How to Give Your Child the Best Chance of Learning a Second Language

This month we published Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition edited by Joanna Rokita-Jaśkow and Melanie Ellis. In this post the editors suggest the best ways to teach your child a foreign language.

Knowing I am an expert in teaching English to young learners, many parents approach me asking, WHEN is it best to start teaching their child a foreign language?

And of course they would like to get a clear-cut answer, which would help them to make the best decision. They are usually very ambitious, conscious parents, often middle-class, who are focused on bringing up children and willing to do their utmost to make the best of their young child’s ‘window of opportunity’ for language learning.

However, the answer to when a child should start is not that simple. First of all, you need to know that if you don’t start teaching your child a foreign language early, it does not mean that your child will miss the learning opportunity. You can compensate for a later start by having more classes more often at a later age, living abroad or by using out-of-class learning opportunities such as the internet. Foreign language (FL) instruction is a part of school curricula in many settings, and if the teaching is high quality, your child will benefit from instruction at school too.

Rather than asking when learning a foreign language should start, if you decide to enrol your child in early FL instruction (which you usually have to pay for), you should rather ask HOW the language should be taught to get the best learning outcomes. Popular demand from parents has seen the rise of numerous private schools which are flourishing, but which do not always offer high quality teaching.

  • First of all, you should aim to give your child as many opportunities to learn the language as possible, remembering that they forget quickly and learn slowly, and need frequent revision and contact with the language. For this reason, choosing a bilingual or immersion type of nursery or school may be the best option, as instruction there takes place most of the time in the foreign language.
  • If this type of schooling is not available in your area or is too costly, do not forget about your own knowledge of the FL and use it as an asset to support your child in foreign language learning. You can revise the FL class material with your child, play simple games in an FL, join them in playing online games or watch cartoons in an FL with them. A parent must be present to keep the child focused on the task and explain words and expressions that they don’t understand.
  • Reading in the FL is the key to speaking in the FL. Reading a picture book together with the child in an FL helps visual and critical literacy to grow along with competence in the FL. Likewise digital books on apps or on websites are freely available and can be used for parent-child reading.
  • It could be a good idea to design an FL corner with self-access material (books, toys, board games, tablet etc.) both in the school/kindergarten and at home. Children could freely reach for FL materials for play, and in this way may act out the FL lesson.
  • Finally, parents need to take an interest in what happens in the language class, not only to keep track of what the children learn, but to be aware how the lessons are taught, particularly in the private sector. The teaching should emphasise play and using the language for communication, but it will only be successful if the teacher is able to control the group of children and at the same time communicate with ease in the FL. So the teacher needs really good managerial, teaching and language skills. Unfortunately, such teachers are difficult to find, which calls into question whether a very early start is the best idea.

Our book looks at these aspects from a research perspective. It outlines critical issues that influence the learning outcomes in young and very young learner classrooms that should be looked into. It will be of interest to teachers, teacher educators, researchers and also parents, who are keen to get more information before making any decision about provision for an early start.

Additionally, it should be remembered that the learning trajectories of early starters vary considerably throughout their lives due to the impact of various social, affective and cognitive factors and go beyond the impact of the starting age. Thus there are many pathways from an early start and not all young learners will reach the same competence in the foreign language.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren.

It Takes a Village to Write a Book: Mastering Idiomatic Expressions

This month we published Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language by Monica Karlsson. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book and talks us through the thinking behind each chapter.

Some years ago I was teaching a proficiency class, when my student teachers and I came across some idiomatic expressions in a text that one of my students had brought with her. Her intention was to use the text in one of her own teaching sessions as it dealt with a topic relevant to a particular lesson, but she had problems understanding a few sections of it. Quite a long discussion ensued which, to begin with, was concerned with meaning only, but, when meaning had been resolved, came to be more about how exciting it would be to deal with such vocabulary on a more regular basis. This discussion with my students was the very first step in an extended process that has now resulted in the book Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language.

Setting to work, the first thing I did was to explore differences between comprehension in a first and second language, so that I would get a better understanding of problems related to second language acquisition specifically. In this respect, the research literature clearly shows that there are four main facilitators: age, context, transparency and frequency, and so the second chapter came to deal with these basic concepts, as well as exploring L1 and L2 quantitative and qualitative differences.

Next I wanted to investigate how I could teach these kinds of items in a way that would promote both comprehension and retention, as well as give an understanding of how my students could approach these kinds of expressions in their own L2 classrooms in the future. Chapter 3 is therefore concerned with multimodal and visualization techniques that may help L2 learners of different ages and proficiency levels.

One of the idioms found while searching for suitable scenes from various TV shows to be incorporated in the multimodal tests implemented in the third chapter was paint the town beige. During testing, I realized that this type of manipulated idiom warranted its own chapter, as it caused students to experience quite a few additional problems. The fifth chapter hence deals only with L2 learners’ comprehension of these twisted relatives.

While testing groups of informants, I also noticed that even if many of the expressions were understood and remembered with the help of multimodal and visualization techniques, many more idioms regrettably remained very difficult to grasp, and so, to enhance learning further, it also felt important to deal with persisting ignorance and various types of misinterpretations in a structured way. Chapter 4 is thus dedicated entirely to these tokens.

Presenting my results on L1 and L2 idiom comprehension to a group of other researchers, the last part of a discussion with them came to be about idiom production, at which point I felt I had more to learn. Reading up on the research literature, I found that while sentence completion tasks have been comparatively frequently researched, very little has been done in connection with free composition writing. The sixth chapter therefore focuses entirely on an analysis of L2 learners’ use of idiomatic expressions when writing essays, often considered one of the last frontiers of L2 mastery.

Lastly, it is usually said that it takes a village to raise a child. Based on the above, I now realize that the same can be said about writing a book, during the process of which comments, ideas and input from students, colleagues and friends certainly help decide what would be important parts of a book on a specific topic. I sincerely hope that you will find this book as interesting to read as I found it interesting to write.

Monica Karlsson
monica.karlsson@hh.se

For more information about this book please see our website

A Case for Multilingual Open-Access Academic Publishing

An open access Farsi translation of our 2016 book Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? by Amir Kalan was recently made available. In this post the author explains why the publication of this translation is so important. 

The English and Farsi editions side by side

Although English academic writing has facilitated communication between scholars from different parts of the world, it has at the same time contributed to complex forms of academic imperialism, which harmfully interferes with knowledge creation and dissemination in languages other than English. In 2016, I published a book with Multilingual Matters about dominant discourses regarding mother tongue-based multilingual education in the Iranian context. The book, entitled Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education?, was written based on interviews with influential scholars of multilingual education and language rights in order to contribute ideas to the mother tongue education debate in Iran. The open access publication of the Farsi translation of the book recently became possible thanks to Multilingual Matters – who provided the copyright – and University of Dayton – who published the ebook. In this blog post, I briefly write about the significance of the publication of the translation of the book.

Academic publishing in English has created a global community of scholars who share thoughts and experiences about a wide range of topics including global issues that occur outside the English speaking world. Academics working in the Anglo-American world write about other people’s cultural practices, languages, literature, art, and education. Western scholars even write the histories of non-western populations in English, the de facto academic lingua franca. On the other hand, non-English speaking international researchers are also pressured to publish in English for promotion, a trend encouraged by university ranking dynamics. This trend, on the bright side, has been a blessing in that we become aware of issues and conversations in many parts of the world. There is, however, a darker side to this status.

The journal industry and academic publishing apparatus are practically at the service of promoting a commercialized higher education, which uses researchers’ work for marketing purposes as well as knowledge dissemination. Academics’ publications in this sense become the window of the higher education marketplace in the West for potential shoppers. This approach has serious consequences for knowledge creation and consumption. Most accessible knowledge today is packaged in English, which has practically made non-English academic texts be perceived as less reliable. Also, university libraries have become the main customers of publishers because the books are sold at high prices, alienating public audiences – including non-English speaking populations. For researchers, this means investing their lives into books and papers that would only be read by a small number of readers, or even not read at all. At the same time, academics are pressured to publish more and more, resulting in a focus on quantity and repetition rather than quality and originality.

When it comes to international scholars the situation is even worse. International scholars whose research focuses on local contexts beyond the English speaking world are typically required by their institutions to publish in English. International scholars have to write in a language other than their mother tongue and compete with English speaking scholars who are often already connected with the English academic publishing and journal industry. Just as problematically, international researchers’ work often involves local issues, but because their findings are published in English, local populations have almost no access to the results of the research that was conducted for studying their cultures. This phenomenon raises serious epistemological questions about knowledge dissemination and the positionality of researchers as well as significant conversations about ethics of academic publishing.

The Farsi translation of Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? bent this model in favour of the population that the book was written about and, to a large degree, written for: Iranian educators. With the situation of mother tongue-based multilingual education in Iran in the background, the book brought together prominent scholars of language policy and linguistic rights in different parts of the world to respond to the doubts and questions of Iranian educators and ethnic mother tongue activists. Although the outcome of this conversation was an analysis of sociopolitical discourses that are meant to undermine the role of minoritized languages all over the world, the catalyst of our conversations was the challenges minoritized students are facing in today’s Iran. Thus, one ideal audience among others for this book would naturally be Iranian teachers eager to learn about effective policies and practices in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the academic publishing industry has not been designed for interaction with native populations.

Iranian language teachers – especially those in disadvantaged provinces where minority languages are suppressed – would never be able to afford the English book. In some cases the price of one copy of the book would equal an Iranian teacher’s monthly income. Even if an enthusiastic teacher decided to make such an investment, he or she still would have no access to the book. A combination of western sanctions and the Iranian government’s strict censorship policies has practically made the distribution of the book in Iran impossible. Most foreign publishers have no active presence in Iran; online retailers such as Amazon do not provide service in Iran; and western credit card companies have no reach within the country and its banking system, which makes online shopping impossible. In these circumstances, the educators who practically own the conversation which the English book presents have no access to the text written about their lives.

The English version of Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? was not funded in any form. The book was not connected to the participating scholars’ sponsored research. The publication was the fruit of personal commitment and interest of researchers who deeply cared about minoritized students. The translator of the book similarly decided to pen the Farsi version out of personal passion without our knowledge. He had finished the translation months before he contacted me to share news about his work. When I approached Multilingual Matters and the University of Dayton about the possibility of open access publication of the book and highlighted the fact that such a move could break the current mode of elite academic publishing, they did not hesitate to support the free online publication of the Farsi version and worked hard to guarantee the high quality of the publication. Multilingual Matters generously provided the translator with the rights to the Farsi version and offered moral support. The manager of University of Dayton’s E-scholarship also worked hard to release the book in the best possible format as soon as possible.

I am grateful to Multilingual Matters and University of Dayton for supporting the open access publication of the translation of my work. Apart from my personal interest in the project, their decision, I believe, has had important ideological, sociocultural, and economic implications. The translation resists the English-only stance of mainstream academic publishing industry. It provides access to local educators who are the real owners of the book content and invites them to share their thoughts about the debate. In other words, the conversation is no longer about them but with them. Additionally, the free online distribution of the book creates access for native teachers who are often financially disadvantaged. It is fair to see this experience as an example of how we can democratize the academic publishing industry and perhaps remedy some of the effects of the current academic colonialism.

Amir Kalan

 

For more information about Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? please see our website. You can access the Farsi translation of the book here.

Missionary Kids and Colonialism

We recently published Growing up with God and Empire by Stephanie Vandrick. In this post Stephanie speaks about her experience writing the book as a ‘missionary kid’ herself.

I grew up as a ‘missionary kid’ (child of North American Protestant missionaries) in barely post-Independence India. Little did I know that decades later I would become fascinated by the memoirs of other missionary kids (MKs), now adults, about their childhoods in various countries at various times during the past century, and would write a book analyzing 42 of those memoirs through a postcolonial lens. Writing this book has been a personal and scholarly odyssey for me, bringing together my own missionary kid background, my love of memoirs, and my academic interest in the consequences of colonialism and empire.

At the same time, this topic was a deeply fraught one for me. Some of the questions I struggled with were as follows:

  1. How do my dual roles as an insider (a ‘missionary kid’ myself) and an outsider (a critical researcher) fit together?
  2. Can I balance a fair portrayal of the very concrete good that many missionaries, including my own parents, did, on the one hand, with my concerns about deeply problematic aspects of being part of colonialism, on the other?
  3. Is it appropriate for me to weave my own MK experiences into my analysis of the 42 memoirs?
  4. Since I have strong criticisms of colonialism, why am I so nostalgic about my childhood in barely post-British India, and why am I so attracted to all things British (afternoon tea, British novels, English accents)?
  5. How will other missionary kids feel about my book and its thesis? Will they think it is unfair of me to take excerpts from the memoirs of unsuspecting former missionary kids to make points, sometimes negative, about the role and behavior of missionaries in India, China, Nigeria, Brazil, the Philippines, and several other countries? Will they be offended?

I concluded that I had to tell what I perceived was the truth, as revealed during my study of the memoirs and of other sources. At the same time, I had to candidly acknowledge the conflicts and the concerns. I tried to do so throughout this book, especially in my ‘personal epilogue.’

I don’t want to end this post with the impression that researching and writing this book consisted mostly of painfully conflicted feelings and angst! In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in these fascinating MK memoirs, so various and yet with so many common themes and experiences, and in the historical, religious, political, cultural, and linguistic contexts I investigated. The memoirs are intriguing, adventurous, happy, sad, open, guarded, artful, artless, naïve, professionally written, amateur, shaped by their times (mostly mid-20th century), full of engaging and surprising stories, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking. I am happy to have been able to explore and provide a window into the so far very under-examined lives of missionary kids and what their perspectives reveal about the missionary project.

Stephanie Vandrick, University of San Francisco

vandricks@usfca.edu

 

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Spirituality and English Language Teaching edited by Mary Shepard Wong and Ahmar Mahboob.

The Motivations of Adult Language Learners in Continuing Education Settings

We recently published Identity Trajectories of Adult Second Language Learners by Cristiana Palmieri. In this post the author explains what inspired her to conduct this research.

The reasons I became interested in conducting the study presented in my book are connected to both my professional and personal life. Having an academic background in social sciences with a specific interest in the nexus between languages and cultures, I have always been very interested in the relation between L2 language learning and processes of identity development, to better understand how languages influence the way we think and interact with other people. My interest in this area has been compounded by my personal experience as a second language speaker and my professional practice as a teacher. In my role as an educator I have taught a variety of subjects, including Italian language and culture, both in Italy and Australia. When I started teaching Italian as a second language in Australia I realised that the Australian sociocultural context presented specific characteristics connected to the history of Italian migration to this country. I was surprised to discover that my native language is one of the most widely-studied languages in Australia, in spite of the large geographical distance that separates the two countries. What makes this finding particularly remarkable is the fact that Italian is spoken by a relatively small percentage of the world population, about 64 million speakers in Italy and in a few other countries in Europe and Africa, which equates to less than 1% of the world population. Moreover, it is not considered a language of business, and its command it is not an essential requisite for Australian travellers visiting Italy.

Having been myself a second language learner, I am very well aware of the fact that strong motivation is needed in order to sustain the effort and to cope with the frustration that the learning process sometimes brings about. In my case, my motivation was relatively easy to frame: I wanted to learn English, a global language, to be able to live and work in English-speaking countries, and to travel the world with an international language as a passport at my disposal. While teaching Italian to adult learners in Australia, looking at my students, highly committed individuals striving to master a second language which is not an international language, I could not stop wondering about the factors sustaining their motivation.

This book explores the motivations of adult second language learners in continuing education settings. It focuses on their learning trajectories and related dynamics of identity development triggered by the learning process. By presenting an in-depth analysis of motivational drives and their interconnectedness with the sociocultural settings in which the learning process occurs, the book contributes to boosting our understanding of adult second language learning, a rapidly expanding field of research of language and identity in multicultural contexts. In a nutshell, this book is about the fascinating experience of learning another language and understanding another culture.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teaching and the Older Adult by Danya Ramírez Gómez.

The Fascinating World of Linguistic Landscapes

We recently published Expanding the Linguistic Landscape edited by Martin Pütz and Neele Mundt. In this post the editors talk about the International LAUD Symposium that inspired the book.

This edited collection entitled Expanding the Linguistic Landscape is the result of the 37th International LAUD Symposium held in the spring of 2016. The book focuses on linguistic landscapes in public spaces and the emplacement of multimodal signs (visual, auditory, haptic, olfactory) in multilingual inscriptions as they are represented in diverse societies around the world, such as in Europe, Africa, Australia/Oceania and Asia. The symposium, hosted by LAUD (Linguistic Agency University of Duisburg), represented a biennial international event which took place for the 9th time at the University of Koblenz-Landau (Landau Campus). In the past, LAUD was instrumental in organizing numerous conferences on various facets of multilingualism and the sociology of language, such as language contact and conflict, language choices, ideologies and language policies, multilingual cognition and language use, endangered languages and now, in 2016,  Linguistic Landscapes (henceforth LL). Therefore, in retrospect and for the purpose of this blog, a few remarks about the beginnings of LAUD and its further development and expansion are in order.

The Symposium on LL (LAUD 2016) was posthumously devoted to the founder of LAUD, Professor René Dirven, the great scholar and spiritual mentor of cognitive linguistics who died in August 2016. Back in 1973, together with his colleague Günter Radden (University of Hamburg), René Dirven established a linguistic clearing-house, the Linguistic Agency at the University of Trier (LAUT). The Linguistic Agency provided an institutionalized forum that allowed René to organize an impressive series of international linguistic symposia. The world’s most distinguished scholars were invited to present their work at the newly founded University of Trier, which overnight became known as a destination of pilgrimage in modern linguistics. The series of symposia was opened in 1977 with papers by Charles Fillmore, followed by John Searle, William Labov, Michael Halliday, George Lakoff, Ronald Langacker, Joshua Fishman, Suzanne Romaine and many other well-known scholars of linguistics. By now LAUD is internationally known and its acronym is strongly associated with linguistic innovation, a wide scope and the name of its founder, René Dirven. He leaves behind numerous students and colleagues throughout the academic world who have learned much from him about language and linguistics.

An example of linguistic landscape in Cameroon

What motivated the editors of this volume to organize a symposium on linguistic and semiotic landscapes was first of all their common research interest in the cultural, ideological and multimodal spaces of the African continent with special reference to multilingual Cameroon. Having spent and enjoyed somewhat longer research stays in the country we were fascinated by the sheer array of linguistic and semiotic tokens which characterize its urban and rural areas in public spaces. Certainly, the linguistic landscapes of Asian megacities such as Hong Kong have much more to offer semiotically especially when it comes to a glittering, world-class commercial center where Chinese culture, British colonial influences and modern day high-technology blend together. Still, the diversity of languages we are confronted with in politically unstable and tense societies like Cameroon and other African nations likewise arouses interest in LL analyses and interpretations. Leaving the Africa-based LL discussions and debates aside, the remaining chapters are likewise testimony of a rich array of new findings on methodology, translanguaging, semiotic assemblages and multimodality in or outside the city, be it in Australia/Micronesia, Germany, Taiwan, or Lithuania. We are hopeful that the reader will enjoy diving into this fascinating world of linguistic and semiotic landscapes just as we did during the somewhat longer, but efficient, process of conceptualizing and editing this volume.

Martin Pütz
Puetz@uni-landau.de

Neele Mundt
Mundt@uni-landau.de

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Engaging Superdiversity edited by Karel Arnaut, Martha Sif Karrebæk, Massimiliano Spotti and Jan Blommaert.

The Role of ‘The Road’ in the Australian Imagination

This month we published Roads, Tourism and Cultural History by Rosemary Kerr. In this post the author explains how ‘the road’ inspired her book.

As the summer holiday season approaches in Australia, many people will take to the road – visiting family and friends; heading up or down the coast for some rest and relaxation; revisiting favourite spots, or exploring new places off the beaten track. The road trip looms large in Australian culture. Distance and mobility have shaped the nation’s history and character, but until now the role of ‘the road’ and road tourism in the Australian imagination has been relatively unexplored.

From sacred Aboriginal ‘songlines’; trails blazed by explorers and pioneers; to the rise of the road trip in the early 20th century, as cyclists, motorists and caravanners answered the ‘call of the open road’; to modern-day backpackers and grey nomads following ‘Highway One’ around and through the country on journeys of national and self-discovery; to four-wheel-drive adventurers, who dream of getting off the road altogether, this book examines how roads and road travel beyond urban settings are imagined, experienced and represented by travellers, writers, poets and film makers. Through detailed studies of iconic routes, including the Birdsville Track, Stuart Highway and Great Ocean Road, it asks, how and why have some roads become more famous than others? What are the implications for heritage preservation and tourism interpretations of these routes?

Based on my doctoral research, completed at the University of Sydney in 2012, the topic was inspired partly by my work as a historian and heritage consultant, where I was involved in several projects studying the heritage of roads and bridges. This work focused on assessing the physical fabric of roads and infrastructure as well as their historical context and significance. Questions such as: ‘how and why were they built? Where did they go? Who travelled them?’ and ‘Why are they important?’ made me think about the layers of history, memory, meaning and mythology embodied in roads. I wanted to explore the idea of the road in broader Australian culture.

Travel narratives, tourism literature, fiction, poetry and feature films reveal the Australian road to be a space of contrasts and contradictions between: Aboriginal and European conceptions of space, road and off-road, coast and outback, nostalgia and modernity, nature and technology, freedom and constraint, memory and forgetting, dream and nightmare.

As well as representing adventure, escape and opportunity, the road also has a dark side. The much-anticipated holiday road trip often ends in tragedy, and Australia has one of the highest incidences of road trauma in the world. Terms like ‘horror stretches’ and ‘accident black spots’ attest to the spectre of death which haunts the nation’s highways. Disturbing – and often bizarre – cases involving murders and disappearances of hitchhikers, backpackers and other travellers on outback and regional highways contribute to the image of the road as a ‘badlands’. These images have also entered our cultural consciousness, inspiring road movies such as The Cars that Ate Paris, Mad Max and Wolf Creek.

 Yet, the ‘weirdness’ and ‘melancholy’, which often characterised representations of the Australian bush and outback can be attributed partly to Australia’s history as a settler colonial society. It reflected the sense of dislocation and alienation experienced by many, both convict and free, who found themselves far from ‘home’ in an unfamiliar and often threatening environment; and the violent dispossession of Indigenous peoples which the process of colonisation entailed. That history has had a lasting and ongoing impact on imaginings, experiences and representations of the Australian road.

By exploring ‘the road’ as both a physical and imagined space, the book delves deep into the Australian psyche, revealing much about underlying Australian culture including relationships to landscape, modernity, national identity and colonialism. It offers a new way of thinking about roads and road tourism as important strands in a nation’s cultural fabric.

Rosemary Kerr

Consulting Historian

rtk@tpg.com.au

 

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Histories, Meanings and Representations of the Modern Hotel by Kevin J. James.

Plant a Seed and Hope it Grows: The Best Way to Help Your Child Become Bilingual

This month we published Household Perspectives on Minority Language Maintenance and Loss by Isabel Velázquez. In this post the author talks about her research on bilingual household dynamics in Latino families. 

¿Qué no haría uno por sus hijos? – What wouldn’t you do for your kids? This rhetorical question often comes up in conversations with Latino families in the community in which I live and conduct research. Regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, the narrative of parental self-sacrifice runs deep. In conversations with my university colleagues and other middle-class professionals, it often takes on the shiny packaging of meritocracy. In the kitchens and living rooms of the first-generation working-class families that have afforded me the privilege of learning about their experience, it comes with stories of geographical, social, and economic dislocation. Many of their themes are shared with those of other immigrant and refugee households in our city.

Separate one’s family, leave one’s country, learn a new language, start again, risk life and limb, work three jobs, brave the Nebraska cold at 5:00 am, deform the tendons in one’s right hand from the repetitive motion of cutting meat in an industrial line, make ends meet, make do, find a way. I want them to have an education. I want them to have more opportunities. I want them to get ahead in life.

Because I’m interested in how a minority language is lost or maintained in communities with low ethnolinguistic vitality for that language, most of the conversations I have with other Latino parents eventually arrive at the topic of intergenerational transmission of Spanish. Over the course of the past decade, I’ve yet to find a Latino mother or father who does not hold positive attitudes about their children’s development of bilingual skills.

And yet, in this, like in many other communities, positive attitudes toward Spanish are necessary, but insufficient to guarantee children’s development of their family language. Neither are parents’ level of education or economic standing.

In professional presentations and informal interactions, I am often approached by parents interested in finding the best resource to help their children become bilingual. A CD? An app? A book? A television series? A video game? As it happens, the best device to transmit language is an adult in possession of that ever-scarce commodity: attention. Attachment, nurturing, belonging, such are the fundamental ingredients of intergenerational transmission.

In my ideal world, every newborn would come with a four-word instruction: Forgive yourself; try again. Like all other dimensions of raising a healthy human, transmission of a family language happens at the messy junctions of everyday parenting.

Despite different circumstances and life experiences, analysis of bilingual household dynamics has allowed us to learn that families that are able to transmit Spanish to their children share three features: Quality and amount of exposure to the family language, opportunities for use, and relevance – the management, planning, and evaluation of the first two, it must be said, overwhelmingly falling on the mother.

No gardener plants once and expects results. Relevance of the family language for our children will only bloom years later, once they’ve formed their own networks away from the household. As parents, we plant, we weed, we water, and wait. We do not know if the seed of linguistic transmission will bear fruit. Do we ever?

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingual Childcare by Victoria Benz.

From Syria to the UK: My First Year Insights as an International Student

This month we published International Students’ Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision by Anas Hajar. In this post the author talks about his own experiences as an international student in the UK.

My first study abroad experience dates back to 2009 when I joined a postgraduate programme in English language teaching at Warwick University in the UK. Like many international students who study abroad, I aspired to establish meaningful interactions with locals – interactions that go beyond commercial exchanges and small talk in student cafeterias. However, I ended up spending most of my free time with two Syrian fellows and some other international students from China, Greece and Italy.

The superficiality of my interactions with the British stemmed mainly from my little awareness of learning strategies that can help enhance sojourn outcomes. I had limited experience in technology to check the latest social and academic activities offered by Warwick University. In addition, academic study pressure was extremely high and my ultimate vision was to complete my academic requirements and expand my knowledge in my specialisation. I was afraid of failure and of letting family members down, since I was government-sponsored.

My perspective about the myth of the “native speaker” as the ideal teacher changed at the end of my Master’s degree programme. To my surprise, two tutors who inspired me in the programme were non-native speakers of English. They seemed to me quite aware of the needs of international students, probably because they themselves experienced first-hand the phenomenon of international students pursuing their academic studies abroad through the medium of English. The two tutors gave a clear vision about the taught modules and interesting materials. They also provided useful, detailed and timely feedback on my written work. My dissertation supervisor passed on effective strategies that helped me make my writing more critical and develop a new identity as a neophyte researcher.

In Middle Eastern countries, the youth rarely leave their family and live on their own before marriage. Studying abroad made me grow into a more independent person, since this was my first experience of living apart from my parents. I had to be responsible for my decisions. My personal independence was reinforced through endeavours to meet personal life needs, such as purchasing household goods, finding and cooking Middle Eastern food, opening a bank account and searching for prepaid SIM cards to make overseas calls.

I felt homesick especially during celebratory occasions in Syria. Nonetheless, I greatly appreciated and enjoyed the gatherings organised by the University of Warwick Chaplaincy during Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr, in which Middle Eastern food was served and people from different nationalities met and exchanged experiences.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning by Carol Griffiths.

10 Things You Might Not Have Known About Multilingualism

We recently published Twelve Lectures on Multilingualism edited by David Singleton and Larissa Aronin. In this post the editors reveal 10 things you might not have known about multilingualism…

  1. Are dogs multilingual?

    Multilingualism is a specifically human feature. Other species generally use only their own communication systems. Interesting exceptions are domesticated animals which learn to understand human instructions like sit, stay and whoa, as well as apes who have been taught the rudiments of sign language!

  1. The use of two or more languages by individuals almost certainly goes back to the very beginnings of humans’ experience of language and in today’s world is a feature of the profile of a majority of the world’s population.
  1. This latter fact is unsurprising when we consider the number of human languages in the world. Despite the yearly extinction of languages, estimations of this number typically revolve around 6,000 but dramatically increase as soon as we take into account non-standardized language varieties popularly known as “dialects”.
  1. “Thank you!” in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish

    Sometimes you do not even need to have learnt a language in order to understand it! “Receptive multilingualism” is a phenomenon which is common among speakers, of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, where mutual understanding is assured by the closeness of the languages in question. Within other language families too the phenomenon of language proximity facilitating understanding is fairly widespread.

  1. Very often, everyday communication and language-based reflection depend largely on neither one single language nor a person’s entire language repertoire. Instead, small sets of languages (two, three or four), labelled as “Dominant Language Constellations”, provide the principal resources for language use and mainly underlie patterns of language use.
  1. A multilingual may either acquire his/her languages together from infancy or may acquire them sequentially at different ages. A common cliché is that languages learnt beyond childhood will inevitably be condemned to remain at a low level of proficiency, but the reality is that very many adolescent and adult learners of additional languages do so well that they routinely pass for a native speakers of the languages in question.
  1. On the question of age and language acquisition it is also necessary to say that such acquisition also does not stop at any point in life. Our capacity to go on learning languages, including learning aspects of our native language, continues until the very end of our lives.
  1. Bilingualism and multilingualism (three +) are close, overlapping in many ways, but also seem to be significantly different from each other. There is little doubt that, with more experience in multilingual learning, additional language mechanisms develop that would not otherwise be there. These are important not only in language acquisition and teaching, but also in relation to dealing with multilingual communities.
  1. Multilinguals who (because of e.g. stroke or brain surgery) lose their languages have various patterns of recovering them. Recovery patterns in bilingual speakers can be parallel (when all languages improve at similar rates), differential (when one of the languages shows recovery but the others show less recovery or none at all), or selective (when the recovery of some languages comes before the recovery of others). There is also sometimes an incidence of blended recovery – when speakers lose control of their ability to keep their languages apart, and unintentional mixing of elements from their languages ensues. Finally, in antagonistic recovery, the language most available to the patient may change every few days.
  1. The question of whether there is – in a general sense – a “multilingual advantage” is a fraught one. It has been pointed out that the impressive linguistic skills possessed by polyglots sometimes coexist with inadequacies in other areas of life. It may be objected that such observations apply to a very small category of multilingual individuals. A better understanding of such cases may, however, contribute to a fuller and perhaps more broadly applicable sense of individual multilingual possibilities.

 

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