Guide Raising a Bilingual Child (Living Language Series)

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  2. Raising bilingual children
  3. The Bilingual Child - a talk by specialist linguist Barbara Abdelah-Bauer - Multilingual mum
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A rapid knowledge of times tables will help children keep up with the class.

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Equally, a child needs to know some specific maths vocabulary, such as geometrical terms like l'angle droit right angle. Without these words a child might have problems to understand what he or she is supposed to do in a lesson and fall behind. There is a specific way of forming each letter, and your child will simply have to practise as much as she can. You can use a wipe-clean whiteboard tableau blanc to practise too at home, a technique that is used in class too. The website advises parents to print out each letter and slip it into plastic cover, and then copy letters with a washable felt-tip pen on the plastic, so that the child can reuse the example again.

Should I read to her in French or translate it? This depends on how old the child is and their level of reading skills. It also depends on how good your French is, and how comfortable you feel using it with your child. If you do not feel comfortable reading in French then you should not. Some children find parents reading in the 'wrong' language quite odd and do not like parents to read in their second language.

Other children are happy just to hear a story and do not mind if you mispronounce something or are not sure about a word. It can be a joint learning process too, as parents can learn some French too. Young children who cannot read yet will be happy for you to describe the pictures, or translate approximately or make up a similar story. With an older child you can ask them which language they prefer you to read in. An older child can also read the book themselves and give you a mini book review or re-tell you the story afterwards. What can we do? This is a problem for a lot of English-speaking families living in France.

Unless children are in a bilingual school the English classes will probably be too easy and barely challenge them. In a primary school the teacher teaches all the subjects, therefore some teachers will be quite fluent and confident in English, while others struggle with the language. Some teachers take English children out of the class and give them extra French written work to do. English speaking children need to practise spelling, story-writing and reading in line with their age group to become biliterate. English-speaking kids can also be enlisted to 'help' the teacher, by bringing in examples of magazines, books, songs they can show the class.

Raising bilingual children

They can talk about their life in the UK or USA, and explain some cultural differences, like the way Christmas is celebrated. What should we do? Often English-speaking children living in France speak perfect English but have problems with basic skills such as reading, writing or spelling. English classes in France may have been too easy or not demanding enough for them.

School is such an important part of children's life and over time the school language tends to dominate the home language. Friends and teachers often recommend French books, websites or magazines to read at home. Over time, English becomes under-used and children find reading a book in English difficult and prefer to buy a translated version.

Parents and family need to encourage them to read and write more at home, providing materials for their age and interests. If there are several families with children of the same age you can pool resources. Pick books that are being read by English kids and if they like one track down the author and find more. Remember that a book on a bedside table is more likely to be read than one on a shelf. Children love collecting books and reading a series. I read them my favorite classics from my childhood Roald Dahl, Pollyanna and The Railway Children , which gave them a taste for reading.

Older children can have an email account and write to friends and family, or access to child-based sites with links to other children who they can communicate with.


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An English-language magazine they like could be sent over to France. The best way, if you can manage it, is to put children in situations where only the "less important" language is used so that there is no temptation to mix languages or revert to the "more important" language. One language is likely to seem more important to children when that language is needed more frequently than the other. For example, suppose the American woman and Turkish man in the bilingual home speak English with each other.

The children will notice that English is used in cases where Turkish isn't and think that English is "more important".


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  4. But if the same family moves to Turkey, the children will notice that Turkish is used in lots of cases where English isn't, and may decide Turkish is "more important". Some children are very sensitive to these differences and may be reluctant to use the "less important" language—especially if other children don't use it. Others don't seem to mind. When we talk about one language being "more important" here, we're only talking about the children's point of view!

    Nonetheless, many adult bilinguals are "dominant" in one of their languages. Even if the differences between their two languages are subtle, most bilinguals feel slightly more at home in one language than the other in certain settings or for talking about certain topics. No, definitely not, especially in the bilingual home situation where the second language is likely to seem "less important" to the children anyway.

    Introducing the second language later is just about guaranteed to make them think it's less important and not worth the effort. On the other hand, in the bilingual setting situation say, the Korean couple living in the United States , there isn't any harm in letting children's exposure to English begin naturally and gradually.

    As long as the family stays in the US and the children go to American schools, there is no risk that they will fail to learn English. Actually, the more common problem with the bilingual setting situation is that the children sometimes reject their home language in favor of the outside language. Many experts recommend the "one-parent-one-language" method for a bilingual home.

    The idea is that Mommy or Mamma, or Mutti always speaks her own language with the children, and Daddy or Papa, or Vati always speaks his own language with them.

    See a Problem?

    This is a good basis for a successful bilingual home, but it's not the only one, and even one-parent-one-language can go wrong. One problem can be balance. Children need to hear both languages often and in a variety of circumstances.

    If they never hear the "less important" language except from one parent, they may not get enough exposure for that language to develop naturally. It is especially true that when both parents understand the "more important" language, the children don't feel they need the "less important" one. In these cases it is essential to find other sources of exposure and other ways of creating the sense of need. Monolingual grandparents can be especially helpful!

    The Bilingual Child - a talk by specialist linguist Barbara Abdelah-Bauer - Multilingual mum

    Can you enlist a cousin or grandmother or a paid babysitter who speaks the other language to look after the children? Is there a daycare or playgroup where they can hear the other language? Can you get videos and story tapes in the other language? All of these can make a big difference—especially exposure that involves interaction with other people, not just watching TV. When our children were small, we did things like this to reinforce Italian in a largely English-speaking setting.

    Another problem is keeping the situation natural. If children feel that they are being forced to do something weird or embarrassing, they will probably resist it.


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    Explicit rules—say, speaking one language on some days and the other on others—can be very hard to enforce and can help create a negative attitude. Still another problem is exclusion. If one of the parents doesn't speak the other's language in our example, suppose the American woman doesn't speak Turkish , the children will know that every time they say something in Turkish to their father they are excluding their mother from the conversation.

    This may make children reluctant to speak one of the parents' languages when both parents are present.

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    In our experience, a bilingual home is more likely to succeed if both parents at least understand both languages—that way, nobody is ever excluded from a family conversation. What makes this book unique is that the recommendations are based on research. A must have for anybody interested in language! Barbara Zurer Pearson's book is full of little treasures! We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. Make sure to accept our cookies in order to get the best experience out of this website.

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