Tag Archives: bilingual

Affective Filter and Language Learning

There is a really interesting new post up at Multilingual Mania about the Affective Filter. The blogger writes about how just one small instance of another student in her Spanish class giggling at her totally devastated her confidence in speaking Spanish. For years this emotional block kept her from expressing herself in spoken Spanish though her written Spanish was excellent.

Indeed, how you feel emotionally about speaking a second or third language makes all the difference in your fluency. I hate making mistakes out loud. Indeed it is one thing that blocks my musical learning: one can silently work on Chinese grammar, but it is impossible to learn piano or guitar without everyone within hearing distance listening to your progress or lack of it.

When I was learning French, I took classes in which we had to write a lot, and I read a lot. But especially when I moved here to Quebec, I kept my mouth shut. I had all these grammar rules in my head. Vocab, masculine/feminine, verb tenses. It was all just too much to get right before the conversation topic changed. People saw me carrying around La Peste and couldn’t believe someone who could hardly put two words together could ever be reading and understanding such meaty literature. But no. It wasn’t my comprehension that was lacking: it was the emotional daring-do to throw myself into the verbal fray.

Fortunately by working at Burger King with francophones who had often not even finished highschool, and being taught to swear like a sailor (or a hot fry-oil burnt B.K. employee!) in Quebec joual, I got over my fear of making errors in French. Heck, native francophones butcher the language so much, I couldn’t do much worse I finally realized. Of course they butcher it in native-speaker ways and I butchered it in newbie 2nd language-learner ways, but still. It got me over that affective filter.

I wonder how much of my son’s refusal to speak Chinese is affective filter. Indeed he understood French very well for at least two years before speaking it voluntarily. He’d reply in English the correct answers to questions in French. Only when he was surrounded by unilingual francophone children in preschool daily did he overcome his reluctance and start to come out with impromptu French.

I am hoping the Saturday afternoon Chinese classes will help with his emotions re Chinese. He will voluntarily throw himself into hearty renditions of Liang Zhi Lao Hu (Two Tigers) song, but hardly utter a word when asked how old he is for instance… and I think it is because of his confidence in the words and phrasing of the song. Perhaps the Chinese class will help. Or perhaps it will hinder, taking just one giggling student to devastate him for years. (lots of native Chinese-speaking at home children in his class) But it is worth a shot.

Myself? For some reason I seem to have gotten over most of my stage fright re speaking foreign languages out loud. The French is used daily, so now it is more when I need to write well that I feel this affective filter in French. In Chinese, perhaps it is because I am learning it at home, and most people are amazed I know any Chinese at all. Native speakers are often incredibly nice towards me no matter how bad my attempt at their language. Perhaps it will come still: when I speak well enough to realize just how BAD my chinese is! We’ll see.

Do you have stories of losing confidence, or gaining it, in a second or third language?

Last 5 days 20% off Chinese and Spanish learning materials!!!

I blogged recently about the French preschooler popular animated character T’Choupi being available in book form at Best4Future bilingual bookstore.

20% off at Better4Future bookstore!

Well, they are now having a 20% off sale until Feb 5 for the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit, so you might want to pop on over there and take advantage of the savings!
I ordered several T’Choupi books, but there is a whole selection of children’s Chinese learning materials from books to dvds, books with cds to songs as well as Learn Spanish materials.

They are also featuring the E-Readbook Pen and books that I blogged about as well, so if you are in the States, this may be a good time to get them! They are already on sale and the Chinese New Years’ 20% off is on top of that.

Happy shopping! And if you get some materials there, please do write a short review in the comments! I’d love to know what you recommend!

Learning to Learn Languages

Here is an interesting page of books that might help you learn to learn languages better: Language Books at Learn in Freedom.org.

Bilingual Children BookI found this link through a book suggestion from Soultravelers3, who suggested the book by George Saunders:

Bilingual Children: From Birth to Teens
George Saunders (Clevedon, Avon and Philadelphia, PA: Bilingual Matters, 1988) (ISBN 1-85359-009-6). xiii and 274 pages; glossary, bibliography (which has a GREAT list of titles of similar interest), indexes. Saunders is from English-speaking monolingual ancestors, going back at least six generations on all sides of his family. He studied German in college, got to study abroad for a while, and then decided to bring up his children bilingually. The book describes his remarkable successful experiment in bringing up three children as German speakers in Australia. KMBseen_SPP

. click to see book description at Amazon. Someone else recently recommended this book to me. Unfortunately it seems to be hard to find and expensive ($47 used, $76 new). Soultravelers3 are two parents who are mostly anglophone, (father speaks some Spanish), raising their daughter to be trilingual as they travel the world. Do check out their blog.

Anyways, this Saunders book seems to be a precursor to the trilingual parenting book I like: Growing Up with Three Languages. Has anyone else read the Saunders book and recommends it enough for me to spend $50 on it?
thanks!

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?

Nuns, tu and vous and other cultural oopsies!

I am currently reading “Growing up with Three Languages (birth to eleven)” by Xiao-lei Wang, and enjoying it a lot.three languages book

The writer is a linguist and studied her children (two boys) as they developed trilingually: she is a native mandarin speaker, her husband is a native French speaker, and they live in the US (english). These happen to be the three languages that I am working with at home with my son, so I am loving the examples of language learning, interactions, teaching etc. As a parent who is actually a native speaker of the majority language of North America, I am not living a situation of raising my child in a minority language at home, teaching a heritage language I am fluent in. And as a single parent, I certainly am not doing the one parent one language thing. Especially since the language I am LEAST versed in is the heritage language of my child (Chinese) and so need outside input.

But there is a lot which is very pertinent: how do you get your child enough exposure in each language? What challenges do you have teaching a language that isn’t learnt in an immersion environment, where the parent and home are almost the sole inputs? How do you deal with the attitudes and prejudices of others? What will your child’s attitude to the different languages be? What sort of development is expected in the languages? How about language mixing? What tactics can one integrate into daily life to increase language learning and skills? Indeed I love this book, even though I am only in Chapter Three.

One thing I found fascinating is the part about “Language Use in Context” (p80)… part of language learning is not just vocabulary and sentence structure, but using the language in context. In our first language, we learn language in context. Most of language learning is peripheral, ie when we see others interacting, not just speaking directly to us or with us. Thus we understand that we talk in a certain way to strangers or acquaintances, we speak differently to the priest at Church than to our grandfather than to our friends. Speech can be more or less casual, more or less personal, depending on the context. We usually don’t realise that we have this huge repertoire of roles we use in different context, with intonations, vocabulary, attitude etc part and parcel of different interactions throughout the day.

Until we learn a new language, NOT in context! I remember when I worked in an art supply store as a young adult and I very politely (I thought) served a French Canadian nun. She was very nice and left the store with her purchase… and I turned to see all the other employees gossiping with amused looks of disbelief! I had “tutoy√©-d” a nun! In French you use the formal “vous” with a boss, nun etc… and in my interaction I had used the informal “tu” (I tend to forget the formal “vous”, and use “vous” mostly for plural). Not only was French my (newly acquired) second language, but also I had grown up in a pretty secular family, and gone to a protestant Church in early childhood: we didn’t have nuns or priests, and in fact our minister’s wife was my piano teacher… very casual and very different from the experience of most of my French Canadian peers who had gone to Catholic School, run by strict nuns! Fortunately for me, my nun paintbrush customer was very sweet and didn’t take offence at my lack of formality in my accented French.

Another example of knowing words but being dissociated from meaning is the ease with which one can swear in another language: the foreign swear words just don’t have the taboo emotional weight that they do in one’s first language.

I am sure that my son will be better versed in French culture than I am, as he is living here in Quebec as a child, and picking up his French not only from me, but from daily interactions on the street, with friends and neighbors, and from immersion at his French language daycare (and this fall, preschool)… he should pick up the cultural mores and roles as naturally as I did English ones. He may have more difficulty with appropriate roles in English, since we speak it at home, but not in interactions with staff in stores, restaurants, schools, churches etc.

But in Chinese, he is going to be lost culturally! Right now we are doing very basic Chinese. The little natural chinese he hears spoken is usually directly to him, or between mothers and children (ie a Chinese mother we know with two kids his age). He really has no call to see people, esp adults, speak to each other in different roles and social contexts. Of course this could change in the future if he ever ends up traveling to China, hanging with more Chinese friends or community etc, but at this point I don’t foresee that. I guess he’ll end up having a few funny tales about his own faux pas in the future!

Support bilingualism: sign this petition

It turns out that people elsewhere are capable of surprising me, here in Quebec with our French language laws, and mandated French schooling, with their rabidity against other languages.

It turns out that a secretary (who was hired for her bilingualism) has been ordered by the principal of a school NOT to translate into Spanish for the parents of a 7 yr old student who was allegedly sexually molested by someone at school. The secretary persisted in translating anyways for the Hispanic parents, and was terminated for violating the principal’s English-Only policy.

I guess purity of the English language in the states is much more important than sexual abuse of primary school students, so much so that people lose their jobs over it. (or perhaps the principal was hoping that with no one to understand the parent’s accusation of sexual harrassment, nothing would come to light???)

Anyways, the secretary is Ana Ligia Mateo, and it is the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district. Change.org currently has started a petition targeting Dr. Peter C. Gorman (Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District Superintendent) and LaTarzja Henry (District Executive Director of Communications), asking them to remove the English-Only rule. I sincerely hope that they will also reinstate the secretary, AND get to the bottom of the sexual abuse issue asap.

Please go sign the petition. I did.

Thanks to Multilingualmania.com for pointing this out.

Committing to a Preschool

Well, I did it.

I bit the bullet and signed Big Boy up for a preschool. Big Boy will be 5 in November, but wasn’t eligible to start “prematernelle 4 ans” until this coming September. I am glad for the extra time with him at home, since he only arrived here in Canada from China at 22 mos old, and also to give him some time to catch up in his languages. After going to French-language daycare for two years (he started Nov 2008) two days a week, I think he’ll ready for more of a challenge this fall.

But I had had no idea that signing him up for one particular school over another would be so stressful. I had always assumed that he would go to the small neighborhood school that is only two blocks away, facing the park where we walk Xiao Chien. I assumed this since 1995 when I moved into this neighborhood. There were moves to close it down about ten years ago, as the population aged, but I cheered when community pressure complete with “Save Our School!” banners hanging off balconies succeeded in keeping it open.

It is a French language school, for 4 yr old pre-K through grade 3. It has an annex at the end of our street (even closer for Big Boy to walk to) for grades 4-6. Highschool starts at grade 7 in Quebec.

Well, enter Big Boy’s language difficulties.

And yes, thankyou to everyone who pointed out that he is a boy, is cleft affected, has changed countries, has changed languages, is learning multiple languages etc etc. Unfortunately none of these things can now account for, two years later, the lag in his expressive language. His vocab is great when you ask him what things are, and increases exponentially every 6 months when he has another speech evaluation. But his sentences have not kept up, and have scarcely evolved in the past six months. He is at LEAST a year or more behind. And yes, in Quebec, the speech therapists are used to dealing with adopted children, with children who speak a minority language at home, with bi and trilingualism, and we were at the Cleft Clinic, so they are used to the effects of that as well. Indeed while we were in the waiting room, the other family there was a father with two young boys, who spoke Mandarin, the daughter was in therapy in English, and she went to French school. My son is NOT the exception to the norm here.

The therapist said that none of those things could continue to excuse the lag at this point. And as the Cleft Clinic deals more in actual speech (can he pronounce correctly) we didn’t get a block of therapy, but instead were referred to a Centre where they specialize in hearing and speech disorders. We’ve been on the waiting list since October and they warned us it would be at least a year (which is why I am looking into community resources as per my last post).

Now over Christmas I found out that this Centre also has a school, which is part of the English Language School Board here. They actually have 4 yr old Pre-K through grade 3 (and beyond if needed). The mother of another boy adopted from China says her son has improved fantastically while in school there and recommended it. There are speech therapists within the school, so no running around to appointments all over town and missing school. They even have door to door bus service for the kids.

Now, it makes more sense to give a solidly anglophone-identified child speech therapy in English. Indeed it would be hard to evaluate his sentence structure in French, as he seldom utters a complete French sentence at this point. He has understood almost everything you say to him in French for almost two years now, and now will answer “oui!” when asked a French question, has lots of vocab, and for the past couple of weeks has even started accosting strangers on the street to ask “Quoi appelle?” to find out the name of their dog. But the lack of sentence structure in French is really normal as it is his third language since birth, and it is not the dominant language in his life.

In Quebec, things are quite complicated (both in daily life, getting services and in schooling). There is an English Language School Board and a French Language School Board. And because of language laws, only certain people are eligible for a certificate to go to English school. My son happens to be one of those people, since I did the majority of my primary school in English within Canada. I have to apply for a letter attesting to such from my home province (which I have done).

But, do I want him to go to school in English? I am working so hard on getting him bilingual in English and French and he is making huge progress in daycare. He told me just yesterday “Taotao talk French in garderie, mommy. And in dancing class too talk French. And play with le Petit Chevalier (his little friend) too talk French. Taotao knowing French mommy!”

And if he went to preschool, kindergarten and grade one in English, how hard would it be for him to then merge into a French classroom? I personally can help him with his English phonics (see ReadingEggs post), and feel very comfortable with English grammar. But I learned French slowly and painfully as a teen and young adult, and would have a hard time teaching a new reader how to sound out “parfait” “souliers” “Mireille” “bateau”… I know they have completely different methods of teaching all those vowel combinations. And my vocab is probably not the best compared to what they expect in a francophone school. Touring two schools during open houses the past couple of weeks made that very clear.

So, I do have a preference to send him to French school despite his language delays. Well, turns out that one of the neighborhood schools, perhaps 10-15 minutes walk away, through a commercial district, has speech therapists on staff. It is a much larger school, pre-K through grade 6. It seems to have better, newer and spiffier equipment. The rooms are larger, the yard is larger. And there was even a family there, newly immigrated from China, who spoke Mandarin with their 4 yr old daughter who is currently in English daycare here. That is a big draw. Slogging all those extra blocks through the snow all winter is not.

But I let emotion rule the day. The closest school is tiny and so close. It is friendly and homey. All the teachers and kids know each other’s names. They are very artsy fartsy and do lessons based on Matisse and Riopelle. The pre-K teacher talked convincingly about learning to name and express emotions in an acceptable and controlled manner through play and allegory. They offered milk and gingerbread men with red sugar sprinkles at the open house. And they have great lunchtime and afternoon care: we see their students traipsing through the park to the playground daily when we walk Xiao Chien. And Big Boy’s best buddy, le Petit Chevalier, will be starting there this fall too.

And I already have to deal with the fact that out of 210+ students, 200 are in the lunchtime and afterschool program, and unlike my maternal fantasies for the past 45 years, my son will likely NOT come home for lunch every day. That is already so hard to swallow!

So, will I regret it? Will I wish I had sent him to the specialized language school in English? Will I wish I had sent him to the larger French school with a speech therapist on staff? I don’t know. I figure, this is just Pre-K for four year olds. If he falls behind, I can move him for Kindergarten or Grade One. That is what I tell myself.

But for now, I want him close to home, close to friends, in a small friendly homey environment that feels right.