Tag Archives: multilingualism

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!!

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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.

Mom videographer failed again…

Once again I failed to capture Big Boy with my video camera… so often at night I am in my studio just across the hall from his bedroom, and I can hear him singing some song I’ve never heard him sing before, or counting in French or whatnot that I’d love to record.

Tonight was no exception. I heard him saying “Bonjour. Hello. Ni Hao.” Saying something about talking Chinese, and something about talking French, with his teddies. I crept out of my studio, got my camera, and yes, it makes that lovely little chime sound when it turns on. I crept next to his bedroom door anyways and clicked “record” on the video function. Of course it beeped yet again. How does one turn off these sound alerts?

Well, small boys are like wild animals. They can hear the most tiny sounds, and all I got was silence, and then the sound of the wooden chair at the foot end of the bed, near the door where I was crouched in the hallway crashing about. He must have heard me and leaned over the bed onto the chair to get a look into the hall. Foiled.

So once again, no great video footage of him and his developing trilingualism. But I heard it. Yes I did!

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!

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.

One Person One Language and other theories that bug me

I may not have mentioned before, but Big Boy is behind in his expressive language skills: he has good vocabulary for his age, but has difficulty accessing it while speaking, and has trouble using proper verb tenses, sentence structure etc. So we are on a year long waiting list for speech therapy, and looking for other avenues for help.

Monday night I went to a parents’ information meeting at our local CLSC in orthophonie (speech therapy in French), and it was totally great. They are offering a set of three parental training sessions, a speech evaluation for the child, and a possible block of 5 multi-child therapy sessions to get him up to par. Way more than what I expected from local free interventions.

Everything looked totally great, except they had a two page insert on bilingualism. Now it was written in large block letters: “One Language, One Context”, which is an outshoot of the idea “One parent, one language”. I personally have always wondered however that can work: I mean at family dinner, how do the parents speak to eachother? Do they each need to know the other’s language? Does Parent A speak Language A both to Child and to Parent B? and then does Parent B respond in Language B (so the conversation is half in one language and half in the other)? In that case, how can the child ever see modelled a proper question and response set up in either language? And is the Child supposed to have Parent B responding to ParentA/LanguageA in Language B, but supposed to resond to ParentA/LanguageA in LanguageA? It all seems rather artificial and wonky. And what if both parents speak English for instance, but only one parent speaks fluent Chinese? Does the monolingual parent just sit and nod and smile while the other parent and child have a conversation at the meal, grocery store or amusement park?

Personally, I don’t have this issue, since I am a single parent. According to this “One parent One language” doctrine, I would have to raise a child in only one language, even if I am bilingual or more myself.

Welcome to the “One language, one context” expansion of the theory. We do this somewhat, in that I tend to speak English at home, and speak French with neighbors and out shopping etc… it is just more acceptable to speak French in public in Quebec.

But does that mean I never read French books inside the house? Never put on French music or introduce French words at home? And what if I want to get my son’s attention outside the home, and know he knows the English words but not the French for a given situation? “Watch OUT! A TRUCK is COMING!” he might understand at the start, but not “ATTENTION! Un camion s’en vient!”… and the risk of him not understanding or not obeying in French is great.

It also means that language is restricted to that occasion. For instance if cooking is always done at home in English, and sports always done at daycare in French… how will he have the vocabulary to speak about either in the other part of his day? Will he be forbidden to say “j’ai joué au ballon !” at home? And if he is, how will I give him the english words for that? How will he tell the daycare what he cooked at home, and that he beat the eggs and creamed the butter if he doesn’t get French vocab for me about those things at home, so he can go to daycare and say them? He will only know in English, and if they don’t speak English, he is just stuck explaining.

And then let’s add Mandarin on top of that. We have only an hour or two a week that we are with a native speaker. And that time is NOT 100% immersion. I need to ask questions, explain things etc and get translations. Do YOU know what hawthorne is in Mandarin? I only did after looking up in a bilingual dictionary. Anyways, the rest of the time, I am learning Mandarin along with my son. So we put it into our activities. Naming body parts while tickling or bathing. Naming food while eating, cooking or shopping. Using what little language we know while playing hide and seek in the park or at bedtime.

I personally don’t have the vocabulary or sentence structure to do “a context” with him in Mandarin. We would be stuck with a few basic phrases, and a lot of gesticulating. I can say “Wo zhao ni! Zhao bu dao! Wo kan bu jian ni! Ahh ahh! Wo kan jian ni! Wo zhao dao ni! Wo zhua ni! ahah!!!” (I am looking for you. I look but don’t find! I look but can’t see you! aaaahh, I see you! I found you! I catch you! ahah!) But I can’t say, “We can play for ten more minutes before we have to leave for home. We need to have lunch so we can get to the doctor’s afterwards”.

So does that mean we can’t do the “context” only in Mandarin so we should leave it? Or is context so restricted we can call “hide and seek” a context?

Frankly, I think that any adding to his or my vocabulary or sentence structure in any language is a plus. Speaking what one can speak in that particular language without making too many mistakes, and correcting oneself. Using whatever is needed to be understood, including gestures and multiple languages. If they can put Chinese words in Ni Hao Kailan, and Spanish words into English Dora episodes and it is a good thing, then adding French words into English or Mandarin words into English in all contexts can not be totally wrong.

No, he may not grow up to be a native mandarin or french speaker. But he might be a passable speaker. I consider myself bilingual in English and French, and certainly didn’t get enough French to even have a conversation until I was about 20 years old. Certainly being immersed in a French only environment helped a lot, ONCE I had enough basis so that it didn’t just sound like gobbledy gook that went over my head. The rest of the time I learned in a bilingual environment, whether in the French classroom or the anglophone university cafeteria where most students were francophone.

I say, increase the amount of language and foreign language exposure as much as possible, in as many media and contexts as possible. Language needs to be wellrounded and multifaceted to be useful. Blechhh on restrictive prescriptions. The important thing is to have fun and learn learn learn.

ps, no, the language delay doesn’t come from multilingualism: if a child has a learning disability in one language they will have it in one, two or ten languages…