Tag Archives: trilingual

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?

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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!

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.

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!

Welcome to Big Boy and Xiao Chien!

Hello! I have FINALLY gotten around to starting a blog about raising my son French and Mandarin Chinese as well as English. And throwing in product reviews, doggy thoughts, musings and rants as well.

I am a 40something single mom living in Quebec, Canada. I am self-employed in the arts, work from home, and have always wanted to be a mother. I adopted my son, who is now four years old, two years ago just before his second birthday. He was adopted through the SN (Special Needs) program in China, whereby children with minor correctible medical needs are given forever homes.

I am anglophone, and living in a francophone community, but I wish to maintain my son’s Chinese heritage, and part of that is giving him access to the language. I began learning mandarin during the long pre-adoption wait, and my interest only increased when I met him and learned he could indeed understand and respond to my very bad and limited chinese.

At this point, he speaks English as his first language, goes to daycare (garderie) 2-3 days a week in French as well as it being the dominant language in our neighborhood, and we try to do some Chinese learning daily. It is an uphill battle, now that he has been home from China for so long, and says “No Chinese, mommy! No talk French! Talk English!” but it is a battle I am willing to wage in all sorts of wiley ways.

This blog will be a place to address the issues of bilingualism or trilingualism, language learning, as well as just regular parenting and kid stuff. Throw in our Saint Bernard, and hopefully we’ll have more than enough to talk about.

Please feel free to subscribe, and especially to leave comments and suggestions. We’d love to hear from you.

And yes, Big Boy is my son, who is adamant that is what he is now.

And Xiao Chien is our Saint… a tongue in cheek mix of mandarin (xiao=small) and french (chien=dog)… in mandarin they often say “xiao gou” (shee-ow go) for dog… which is a big ironic considering our dog is about 115 lbs! (so : shee-ow shee-en)

Welcome to Big Boy and Xiao Chien!

Zai jian! Au revoir! See you again soon!