Category Archives: parenting

Bilingual Marriage: Hearing and Deaf!

Baby Signing Time dvds

When Big Boy was coming home from China, at 22 months old, I realized that he would be functionally without language in my household for a little while, as I speak English and French and he understood Mandarin. And I was also intrigued by the use of Sign Language (esp ASL) with babies and toddlers. So I bought the first volumes of Baby Signing Time dvds, and it was great. I had no idea at that time that he would be slow to actually articulate in English or French (or Chinese) and we’d both be frustrated with the communication walls created by his limited vocabulary of wawa, mama, ayi, mah, meh, nah. But the Signing Time helped both give him English vocabulary (all signs are accompanied by drawings and photos of the actual object or action of the word presented, AND by both repeated clearly spoken and written on screen English equivalents) and a way to clarify his utterances. I would get “nah” and instead of doing a guessing game: “Nuts?” “No, nah!” “Dog?” “No, NAH!” “tired?” “NOOO! NAAAAH!”, I would know right off what he meant: “nah” (accompanied by sign for “bus”): “Oh, BUS, Big Boy, BUS! See the Big BUS”) and we were both happy.

Signing Time dvd

We ended up accumulating the complete set of Series One of Signing Time as well as the first set and eventually second set of Baby Signing Time, and a few of the Volume Two Signing Time dvds (I like them less as they teach way fewer words per dvd. and have only ONE new song per dvd vs 4-6 songs per dvd for the first “volume” of dvds). And we both loved them. The Baby Signing Time and Signing Time theme songs were a part of our daily lives, and I used sign language to communicate with him often, both when trying to understand him, and when we were unable to hear each other (ie across the room, in a loud setting, someplace where speaking to a child would disrupt the adult conversation). And I also used the signs to introduce French vocabulary: ie signing “shoes” while saying “souliers” instead of using verbal English to introduce the French equivalents.

I had hoped that we would really keep this up, as of course the primary reason for the Signing Time dvds is the hope that hearing people would have at least the rudiments of ASL to be able to interact with deaf ASL children and adults and open up friendships. Unfortunately what with daily life, concentrating on English speech therapy, French in school, and Chinese acquisition, the ASL has fallen a bit by the wayside though it remains an interest.

And then today I read the blog of a family who is adopting two little deaf boys from Henan, the province my Jiaozuo-born son hails from. They have three children already, but they seem the ideal family for these little deaf kids as… the mother is hearing, but the father is deaf. So the family is functionally bilingual: English-ASL. I think this is fantastic. I am very excited for their new family additions (yay for more little boys coming “home” from China to their new family lives!!) and also for the idea of a bilingual deaf/hearing family.

The Brown Seven

Anyways, you can read about their bilingual marriage here: Deaf and Hearing Marriage Part One, here: Part Two, here: Part Three, and here: Part Four. It is fascinating to read, and they face a lot of issues of parents who don’t speak a common language, and more so (since even in a language I cannot understand, I can often hear the inflection of voice, ie when kids are backlipping or someone is angry, even if I am hearing and not seeing, unlike a deaf person who if they don’t SEE the interaction, will not necessarily know that extra information if someone just translates after the fact, or repeats in front of them.

Take a look and tell me what you think! Both about hearing people using ASL, deaf and hearing relations, and families where the parents don’t speak each other’s language (or one speaks the language of the second but not vice versa).

And I wish The Brown Seven a short wait and a quick and safe trip to China to meet their little boys!

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Tchoupi in Chinese!

Today, through following a comment (yay comment subscriptions) for asiamommy.com’s post on ereadbooks and touch reading pens, I discovered both a shopping site and a wonderful new blog I was unaware of by a mother named Lina Dickson who is raising her daughter in English and her native Chinese. Here’s her blog post on the Touch Reading Pen which I have blogged about.

Her blog Best4Future: Bringing up Baby Bilingual is a combo of mommy blog about her daughter, parenting tips, language tips, product reviews and even language lessons! She has little videos that will teach you how to say Snow Peas, spinach, sweet potatoes and strawberries and other fruits and vegetables in Chinese. It seems to be an ongoing thing. Much to explore. Her blog is added to my blogroll at the right.

In her shop, she offers the eReadbook pens and books, but also a multitude of other books, VCDs and DVDs. There I discovered Tchoupi and Doudou books in Chinese to my surprise. As we live in Quebec, a francophone majority province, Tchoupi (pronounced Chewpy, like Happy) and his little stuffed pal Doudou (Doodoo, like “do the dishes” do) are well-known television/animated dvd characters here. I like that their french is very simple and clear to understand, especially when my son was just starting to learn it, and the stories very simple, cute and child-friendly. I hadn’t heard of Tchoupi outside of French media, which was why I was so surprised to hear of them in Chinese.

But as Lina blogs, there are actually 48!! little Tchoupi books translated into Chinese characters. The stories seem to be as simple and charming in Chinese, and looking at the page details that are posted in the Best4Future shop, I can almost read them without a dictionary (almost!)… common high frequency characters. There is no pinyin that I can see, so they wouldn’t be so great for those f you who cannot read simple characters yet, or who cannot look up characters by radical and stroke order in a dictionary.

But for those who can, they would be lovely little stories about a preschool child’s life, preoccupations, adventures and tribulations. Not as formulaic as Dora, not too wild and crazy or action oriented, not so tied into merchandise as Disney and Strawberry Shortcake and other translated offerings. And not so moralistic (though with good values and life lessons) as many Chinese children’s tales. I haven’t read them all, but I’d definitely go on a limb and guess they are books I’d like in my home.

Very excited to find these, and also the Best4Future blog and learning materials.

The Tchoupi books are $4.99 each, and now is the time to get them!
There are two more days left to her Holiday Sale: Save an EXTRA 15% on EVERYTHING (all regular and on sale books & DVDs) between Jan 1 – Jan 15, 2011. Use the code: newyear15 when you check out.

Enjoy!

Speaking Perfectly

In the comments to my most recent post, Delays in Multiple Languges Bernicy said:

sometimes I think we are going overboard with making our children speak perfectly. All these speech therapies for so many children just because they have a bit of problem saying some sentences or pronouncing some words. So what if the child isn’t speaking perfectly or doesn’t know the proper grammar? As long as the child gets his point across I think it is great. Afterall, many adults can’t speak properly either but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a good living or be productive; it just means they won’t be great public speakers. They can still communicate their meanings across one way or another and I think that’s good enough and important enough. The problem is that people do not communicate; not not speaking perfectly while trying to communicate.

“So what if a child isn’t speaking perfectly or doesn’t know the proper grammar?” The issue isn’t speaking perfectly, in fact far from it. This is not finishing school to polish off a diamond, it is making a round wheel out of a square one.

“The problem is that people do not communicate”. Imagine how frustrating when you DO communicate, and your mom doesn’t understand you half the time, your daycare workers understand you perhaps 10 percent of the time, and have to guess from your single word utterances exactly WHAT you are trying to say about that topic, and your grandparents and neighbors understand you none of the time. Imagine when you talk on the phone, your mom has to take the other line and translate everything you say, even when you are coming up on five years old and speaking the same language as the person you are trying to talk to.

Now imagine that you don’t pronounce half of every word, and leave out all verb tenses, possessives, articles etc. And then imagine how well you will do in school in the next couple of years. Sounding out letters in a word when you never say those sounds. Trying to write when you can’t speak a sentence. Trying to do show and tell in class, or participate in a discussion when you answer in single words and not sentences.

I’d rather catch up when it is still games and silliness to work on what he is severely behind on than when he is old enough to realize how much better the other kids speak at school, how behind he is in language skills and failing in his classes, teased by other kids. (and yes, it is learning delays, as he has had ample opportunity to hear and use the languages… 18 month olds speak more fluently than he does).

I agree that it is ridiculous to expect preschoolers to speak perfectly, to enunciate like eight year olds, to give speeches as though they were theatre majors. But I also think it is good parenting to be concerned when a child is a year or more behind in language skills and not catching up despite tons of stimulation. Language skills are the basis of all literacy and literacy is the basis of all schooling. I have done volunteer work with adults who lacked literacy and it is disheartening how handicapped they are in their personal, social and professional lives, often being confused by simple things like written rules at their child’s school or negotiating a lease, and being blocked from employment they would enjoy, stuck in manual dead end jobs.

It is easier to catch learning and developmental problems in toddlers and preschoolers than try to do remedial work when a child is school age, or worse, adult. They learn faster, they have less emotional baggage because of it, and fewer bad habits (ie it is harder to get a child to revise a word they have been saying badly for several years than it is to get that child to say a new word that has the same difficult sounds). And you are avoiding all the academic problems which will stem from it if you can deal with it pre school-entry. That gives me less than six months for Big Boy. And he will be going to school in French, not his stronger English, so he is confused by basic directions, negative sentences etc on TOP of his regular speech delays.

And frankly, when three separate speech therapists, none of whom have a financial stake in evaluating him as needing services since the child will be treated elsewhere, evaluate a child as severely delayed, it is sticking one’s head in the sand to think said child is “doing just fine”.

So, thanks for the lack of concern, but I would rather a congratulations for early diagnosis and actively seeking timely intervention.

Delays in multiple languages

Well, today I had the meeting with the francophone speech therapist re the evaluation she did with Big Boy last week. It was very interesting, in that it pretty much echoed the english language evaluation results he had a few weeks ago.

There were a few disparities: in French he misses conjugating verbs (in English there is very little of this: I sit, they sit, we sit, he sits), he is uncertain of his spacial indicators (on, under, beside, behind) which he knows very well in English, he has problems with the masculine and feminine (le chat, la personne, le bateau, la maison) but again we don’t have that in English. He has difficulty with multiple requests: “pick up the blue car then the red bus” “put the car in the box and take out the dolly” whereas in English he is pretty good with that.

I think most of those have to do with French being the third language in his life (second most fluent now but still he learned Mandarin as a baby, then English after 2 yrs old, and finally French), so these are learning a foreign language issues he needs to catch up on. It is true that he should be learning the masculine and feminine articles together with the nouns when he hears them daily at daycare… so maybe that is some indication of delay. She also said he speaks French with an English accent. That is so funny… I am often surprised by how “french” his french utterances sound, but then I am an … anglophone!

As for the rest, it mirrored pretty much exactly his English evaluation, which goes to show that if a child has a learning difficulty in one language, he’ll have them across the board if multilingual, and if no difficulties in one language, will not encounter more by becoming multilingual (there are no higher statistics of language difficulties among bilingual or multilinguals than monolinguals).

He takes shortcuts with words, often dropping the end consonants of a word, ie woh instead of word. He often doesn’t pronounce an R: nawwow instead of narrow, fi-man instead of fireman. He often mispronounces N as M: I don’t know: I dummo. I don’t have any: I don have ammy. He uses just the key words in a sentence or concept: “Big Boy Mommy go gramma house”= Mommy and I will go to Grandma’s house. “I play ball next time park”= “I want to play ball the next time we go to the park”.

He has problems with pronouns, both not using personal pronouns like “I” and “you” and mixing up when to use “he/she” “him/her”. He has problems accessing his vocabulary when he wants to say something, or tell a story. ie knows the words “blue” “car” “beside” “house” and will say “look that thing there!” which under protracted questioning means “look a the blue car beside the house!” (it can be VERY long to figure out what “that” “there” is from everything in view!).

So, a severe delay in morph-syntax and slight delay in phonology (is that right?). She thinks he has difficulty organizing his mouth and tongue to make the sounds he wants, and so drops off anything difficult, such as double consonants: ie spoon comes out as poon, and if you enunciate the S to have him notice: SSSpoon, he will say soon instead, dropping the P instead of the S.

So, it was super interesting to see her write the exact same conclusions and observations in his “2nd” language as in the first!

She did give me a large list of “interventions” to do. Lots of them games (like picking images out in magazines and saying “the lady, SHE’s driving a car” “the boy, HE’s playing ball”. Some to do with his mouth: ie putting lipstick on one lip and have him spread it to the other lip by moving his lips around. Playing games trying to touch your tongue to your nose, your chin, left side, right side etc. I haven’t read all the papers yet, but it is wonderful to have real, concrete suggestions we can do in daily life or at his daycare.

I did give a copy to the daycare, and am waiting for the written evaluation to give to them as well. It is wonderful that they are willing to do things like this with him. And they are also so wonderful to have followed up on subsidized speech therapy (the govt has a program for “handicapped kids in daycare”)… they have managed to find an intern at a speech therapy clinic who is finishing her masters, who will come in once a week for an hour from end of April until end of August! That is amazing! And having seen the billing breakdown, I am so thankful. It is hundreds and hundreds of dollars every month. But hopefully this will help bring his speaking and french comprehension up to a level where he will be able to participate fully when he starts at 4yrold preschool in September.

The speech therapist DID say to do the exercises in French at daycare and English at home (because they are native French speakers at daycare), but she didn’t insist too much. (I didn’t tell her I do French at home too). And she was VERY clear that problems he has are NOT due to multilingualism, and that I am doing a great job stimulating language with him already. That was great to hear.

So, I’ll write more about it when I have had a chance to read through all the papers she gave me, and put some of the suggestions to use.

So far we only did one game, where we used the cards in our Kingka game: we pulled out two at a time, taking turns and had to say “It’s a….” (it’s a car, it’s a horse, it’s a flower) which also gave us an opportunity to work on exceptions: “it’s water” “it’s some wood” “it’s FEET” (instead of it’s two foot) The goal is to get him to say whole sentences, not just “car!” “horse!” “flower”! “water!” And surprisingly he loved it. And liked it so much, he “it’s a….” every card as he put them back in the bag!

So here’s to working on his speech while waiting on our “12 month waiting list” we’ve been on for professional intervention since Sept 2009!!

Language delays and Bilingualism

I discovered this very interesting site for Speech Pathologists, about language delays and bilingualism.

They differentiate between children who learn two languages at the same time, for instance, a child who has two parents speaking two languages within the home, or who is hearing a minority language at home, and a dominant language in the culture outside the home daily, and children who learn languages sequentially. For instance a child who speaks English at home and in the rest of her environment, and then starts taking French classes after the English is already well established. Or a child who grows up in a Spanish speaking country and then moves to an English speaking country.

There is also differentiation between additive bilingualism: ie a child knows a language and adds on a second one so that the child speaks/understands both languages, and subtractive bilingualism: ie a child speaks and understands Chinese in her native land and then is adopted into Quebec, and as she learns French, she loses her Chinese skills. Or a child whose early environment is a minority language at home with her family, and then who integrates into the school system and surrounding peer culture, and loses the minority language either through attrition or choice.

I found the page looking for benefits of bilingualism for a friend, and indeed in this article there are a lot of mythbusting statements for non-language-delayed children. But also a lot of information I found pertinent to Big Boy who is experiencing delays in morpho-syntax (sentence structure and grammar). We had another speech evaluation today, in French instead of English, which was quite fascinating. Many times he needed to have instructions repeated several times as it was evident he was only hearing part of the sentence, ie deciding before listening to the complete sentence, or not noticing a negative: "Quelle fille n'est pas capable de toucher les livres?" and he would point to the girl who was obviously capable of reaching the books on the high shelf (not the girl who was reaching but couldn't touch them, nor the girl who was reading books in a chair). The evaluator said that his language comprehension was not as high in French as in English, but that was to be expected.

There were some similarities, such as not being consistent in using masculine and feminine pronouns, not conjugating verbs (there is more of that in French, where verbs change for most pronouns, but there is still some in English: I go, he goes, I do, we do, they do, he does), little past and future tenses. He tends to stick with one tense (present) and then add in time signifiers: I do that yesterday. I do that tomorrow.

Fascinatingly Chinese grammar is correct this way. The verbs are immutable and it is other little words before or after the main verb as well as time signifiers which indicate past or future: I do the dishes. I am do the dishes now. I did do the dishes yesterday. I will do the dishes tomorrow. Compare with I am doing the dishes now, I did the dishes. In English we have a bit more choice to use a past tense "I went" or adding a word to the verb: "I did go". Now if only I could say that Big Boy speaks fluent chinese and that is where he gets the lack of verb conjugasion from, but I fear not! His Chinese is the worst of his three languages.

Anyways some interesting statements from this article:

1. Does bilingualism cause language delays in children?

The short answer is no. However, this question deserves further analysis.

Vocabulary, syntactic and narrative development
Studies that have assessed bilingual children’s expressive and receptive vocabulary development by comparing combined vocabulary in L1 and L2 with the vocabularies of monolingual children found no differences between the two groups (Pearson, Fernández, Lewedeg, & Oller, 1997). Similar results were found when comparing the syntactic acquisition of young bilingual children in each language with that of monolinguals (Paradis & Genesse, 1996).

This is particularly interesting since it is directly pertinent to our situation, living in French Canada, where the dominant language in the streets is French, but the second language, English, is a high status language. ie neither language is in a risk of the child refusing it as being unimportant (unlike speaking Chinese here):

2. Are children with language and cognitive delays capable of learning two languages?

A major concern for parents of a child with language impairment is whether the addition of a second language will further delay language development and learning. Kohnert et al. (2005) state that the current belief that bilingualism is disadvantageous to children with language impairment (as compared to children with language impairment who are monolingual) is false. Because many professionals believe that the input of the second language places additional demands on a language-learning system that is already deficient, they recommend to parents that they confine their input to one language. While this approach may be well-intentioned, it can result in a child being isolated in a bilingual home in which family members communicate in a language the child cannot share. In addition, it has led to professionals failing to support the child’s home language (Thordardottir, 2002).

Studies suggest that exposing a language-delayed minority child to a second language does not negatively affect development. A study by Paraidis, Crago, Genesee & Rice (2003) found that seven year old Canadian children, who were language impaired and were exposed consistently to both French and English from birth, did not perform worse than their monolingual peers with language impairment on analyses of spontaneous language samples. It is important to note that children in this study experienced simultaneous acquisition of the two languages and that both languages had high status in the community, making the social context for bilingualism “additive” rather than “subtractive” (Lambert, 1975).

Another study compared the language abilities of children with Down syndrome being raised in bilingual homes with monolingual children with Down syndrome and found no evidence of a negative effect of the bilingualism (Kay-Raining Bird, Cleave, Trudeau, Thordardottir, Sutton & Thorpe, 2005). In this case, bilingualism was defined as “intensive, ongoing and prolonged exposure to two languages” (p. 195), one of which was English. Most of the bilingual children had French as their second language. All children had been exposed to a second language for at least 32 months (mean age was 82 months). On the English tests administered, the bilingual children scored at least as well as their monolingual counterparts.

These studies are significant in that they demonstrate that children with language impairment are capable of learning two languages at least as well as their monolingual, language-impaired peers. Therefore, professionals can reassure parents that they need not be concerned about the impact of a second language on their child with language impairment.

There is also an interesting section on whether language skills learned in one language can be transfered to another. Apparently some can, if they are pertinent, ie masculine and feminine nouns in romance languages (French, Spanish, italian), but not if they are NOT pertinent (gendered nouns in French, but not in English. Verb conjugaisons in French but not in Chinese). This is interesting from a speech therapy point of view for Big Boy. Will speech therapy in French benefit him if he is lacking apostrophe S possessives in English? Unlikely. But it is likely to help with all those little filler words in French, and maybe English too. He is so likely to say “Car” instead of “it’s a car”… comprehensible but not full sentences.

There is also a section on the role of the speech therapist in valorising the home language. That would be especially pertinent in cases where a minority language is spoken at home which is not sustained in school or the outside world. I am still in a quandry what to do about the advice of speech therapists who suggest that I should ONLY speak English with Big Boy as it is the language I am most comfortable with, have the best grammar, richest vocabulary and use (idioms, metaphors etc).

Since French is spoken in the broader society here, I function in French both within the home in my home office (with clients), within the home with francophone friends (including Big Boy’s little friends who are French), outside the home with neighbors and friends, and in public dealing with all service personnel, whether cashiers, waiters, mailman, daycare workers etc… It would be exceedingly artificial for me to be speaking English only with Big Boy in these situations. And indeed be alienating to those we interact with who may be monolingual francophone.

Indeed I wish to model for him the correct FRENCH behaviour in requesting aid, addressing friends and neighbors, completing transactions in shops etc. And given that French is mandated by law here as the language of businesses, education etc, and given that French is an endangered language in the country and continent, there is a lot of social and political negative weight to speaking English in public, or with francophones, and for modelling this “outside-Quebec-majority-language” with my small son. There is something intrinsically VERY different from insisting on speaking Tagalog for instance, with my child while at home and in public, to insist on it against the onslaught of the majority language, and insisting on speaking English, the “taking-over-the-world default colonial” language.

So, I take with a grain of salt the recommendations of the speech therapist today, to speak only English with Big Boy, and leave the FRench 100% to the daycare to nourish with him. I will continue to read books in English and French (and Chinese as much as he will allow me), to encourage him to watch French dvds within the home, and to give him French vocabulary as we navigate in public, with friends and on the way to daycare. I find it is so important as we go to daycare, that on the way I discuss with him the highlights of the previous day, new toy acquisitions, anticipated travels etc, IN FRENCH. So that upon arrival, he will not have this abrupt transition to another language, and be lost if they ask him to say “what did you do yesterday? What’s up with you?”

I want him to have the words to say “J’ai été voir les papillons au jardin botanique” or “J’irai voir grandmama à Vancouver. J’irais en mois de juin avec maman en avion” or “J’ai réçu un nouveau jouet, une voiture de police, hier”, and not just be stuck with only English words and thoughts when they ask him in French.

So, we’ll see how it goes. Anyways, I recommend the article at hanen.org whether you have a monolingual child and are thinking of second language classes, whether you are in a bilingual environment with a speech-delayed child, or whether you speak a minority language at home.

ps, thanks so much to everyone who left a comment on my “flabbergasted” post! I still am amazed at 1400 comments on a blog entry about what a pioneer mom wears out on a date with her hubby! LOL!

Multilingual Language Evaluation Issues

Well, this multilingual thing is really not helpful when it comes to evaluating Big Boy’s language abilities.

I was so looking forward to another professional evaluation of Big Boy’s progress in the expressive language department. It seemed to me that he has made great leaps forward in forming sentences in the past month or so, and I was very eager to have a speech therapist declare “he is CURED! He is CAUGHT UP! We DISMISS him from needing further intervention!”

Ahhh, the dreams of mamas. All to naught. First, I was a bit surprised by the set up of the evaluation… she had just set out all sorts of toys (mostly a Little People house with garage, and all the fixings: people, animals, cars, furniture etc) and just seemed content for the first twenty minutes to let him play with it. Of course, Mr. Big Boy who normally does NOT SHUT UP, and who chatters on and on and on, “mommy, I want to show you something, look at this, mommy be a chevalier, mommy let’s fly on the backs of dragons, mommy why don’t you be a wingwalker at the air show? mommy look what I can do! mommy mommy mommy!” hardly said a sentence. Mostly he took the cars and bus and did a lot of spectacular crashes and flying around in the air with sound effects, and looked at all the items one by one uttering such brilliang things as “mmmm! ooh! wow. hmmmm. ahhh” Sigh. I wanted to pull my hair out. MAKE HIM TALK!!! HE CAN TALK NOW!!! The other speech therapist seemed to be much more engaged in activities that would require talking on his part.

When I remarked up on it later, she explained she wanted to see what his spontaneous speaking was like. Hmmm. His spontaneous speaking in the park if you give him a stick and he has to make believe is WAY more revealing than setting a whole toy shop in front of him so he can just pick things up and look at them and go “oooh! wow! ahhh!” Sigh. Even having left the toys on the shelf so he had to ask for them would have gotten him to talk. Oh well.

She did do some more structured testing, where he was supposed to give an appropriate response. I can see that this sort of thing is really hard. “Here is a boy… he has a dog. And here is a girl…. ” “Look! A cat! The girl has a cat!” Hmmm, yes I see you are trying to get him to say “SHE has a cat”. oh well. But we could see he is not totally clear on he vs she, on adding S to make a possessive, and on pronouncing N well instead of substituting M.

The end result? He is making longer sentences but still missing a lot of the filler words, missing a lot of grammar, missing a lot of sounds or rather substituting sounds… sounds that we don’t have in the English language, so really hard to write HOW he pronounces them. I cannot even pronounce how he says “Hair” “Smell” “Spoon”. He also has issues with blended consonants like SP, SM etc. So he is still on the waiting list for the MacKay Center (specialty language center, whether it is hard of hearing, deaf, speech therapy etc). Since Oct past now… and we may not get in til Nov this year. It is all frustrating.

But the multilingualism? Where does it cause issues in evaluation? The speech therapist wanted to know if other people understand him besides me. Hmmm. Now that is so very hard to evaluate. His little friends are mostly French, and his French is way behind his English (expressive), and so they tend to talk a lot and he repeats words. Friend: “Je serais le chevalier et tu dois être la princesse qui est emportée par le dragon”. Big Boy: “Moi, chevalier!” Well, of course his friend understood him. But what does that say about his language abilities, and esp about his English abilities?

The daycare isn’t much more help. Again, they are mostly unilingual francophones who know a wee bit of English… if they don’t understand him it could be 1) they wouldn’t understand even if it were said clearly in English 2) they don’t know that his English is not as good as it should be as it is much better than theirs 3) if he misses words in French, well it says nothign about his primary language abilities, it is just seen as an anglophone who is struggling with a second language… 4) it is hard for someone who is speaking a second language with a child to understand kids’ mispronunciations. I have a HORRID time trying to understand little french kids even if I can carry on a great conversation with their parents all in French. So, do they understand him? I don’t know. Yes and no.

And how about other people around Big Boy. I must have sounded pitiful in that I don’t have another parent, another regular caretaker, friends that come in regularly or anything. The french friend of his we see the most often: the kids play together in the park or livingroom and I chat with the mom. Sometimes he talks to the mom: “Marie-Anne, I would like more cheese please”. Well, yes, she understands that. But does he have more sustained conversations with her? not often. We have a babysitter about once a month, but most of the time he is asleep. We have a chinese tutor once a week, but we are trying to speak chinese. Neighbors and service personnel in the neighborhood are the same situation as the daycare: they are francophone, so they might not understand a word if he speaks English, or if they do understand, they are using single words like he is, or he is speaking short French phrases. The Chinese dépanneur owner (corner store) does understand when he comes in and says “Ni Hao! Zai Jian!” or sings “Liang zhi lao hu” in Chinese. Sigh!

I really felt null not being able to answer the question “Do other people understand him”. What sort of parent doesn’t know this? Well, one who is a single mom who works at home, no extended family around, teaching three languages, in a multilingual environment.

I just have to remember I am proud that he functions in such an environment very well, with great gusto and social extroversion.

One Book One Language?

I read a very interesting post over at Babelkid.blogspot about “reading” books in languages other than they are written in. You can also read my rather lengthy comment after the post.

Ourson Juliette book

L'ourson qui voulait une Juliette

I had read on another multilingual parenting site, that one way to get around a dearth of foreign (or heritage) language reading material is to translate easy to find books (mostly English) on the fly into the language you wish to be exposing your child too. Now my Chinese, which is the language we have the hardest time finding affordable books in, is not exactly fluent, so most English books would be beyond me. But I do sometimes try to turn very simple English books (ie board books with a couple words or a sentence per page) into Chinese books just to squeeze in more exposure. French books we have no problem with, since living in Quebec, French is the majority language. In bookstores they are still costly since they print in such smaller quantities than English books, but in the library they are definitely in the majority, and it is English books that are lacking in choice.

Seven Chinese Sisters book

The Seven Chinese Sisters

Anyways, I considered this idea and thought it brilliant as a way to get around the problem of being inundated with English books when you are fully fluent in another language.

I never once thought about the issue of language recognition, ie the child needing to learn that there is a correspondence between the spoken word and the printed word. Babelkid realized though, that her daughter didn’t recognize simple oft-repeated words in print in English… because she always “read” the books in French, thus there was no correspondence at all between the written and spoken text!

The Pet Dragon book

The Pet Dragon

I find this fascinating, and thinking about it, I see that it has helped Big Boy’s literacy that I am NOT fluent enough to do this quick trick! For a year now (he is four) he has been able to point to Chinese text and English text and name the correct language. He is able to point to words starting with the “T” sound like his name or “L” sound like mine. And through books like The Pet Dragon, as well as flashcards and games like Kingka, he can read quite a few Chinese characters like “xiao” “shan” “hua” “da” “ren” “kou” “chi”. Thank god that I didn’t read “petit” “montagne” “parler” “grand” “personne” “bouche” and “manger” when I pointed to those as I read along in a book! He’d think they were French characters!

Kingka game

Kingka game

I am sure that Babelkid’s daughter will sort things out, especially now that they have become conscious of the spoken/print disconnect. And I do certainly “explain” plots, words, concepts in one language that he doesn’t understand when I read it written on the page, in another language. But now I am certain to point to the printed word as I read exactly what is written there, and not point to the text when I am explaining in another language.

Amazing how one doesn’t consider these things when one is unilingual, or when one has learned other languages as a literate adult, not as a preliterate child one hopes to teach to read!

Xiao Gou Zai Nar book

Xiao gou zai nar?