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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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pre-k

It’s about more than just languages

multi-ethnic

Bringing up children is a challenge. No it’s not: it’s a heart- wrenching, tear- filled, laughter- inducing journey of a challenge. Sometimes I feel that I’m not up to it (like it’s a choice!), and then I’m nudged back into life by a comment made by a friend, or something I hear on the news. Today it was:¬†“Why is it so bloody difficult to find little non-pink baby dolls. It’s ridiculous in this day and age. ūüė° It actually freaks me out a bit.”

Whether part of a monolingual or multilingual family, we have certain¬†ideals that we want to fulfil, and beliefs that we want our children to grow up with. These may well differ depending on where we are from in the world but the majority of us now believe in an equal society, one in which girls and boys, black and white, straight and gay are treated with the same respect and compassion. As parents, we have the responsibility to our children to bring them up with open and accepting minds. And it’s not always as easy as we hope.¬†Raising children who see beyond the colour of a person’s skin takes a conscious effort on the parents’ part. We must deliberately teach respect and cooperation. We must destroy the “us versus them” mentality that has slowly permeated our culture.

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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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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‚Äôs 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).

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Getting your toddler to speak… temptation and treats!

images (3)Some friends recently came to me to ask about how to teach a language (in this case English) to their 2- year olds. Interesting, I thought, especially as my 20- month old still doesn’t really speak very much- he hums his way through a lot of songs, but words aren’t his fort√©. However, as he has plenty of friends who are speaking quite a lot, I started to think of ways that I could “tempt” him to speak. We all need a little encouragement from time to time… maybe some of these will work (without being too cruel to be kind):

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Encouraging your children to speak

No matter whMother helping daughter with homeworkat language your kids are speaking, be it their mother tongue (or one of them) or a foreign language, sometimes conversation just doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Especially when you reach the tween¬†years it seems, children change their desire to confide in parents, preferring to chat with friends or go to the internet for answers. But children at a much younger age can also respond well to encouragement, and by encouraging more conversation children learn new words and concepts, develop active listening skills, learn to problem solve and make connections, and most importantly, become independent learners.

How do we go about creating conversation? When I go to a restaurant with my family we are ‘that family’: the one which makes all the noise and usually has a ring of empty tables around us- the 5- metre exclusion zone for people who don’t want the loud neighbours. But despite the fact that “shh” is my most often- used word, I would prefer to be ‘that family’ than the one which sits in silence, with not even the parents engaging in conversation, or the couple who sit in silence (maybe companionable silence, but still silence) for the full length of the meal.

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How to raise an enthusiastic reader

kids-readingIf I was given a penny every time I was told that reading is the best thing for kids’ development…

But it’s true!! Books are a continual source of vocabulary, colours, pictures; a breeding ground for imagination. Kids just can’t (or shouldn’t) get enough! By reading with kids and engaging in fun literacy activities, parents are encouraging lifelong learning. There are a myriad of studies that link reading to your kids to their future success in school and life, but I‚Äôm sure you’ve heard it all before (Even on my blog: Do you read to your kids?)

Instead, let‚Äôs talk about how to actually fit some useful reading time¬†into your busy life! I promise, there’s no need for Pinterest-worthy flashcards, homemade alphabet biscuits, or endless hours reading to your unborn child – you can fit a little real learning into everyday life.

Here are tips to help you explore literacy together, for every age group:

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Language learning- through My Little Pony?

my_little_pony_mcdonalds_2012_happy_meal_toys_pinkie_pie-1024x682Well, I bet you never thought that My Little Pony could be a language tool, did you?! It’s amazing what gets children talking, and really, anything and everything can help… and we need to take advantage.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how I can help my daughter with her German, especially since last month¬†I went to an educational evening about Primary schools, and realised that in order for my children to get into Bilingual School they basically have to be able to do what is says over the door- be bilingual! My daughter’s primary language is English, and although we live¬†here in Austria, many of her good friends speak English too. Blame me-¬†I tend to hang out with English- speaking parents, due to my lack of German skills- and it’s rubbed off. Am I limiting her future educational options by doing this?

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