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Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #8: If a bilingual child experiences any languages problems in one or both languages, dropping one of the languages will fix the situation.

As teachers working in international schools, we are most likely teaching and working with bilingual children (or even, more likely, multilingual children).  Many international school educators also find themselves starting a family; with potentially bilingual children.  We all know colleagues that have ended up finding a partner from the host country while living there, getting married to them, and then starting a family.  None of us are truly prepared to raise a multilingual family and for sure there are many questions and concerns that we have.

What is the best way then to teach and/or raise bilingual children?  What does the research say are the truths about growing up bilingual and how bilinguals acquire both languages?

On the Multilingual Living website, they have highlighted the 12 myths and misconceptions about bilingual children.

Myth #8: If a bilingual child experiences any language problems in one or both languages, dropping one of the languages will fix the situation.

Reality: There is no evidence that this is so.  Children who have problems with two languages generally also have them with one.

This myth is a hard sell for teachers, and especially for teachers at an international school.  We feel so strongly sometimes about how important a child needs to learn in the primary language of instruction that we forget sometimes the importance of learning in a second language (which could also be their mother tongue language or their third+ language).

schoolMany international schools offer more than one language of instruction.  If you are at an IB international school, then you must have more than one language of instruction.  This issue then is how to teach two (or more) languages to the same student.  Is your international school striving to create ’emergent bilinguals’ or just striving to have the students become English proficient?  We know it is good to have students grow up learning multiple languages, but how do we instruct that child to acquire those languages most effectively?  International school administration and staff should be discussing possible answers to this question more often!

Being that acquiring a second language is almost always a bit different for every child, it is hard to tell sometimes what is really the best way instruct that child in a second language.  You could also say the same thing when talking about learning in your first language as well; all children learn their first language differently (e.g. different ways, different speed, different learning styles, etc.) too.

Almost all international schools offer classes to instruct their student population in the host country language.  The expectation usually is that all students at that school will have the opportunity to learn (and to become proficient) in that host country language and to have the right to attend those classes.  Many times though, there are other options for learning during that host country language time for certain students.  For example, students that are new-to-the-English language (if the primary language of the international school is English) or struggling readers and writers in English often don’t attend the host country language classes, instead they go to extra English classes or reading and writing intervention classes to help them get ‘caught up’ faster.

Let’s take a look at the new-to-the-English language students.  Many teachers believe that learning in this new language (a 2nd, 3rd, etc…) will create problems for the child and that they will get confused. Being that you can’t very well tell if those 3-5 extra classes in English will be in direct correlation to an accelerated growth in their English proficiency, it is hard to justify taking them out of the host country language classes.  Additionally, most would agree these new-to-the-English language students don’t actually have language learning problems either.  If we take those 3-5 lessons of extra-English support and put them during lessonsozeki in context of their regular English classes with their mainstream teacher, that just might be a better way to utilize that support.  In addition, those students will then get the opportunity to learn in the host country language as well.

Many times at international schools students don’t go to learn in the second language because of them having language problems in the first language.  Teachers typically justify that by limiting the child’s experiences to learning in just one language that it will be of benefit to him/her in the other language…thus making things less complicated and confusing.  If we agree though that the solution of dropping one language to help solve the learning problems of the child is a myth, then I wonder how that would change the language learning structure at international schools.  We might then come to an agreement that all students, disregarding any language learning problems, should have access to attend classes in a second language or at least the opportunity to become proficient in another language.

Teachers are always looking for the best educational solutions for their students. When it comes to the language acquisition though, there are many myths out there that are still going strong.  It might be important to keep in mind that just because you have structured the struggling student’s timetable to only involve learning in one language that doesn’t mean you will have solved this student’s language learning problem.  A better strategy might be to find more effective ways of instructing the child in question, and use that strategy disregarding which language that student is learning through/in.

So, what do you think about the topic of bilingual children dropping one of their languages to help fix a language learning problem? Please share your comments. Are you working at an international school right now where this topic is of current interest and attention?

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #7: Parents who do not speak a language perfectly will pass their errors and their accent on to their children.

As teachers working in international schools, we are most likely teaching and working with bilingual children (or even, more likely, multilingual children).  Many international school educators also find themselves starting a family; with potentially bilingual children.  We all know colleagues that have ended up finding a partner from the host country while living there, getting married to them, and then starting a family.  None of us are truly prepared to raise a multilingual family and for sure there are many questions and concerns that we have.

What is the best way then to teach and/or raise bilingual children?  What does the research say are the truths about growing up bilingual and how bilinguals acquire both languages?

On the Multilingual Living website, they have highlighted the 12 myths and misconceptions about bilingual children.

Myth #7: Parents who do not speak a language perfectly will pass their errors and their accent on to their children.

Reality: This might be true only if the child never heard any other speakers, which is unlikely to happen with parents who are nonnative speakers of either a majority or a minority language.

It is difficult to know what to tell international schools parents with regards to how to talk to their children.  There are many worries (from the teachers and the parents) about doing the right thing and not making any mistakes that would damage their child’s learning of a language.

If the idea is that the students at international schools learn how to speak from their teachers, the same might just be true that the teachers learn from the example of the students (for in fact, they are in the majority in the classroom).  Being that many international schools have classrooms that have students with varying levels of English proficiency, they are bound to have acquired some of the errors of the majority of the classroom (and the same goes for the teachers working with them who may also acquire those errors).

Language acquisition theory tells us that students learn most of their social language from their peers at school and at home, not necessarily from the teachers.  However, what does second language acquisition theory tells us about how much parents can influence their child’s language acquisition?

Many international schools tell their parents to continue speaking in their mother tongue to the child, and many do without even the school telling them to do so.  But the issue then is, how can the parents help support the English language acquisition of their child while they are attending an international school that has a target language of English?  International school parents do their best to help their child and their English homework.  They also do their best to provide play-dates with their native English speaking peers at school.  International school parents can also try and encourage the English acquisition of their child by providing them opportunities to interact with English by playing games, watching movies/tv, using the internet or by using various apps on their i-pad.  It is true though that they can also create certain opportunities to practice speaking with their child in English with no harm done with regards to passing on errors that they make or an accent that they are speaking in.  As the myth’s reality states: their child will have many other opportunities to listen to and interact with the target language (via various media sources, their teachers and peers, etc.) which will most likely be providing them with other model examples of the target language.  It is indeed a group effort in terms of how a child acquires a second language, it doesn’t appear to just come from the model and influence of their parents.

If you are asked about this topic by a parent at one of your next parent teacher conferences, have a discussion with him/her about this myth’s reality. Also, have a talk about the challenges that expat (bilingual) families face with regards to the delicate balance of what language they speak at home.  Parents can send a message to their child about the importance of the continuation of their mother tongue language, but they can also send a message that they can also communicate in a second (or third, fourth, etc.) language.  Enjoy the time and opportunities that may arise to interact in the target language at school.  These parents can also get the opportunity to practice in that target language and move along further in their proficiency.  Many times international school parents tell their teachers that before, their child couldn’t speak the target language so well and that they [the parents] were more proficient.  Then they are surprised to find out months later that the tables have turned and now their child knows more than them!

So, what do you think about the topic of parents not speaking a language perfectly and then potentially passing on their errors and their accent to their children? Please share your comments. Are you working at an international school right now where this topic is of current interest and attention?

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #6: Some languages are more primitive than others and are therefore easier to learn.

As teachers working in international schools, we are most likely teaching and working with bilingual children (or even, more likely, multilingual children).  Many international school educators also find themselves starting a family; with potentially bilingual children.  We all know colleagues that have ended up finding a partner from the host country while living there, getting married to them, and then starting a family.  None of us are truly prepared to raise a multilingual family and for sure there are many questions and concerns that we have.

What is the best way then to teach and/or raise bilingual children?  What does the research say are the truths about growing up bilingual and how bilinguals acquire both languages?

On the Multilingual Living website, they have highlighted the 12 myths and misconceptions about bilingual children.

Myth #6: Some languages are more primitive than others and are therefore easier to learn. The reason that so many people can speak English is that English has less grammar than other languages.

Reality: There is no such thing as a primitive language or a language without “grammar.” All languages are infinitely complex and yet learn-able.

It is very easy to starting thinking that some languages are somehow less complex and therefore are easier to learn.  Is English really not that complex?  Why are so many people able to acquire it around the world?

I have heard many times throughout my career (by non-native speakers of English) in the international school community and in life in general working with people from all parts of the world that learning English is very easy for them and has been very easy for them ever since they started learning it.  Many northern Europeans commonly say that they learned English by watching television programs in English.  Surely, English isn’t that complex then being that you can just acquire it through absorbing the language on a television show.  We will all just have to try that strategy and do that with another language and see what results we get.  Of course these people have had some English through their upbringing in school which helped them comprehend most of what was being said in these television programs, and I suppose then it was just enough to allow them to acquire other new words as they appeared here and there in the shows. The key really is to be able to comprehend just enough to be able to acquire more. (See Krashen’s i+1 theory)

But like all rules, there are exceptions.  Even in the same community and culture group, I have also heard numerous non-native speakers of English say that they are struggling to learn the complexity of the English language.  There are many people out there that have much difficulty acquiring a high proficiency in English.  This struggle is due to many factors of course, but to these people English is an infinitely complex and very-hard-to-learn language.

Why do we think some languages then are more complex yet others think just the opposite of those languages?  Well it could be that we all learn a language in slightly (or not so slightly) different ways and circumstances.  I can see people starting to think that a language is too complex for them when they are not providing themselves the right environment for successful second language acquisition. These successful environments could be one or more of the following: you spend the majority of your day speaking, listening, reading and/or writing in that language, your partner that you live with only speaks that language and not the language you speak as a mother tongue, you are taking language classes on a consistent basis that take up a sizable portion of your work week, you are studying the language in your own way every day, and so on.

Of course then, all languages are infinitely complex.  Sometimes it is just your perception of the language during a specific time frame that could make you think a certain language is too complex for you to easily acquire it. But, are there some languages that can take longer to learn than others?  According to this article:

There is some research stating that there are some languages can be learned faster than others.

So, what do you think about the topic of some languages being more primitive and therefore being easier to learn? Please share your comments. Are you living in a country right now that you think has more of a primitive language?

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #5: You have to be gifted in languages in order to learn two languages at once.

As teachers working in international schools, we are most likely teaching and working with bilingual children (or even, more likely, multilingual children).  Many international school educators also find themselves starting a family; with potentially bilingual children.  We all know colleagues that have ended up finding a partner from the host country while living there, getting married to them, and then starting a family.  None of us are truly prepared to raise a multilingual family and for sure there are many questions and concerns that we have.

What is the best way then to teach and/or raise bilingual children?  What does the research say are the truths about growing up bilingual and how bilinguals acquire both languages?

On the Multilingual Living website, they have highlighted the 12 myths and misconceptions about bilingual children.

Myth #5: You have to be gifted in languages in order to learn two languages at once.

Reality: Early language learning is not like a talent and does not require a special gift; it’s part of being human, like walking or seeing with two eyes.

Sometimes it seems like everyone except for you has the “gift” of learning languages when living abroad. These people that you are secretly jealous of appear to be acquiring proficiency of the local language at a very rapid speed while you are learning at a very slow and disconcerting pace.  We get caught up in this idea of how the “stars are aligning”(apparently) for others that are really good at communicating with the locals.  But we are forgetting that these people are also the ones that are taking language classes two times a week.  They are studying and doing their homework from their languages classes on the bus or train ride before and after school each day.  They are the ones that are getting themselves out, which means they are meeting and interacting with the locals…especially the locals who are not even able to speak in English. The list goes on too…as there are still more things that could greatly improve your chances of becoming a near-bilingual with your home language and the host-country language.

So, it is understandable that those without the “gift” think that way about themselves as most of the time they are not taking the necessary steps that would move them in the direction of achieving a high proficiency in the target language. Those struggling with language learning are so sure though that they don’t have the ability to learn languages and become defeated in encounters in the second language and, in general, want to just give up and stop trying sometimes.  Which brings up other factors that come into play for struggling language learners wanting to become a bilingual: the lack of motivation to learn and interact in the target language, not giving enough time in the day to learn the language, not being able to achieve a close enough accent using correct pronunciation, etc.

Young learners don’t have to worry about those factors, especially in a school environment.  Though some second language learner students go through a silent language (which might include some lack of motivation to learn (in English) during class lessons), they typically get through that stage fairly quickly and move forward with learning the target language very quickly (like “learning how to walk or seeing with two eyes” as Multilingual living has stated).  Because the young learners (future bilinguals) are applying all the factors that positively affect their gaining proficiency level in the target language (e.g. spending more time in the day to practice the language, talking in the language duing lunch/break time, studying and inquiring into the language at least 5 days a week, etc.), they are achieving quick and high success in their language learning.  This time of faster acquisition directly relates with these learners’ motivation.  When motivation is high, then the sky is the limit and achieving true bilingualism is indeed a nearing reality. Anyone can do just this, in theory, even those who are adults and those without the “gift”.

What do you think about the topic of having the “gift” of learning languages? Please share your comments. How many people with the “gift” are working at the international school you work at?

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #4: Bilinguals are like two monolinguals in one person

As teachers working in international schools, we are most likely teaching and working with bilingual children (or even, more likely, multilingual children).  Many international school educators also find themselves starting a family; with potentially bilingual children.  We all know colleagues that have ended up finding a partner from the host country while living there, getting married to them, and then starting a family.  None of us are truly prepared to raise a multilingual family and for sure there are many questions and concerns that we have.

What is the best way then to teach and/or raise bilingual children?  What does the research say are the truths about growing up bilingual and how bilinguals acquire both languages?

On the Multilingual Living website, they have highlighted the 12 myths and misconceptions about bilingual children.

Myth #4: Bilinguals are like two monolinguals in one person

Reality: There are special capabilities that bilinguals have that monolinguals do not. Bilinguals very often have one (dominant) language that is compatible to that of a monolingual and another, weaker one, which they use less often. In any conversation, bilinguals choose whether to operate in a bilingual mode or a monolingual mode.

One time a director told me that there was a true bilingual person working at the international school I was working at six years ago. This teacher had been born in a Spanish-speaking country, so she grew up speaking Spanish at home and in her community.  During her childhood, she attended an international school actually, an international school in was in the same Spanish-speaking country.  She was learning mostly in English there, but still taking classes in Spanish and most likely speaking in Spanish in the hallways, with her friends, and on the playground.  Then after her formal schooling she ended up living in Los Angeles for many years, so she was in a English-speaking country now, but the surrounding community was also very Spanish.  She started teaching in that city in their public school system, and I am sure that she had many students in her class who were from Spanish-speaking backgrounds as well.

During her time in Los Angeles, she met her partner who was a man from Argentina…another native Spanish speaker, though he knew English as well from living in the United States for some time.  From Los Angeles she and her partner moved back to live in the country she was raised in and took a job as a teacher at the international school she attended when she was younger (what an interesting turn of events!).  In turn, she was back speaking her native tongue in the Spanish-speaking country she was born in, living with her native Spanish-speaking husband, and working at a school where she would be using Spanish and English on a daily basis.

Is this teacher a true bilingual?  She did seem to be acting like two monolinguals in one person as she has had opportunities to develop both languages to a very high proficiency level due to her experiences moving around the world, having a partner that was bilingual as well, and teaching in schools that encouraged the learning of both languages.  The myth though, however, states that bilinguals are not like two monolinguals in one person.  I suppose then that is true, mostly because the “power” of one language surely dominated the other depending on the living and work situation of the person.  It is complicated being a “true” bilingual and I am sure it is not crystal clear on the abilities of each language at a specific moment in a bilingual’s life.  The proficiency levels of each language are most likely always in flux and constantly changing. On the other hand, for this person, her proficiency level in each of her languages is and has been always very high, so the argument that one was more dominant is negligible.

For students at international schools though, they haven’t had the same amount of language experiences as an adult has had.  On the other hand, maybe they have.  Many international school students are moving around from country to country and their abilities in their native language and the other languages they know are also always in flux and constantly changing.  It would be difficult to say that an international school student at any given moment in their life is acting like two monolinguals in one person as they most likely haven’t achieved the same level of proficiency in the two languages they know and have been learning in.

What do you think about the topic of bilinguals not being like two monolinguals? Please share your comments. How many “true” bilinguals are at the international school you work at?

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #3: Young children soak up languages like sponges.

As teachers working in international schools, we are most likely teaching and working with bilingual children (or even, more likely, multilingual children).  Many international school educators also find themselves starting a family; with potentially bilingual children.  We all know colleagues that have ended up finding a partner from the host country while living there, getting married to them, and then starting a family.  None of us are truly prepared to raise a multilingual family and for sure there are many questions and concerns that we have.

What is the best way then to teach and/or raise bilingual children?  What does the research say are the truths about growing up bilingual and how bilinguals acquire both languages?

On the Multilingual Living website, they have highlighted the 12 myths and misconceptions about bilingual children.

Myth #3: Young children soak up languages like sponges.

Reality: Children seem to have an easier time learning languages than adults, but we should not underestimate the effort it takes and should not expect them to learn perfectly from the beginning.

Actually some second language learners go through a silent stage when they first start to learn a new language (for sure in adults and even with children).  Some of my students this school year spent between 2-4 months in their silent stage.  Are these students “soaking up” all the language they are hearing or are they just trying to resist the exhausting task of learning in this new language?  Some might say that they are indeed like “sponges.” Even though they are not talking in the target language, they seem to be learning more vocabulary words, grammar structures, etc all the time.  Then all of a sudden the silent-stage ends and the student starts talking one day in class.  “Where did all this language come from?” you might be asking yourself. “Did they take everything in like a sponge?”

I can see then why adults seem to think that all the students need to do is just be “immersed” in the target language and they will learn it.  That is not necessarily true for adults though.  Many teachers live in one country for two years, let’s say, and come away from that experience learning very little of the host country language.  It is definitely a myth to say that to learn a new language you must simply go and live in a country that speaks that language.  Then you will learn the second language just by being there.

I think the key with students learning the target language faster than adults is that they are going to school (their job) every day for 7-8 hours, speaking and interacting in that target language. If you are an adult and the majority of your day isn’t you speaking and interacting in the target language, then the odds are that you will be acquiring the language much slower.  Also, many people believe that if children are very proficient in their mother tongue, that the learning of the 2nd language will indeed go much faster.  If that was true though then adults could also in theory be learning languages just as fast as we are all very proficient in our first language; that is if the majority of their day was them speaking and interacting in the target language.

What do you think about the topic of children learning languages faster than adults? Please share your comments. How fast are the students learning English at the international school you work at?

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #2: Bilinguals start out school behind monolinguals and they never catch up.

As teachers working in international schools, we are most likely teaching and working with bilingual children (or even more likely multilingual children).  Many international school educators also find themselves starting a family with potentially bilingual children.  We all know colleagues that have ended up finding a partner from the host country while living there, getting married to them, and then starting a family.  None of us are truly prepared to raise a multilingual family and for sure there are many questions and concerns that we have.

What is the best way then to teach and/or raise bilingual children?  What does the research say are the truths about growing up bilingual and how bilinguals acquire both languages?

On the Multilingual Living website, they have highlighted the 12 myths and misconceptions about bilingual children.

Myth #2: Bilinguals start out school behind monolinguals and they never catch up.

Reality: In fact, bilinguals tend to have faster growth curves than monolingual children.

When a student starts to learn a new (second) language, it is true that they are behind in terms of their ability in the second language.  But because of this large gap in knowledge and vocabulary when compared to their first language, that means that they have much more to learn.  When a monolingual makes a typical gain of one grade level each year, a bilingual child will typically make a 1.5 grade-level growth in one year.

Why is it then that most people think that bilingual children are not able to catch up?  I’m not for sure what the statistics are on this, but growing up bilingual is probably not common situation in households around the world.  There are still quite a few families that are growing up monolingual and stay that way throughout their lives.  The lives of international school teacher families are definitely in the minority.

Another reason people think this way might be because the language growth result isn’t immediately apparent, for it will take awhile until the bilingual children is proficient and at the same language-ability level in their second language as their first language (a few years for example).

Not always though is one of the two languages the dominant one.  Sometimes, if the child is learning two languages at their home since birth, he/she will show a relatively equal growth pattern in both languages.  However, it is not uncommon to find that bilingual children choose one of the two languages to be more dominant (especially when the child is learning mostly in one of the two languages at their school).

It is difficult to get the right balance when thinking about providing a child with the perfect language-learning environment for both languages.

If you are a parent of a bilingual child, share what you know about finding the perfect language-learning environment for the two languages of your bilingual child.  Have you found that your child has made significant faster growth curves at school because of their proficiency levels in their two languages?