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Kids and Language

As a mother of 2 small children I am continually astounded by their language development- the words they pick up and the way they manage to play with multiple languages already. As we're currently living in Vienna they are having to master German on top of English… so here are some of my ponderings on the linguistic theme.

Month

July 2015

Helping children with reading difficulties

kids-reading-nook-6Reading is one of my big pleasures- at a young age I used to tuck myself into the top shelf of the hot cupboard at my parents’ house to get some quiet time with a book, or head into the fields behind our house to find a peaceful spot. Not everyone is so lucky though- many find reading a chore, or worse, they struggle with even short texts. Having just finished following a course on Dyslexia and Language Learning I wanted to write about it in layman’s terms, and look at the ways we can help children to learn to read. I’m not just confining myself to dyslexia though- many children simply don’t enjoy reading as they either didn’t have enough exposure when young, or weren’t taught how to read well.

Dyslexia can not be cured because it is not an illness or disease; instead we need to look at ways in which we can make the process of reading easier on the individual. If dyslexic students are taught with their needs being considered, and if they are equipped with the relevant strategies, they will learn how to overcome their difficulties. Girls somehow develop more easily successful strategies that help them study in their own way not only languages but other academic subjects too, while boys show more struggling in acquiring new materials, regardless of the subject.

Since dyslexia itself is of neurobiological origin connected to phonological awareness and working memory, its occurrence is not language dependent: it occurs in students of all language backgrounds. However, how much and what type of difficulties it causes CAN depend on the learners’ mother tongue or the language they are learning. Phonologically more or less transparent languages with the ‘say what you see, write what you hear’ system (like Finnish, German, Italian or Hungarian) are supposedly easier to master, while opaque languages like English and French, where one letter can have many different sounds, cause more difficulties for dyslexics. However, individual student’s experiences may differ since there are other factors (motivation to learn the language, relationship with the teacher, family background…etc.) that influence the success of learning any language (first or second).

Here are some tips which are easy to include in your reading routine, and which will help a troubled reader or dyslexic learner:

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It’s not just foreign languages that are foreign!

accentYou say “potay-toe”, I say “potah-toe”… let’s not call the whole thing off, but work on getting the message across as well as possible… at least for the kids to be able to follow our conversations!

The issue here is that despite our mutual mother tongue- English- I and my husband are from opposite sides of the world, and have very different pronunciation (not to mention vocabulary) for so many things. His Australian accent, while not strong, is still there; and my British accent is, well, decidedly British. I never really noticed it until I realised how it would affect my kids: my pre-schooler asked one morning “Mama, can I have yo-gurt /ˈjoʊ.ɡɚt/ today”… the o as in Oh my God! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: vitamin, castle and other everyday words just have different pronunciation… my husband, children and I also have to navigate through pavement vs footpath; aubergine vs eggplant;  red/ green pepper vs capsicum etc. without even starting on the cultural issues of Marmite vs Vegemite or (proper) football vs Aussie rules, etc…

Continue reading “It’s not just foreign languages that are foreign!”

To app or not to app…

tabletKids and tablets.

There’s no point asking whether they should use them or not- it’s too late for that. Most kids these days from about age 5 know what a tablet is, and can navigate pretty well around the apps. They can show many of us oldies what to do when we get stuck, and can function pretty well- amazingly well to be honest. And currently tablets are being used in schools for children as young as 5, by teachers trained to maximise their potential.

Generally that’s all fine- research has shown that limited time on a tablet does no harm to a child; the opposite in fact. You only have to read about the charity Onebillion, or the project “One Laptop per Child” or “The School in the Cloud” to see that technology is being used in the classroom from a very early age, and with positive and successful outcomes. In the current classroom context, we can see how digital devices can be used to support the development of core skills like literacy and maths, and how digital apps can provide an engaging, stimulating and creative way of promoting children’s learning.

The key word in the above sentence is CAN. Apps can help learning and encourage all the good skills we want our kids to have. But we are all still a bit skeptical about what is out there, and with good reason. For the handful of good apps available there are a million bad ones- or at least not good ones… I wouldn’t say that they are all bad, so as a parent we should worry that the content our children are seeing on a tablet is appropriate. The problem is where to start?

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Do bicycles have a gender?

mCnhW2KwC_uPIYC3mWLXt7wMy daughter is ready for her first bicycle. My son is ready for his first ‘laufrad’ (Does this have an English name? Wheel-less bike? Push bike? Google translated it as ‘impeller’??!!). Sadly, he is getting a hand-me-down, while she is getting a new one. I have a feeling this will be repeated in a few years, when he is also ready for a bicycle.

So, I went online, as we always do, to find out more about the perfect bike. The first site (and the second, and the third…) I visited had two pages: ‘boys bikes’ and ‘girls bikes’. No overlap; no mutual, unisex bikes… just two separate pages.

I can feel this blog becoming a bit of a rant. How is it that something as genderless as a bicycle has to be classified like this? It’s not even, as with adult bikes, that the cross bar is in a different place (unnecessarily in my opinion- unless you are still living in the Victorian age and wearing long, billowy skirts). It is solely colour. All the boys bikes are blue/ black/ orange/ red, and the girls bikes are pink/ purple/ more pink. Girls get pink Hello Kitty bikes and boys get blue Captain Sharkey. Girls get a pink rabbit design, and boys get a green crocodile. Why? WHY??

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Do I confuse my kids?

Bilingual_kidMy son is only 1  1/2, but already has a thousand nicknames. It seems to run in our family, the nickname thing. I have been Gorg all my life, and my sister is Monster (you have to know her to understand!). But how does Sausage/ Bumble/  Fattypuff/ Sassafras/ Saskie know his REAL name? He does though- somehow he manages it- picking the right word from plenty of options.

Kids thrive on consistency, and are often better behaved when they have a good routine to follow. By that count, the language that we teach and model for them should follow the same consistent path, and by that I mean hearing one language spoken to them, so that they can learn to speak it properly themselves. However, this is fraught with difficulties and obstacles, when you consider that many families these days have two home languages (as with many of my friends here in Vienna who have an Austrian parent and an English-speaking parent), or if not that then two accents/ dialects for the same language (as with me and my husband).

Continue reading “Do I confuse my kids?”

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