Multilingual children: when worlds and words collide

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It is one thing reading academic papers and books about multilingual children, and a very different thing experiencing it yourself when having a conversation with your 4-year-old son.

For example, after a few years of exposure to Turkish and Dutch, he comes up with a sentence such as

Dinozor is nog büyüker dan kamyon.

Thinking about how he combines Dutch and Turkish grammar, it is not difficult at all to see how he arrives at such a funny-sounding but constrained-by-both-languages-therefore-predictable result:

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Multilingual Families: Valuable online resources for families raising multi-lingual children

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Ton Koenraad, a former colleague of mine during PTVELL project, has recently informed me about a project whose website contains valuable resources for multilingual families. The project’s name is unsurprisingly “Multilingual Families”, and its website is located at http://www.multilingual-families.eu.

ml_families

As a father who is raising his child in a multi-lingual environment, such projects always draw my attention. For me, the most valuable and interesting parts of the project’s web site are “for parents” section, “self-access guide for parents“, and “29 activities to support multilingualism at home“.

I hope the project’s web site will also prove to be useful for other families that are trying to raise children in a multi-lingual environment.

Book review: “Bilingual: Life and Reality”

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A brief and very nice read on one of the wonders of the human mind

When a retired bilingual professor who knows his field very well takes the reader on a short and friendly tour, the result is a pleasure in many aspBilingual_Cover1ects. For me, two major aspects of “Bilingual: Life and Reality” were its explaining and debunking of myths related to bilingualism (and never forgetting the fact that experiencing a new language means experiencing a new culture and way of thinking at the same time), as well as having a dedicated chapter on the bilingualism of children.

The readers who did not know much about bilingualism will gain a lot from this book without having forced to struggle with heavy academic linguistics terminology. Parents who are concerned about the bilingualism of their children will be relieved as Prof. Grosjean explains why many of the myths are problematic or plainly false.

From the beginning to the end, the personal tone of the book made me feel like as if I was in a conversation with an old friend who knew a lot about bilingualism and shared this, as well as his personal experiences, without never intimidating.

If you want a good, non-academic starter for all matters related bilingualism, this book is one of the few I can sincerely recommend.

Can kids learn to read at a very young age without you teaching them?

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I’m surprised at and thrilled by a very interesting article in the July-August 2012 issue of American Scientist. In his article, Prof. Dominic W. Massaro claims that it is possible for children to learn reading at a very young age, without explicit instruction. According to Massaro, with the help of latest advancements in cognitive science, computer science and mobile technology, the children can be immersed in an augmented environment in which they can acquire literacy intuitively. The full text of the article, “Acquiring Literacy Naturally” is currently available at http://mambo.ucsc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/2012-07MassaroFinal2.pdf.

Some highlights that really drew my attention:

“Notwithstanding the intuitive primacy of spoken language, I propose that once an appropriate form of written text is meaningfully associated with children’s experience early in life, reading will be learned inductively with ease and with no significant negative consequences. As described by John Shea in this magazine, “there are no known populations of Homo sapiens with biologically constrained capacities for behavioral variability” (March–April 2011). I envision a physical system, called Technology Assisted Reading Acquisition (TARA), to provide the opportunity to test this hypothesis. TARA exploits recent developments in behavioral and brain science and technology, which are rapidly evolving to make natural reading acquisition possible before formal schooling begins. In one instantiation (Figure 3), TARA would automatically recognize a caregiver’s speech and display a child-appropriate written transcription.”

Technology Assisted Reading Acquisition (TARA) implemented on a digital tablet automatically recognizes an adult’s utterance using automated speech-to-text recognition. In these examples, the adult’s comments are recognized and the digital tablet displays some of the words in high definition to the child. (Photographs courtesy of the author.)

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How to raise your children bilingually: The Bilingual Family: A Handbook for Parents

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The Bilingual Family

The Bilingual Family

Whether you moved to a different country and your child faces linguistic challenges, or there is more than one language spoken at home due to different origins of you and your partner, and you are curious (or anxious) about the proper language methods to apply when raising your child, The Bilingual Family: A Handbook for Parents, Second Edition is definitely a very rich source of information and guidance. Particularly in my case, I really want my son to have a native level command of both of the languages spoken by me and my wife. As a person who experienced a lack of communication with his grandmother and grandfather (on his mother’s side), I wish that my child does not experience the same.

I’m happy to read a very humane account of bilingualism that puts the concerns of parents and children at the center, yet being based on solid scientific research and written by specialist linguists who have also raised bilingual children. The book does not only serve as a guide, but also is an antidote against a lot of myths surrounding bilingualism.

The 18 different case studies that draw from the experience of very different families and languages, each with different combinations and attitudes regarding language use is one of the most lively parts of the book; the actual conversations of children will certainly make you smile (sometimes laugh out loudly). Moreover, the last section, where many important and critical concepts are listed alphabetically and discussed in detail will serve as a brief but very valuable guide, at least for me and our family.

What do babies think?

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“Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species,” says psychologist Alison Gopnik. Her research explores the sophisticated intelligence-gathering and decision-making that babies are really doing when they play.

What do babies think?

What do babies think?

Early childhood bilingualism leads to advances in executive attention: Dissociating culture and language

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Shona Whyte drew my attention to an interesting article on bilingualism, children and their executive fuctioning: “Early childhood bilingualism leads to advances in executive attention: Dissociating culture and language

This study investigated whether early especially efficient utilization of executive functioning in young bilinguals would transcend potential cultural benefits. To dissociate potential cultural effects from bilingualism, four-year-old U.S. Korean–English bilingual children were compared to three monolingual groups – English and Korean monolinguals in the U.S.A. and another Korean monolingual group, in Korea. Overall, bilinguals were most accurate and fastest among all groups. The bilingual advantage was stronger than that of culture in the speed of attention processing, inverse processing efficiency independent of possible speed-accuracy trade-offs, and the network of executive control for conflict resolution. A culture advantage favoring Korean monolinguals from Korea was found in accuracy but at the cost of longer response times.

I haven’t finished reading the article yet but I plan to update this entry as soon as I read the article.

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