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.


foreign language

OP… OL… Oh God!?!

language-processing-mainHow far can OPOL go for most people, and how rigid should we be with it? Is there even a “right answer” to this question? Certainly there are a million viewpoints on it.  OPOL is the preferred choice for many bilingual families (as I wrote in my previous blog: Do I confuse my kids?), but it is not the only choice.

George Saunders wrote in his book “Bilingual Children: From Birth to Teens” that the “one person, one language” approach “ensures that the children have regular exposure to, and have to make use of each language. This is particularly important for the minority language, which has little outside support.” This is a logical approach, but is not always possible.

Continue reading “OP… OL… Oh God!?!”


Fleeting language- here today but gone tomorrow?

main-qimg-53c808191a829ea1c8dc9f5a708d556eWe have all at one point or another learnt a foreign language- at school, for a trip abroad, because of a crush on someone… and then months later realised that we can no longer speak a word of said language. How depressing is that? All that time and effort wasted on something we couldn’t even hang on to. And so with our kids, is it worth the time they spend learning another language if in the long run they might never use or need that language again?

Obviously this topic is not related to bilingual kids- those whose parents speak different languages, and so will always have recourse to those languages. Our situation is different- we are a monolingual, English- speaking family bringing up 2 children in Austria, and so teaching them (not ourselves I  hasten to add) German. However, it is more than likely that we will move to live in another country sometime in the future- a country where neither English nor German is spoken. So why bother with German? Won’t they forget it and learn the new language instead? My friend’s daughter learned Spanish from their babysitter for a year and could speak and understand it, at a 2- year old level. Now that the babysitter has moved on and she has no Spanish input, she does not remember it at all. How does that work? Does learning a language for only a year or so have any benefits (obviously we hope that it does).

Numerous studies show that speaking a second language boosts cognitive, memory, and listening skills. Research published in Psychological Science suggests that simply thinking in a foreign language helps people make quicker and better life decisions. Additionally, a study by the College Entrance Examination Board reports a direct correlation between foreign language study and high school examination scores. People who speak a foreign language often enjoy better career prospects and higher standards of living. And there are even health benefits — recent research from the University of Chicago suggests that a second language also helps prevent dementia later in life.

A lot of these are facts that we have read about before. The important part is how to keep a language once your child has started to learn it, and here are some tips.

Continue reading “Fleeting language- here today but gone tomorrow?”

Making friends… from an early age

stop_your_kids_fighting_5_18v3jps-18v3jqb1I sit and watch my two children interacting with other children, at the park, at Kindy, on play-dates. While the 1-year old is still into his own things, watching the others from time to time but not really interacting, my 3-year old seems to have some good friends, and talks about them a lot- when is X coming to my house? Is Y going to be at the park? It’s breathtaking to think that while they are still so little kids can learn to forge meaningful relationships, even when they are not able to communicate fully or express themselves always as easily as they would like.

Can toddlers really make friends? Surely, they are too young (or at least so busy defending their own toys) that they haven’t the time or energy to make friends?From the age of three or four, friendships can begin to take on real meaning for children – they begin to really connect and empathise with others.

Continue reading “Making friends… from an early age”

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