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The Essential Steps in Raising Multilingual Children

April 22, 2010 3 comments

As a parent, you may ask yourself about the possibility of attempting to raise your child multilingual. While many parents may not see the importance or significance of this, it can be a great benefit to the child in their future life. Children have the unique ability to absorb many things through their formative years. Even though it may seem complicated to have your child learn more than one language at a time, they are very capable of doing so and will impress you with how quickly they adapt.

Typically the rearing of a multilingual child is done by parents who speak more than one language themself. While this isn’t a necessity, it certainly gives a great starting off point for the child in question. Studies have shown that children need to be exposed to the secondary language at least 30% of their waking hours. This can be achieved in multiple ways such as, speaking to your children in the secondary language, arranging playgroups for them with children who speak the other language, and even immersing them in an alternate language school for a period of time.

Remember to always be realistic about your goals in teaching your child multiple languages. Children are very capable of absorbing up to four languages, but you must make sure that they gain enough exposure to each. Otherwise it will be a waste of time. Create a plan and stick with it, this will give your child the best possible chance of succeeding.

Most importantly, be patient with your children. Every child learns at their own pace, and teaching them multiple languages is no exception. They may occasionally mix up words and phrases, but it’s essential to never laugh and only offer positive encouragement. They will relate speaking and listening to having fun the more you make it fun for them. And while teaching your child to be multilingual may have its difficulties, its benefits far exceed whatever they are. By raising your child to be multilingual, you are giving them a gift they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Why Am I Staying in Taiwan? Because I Am More Me Here.

April 14, 2010 2 comments

Here is the ritual greeting that takes place in Taipei when I pay the fare to the taxi driver, order a latte at a Starbucks, or pay the bill in a restaurant.

How much is it? 多少錢?

NT$100. Are you Japanese / Overseas Chinese / Korean? 100圓。你是日本人/華僑/韓國人?

I am from Japan. 我來自日本。

You speak Chinese really well. 你國語講的很好。

Thank you. 謝謝,不會。

How long have you been here? 你待多久?

5 years. 五年了。

That’s awesome! 怎麼厲害!

If I am talking with a person over 40 years old, this question pops up.

Why did you choose Taiwan? 你為什麼選擇臺灣?

Because… 因為

And then I always pause. Each time, an internal voice whispers I still don’t know, followed by But I love being here, that’s for sure. I say things like “Because Taiwan is a great country with great people and great food” (which is all true, by the way). I get nervous thinking the person in front of me might suspect I am merely trying to please her, which makes my response even more robotic and suspicious.

I can list things that make Taiwan/Taipei great. Inexpensive yet tasty food. Relaxed atmosphere. Mild-mannered people. Near-flawless public transportation. Unbelievably cheap and sophisticated medical care.  A modern city with accessible nature in its backyard.

But none of them hits the bull’s eye. I had access to all of them back in Japan, except for the inexpensive food and relaxed atmosphere. Food prices never affected me much. So is it the ability to relax more? No, a critical factor is still missing.

One weekend, while riding on a train and looking at the streaming landscape, I got it. The clue has been there all along, right in my view, like in these photos.




There is nothing photogenic or remarkable about these scenes, to be fair. Miniature balcony jungle flourishes inside an old apartment. A golden temple shines brightly inside an office building. A makeshift playground replicating Gulliver in Lilliput lies in front of a memorial hall. If there is any theme in them, it is that there is no theme at all—what we see is only the co-existence of unrelated objects. Yes, they are what makes Taipei, Taipei.

Wait, hadn’t I experienced it in Japan, a place more famous than Taiwan for accepting weirdness? Well in Japan, every foreign object must go through a “transforming” stage before lining up in the stores or being introduced in a media outlet, its cuteness exaggerated and any threatening element de-emphasized. In other words, foreign stuff must be assimilated and sanitized. That’s why Japanese cultural items are always, er, Japanese. Might be peculiar at times, but always safe.

In Taiwan, things exist more as they are, not falling into sameness under the “Taiwanese” label. That same principle applies to people, or expatriates in this case. Looking back on my five-year experience living here, one of the most remarkable things is that I’ve never had to compromise my identity to be like someone else. I do not say I could always do what I wanted to. But no one forced me to behave like someone I am not, either. In fact, I already wrote about that experience in expat+HAREM.

The Taiwanese view me as “Laowai”, a foreigner. Not Japanese, more like Overseas Chinese. I act the way that feels right to me, and the Taiwanese view me the way that feels right for them, and we both feel fine about not understanding each other’s point of view.

I am like those odd objects in the photos. I am alien to the local culture, and also part of it. Folks, now I have the answer to the original question; why I have been sticking to Taiwan—and the whole story, which has taken me five years to figure out, has taken you three minutes to read.

P.S. It is time for me to take a nap at lunchtime in the office—an important part of the Taiwanese business culture—and I safely close my eyes and bend my neck toward the ceiling (opening my mouth is optional), against the proper manner of burying one’s head into the arms, like my colleague sitting next to me.

About the Author: Isao Kato is a nomad Japanese technical writer living in Taiwan, melting technology and communication in the Asian pot.

Categories: Uncategorized

Learn About Other Languages and Never Stop

April 13, 2010 1 comment

“To be a teacher, you need to first become a good student”

I was taught to read and write way too young compared to fellow kids, having an aunt who is an Arabic language major student who used to teach me the classical basics of it since I was 5 to 6 years old. I have a special kind of relationship with Arabic language.

“Discover the beauty and richness of the language you teach”

I become passionate about  Arabic language, its history, literature, grammar and all arts. It has a very rich content and a precious heritage being spoken and understood the same way it has always been spoken since more than 1,000 years ago. This means that what was written in the old ages is still the same, with the same grammar and vocabulary, unlike most languages where you find great variations between classical and modern versions of the same language.

Since the time I started using the internet (2003), I have been doing language exchange with non-Arabic native speakers interested in learning Arabic-that was how I improved my English as well as Italian ( I focused on them as I studied both academically) and learned the basics of other languages such as Spanish.

Later on, I decided to teach Modern Standard Arabic as Egyptian dialect to non-natives, especially English speakers.

“Learn about other languages and never stop”

I still do language exchange with people of different nationalities, as I think learning more about different languages is the best way to know about common mistakes non-natives tend to make due to interference with their mother tongue.

I believe that the more teachers learn about other languages, the more efficient and better they become while teaching their mother languages to foreigners. You can always find something similar in other languages to the language you teach that would make it easier for both you and your student while teaching.

“Hey, did someone here say Arabic is hard?”

Moreover, Arabic language tends to have some specifications and characteristics that may be absent in other languagse, which is why it’s commonly known to be harder to learn when compared to other languages. Well, this is not very accurate. Based on what I’ve read and experienced with non-natives, I can say that Arabic is not really that hard, it just requires more patience, commitment and determination.

You may sometimes feel disappointed and feel that you have not learned anything at all, and it may sometimes seem as if there is just too much to learn. This doesn’t necessarily mean Arabic is hard-it’s a rich old language, so think about it that way! When facing some challenging matter in life, we should never give up on it-we only need to believe that we will always lack knowledge and need to learn more about it.  No one will ever know everything about something… but still, there are those few bright hard-workers who believed in their abilities and therefore managed to learn a lot about something.  Try to be one of those people then!

About the Author: Alshimaa M. Helmy is a university student majoring in Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering while teaching Arabic part-time as a foreign language in Cairo, Egypt. She has deep interests about foreign languages and cultures around the world. You can frequently find her writing on  her blog, In All Languages.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Trials and Tribulations of a Bilingual Coordinator

Sometimes it is extremely frustrating being a bilingual coordinator.

On the outside I have to make it appear as if nothing is ever wrong, because I need to look strong and confident for the bilingual teachers that I work with. And I also need to maintain an outside appearance as if my feathers are not ruffled when I am around some of the other people who try to do everything in their power to undermine the bilingual program.

But inside I have started to become increasingly sick and tired of all the b.s. that I am subjected to on an every day basis.

Every day at some point there never fails to be a person who will send me a rude email or will blatantly tell me that they just “have a bilingual program on paper and are just doing English” -(imagine that-actually having the audacity as a school leader to tell the bilingual coordinator at the district office that you are thumbing your nose at the bilingual program design–yes, that’s how much disdain some of these people have for the bilingual program).

When I am not receiving rude emails or being told that they don’t have to do the bilingual program, I am constantly frustrated because I am blocked from other managers in the district who I believe hate the bilingual program. I am strategically left out of important conversations or I always find out something at the last minute, which always makes it appear as if my department is lagging behind everyone to catch up. I am too much of a professional to say, “No, these assessments came one month after the English assessments because the English language arts department didn’t even bother to tell me that they were changing the assessments until a week after they sent them out to you”. So instead I just work 60 hours a week and throughout the weekends on occasions such as this weekend so that I can wipe the egg of my face and try not to look bad.

Here’s another tactic that they love to use with me: I trust in my capabilities and sometimes I know that I am extremely knowledgeable about a certain topic. Yet when I open my mouth in meetings sometimes, I can see them blatantly rolling their eyes, snickering, and other such nonsense. Even some of the resource teachers and teacher coaches in other departments begin to talk to me in a very rude, disrespectful and condescending tone with me -even though I am a manager and am technically above them in rank. It’s not as if I am one of those school managers who believe that I am better than the teachers or the coaches, but I do think that their behavior is representative of a larger issue of people just having utter lack of respect for the bilingual department. Even some of the resource teachers treat my resource teachers like crap and act like they don’t know anything, although I am inclined to think that they are much more competent than some of the other teachers.

It’s starting to weigh down on me and I begin to question what I am saying, but then my boss loves to tell me that they are just jealous of me and try to make me look stupid because I am intimidating them. Pfft. Get a grip. I do think that is part of it, but I also think that when they look at me they hate me for what I represent-bilingualism and advocacy for latino, black and other underrepresented student populations.

In the meantime, my dear friend just bought me a book with a pretty provocative title, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. I’d have to say that this book is somewhat helping me maintain my sanity at the moment, and just might inspire an entire blog that my friend and I have been talking about creating regarding jerks in the workplace. Apparently we need the stress relief.

Yeah, well, there really is not a point to this post. It’s just a “feel sorry for me” and “I’ve got to get this out on paper before I explode and tell someone off” kind of moment.

Categories: Uncategorized

Happy Birthday to Us!

The past week literally happened in the blink of an eye, and I just realized that we have not posted anything in almost a week. Initially it was done intentionally, as I was so in love with our last guest writer’s post  about multilingualism and autism. I wanted to leave it up at the top of the page for a few days because it is an underdiscussed and misunderstood topic that is very near and dear to my heart.

It’s been quite a busy week at work, to say the least, and so you can imagine my surprise when I just realized that I sailed right on past the first anniversary of this blog.

I might sound silly to say that I am excited about a blog anniversary, but I am. When I first initiated this blog last March, I began this journey as a way to blog out my heart’s content about a topic that I am overly passionate about-bilingual education. It’s tough to be in the field of bilingual education, and you tend to sometimes get beat up a lot and acquire many battle scars, so I had initially conceptualized this blog as a safe space to blog about my passion as well as to vent about the challenges facing those in the field of bilingual education.

When I first started, I didn’t post much and I wasn’t even sure if there was anyone out there in internet land who wanted to read a blog about multilingualism. I posted infrequently, and honestly didn’t even start posting on a frequent basis until a number of months ago.

And then suddenly we just exploded, meeting many other people who were interested in multilingualism and even had blogs about multilingualism! It’s been a safe haven for me to come to the internet every day in order to engage in interactions with people who have similar interests.

Since I started, a few collaborators are beginning to join the ranks and I am hopeful that you enjoy their stories as much as I have. Over the past couple of months I’ve been reconceptualizing the blog, and it will be moving towards  as a place where you will find:

  • Information about bilingual education
  • Information about raising bilingual children
  • Personal stories about bilingualism and multilingualism
  • Bilingualism in the news
  • Coming soon: Foreign film and translated literature reviews
  • Coming soon: Bilingualism and politics
  • And much, much more!

P.S. It’s been over a year ago since we bought hosting for this site, and we just haven’t gotten around to moving this blog over to its hosted domain. In the next few weeks, you will notice a slight change in the format of this blog and it may possibly be offline for a couple of days. Stay tuned!

Thank you for stopping by and reading!! Your support has been greatly appreciated.

-Melanie

Categories: Uncategorized

Autism and Multilingualism: A Parent’s Perspective

Today’s guest post is a topic that is very dear to our hearts: fostering multilingualism with children who many people believe should not learn two (or more) languages. In honor of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2010, we are hosting a guest post by Sandrine Berges, a mother who is raising a multilingual son who also happens to be autistic. The following post is proof that ALL children are able to learn multiple languages!

It happened again last week. I was enjoying a cup of coffee with a colleague when she asked me point blank what language we spoke at home. I often get that question as my husband and I come from different countries and on top of that we’re expats in Turkey. This makes us, for all practical purposes, a trilingual family. But people don’t buy that and they want to know which of our three languages we really speak, when no-one is watching. It isn’t a question I much like to answer, and I usually try to shrug it off. I say vaguely, ‘it depends’. And it’s true, it does depend, and it’s not always easy to explain why we do what we do.

So let me try: my husband (British) and I (French) mostly speak English to each other – except when we slip into French, which happens. To our daughter, we’ve always both spoken French. Now she will allow us to speak English to her in non-francophone company. Just about. When home alone with her, I sometimes use a mixture of French, English and Turkish – occasionally all together in the same sentence – because it’s fun, and because it is sometimes the best way to express what we think or feel. My daughter who’s ten, is equally comfortable in all three languages, highly skilled at grammar and has a very rich French, English and Turkish vocabulary.

To our son, until last year, we would speak mostly Turkish. Now it’s become mostly French, with him still occasionally addressing us in Turkish. He’ll speak Turkish to Turkish speakers, and, in the last few months, he’s been trying out his English on our non-French-non-Turkish speaking friends.
So, yes, it’s complicated. And I don’t like to explain it because usually, before I’m done, I’ll be interrupted and told I’m doing it all wrong. ‘It’s really important’, they say, ‘that each parent should speak in their own language, at all times.’ Right.

If I was rude, (which I am on occasion), I would turn around and ask them what they knew of people like us, how much research had actually been done on trilingual families with one gifted child, one autistic, and two Ph.Ds, dealing with some circumstances that are not all that common, at least that are not usually found together. We wanted the children to learn French, but we knew it wouldn’t be easy if they also had to learn English and Turkish and only heard French from me. We’ve seen children failing to pick up a language because it was only spoken by one parent, and it wasn’t English. Or we’ve seen them learn it only to lose it because they spoke it so little. So we decided we’d speak French at home. We feel that was probably the right decision.

The kids were learning Turkish at nursery school, at home with their minder, and pretty much everywhere they went. By the time she entered kindergarten our daughter was fluent in both French and Turkish. We put her in an English speaking school and a couple months later she was fluent in that as well. By Christmas, she could not only speak English but also read it.

Our son started to speak late, a bit later than his sister, in both Turkish and French. But aged three, when he started developing symptoms of autism, he decided to ditch French, and from then on his Turkish developed very slowly. So we took him to a speech therapist, Turkish of course – we had no choice in the matter, because there were no others, and because our son had clearly chosen Turkish for himself. After a year or so he spoke better. We encouraged him as best we could by using all the Turkish we had to communicate with him, and by reading to him in Turkish every day. When his Turkish was good enough that he was beginning to communicate, we then sent him to a French school and he began to speak French again.

At that time our household was truly trilingual, with all three languages being spoken at dinner, and yet, this was a time when we were really able to communicate as a family. We started to develop a sort of dialect of our own, with a lot of loan words, borrowed turns of phrases, and accents that people simply could not place. I believe our speech was all the richer for it, and certainly, our writing never suffered. I started writing a book then, our daughter got top grades in her essays, and my husband published several articles. Around that time I took a trip to Ottawa and was delighted to hear groups of children speaking a mixture of English and French, people having conversations in two languages at once. A home from home, I felt, if we ever have to leave Turkey.

Now seven, our son speaks equally well in both French and Turkish. Not very well, true, but any difficulties he has are most probably linked to the autism, rather than to straightforwardly linguistic abilities. For example he still mixes his pronouns in both languages. And he sometimes speaks inappropriately, failing to answer questions, repeating the same thing over and over. But he speaks.

Now I’m sure you can imagine what kind of criticisms we received over the years and how we felt about them: if we’d been consistent, people said, our son would have spoken earlier. Or maybe we’ve confused him by exposing him to too many languages, caused him to become autistic, even. People suggested we go back to either France or England and speak only one language at home from now on. At this point I usually bite my tongue because I really need to keep my expletives for when my computer plays up or I spill hot tea on myself. Of course all this was nonsense! The autism had nothing to do with how many languages he spoke. True, his particular strand of autism is linked to environmental changes which trigger crises. But as he was born in a trilingual environment, that really wouldn’t have bothered him!

One woman once told me that a child could not develop emotionally unless they identified with their mother tongue. This woman was headmistress of an international school where most of the students were multilingual! What’s more, she wanted my children’s mother tongue to be English, i.e. their father tongue. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt about this conversation. I was glad to find out later that she was in fact entirely unqualified to make any such judgements (and possibly to be headmistress, but that’s a different matter). She felt she could pass judgement, assign blame, on no basis at all.

A few months ago, we were considering moving to England, and I got in touch with a group of people who either care for autistic children or, mostly, are autistic themselves to ask their advice. They unanimously were impressed that our son already spoke two languages and suggested I start him with English flash cards immediately, just in case. One person told me that as a child with autism they had been much more disturbed by the idea that there were several languages being spoken around them but only one at them, than later on, by learning to speak another language. The technicalities of having to learn another grammar, another set of words, were nothing compared to having to get one’s head around the idea that you’re allowed to communicate in one language but not another.

It is simply not the case that autism is a counter-indication to multiple language learning. It’s just another one of the many misconceptions that people have about autism. As Temple Grandin puts it, language itself is a second language for many autistic people who tend to think in pictures rather than words. So what harm is one or two more going to do them? And just think of the good it could do!

About the Author: Sandrine Berges lives and works in Ankara with her husband and two children. She teaches philosophy at a University and when she’s not busy blogging with her sisters, writes books on Plato and Mary Wollstonecraft. Both her children now go to the French lycee in Ankara, but she’s very glad they’ve learnt Turkish as she can really use their skills as interpretors! You can read more from Sandrine on her blog, Paris-Ankara Express.

Related Resources:

Dual Language Development and Disorders: A Handbook on Bilingualism and Second Language Learning

Bilingual Special Education Interface

Categories: Uncategorized

Let’s Take Back Our Staff Lounge!

When many teachers first enter teacher preparation programs, one warning that they are typically given is that they should try to stay away from the staff lounge. In some schools, the staff lounge can be a toxic environment, poisoning many teachers who initially begin teaching with good intentions for their students.

When I first became a teacher, I initially attempted to stay away from the staff lounge. But eventually I began to get lonely working with students all day long and not having contact with other adults, so I began to sometimes eat in the dreaded staff lounge.

Over the years, the outrageous and inappropriate comments that I was forced to listen to never ceased to amaze me. In fact, they often outraged me and made my blood boil.

But I never said anything.

I never said anything when one day a teacher shouted to me across the room that I needed to “Speak English!” when asking another colleague in Spanish if they had change for the soda machine. I never said anything when a group of white teachers constantly griped about affirmative action, claiming that they were given a raw deal while African American and Latino students were handed everything on a silver platter.

I never said anything on all of those occasions when some teachers complained about all of the supposed “illegal immigrants” in our school. I didn’t say a word when teachers would openly blame our bilingual program for low test scores, although most of the English learners in the school were in English programs. Nor did I say anything when one of the teachers frankly told me, “If this was a pond, these kids and families would be the scum suckers at the bottom”.  I most definitely didn’t speak up when even some of my own colleagues in the bilingual program spoke negatively of bilingual education and admitted that they didn’t really want to be bilingual teachers.

I just sat and silently had a mini-meltdown. And the whole time I was ashamed of myself because I didn’t have the guts to speak up to these toxic people.

For years, I experienced similar insults every time I entered that damn staff lounge. And then one day I just snapped and decided that enough was enough.

I can remember the day clearly when all of the usual suspects were sitting in the staff lounge whining, complaining and griping about one thing or the other. Suddenly, one of the teachers began to insult undocumented immigrant students. Using his “legal” girlfriend as the example of an upstanding immigrant to the United States, he began to speak incessantly about how “these people” broke the law and they shouldn’t be here. Not to mention that “these people” are so lazy and disrespectful (according to him), because they refused to learn English.

I snapped. I decided that I could no longer allow negative teachers to suck those of us who love our jobs into their misery. Negativity and low morale spreads like wildfire, and I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore because the negativity was starting to seep into my thoughts at times.

“These are children that we are talking about,” I said. A few people looked up and took notice that I was saying something. “You can’t blame children for something that they had nothing to do with”.

“Well, the parents are to blame. They shouldn’t have broken the law. If they want to be here, they should go through the proper channels,” he said.

At first I thought that reasoning with him might help him to have a little empathy. “I’m sure that if you were starving to death, or you wanted to give your children a better life, then you would probably do whatever it took to have a better life for your children”, I reasoned.

To the best of my recollection, I can’t recall exactly what he said, but I do know that he continued on for another ranting session about the students and their parents.

Suddenly, I raised my voice and said, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you get the hell out of here? Go try to find a school where you can just teach white kids. If you speak so negatively of these kids, I can’t imagine that you are putting much heart and soul into teaching them”.

Everyone in the room looked absolutely shocked. Honestly, I was perfectly shocked at myself and a little bit intimidated.

“Why do you work here, if you hate these kids and the families? I know, I know, you work here because you can get away with it. You can get away with abusing these kids, yelling at these kids, being mean to the kids, and talking bad about these kids. If you don’t want to love these kids, then get the hell out”, I practically screamed. I admit that my response was a little bit excessive.

“I am getting the hell out,” he explained. “I put in a transfer”.

“Good, but I can assure you that if you go to a higher income school that the parents won’t allow you to act like this. You only do it here because you think that these kids are just throw away kids,” I said as I stormed out the door.

Later that day, I was called into the principal’s office and was more or less chastised because I had raised my voice at him. By that time, I had already had enough and I told her, “Fine, if I am going to get written up then I will be happy to sign it because I am not okay with the horrible things that far too many teachers are being allowed to say in the staff lounge”. She of course never wrote me up.

Funny, isn’t it? It’s sad that many of these bullies are allowed to terrorize us for years, but when some of us speak up we are perceived as being aggressive or inappropriate.

After that day, another one of the negative teachers came up to me and said, “We are all afraid of saying something in front of you because we think that you will chew us out”.

“You should be worried about it, because I WILL!” I exclaimed.

After that day, not one single teacher ever made any inappropriate comments in my presence again. Years later when I became an administrator myself, I learned that such behavior should not be tolerated in a school and that educational leaders must put an end to it as soon as it is brought to their attention, because such behavior is a form of harassment and discrimination.

As educators, we’ve got to take back our staff lounges and schools that have been hijacked by toxic people.

It’s imperative that we no longer just sit and take it when people are tearing down the students, the parents and the community. We have to speak out against such unprofessional behavior, by either confronting bullies directly or demanding that our administrators put an end to whatever is occurring. We have a moral obligation to stick up for the children who we are being paid to serve, and we have a right to work in a positive environment that allows us to flourish as professionals.

When we do nothing to stop the negative behavior of some of our colleagues, then we are also part of the problem.

Don’t be part of the problem.

You Might Also Like:

Daily Dose of Anti-Bilingual Passive Agression

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

Categories: Uncategorized