Gosh, it is so wonderful to speak in two or even more languages! It makes at least twice as more opportunities to meet interesting people, read inspiring books, share the best jokes. Bilingualism is not even a gallop – it is like a fighter jet flight! It is estimated that there are as many bilingual children as there are monolingual worldwide¹.
It must be said that learning two languages is a hard job. It is a very intensive processing, reorganising, memorising and trying out new skills. The whole process is very much like learning to play two different instruments and I don’t mean thrumming or buzzing, I think about playing the very same tune in absolutely different ways. It is about understanding all those subtleties, between-lines-messages, subtexts, shortcuts etc. In order to gain mastery in playing both instruments one needs years of error and trial, performance, patient listening and spontaneity. Nevertheless, only one instrument at some point will become the most beloved, most intimate tool. I dare to say this will be the language of school friends and colleagues from the teenage years. Luckily, before it happens we, as the parents, have our tune to play and we should play it boldly!
Here are 3 tips on raising a bilingual child:
It is so much easier for a child acquiring the second language when his parents stick to one language only when speaking to their offspring. It doesn’t matter if their native languages are different. A child needs to separate languages clearly in order to speak fluently and not to mix them.
It is not recommended by both Polish and English speech and language therapists to use more then one language by a parent when speaking to a child. The rule of thumb is one parent – one language. I know many Polish parents here in Scotland who mix their native language with English words and sentences in order to support their child’s bilingualism. Kids need to clearly distinguish both or more languages in order to be fluent when using them. Consistency paradoxically helps a child to speak fluently and switch between different languages. The opposite attitude may result in confusion or problems with keeping up within the second language. Although it is definite that at some stage a child finally chooses his first language (usually the one of his peers) but the process ideally happens in teenage years when both languages are well acquired.
It is never to late to learn a new language and the most efficient way to acquire it is to learn as naturally as possible. Most of the children raised in Polish families here in Scotland begin to learn English at the age of 3 or 4 when attending nursery or kindergarten. At this age they usually have the firm base of the native language and therefore learning English becomes much easier. A child needs time to listen, translate and use new words and the process should ideally happen in the child’s own pace. Parents do not have to worry that their child might look confused or withdrawn when confronted with the new language for the first time. Similarly, it is not uncommon for children to go through so called ‘silent period’ when even their native language seems to be a little bit of a struggle. Once kid distinguishes both languages, the ride begins! A little student is learning instinctively starting with the words that have meaning and are immediately needed to express a request. There are no grammar rules, hesitations, idioms in the first efforts to communicate in a new language. Instead, a child is using the language as a tool to become a member of a new gang.
Learning any language is not only about the words, it is also about the way we use them when having conversations, telling jokes, reading between lines, understanding idioms, reading poetry and the linguistic heritage. All these nuances are so much easier to grasp in our native tongue as we usually learn organically when parents read books to us, tell stories, talk to each other, sing rhyme songs. Therefore I usually encourage parents to enrol their children into the Polish Saturday School where pupils learn not only how to read and write in their native language but also have an opportunity to hear more on Polish history, geography, culture and beautiful traditions. Although parents are the prime source of home language, the conversations they usually have are mostly limited to the everyday situations. Much more can be learnt when listening to the old legends or reading classic literature. Luckily, it is so much easier in today world to support greater fluency and control over functional language of the bilingual child. Listening to the audio-books, meeting peers in playgroups, using free digital resources available online , bilingual books– these are very convenient and attractive tools.
Speak to your child in your native languge since his birth the way you would choose to learn him playing the instrument you feel best. Why? Beacuse nobody will do it better with all that natural engagement, joy and love that you give to you childr every day. It is not easy to be bilingual, at least in some situations when words can’t express the real meaning. On the other hand when having two languages at bay we can set on a fantastic journey to get to so many destinations. Happy are those children who have the opportunity to meet and understand more that one culture.
text: Agata Lesiowska
photo: Agata Lesiowska
Dual Language Development and Disorders: A handbook on bilingualism & second language learning, Paradis J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. (2011).. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
DOES A HEN KNOW THAT CHICKENS WILL COME OUT OF HER EGGS?
It may possibly be that in some cases an animal of the highest type, such as a dog, may notice, after a number of times, that certain conequences follow upon its instinctive actions. But it is very unlikely that the hen, whether it be the first time or the twentieth time that she sits, has any idea except simply that things like eggs are very good to sit on. This is true, even though she is glad to see chickens when they come.
The Children’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, The Education Book Company Limited, London, E.C.4
When defining autism I have heard many descriptions such as: people with astonishing abilities, super brains but also isolated minds and refrigerator mums’ kids. It is always human incompetence behind such views and sometimes simple ignorance. The truth is that autistic children are different in many ways, yet absolutely typical in their emotional needs. They have their very individual preferences, expectations, dislikes, dreams and the very universal need to be accepted and loved.
It is my personal experience after years spent during therapy sessions with them, that autistic kids are perfectly capable of sensing my inner world even if the whole world thinks exactly the opposite. They do have some kind of sensor that allows them to recognise one’s intentions and refuse to join under pressure but willing to share the experience when totally accepted and honestly welcomed.
I can always expect entering the ‘Zero Zone’ in an autistic child’s world only after successfully going through the certain sequence of check-points. Those are: a) giving a child plenty of time to explore my space, the room I see him b) allowing him to touch and manipulate with objects that are available and interesting c) avoiding unnecessary contact, being non intrusive, d) joining in play on the child’s rules e) being playful and cheerful accordingly f) sharing things g) looking at each other even briefly h) praising a lot. It is absolutely worth an effort to undergo the procedure, even if it takes months! Then comes the moment when a child can finally understand me and reads my deeply hidden emotions! It is not so rare for me to observe how the little chap suddenly cooperates fantastically all while I have had a really bad day and feel sorrow, sadness or frustration. It is like helping me to overcome that hidden person that the child sees perfectly. It is not true that autistic children are deprived of deeper emotions and any empathy. They can communicate on a very deep levels!
Communication is the key to make friends among peers, to participate in a group and to articulate emotions. Without communication, there is no interaction. Communication is not only about using words and making sentences. It is also about making a proper eye contact and using a gesture. The last one is the simplest and most natural way of expressing need known to humans. No wonder, kids use gestures before they can even speak. It is so much easier to support autistic child with hand movement for the words such as ‘give me, open, stop, more’ rather then articulating the very complicated set of vowels and consonants that form these worlds. Let’s help our children to use communicate!
1. POINTING: learning the cause and effect technique
– it might be difficult for your child to point with his hand, therefore you can support him by using your hand to guide his finger or hand in the direction of wanted object; it is like making the first gestures together
– you can add words to your actions but not too many – one or two is enough and they have to reflect the action such as: car, blocks, juice, give me, open etc
– do not expect from your child to repeat the words, do not prompt him verbally that way; simply wait a moment expectantly and encourage him to look into your eyes as the proper eye contact can be equal to saying ‘yes, I would tell you if I had only knew how‘
– as soon as your child starts to point, says any sounds or looks at you – give him loud and enthusiastic ‘hurray!’ or a hug or a very special kiss
– finish communication with the right effect i.e. give the requested object without any delay
– use this technique with highly interesting objects and create such situations by putting them far from child’s hands but still visible
– always, always teach your child with smile and very friendly attitude, your child will learn that joining you is just fun!
2. COPYING: learning to build the ‘joint attention’ moments
– instead of asking your child to copy you or the way you manipulate with objects such as toys – you should copy your child! That way you’ll find out what is your child’s most preferred stimulus , you will also experience the emotion that your child is looking for
– have two sets of toys, objects that your child chooses as the favourite ones to copy her actions
– when copying try to use words but not too many; simply comment or play silly games such as ‘ouch! the ball is kicking!’, ‘looks like an elephant, no it’s a kangaroo!’
– after some time try to add actions, expand the manipulation by changing the plot and giving your child new ideas : ‘look, cars are broken!’, ‘let’s call the mechanic’
– constantly observe your child’s reactions; after all it’s not about your amusement but your child’s needs and preferences; step back when not wanted and rejected, be close and wait for child’s invitation, never be pushing into anything your child doesn’t understand or like
– copy with smile, easiness and relaxed attitude; do not expect immediate response as sometimes it takes many repetitions for a child to follow the rule
Never give up! If you feel stressed and disappointed simply go out. Take you child to the playground and go in full swing on the swing!
text : Agata Lesiowska
photo : Agata Lesiowska
All rights to the texts and photos are reserved.
Every time I sense a parent who is overly concerned with getting all the things right and keeping objects in order when raising a child I ask that person to prepare flour, rice, sugar, grains and all kinds of ‘loose messy food’ . These are the main ingredients for our session with the child. The purpose is simple: we are going to make a mess. Condition nr 1: we are not allowed to clean our hands in the process and we play that way with our child for at least 30 minutes. Condition nr 2: It is approved to add all kinds of kid’s favourite toys: cars, little dolls, blocks etc. Condition nr 3: the child needs to smile a lot! The parent who passes my test is awarded with a very special rank: the General of Spontaneity!
‘Clean it up!’, ‘Stop messing around!’, ‘Put your toys back!’… we teach children to keep an order from their early years and it is obvious to have this inner instinct of taking care about the things that surround us. There is no question that controlling the objects and taking care of aesthetics is a very important virtue. However, it is also important to give a child sufficient time to understand the rules and respect order. Once it overtakes spontaneity and becomes an obsession – it’s time to abolish the evil through making a mess!
It is so natural for a 1-year-old baby to drop an interesting thing on the floor and listen to the sound it generates. It is perfectly fine for a 1,5-year-old child to spill her drink and mess while self-feeding. Splats and splatters are fun and important learning experience for your baby. It is also common that most of the 2-year-old children to simply adore messing around and emptying all possible boxes in order to explore what’s inside. All of these stages are gradually replaced by more controlled and intentional activities such as creating, sorting, manipulating with things. Unfortunately, some parents want their children to clean up and put away toys too early. Mum is eagerly cleaning child’s face when feeding him with a spoon, commenting ‘do not drop!’ when lifting crayon from the floor, feeling irritated when cleaning up the spilt drink from under the table. It is the shortest way to make her child feel guilty and to associate his actions with fear. Young children need a mess to get their sensory needs fulfilled, to understand basic rules, to develop their senses, to improve their eye-hand coordination and planning, to enjoy their day and many more. Cleaning up can’t be priority during the first years of child’s life.
By creating a mess children can learn so much! There are plenty of opportunities to support child’s development from the therapist’s point of view when letting a child to freely explore and scatter around. It is the abundance of new vocabulary that makes speech and language therapist in me happy when playing with messy materials. Falling down, breaking, sorting, sifting, less, more, soft, hard, help, looking for – these are the words that immediately get into action and thus into the child’s language. I simply adore observing how kid’s sensory needs are fulfilled when he’s allowed to play that way and my greatest fear is that the very same child might never experience such freedom when obsessively taught putting away and cleaning by parents.
Here are some of my favourite ‘messy’ ativities:
– making a road/map with fingers through loosely spread powders, flour, rice on the table and then adding new elements such as junctions, roundabouts, parking. Using car toys and small figures to create the imaginary world out of the chaos…
– finding a small hard element such as a rubber ball, broad beans, a key in a container fillled with loose stuff such as rice, tiny pasta, lentils; using fingers to detect the different sensory experience…
– making cookies and pastry with simple cutters, mixing the ingredients with fingers, shaping, baking, waiting and eating!
Leaning up is similar to a healthy relationship that comes after a lot of trail and error. We can’t obsessively love anybody, nor expect the relationship to be perfect from the beginning. It takes time to sort the problems out, name them and overcome together. It is so important to make mistakes and find the right solution along the way because it makes the couple’s life so much easier and richer. The very similar process applies to learning your child putting things away and cleaning after herself. It simply takes time and should be a good experience. Besides cleaning with a parent’s gentle support and cheerful attitude can be a great fun too!
text : Agata Lesiowska
photo : Agata Lesiowska
All rights to the texts and photos are reserved.