Multilingual phonetics?

Well, Big Boy has been using http://readingeggs.com to learn his phonics and learn to read since January… ten months now. He is still enjoying it and often surprises me what he can sound out if he takes the time. Often he jumps the gun and thinks he knows a word once he has sounded out the first consonant or two (ie he clicked “Blue” when he was supposed to click on “Black” in a recent online test) but he is still pretty consistent about hearing a word, or looking at a word, and sounding out what letter of the alphabet it starts with.

Just to say where he is at… he will be five in about three weeks.

Now, I wanted to get him started on phonics in English before he entered school (he entered pre-kindergarten this September in French, but they are only doing reading readiness: they start phonics and writing letters in Kindergarten I believe, and actually sounding out the multiple dipthongs in French, and learning to read in Grade One). It is his first language, his strongest language, which he uses at home. And I wanted him to have a solid foundation of the idea that letters make sounds, and sounds together make words in his first language, before being thrown into second language reading.

Especially since French has so many different phonetic combinations than English. Thibault. Tetreault. Eau. And so many ways of writing the same sounds: parlez, parlé, parler, parlait, parlais… Even the francophones have a challenge, and I see a lot of spelling mistakes that end up being grammar mistakes (Parlez! is an order to speak. Parlé is past tense. Parler is infinitive. Parlais is ongoing past tense…) My favorite is Fermez magasin… which means “Close the store!” when the mean “Magasin fermé” “The store is closed”.

So, I think we are doing great. Big Boy’s spontaneous spoken French has grown in leaps and bounds with 5 day a week full time school and daycare (he has preschool in the mornings, and then lunch and afternoons in the day care service at school), and along with it his French comprehension. His English speaking has improved with speech therapy (more about that later), and I do believe his knowledge of correct phonetics from ReadingEggs has helped as well. And his comprehension of the link between the spoken and written sound is quite solid, even if he cannot sound out every word.

So… the reason for this post? The dvd series Baby Learns Chinese, which we really enjoy for its clear images, on screen Doman-based use of written characters, and its engaging scenarios, has put out a new Chinese phonetics series. This is designed to help children who up to now have just seen characters, learning them mostly by shape association, learn pinyin. Pinyin is basically the method of using Roman letters to write Chinese sounds and syllables, especially paired with simplified Chinese characters on the mainland. When we see Chinese written as ” Wo yao chi dongxi.”, it is pinyin vs characters. Pinyin is used in Chinese schools along with characters as it helps a child be able to pronounce words that they know the sound of (we are assuming a child who can understand and speak spoken Chinese), as the characters themselves, until they are memorized, give very few clues. Also, Chinese English dictionaries have all the Chinese words listed in alphabetical order by pinyin spelling.

It is possible to look up Chinese characters by radical and stroke order, but it is a long and drawn out process! A necessary process to find unknown characters’ meanings, but if you have the pinyin of an unknown character, you can zip straight to the meaning!

The new 3-dvd series looks great, and would tie in with Big Boy’s ongoing phonics work in English. HOWEVER, not ALL the letters of the alphabet have the same sound in Chinese as in English. The short “e” sound is different for instance. The “r” sound is pronounced with the tongue tip on the upper center palate, rather than with round lips like in English. The sound for zh is new: pronounced much like J in Jack. U works much like W: huang is pronounced hwang.

 

So, this set is what a Chinese child of his age would be learning pinyin phonics from… the children shown are 4-6 yrs old, the play and concepts are very preschooler to grade 1 friendly. It is too old for a 3 yr old, and too young for a grade 2 I would think… though even an adult would learn a lot if they are studying Chinese, I suspect they’d rather have something less cutesie and centered around playing house and dress-up! And certainly not something called BABY learns Chinese!

Kids Learn Chinese Phonics at Childbook

So, do I get it now when he loves the Baby Learns Chinese series? Or do I risk mixing up his phonics learning, when he is learning in English, AND learning vocab, grammar, comprehension and pronunciation aurally in French? Do I start it in a year, when it might be mixing up his French phonics learning in school? Or do I just think, well, he hasn’t mixed up the spoken languages, why would he mix up the written/phonetic ones?

Any ideas? Experiences with your own children? Advice?

Thanks so much!

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One response to “Multilingual phonetics?

  1. I don’t have any experience with multilingual children. I don’t know how you’ve managed to get this far with a trilingual child, but it sounds like you must be doing something right!

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