:  Multilingual households are commonplace throughout the world

The United States Census Bureau estimates that nearly 20% of Americans speak more than one language at home.  In Europe, close to half the population self-identifies as bilingual.  In other parts of the world, multilingualism is often the rule, not the exception.  Contrary to the misconception that bilingualism is polarizing, raising your child in a multilingual household will pave the way for a lifetime of enriching relationships and experiences.

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.

You Might Also Like:

The Benefits of Bilingualism

Myths and Realities: Best Practices for English Language Learners

Condemned Without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education

Bilingual Parenting: Planting the Seeds of Bilingualism-The Movie

March 23, 2010 7 comments

Author: Christine Thuau

Sometime ago, before the never-ending Cold & Ear Infection Epidemic of 2010 hit our family, I wrote about our family’s musical lifestyle and promised a companion piece on our movie-viewing activities… The kids have finally—FINALLY!—gone back to school, so here we go.

Now, I wasn’t too surprised to find that French songs outnumbered American in our repertoire, because we really made a conscientious effort to make “song time” French time. I’m a little surprised when I look through our DVD collection, though, to realize how close the count is between French and English/American DVDs among those that the kids watched regularly. We’ve taken kind of a hard line, globally, on limiting television viewing, and I seem to recall that we started off with the goal of only letting them watch movies and shows in French.

It’s hard to do a completely unambiguous analysis of our movie library, since a number of the discs have soundtracks in both French and English, but here’s the tally according to my best recollection:

  • 1 ballet (i.e. no dialogue at all—the Bolshoi production of The Nutcracker)
  • 25 French movies
  • 23 English movies

For a long time, I really, really thought we were maintaining the T.V. as a French-only zone. OK, maybe not French-only, but definitely “predominantly French.” I had this little fantasy going on, wherein the children took for granted that only French came out of the television, except for on rare and surprising occasions when it would broadcast PBS Kids in English. Not so! Apparently we eventually accumulated a whole lot of English-language DVDs—and oh! how they’ve watched them! (Though not so much anymore.)

So, how exactly did all those non-French DVDs infiltrate our collection? Chance played a role: during a drive up the California coast, when our daughter was about eighteen months old, we found under the hotel bed an exotic and sadly-abandoned artifact of some other family’s vacation—a Wiggles video tape. (If you’re a parent, I’ll give you a moment to visualize what that might have been like, meeting the Wiggles for the first time after spending all day keeping a toddler entertained while winding our way up the Pacific Coast Highway.) We thought it might be too low-brow for our brilliant kid, but lo and behold… it wasn’t! Not at all! Au contraire. And can you imagine how rapt her attention was when those Wiggles began serenading her in English?

Had we been pure in our television-viewing ways up to that point? I can’t really recall, but I honestly think that maybe we had been. Mostly. Anyway, the point is that the scales were lifted from our eyes. We had our first hit of electronic babysitting in its purest form, and we were hooked. Because I was in Grad School. And we don’t have family (at least, not the babysitting kind) here in Los Angeles.

Eventually we ended up with, on the one hand, a plethora of French DVDs—available for our kids’ linguistic and cultural enrichment (i.e. Bob le Bricoleur : Sardine sur la branche). And, on the other hand, another plethora of DVDs in English for babysitting purposes (i.e. Bob the Builder: Bob Saves the Day).  (Stop laughing! How could Bob fail to be culturally enriching when he speaks French???) And soon it wasn’t just grad school that had us pulling out the big guns. There were long transatlantic flights to France and twice-yearly drives from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, and the kids were just so much more catatonic (stimulated! I meant stimulated!) when an English-language DVD was playing…

And so I guess that’s how it happened: the demands of real life (not that grad school is actually “real life,” but you know what I mean) ate our conscientiousness and good intentions. And then we all had a snack and a nap. The end.


Part of me wants to despair, looking at how far we wandered astray of our intentions vis-à-vis the television. The kids rarely watch T.V. at all anymore (cold epidemics aside), but they don’t show too much interest in watching French discs when we propose them: it’s too hard to understand the French, so easy to just switch the audio track over to English. Is it a complete wash, though? I’d say… not really. Because here’s the funny thing: our daughter’s absolute favorite movie (from an early age, too) is the A&E production of A Year in Provence, based on the novels by Peter Mayle. The dialogue is mostly in English, but with a high quotient of both real French and franglais, as well. Exactly like at home!!! So while our kids may not be entirely bilingual, they clearly do have bilingual… sensibilities, perhaps? They value bilingualism, they see the entertaining side to negotiating life in bilingual settings, and they’re aware that even when they choose English, their situation is such that there is a choice: French audio or English audio. There’s a choice. That’s pretty cool.

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.

Additional Posts Written By Christine Thuau:

Bilingual Parenting: It’s About More Than Just Bilingualism

Bilingual Parenting: A Laissez Faire Approach to Raising Bilingual Children

Bilingual Parenting: Using Songs to Foster Bilingualism

Categories: bilingual parenting