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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.

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core skills

Book review #3: A book for bilingual children

a fish in foreign waters bookFor those of you who haven’t come across it yet, a new book is on the market which is specifically directed at bilingual and multilingual children. “A Fish in Foreign Waters”, written by Laura Caputo- Wickham and illustrated by Pamela Goodman is perfect for all young children who are learning a second language.

While written in English (with plans to translate it into other languages in the future), this book appeals to children of all (but especially bilingual or multilingual) backgrounds. It tells the story of Rosie Ray, whose family move to another part of the ocean. When they arrive Rosie has to learn a new language and make new friends- a daunting task for anyone, but especially for a young fish. The story describes her struggle and success, and reflects nicely the lives of many children who move to a new country or have to start afresh somehow.

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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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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?

Continue reading “To app or not to app…”

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