Tag Archives: language learning

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!

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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!

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.

Free online flashcard maker

Well, today over at Brillkids forum, I was pointed in the direction of Kitzkikz.com, free online flashcard maker. You input the text you would like on the front and back of each card, and kitzkikz outputs a pdf for you to download.

It supports many different fonts if you have them loaded in your computer/acrobat reader. I typed in simplified chinese characters on a test sheet and they came out just fine. Wasn’t sure how to put in pinyin tones though, so I typed it without tones and put them in by hand with a felt marker once I’d printed them out.

You can see a sample of the flashcards I made here: chinese sample flashcard pdf. I cut them out on the straight horizontal lines, put gluestick on one half, folded over on dotted line, and trimmed the outside edge off.

There are no photos, only two sides of text, but you could put whatever you want, or leave one side blank for gluing on a photo… or I suppose if you are handy you could import images onto the pdf once you’d downloaded it to your computer? Sorry, I don’t make pdfs so not sure.

Have lots of fun with it!

Say it in French! Say it in English! Say it in Chinese! (and chinese bingo!)

Well, Big Boy used to say constantly: “No chinese mommy. Talk english. No talk French mommy, Talk English.” And I fought it any way I could… buying those dreaded popular character items: Dora storybooks in Chinese (really, they make great dvds but really horrid storybooks), Bob the Builder in French, Thomas Train in French, heck I might even have broken down and bought Caillou (long story, but we are not fans of Caillou) if they had it in Chinese. Offering smarties one at a time if he’d name the colors in French and not English, playing hide and seek in the park in Chinese… making him watch his favorite movies in French or Chinese if possible. Now he can sing Annie’s “Tomorrow!” theme song in French… I certainly can’t do that!

It must have worked as I am thrilled to say that these days he REQUESTS me to say things in all three languages. ALL three. I understand that it is often prolonging the fun: “mommy, sing Frere Jacques in French. Sing it in English, Sing it in Chinese: liang zhi lao hu” or bedtime: “Look for me hiding in French mommy. OK, try to find me again in Chinese. Now I will hid and you find me in English” but it makes me very happy! Yay!!!!

It is a bit long sometimes (he had to count the crackers in three languages before eating his soup, we had to read our new Cheryl Christian counting book three times, in English, Chinese and French before finishing supper) but I am all for it. And we certainly cannot say he is confused!

Chinese Character Bingo

In other news, Baining of Mandarinkids has said I’m bad for her budget! Ahah! Passing on my Chinese learning finds to other addicts is the reason I started blogging again! I must have justification for some of this online Chinese materials research and spending! So, just for Baining, I present you my find of the night: Chinese Bingo! It is actually bingo for learning Chinese characters, 100 at a time. There is Basic Character bingo, which uses just single radical characters, so you have a base for learning characters made up of more than one basic character. There are six different levels of Common Character bingo (which you can combine)… each with 100 characters, starting with the most common, next most common etc. Apparently if you konw 600 characters you can read 82% of Chinese text. Personally, I think it is more than a matter of knowing characters, one also needs to know expressions or you will really be misunderstanding a lot. But 600 characters is a good place to start, and these people have them in coordinated sets of flashcards and bingo games, as well as wall posters that show stroke order, stroke types and names, pinyin, tones etc. A fun find. Check it all out at Chicool.com.

Kingka Set 1

Ps, we play a form of bingo with our Kingka game (we have the first set and it really is teaching Big Boy to recognize characters). I’m planning a review post on the Kingka game in the near future. Til then, we recommend it. Very solid and well made, very versatile, and enjoyable for even the youngest learners (no reading required… though they will learn to recognize, ie read, chinese characters).

ps. I just learned that Chinasprout has the Bingo games. They are probably less limited in payment options than Chicool.com.

Fun Language Learning Crafts!

I just stumbled across some great language-learning crafts on blogs: a make-your-own language-bingo with changeable/interchangeable bingo cards, and Word Family Eggs.

The first reminds me of our beloved Kingko game. You cut out images from magazines, and then make 9-image bingo cards out of them that you can switch about, and make bingo cards to call out, that have written words on them. Instructions here at Unplugyourkids.com.

And the Word Family Eggs is just one of the “Weekly Unplugged Project” submissions of other bloggers. This one uses those plastic two-part eggs that are sold everywhere this time of year what with Easter on the horizon. Glue single starting letters around one edge, and a two letter (vowel+consonant) combo on the other edge: you can rotate the egg halves to form new words to read. I can see doing this in Chinese. One could put a common radical on one side, and different radicals that combine with that radical to form new characters. Or alternately, put a common character on one side, and more characters it can combine with on the other side, to form new chinese words. Very easy and quick and inexpensive! Check out the Word Family Eggs at Livingandlearningnow Blog.

I got to these fun blogs via the wonderful blog entry on Raising Bilingual Kids at Phdinparenting.com which is super worth reading! Check it out!