Friday, October 21, 2011

Encourage Exploration and Creativity

For parents who speak the foreign language they are teaching to their children, it is important to remember that in the early years we do not want to critique a child's language skills.

If he or she makes a grammatical error, for example, or leaves something out, you can focus on using the words properly yourself, but do not stop and make a lesson out of what your child just said.

The reason we say this is that we want to foster exploration and creativity with the second language, and stopping to criticize a young child just slows their use of the language because they begin to stop and think. This is not how young children absorb language! They need to hear it many times, interact freely in the language, and then they will absorb it.

If you do not speak the language that your child is learning, a great way to help is to start studying it yourself!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bilingual Babies & Their Brains

An excellent article by Perri Klass, MD, in the New York Times online edition, Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Tell Languages Apart, discusses useful recent research on early exposure to languages.

Some key points:

"...researchers found that at 6 months, the monolingual infants could discriminate between phonetic sounds, whether they were uttered in the language they were used to hearing or in another language not spoken in their homes. By 10 to 12 months, however, monolingual babies were no longer detecting sounds in the second language, only in the language they usually heard.

The researchers suggested that this represents a process of “neural commitment,” in which the infant brain wires itself to understand one language and its sounds.

In contrast, the bilingual infants followed a different developmental trajectory. At 6 to 9 months, they did not detect differences in phonetic sounds in either language, but when they were older — 10 to 12 months — they were able to discriminate sounds in both.

“What the study demonstrates is that the variability in bilingual babies’ experience keeps them open,” said Dr. Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington and one of the authors of the study. “They do not show the perceptual narrowing as soon as monolingual babies do. It’s another piece of evidence that what you experience shapes the brain.”

The learning of language — and the effects on the brain of the language we hear — may begin even earlier than 6 months of age."

The article also discusses and debunks the older notion that growing up bilingual confuses infants and children when it comes to language use. Well-worth a peek at this article!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chinese Character Practice: Typing in Chinese

From time to time, we suggest this, but it's so useful that I am posting it again. If you want your child to learn Chinese characters, let him or her type them! Sure, writing them by hand is lovely, but typing them allows a different type of memorization. Plus it is faster, so you can run through them more quickly and actually get somewhere in terms of writing things.

The goal is to get your child using and enjoying the characters as soon and as much as possible!