Tag Archives: books

Language show silliness

This weekend we went along to language show and  had a lot of fun and silliness.

It is a highpoint in our calendar, a chance to see what is happening in the world of languages and to meet some friends we’ve been chatting to and working with online.

We met some really inspiring people this year with amazing stories behind their products. We also bumped into a few well known language bloggers and podcasters. We took some silly selfies (because that is a fun thing to do right?)

As we arrived,we were stopped by the lovely Madelena from The Alma collective.
We’d been chatting about collaboration for few weeks but had no idea we’d both be at the Language Show. She is a native German and Greek speaker so we had a lot of fun switching languages in our conversation together. Her passion with The Alma Collective is to inspire and empower parents to raise multilingual children. We look forward to working together in the future.

The first stall we visited was Glynys and her baby Spanish CD’s. Like us she is all about starting languages as early as possible and learning with the help of songs and music. She felt there was a gap in the market here so introduced her product. We’ll be reviewing it very soon.

 

 

 

On a French book stand, Librarie la page.
We came across some awesome trilingual chilidren’s picture books, produced by Vincent from
Jarvin Crew The books are in French, English and Spanish. They were produced as all three languages are spoken in his household. It means that many family members are able to read the same story to the children.

I

I was so excited to discover BCC Mandarin. They produce some beautiful cards to learn to read Mandarin Characters by playing. They are beautifully illustrated and suggest a simple story to memorise the shape of the character. I have studied basic Mandarin a little but was far to nervous to try anything other than pin yin. These cards make reading characters accessible. They are such a brilliant idea.

The British council had some brilliant resources for bringing Polish and Mandarin into the classroom. A great way to learn together and integrate cultures.

 

 

 

 

We had a look at the Lingotot stand. I figure anyone who is passionate about teaching children languages is a friend of mine. The weirdest thing happened. When giving the lady on the stand my business card, she commented “That is my name!” How odd is that. We’d both kept our maiden names when we married our, non British husbands. We’ll be sharing Sarah’s language learning story in a the next few months.

At the ALL stand we met the lovely Victoria who had invited us to contribute to the magazine last Month. She told us a little of what ALL does to support Primary Languages. Find out more for yourself here.

We met some inspiring teacher’s whose classroom experience has led them to create something for all teachers to benefit….. Bili setting up free online language exchange and ALL-IN Octopus with their grammar teaching software. https://school.all-in.org.uk/

We were really happy to meet Gareth from How to Get Fluent and Kris from Actual Fluency, fellow language obsessives and bloggers.

We ended the very busy day learning some Esperanto with the inspirational Tim Morley. It was such fun!

 

So, as you can see we had a brilliant time and met some awesome people. Many will be features on our blog in the near future. The next day our girls came along. It was a real eyeopener for us keep an eye out for that blog!

Inspirational mum and bilingual author Claire.

This month’s inspirational mum is Claire, bilingual author of some lovely children’s picture books.

My name is Claire Gray-Simon and I have been a French Teacher since we moved to Edinburgh with my husband Phil in 2001. Before that, I was living in Paris, France where I grew up.
We have two sons: Ben and Thom both born in Scotland. I speak French to them and my husband English. My husband and I speak French between us, my husband being himself bilingual (born of a French mother and an English father and raised in England).

When my sons were around 2 and 4 years old, we moved to NYC. There, we met many bilingual families with children around the same age as mine. I remember watching my oldest son Ben especially play and interact with his friends and I was fascinated by their unique way of communicating at the time. They would speak in English and then suddenly for no apparent reason, would switch to French, or sometimes they could start a sentence in English and finish it in French, or the other way round, they could even say the same thing in both languages to make sure they were perfectly understood. They were playing with the languages, it was something instinctive for them.

My idea to create two fictive bilingual characters came up during this period. I knew straight away I wanted to write stories about a little boy and a little girl both bilingual (English and French) approximately the same age my son and his friends were at the time. These characters would become truly good friends and have fun together. The specific ideas for the stories came afterwards.

Originally, the stories were intended to be published on a website. I always had the idea of a series in mind. I also had this clear vision of a different type of bilingual story. I wanted to write mainly in one language and translate the dialogue between the two main characters in the second language in order to reflect their bilingualism.

At first, I wrote the stories in French and translated the dialogues in English. Then, I adapted, or I should say I translated the stories in English with French as the second language. I therefore had two versions of these stories on my former website; The French version with an introduction to the English language and the English version with an introduction to the French language.

When I received interesting feedback on the website and I was told my stories had potential and should be published on printed paper, I decided to rewrite the first two in English (with dialogues translated in French). Why English first and not French? Well, this decision was easy to make, I was confident enough in my English written skills, we had always been living in an English spoken country since the children were born. It was definitely a no-brainer, I thought it was more relevant to reach an audience of Anglophone children and try to make them interested in finding out more about the French language. Rowanvale Books, a Publisher in Cardiff strongly encouraged me and worked with me to release the books.

My age group target is probably children from 5 to 8 years old, but these books can appeal to a wider audience: they can be read-aloud for younger children and can be a more challenging read for older children interested in learning French and improving their French written skills. Even adults studying French at a beginner level told me they were interested in my books!

These books are not French textbooks though, younger readers, if they wish, could easily ignore the French language put in brackets and still enjoy the stories. However, these young readers could also be seduced by the discovery of a different language, consider the other language as a secret code for example, they could even use their creative imagination to invent games to play with their friends, based on this code. I never wanted to be too ‘pushy’ in the learning of French, my intention has always been to offer a gentle and fun approach.

The first purpose of the books remains to entertain children and then to encourage them to learn something they might never have heard of for some, or to practice their French skills for others.
I’ve joined a little lexicon at the end of each book with a selection of words related to the main theme of the stories.

The books are called; ‘The First Day’ and ‘The Birthday Party’. They belong to the series; ‘The Adventures of Justine and Sebastien, the Bilingual Children’

Claire kindly sent both books for us to review. Emily’s review will be up in the next few days.

If you want to get hold of a copy, they are available here:
‘The First Day’

‘The Birthday Party’

To pre-order both books at once and only pay one postage, here are the links;

UK postage

International postage

Watch out for our review of these books, coming up very soon.

b small – making language learning fun

I met the lovely people from b small a few years ago at Language show live. I’m delighted they have written us a guest post and a bit about their amazing books. So here is their blog about the many benefits of language learning.

Many people are aware that learning a language has benefits – but did you have any idea just how wide-ranging they are?

Language learning has been shown in studies to improve brain function. After just three months of language learning, brain-imaging studies showed growth in four areas. This leads to a number of improvements in social and cognitive tasks.

Language learners score higher in verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests. Empathy is increased, as it is thought that bilingual people are better at ignoring their own feelings in order to focus on the feelings of the other person. Perception is improved, meaning language learners are better at filtering out information which is irrelevant. This enhances decision making, meaning that bilingual people are able to more rational decisions than monolingual people.

Language learning also leads to improvements to memory, since the brain is like a muscle that functions better when exercised. Studies show that language learners perform faster and more accurately when asked to complete a memory task.

Language learners also become more aware of their mother tongue, for example improving their understanding of its grammar and sentence structure. Listening skills are enhanced, as language learners learn to listen for meaning above anything else.

As for the world of school and work, the many social, cultural and benefits to learning a language are well known. A second language is also estimated to increase earning potential during a career at a rate of £100,000.

Language learning is easier for a child than an adult. Studies show that children learn faster, improve their command of their mother tongue and have a more positive attitude to other languages and cultures.

This is where b small fit in. They are an independent publisher of colourfully illustrated language learning books in French, English and Spanish. b small specialise in language books for young learners, so they know what makes children tick. This allows them to create motivating books to help children develop a passion for language learning.

b small believe that language learning is a fun activity and this is reflected in their books. The books are created to be an invaluable resource for teachers, bilingual parents for home learning or just parents wanting to support their children in learning a foreign language. The complete range includes beautifully illustrated picture dictionaries, first word books, dual language story books, sticker books and activity books.

There are lots of beautiful books on their site. Please mention Lingotasic when you place your order.

Inspirational mum Reem from Ossass-Stories.

July’s inspirational mum is Reem, author and publisher from Ossass-Stories.

 

What is your career background?

After studying English at university, I started working as a translator and researcher in Jerusalem, mainly with The New York Times. In 2006, when I was 26, the Israel-Lebanon war broke out, and I urged my boss to let me go to the frontline because I knew the area well. It was my first major journalistic assignment. I realised that being fluent in Arabic would be even more of an advantage in video than in print, so I taught myself how to film and edit video. In 2009 I started doing videos for The New York Times, going into the field, interviewing people, filming them, writing my own scripts and editing together the video reports. In 2012 I moved to New York, and was hired as a staff video journalist by The Wall Street Journal. I mainly covered Middle East affairs, the war in Syria and Iraq, the rise of ISIS and the refugee crisis.

 

How did your career change after having children?

I put my career on hold twice, both times after giving birth to my daughters. After my first, in 2011, I waited 9 months before going back to freelance video journalism, although I was able to do some translation before that. I really enjoyed being a mother, but I also loved my work as a journalist, and I was happy that I could be both. I was happier and more fulfilled, and although I had originally intended to stay at home longer to bring my daughter up bilingual in Arabic and English, it very quickly became clear that she was learning more words and language skills when she was at a nursery interacting with other children her own age and other adults. There was a similar pattern after my second daughter was born in New York in 2015. I left my job at The Wall Street Journal when I was 9 months pregnant, spent the first 18 months with her – and settling my family into a new life in London. I only recently started freelancing again, but I have spent the last few months working on building up my small business, which publishes Arabic books for children.

 

Where did the idea for your business come from?

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” Or, in my case, the mother who invented. Arabic has two registers: formal and colloquial. All books, newspapers, magazines, radio and television programmes  – even for children – use the formal version of the language. That was very frustrating to me as a child, to read children, animals and cartoon characters talking like lawyers and newspaper editorials. When I became a mother I just couldn’t read those books out aloud to my children. So I decided to write children’s books in colloquial Arabic. Things are changing in the Arab world – satellite television channels have familiarised people with other Arabic dialects, and social media has got people accustomed to the idea that it is all right to write as you speak. Other mothers and fathers in the Arab diaspora told me they felt the same, and that it was more important for their children to learn to speak to their grandparents and cousins than to struggle their way through high, formal Arabic texts.

I talked with my husband about this idea in March 2014 and we published our first book in December 2015. When I got the first actual solid book in my hands, it really was a huge feeling of achievement, an affirmation that we were doing something new, and a little bit revolutionary.

 

What drives you do what you do?

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was always in the back of my mind, but I never really formulated a plan. But then the world changed around me and I realised that we were living in an era of mass migration of Arabs to Europe, America and elsewhere.

As someone who lives in the Arab diaspora I saw these new arrivals turn up – as a journalist I even went to interview some of them – and it became even more important to me that we should have a new children’s literature in Arabic, featuring the contemporary world. Our books feature a confident, outgoing young Arab girl who feels entirely at home in places like New York. Because it is her city. That is how our oldest daughter defines herself if anyone asks her where she is from: she says “I am from New York City.” I love that. And I want books that show Arabs living in the West comfortably, being an integral part of the scenery, fluent in the language and culture. It’s a passion to me.

 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I was really surprised by how quickly an idea became a real product. It all started one evening in March 2014. I was frustrated after reading a bedtime story to my daughter in formal Arabic. I went to the living room and told my husband that I wanted to write children’s books in colloquial Arabic. It was a eureka moment, it was so obvious to me that this needed to be done, and I had no doubt in my heart or mind that I was going to do it. My husband was so positive, encouraging and very excited about the idea. I started with my research work that evening. I contacted an illustrator the next day after seeing his work on the internet. We found a lawyer to help us set up our own publishing house, we signed a contract with the illustrator two months later, and our first book was published a year and a half after the idea was born. We’ve just published our second book, and I couldn’t be prouder.

 

Who is your target audience?

Our books are mainly designed for Arab children living in the diaspora. But since we started selling, we have also seen interest from college and university students, who are studying colloquial Arabic, but can’t find books to practise it. The book is now on the shelves of public libraries in New York, Norway and Sweden, and in bookshops in cities around the world where there is an Arab community.Our books are for everyone who enjoys a good story. We’re even thinking to translate it into other languages, including English.

 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Most of it is done on social media. We have a Facebook page, and Twitter and Instagram accounts. We also have people who subscribe to our emailed newsletters. We have held readings in schools and colleges and we have a pink business card in the shape of a bookmark that we send out with every book, and encourage people to tell a friend. We are right now preparing for an Arabic cultural street festival in New York – where we had a stall last year – and for our first one in London. I tell everyone I meet about our books, because I am very proud of it, and also I would like people to spread the word. It’s a lot of work.

 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

I think that there aren’t enough hours in the day to manage to be a mother and a business woman. There’s so much work to do when it’s your own business, every little decision from deciding the name of your company, to designing your logo, to choosing the paper thickness of the books, to writing the best promotional post on Facebook. Much of it is up to me, although my husband does help as much as he can while doing a full time job in journalism. Publishing involves a lot of back and forth with printers, smoothing out the text and pictures with the illustrator, and with the friends and colleagues who are more fluent in, say, the Egyptian dialect than I am. My husband and I both post the books personally – those sent from London, at least – which takes up time but provides an enormously satisfying moment when another envelope gets sent on its way.

 

So, I would say that time is my biggest obstacle. Being a mother to an 18-month-old toddler also means there are some feelings of guilt. Am I giving my younger daughter enough attention? But I also see that my older daughter is immensely proud to see her life chronicled in books that are – loosely – based on her life. And I am proud to see a small publishing house that started from nothing growing every day.

 

And your proudest moment/biggest success so far?

I think the happiest and proudest moment for me was when I first saw the first copy of our first book. I was 9 months pregnant, very heavy, and it was an incredibly emotional moment. We had worked for months on the story, the illustrations, the backstory, the rollout plan. It was more than anything a lesson that you can do anything with persistence, hard work and big dreams. Nothing beats the feeling of working for your own company. Seeing it all come together… it was almost like giving birth. But much less painful.

 

Who inspires you?

I admire ambitious women. I remember a few years ago I used to follow a New York Times video series featuring business women from different backgrounds who started from zero and built their business empires. And I remember so clearly looking at their stories and thinking “I want to do the same! I want to have an idea and turn it into a successful business model.”

NEWSFLASH
Reem will be appearing at some amazing cultural festivals over the summer. To find out more read her newsletter.
Full name: 

Reem Makhoul

Author and Publisher

 

Company: 

Ossass-Stories

(Publishing House | Children’s books in colloquial Arabic)

 

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/OssassStories

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/OssassStories

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/arabicbooksforchildren/

Website: www.Ossass-Stories.com

Emailcontact@Ossass-Stories.com

 

Why would adults learn languages?

We have a brilliant guest blog from my lovely friend Nathalie. She speaks at least two languages daily and a few more besides, so must be always learning languages. Anyway, over to Nathalie

If you are reading this blog, the chances are you already know how beneficial the exposure to other languages is to children. What about us as adults though? Either you don’t know another language or you already know one, 2, 3… or even more… Either way I feel we should always either practise and improve our skills in one language or learn new ones. I don’t necessarily mean to become fluent but to learn new sounds, new rules, new cultures… Why?

• It sets a good example for the children around you
• It puts you in the position of a learner; no one should ever forget what it feels like to learn new things: the excitement and the challenges! This way you can always sympathise with other learners, especially children
• It gives you focus; you have to be committed in order to learn another language
• It is good for your brain: research has shown that learning languages can help protect against Alzheimer’s
• It gives you direct access to more understanding: of words, of texts, and more importantly of people, even without travelling
• When you have found a way which works for you, it should be enjoyable too; if it isn’t, try another language… or another way!
I am sure they are many more reasons… please do share them with us!!


So which language am I learning at the moment?
I am learning Italian, partly with Duolingo, because I am going to Rome in April and I want to be able to communicate at least a little and I want to be able to pronounce food when I order it! Then I will learn Dutch ahead of a trip to Amsterdam with the football team which I coach and my daughter plays for; I will be encouraging the girls to try speaking Dutch when we’re there! Afterwards, I would like to learn some Arabic as a change from the European languages which I know and love… and an extra challenge!

Which language are you learning at the moment? Let us know in the comments below.

If you want to read more of Nathalie’s blogs and brilliant book reviews check out.
http://www.nattalingo.co.uk/

Language Show Live fun

Language Show Live

language-show

This weekend we had a lot of fun as a family at Language Show Live. We found some brilliant resources and met some lovely people along the way. Check out our (rather crazy) video of our visit.

Here are links to get in touch with the people featured.

Confucius institute

European Schoolbooks

Apple Languages

Superstickers

Hekayatona- Arabic resources for children

Rockalingua

uTalk

FlashSticks

One Third Stories

Tutor Ming

Bonjour Grammaire

Did you visit Language Show Live 2016?

What was your favourite part?

Interview with James from Soundimals and a hamster!

James HamsterAt our Lingotastic family language classes anything that involves animals and making animal noises is a hit, so when I came across the fun Soundimals illustrations by James Chapman I had to find out more…
We last interviewed James in January 2015, you can read that here


Since we last spoke I know you’ve finished your PHD. How are you finding life after University?

Life after university is good! I always imagined I’d double my productivity as I used to work all day at university then come home and work all evening on illustration, but now my days are all illustration I’m pretty worn out by about 6, ha. It’s good to have some relaxation time though, I never really had the whole work/life balance sorted out before but now it’s all quite nice.

Emily: We’ve just got a pet hamster. Have you done any pictures of hamsters?

Congratulations on the hamster! Hamsters are a lot of fun, my brother had one when we were young, had to keep it well away from the cat! I think I have drawn maybe one hamster? I’ll have a look and see if I can find it somewhere, it was wearing a tiara I think!

Jasmin: Have you got any pets in your house?

As for my pets, there are some fish that I live with! Three of them and they blub away while I’m working. I’d love a dog and some cats, but I don’t think I’m allowed them in my building just at the moment. One day though, one day I’ll have a hundred cats.

Have you had any interesting commissions lately?

Over the summer I’ve had a few wedding commissions to draw up, which is always really nice. I actually was commissioned to make a comic book that was used in a proposal between two friends of mine! It told the story of them both and the last page said “Will you marry me” and it was very very adorable. Wedding stuff is always very fun.
Aside from that I’m working with a Manchester charity for an art show in a few months. Exciting and daunting in equal measure, it’s still in the works but hopefully it’ll be a fun fun event.

What are your hopes for the future of Soundimals?

With Soundimals, I’d love to keep spreading the word mostly! It’s a fun book but with a strong message of diversity and being open to other cultures and I’d like to share that with as many people as possible. It’s had a really good response already online and the books are selling really well, so I suppose maybe the next step is to find a publisher/distributor and try and get them in shops all oooover the place.
In the mean time, I’ve been working on a few new books, including a big one about proverbs from all around the world. I’ve posted a fair few around instagram and my site, they’re mostly wise phrases and expressions that are commonplace in their native country but sound so different to other cultures. “A bad workman blames his tools” sounds quite normal to me, but in Polish the phrase is “a bad ballerina blames the hem of their skirt” – a much more exciting version! I’m just trying to get that book together now, so hopefully they’ll be some news on that in the new year. Keep up with what I’m up to on tumblr

The book Soundimals and How to Sneeze in Japanese can be found in my shop along with a new new new book called When Frogs Grow Hair. It’s all about the different phrases people say when they think something is impossible – like when pigs fly in English. In Spanish, they say “when frogs grow hair” and in German it’s on “St. Never’s Day” which sounds especially sassy, like a line from Mean Girls. Anyway, that’s the new one! I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone.

PS I found it! It was a sketch someone requested in the front of their book!

Thanks James, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. The hamster is soooooo cute!

What shall we do with the BOO HOO BABY?

Some of the props we use with the book.

You may have noticed a few book reviews from my gorgeous girls recently. Well I’m not

Some of the props we use with the book.

Some of the props we use with the book.

missing out! At Lingotastic, we love to share stories together, (with puppets of course)

Before I start this series I need to issue a disclaimer. I will probably say of each book it’s my favourite! I love a good picture book and different picture books are good for different audiences and different languages. So what shall we do with the BOO HOO BABY?

This weeks book is

Qu’Est-Ce Qu’On Va Faire Avec Le Bébé Ouin Ouin ? What shall we do with the boo hoo baby?  By Cressida Cowell illustrated by Ingrid Godon. Published by Mantra Lingua.

This copy is in French and Engilsh but Manta Lingua have published it in 20 languages so I’m sure you’ll find one to suit you.

This is a bilingual book but I do not always read the English if they are understanding anyway.

The baby is crying and la vache, le chat, le chien and le canard do what they can to calm him down, with little effect until…. (no spoilers!)

This book has lots of repetition so little ones soon know what comes next.

It has animals and animal noises which is always a winner. Little ones love to join in with that almost as soon as the books starts which really makes it an interactive story. The pictures are lovely which I find so important in a picture book. When reading this with small children I have toys for them to hold, dogs, cats, cows and ducks. I start by letting them choose an animal and then talking about what noises the animals make.

As I read it to parents and little ones, both enjoy it. The parents were waiting with baited breath to see if the animals could calm a crying baby and I reckon to get some tips for themselves.

Many Mantra Lingua books are available in local libraries or buy your own copy.They are available in a huge variety of languages. These are the ones I would use at home or in our Lingotastic classes.

Do you have a favourite bilingual book? We’d love to know about it. Let us know in the comments below.

By Toutatis – what a ride! At Parc Astérix

The chief!

The chief!

I don’t really have a bucket list as such, but if I had, then right at the top would have been a trip to Parc Astérix, just outside Paris. Ever since its opening back in 1989, I’ve been wanting to go. No idea why it’s taken me this long, but in any case the 27-year wait was worth it.

I think my indomitable wife, Sarah, only told half the story when she said about our Family Trip to Paris on a budget that it was really all my idea. No, the actual idea for the trip was the brainchild of our little book addict daughter (yes, the serial book reviewer you may remember from a couple of blogs). But of course when she announced she wanted to go to Paris, Dad was all for it, in order to finally meet his childhood hero Astérix.

I have to confess, I’ve read every The Mansions of The Gods “>Astérix book (in various languages), and watched every film. In fact, I’m quite excited that there seems to be a concerted effort to re-launch Astérix in the UK, with big names like Jack Whitehall, Catherine Tate and Dick & Dom providing voices for the most recent Asterix: Asterix: The Mansions Of The Gods [DVD]“>”The Mansions Of The Gods” movie. Yes, went to see it in Germany over a year ago already, but I wouldn’t want to miss the UK release for anything … but more on that in a later blog.

Back to Parc Astérix. When I first heard about it, I had only just started secondary school. Now with children of my own, there were many more reasons for going. Kids love theme parks, and for a polyglot family like ours, Parc Astérix was certainly a more genuinely French experience than the (according to feedback from other parents) overhyped and overpriced Disneyland Paris. We spent remarkably little time queuing, even the most popular rides (including Discobélix, a brand new ride which had only just opened) had a maximum of 15 minutes waiting time! Prices in general didn’t seem excessive, compared to what we’re used to from other theme parks, and getting there with the shuttle bus from CDG Airport was nice and easy.

wp-1465773300969.jpg

The biggest surprise, and one of my favourite attractions, was the sea lion & dolphin show. Absolutely amazing! As far as the rides are concerned, I was really impressed that there seemed to be plenty of options for different age groups: From high speed rollercoasters for the older thrillseekers, like Oziris, to family friendly rides and attraction for the “Young Gauls”, there is plenty to choose from. Finally, the spectacular live action show “Romains – Gaulois: Le Match” was a fitting and entertaining conclusion to our day at Parc Astérix

I think I’ll have to find a new excuse to ensure I won’t have to wait for our next visit as long as I had to for the first one!

How does it feel to speak a language?

We are really blessed to have a guest post from the inspirational bilingual author Delia Berlin. Prepare to be encouraged and provoked to think.A tall order, but she does it! Emotional Aspects of Language Learning

Delia on deck

I grew up in Argentina and my first language was Spanish. Then and there, any knowledge of a foreign language was universally valued. My school years in Argentina exposed me to German, English and French. Today, I’m only fluent in Spanish and English, but I still have rudimentary knowledge of a variety of languages.
Having spent my adult life in the US, when I had a daughter I had to decide what language to use with her. Since I always thought that speaking more than one language was beneficial, I wanted her to learn both English and Spanish. She was bound to learn English from her teachers and peers, so I chose Spanish. She grew up bilingual, and decades later she is now raising a bilingual child of her own.

So why is it that so many Americans with parents or grandparents who spoke another language never learned a word of it? A friend of mine pointed out that in her family, the first generation of immigrants was focused on fitting in. Learning English and leaving the old language behind was required for upward mobility and success. There was no practical value in teaching children a language for which they no longer saw use. For these immigrants who had left their countries forever, survival depended on growing new roots as Americans.

In the years between the world wars, immigrants arrived in waves. There was a hierarchy for these groups, with the latest one to arrive usually being the poorest and least socially connected, and therefore shunned. With language as the main identifier of one’s group, the quicker one learned English, the sooner this discrimination would diminish. Native languages were a liability. It was only natural for parents to want their children to sound “American” and to be spared these difficulties. As for children themselves, then just like now, their focus was to fit in with their peers.

The first time I noticed a child in the US who spoke Spanish but pretended he didn’t, I was baffled. But then, I understood. Here, if you are middle class and educated, travel and have global interactions, proficiency in Spanish is helpful. But if you are a Latino child in a poor community, speaking Spanish may have given you nothing but grief. And so ironically, emotional aspects come into play and those who are most disadvantaged become less likely to exploit the rich, low-hanging fruit of an additional language, that eventually may give them an edge.

libros2

Although largely spared, I was not blind to the prevalent prejudice and discrimination against Latinos while raising my daughter. I understood that if she was going to speak and maintain Spanish, she had to “buy in” to its benefit. In those days, I didn’t have many bilingual support sources at hand, but a home-made combination of talks, travel, books and even a little Sesame Street, seemed enough to convince my child about the value of her Spanish.
These days, with easier travel, increased communication technology, more diverse populations and a global economy, the practical value of knowing multiple languages has skyrocketed for some. But for many they still remain a stigma.

During the last four decades in the US, inequality has increased resulting in more marked segregation in neighborhoods and schools. In my own town, for example, more than three quarters of the students are Latino, while more affluent adjacent towns have mostly white, non-Latino enrollment.
Our teachers and school administrators do their best to support bilingualism, but with segregation entrenched, prejudice and discrimination are hard to eradicate. Speaking Spanish is not perceived by many of these children as helpful, and this presents an emotional barrier to developing and maintaining bilingualism. How could we change this negative perception in every child who has the opportunity to learn Spanish from a young age?

kids' books

In my community, my contribution comes in the form of writing bilingual books for children and reading them at local schools. Bilingual books help children make linguistic connections between their languages. In their homes, these books allow every family member (a grandma who may not speak English, or a young uncle who doesn’t know Spanish) to share the same story. Children can discuss the story with everyone in the family, and even adults may benefit by improving their own language skills. By reading these books in local schools, I also demonstrate that bilingual skills are valuable. Many of these children have never met an author, let alone a bilingual one. For some of them, this single experience may tip the scale of motivation.

When I’m out with my young granddaughter, we speak Spanish. While rarely anyone says anything, gestures and actions speak louder than words. The wide range of responses from people around us spans from sheer delight to harsh judgment. At times, even I become self-conscious enough to switch languages, as if needing to prove that we can speak English, that we are home.

We all can find our own ways to recognize the value of languages to motivate children’s learning. Our help could come in the form of praise for a child’s language proficiency, or a request for help with a translation. And it could be as subtle as becoming aware of our own reactions to people speaking foreign languages. Worldwide there are different social dynamics at play for each foreign language. Some languages may even trigger public distrust, avoidance, or fear. Children may not be able to articulate these reactions, but they certainly notice and internalize them.

Bio Statement:
Delia Berlin was born in Argentina but has spent most of her life in Connecticut. With graduate degrees in both Physics and Family Studies, she worked in early intervention, education, and administration, and taught child development at the college level. She writes bilingual children’s books, as well as essay collections with her husband, artist David Corsini. For more information about Delia Berlin and her books, visit her website at deliaberlin.com.

If you’d like to buy some of Delia’s lovely books click on the links below.

« Older Entries