The uptake of modern foreign languages in UK schools is continuing to
decline, yet in an increasingly multicultural society and global
marketplace the skills developed through language learning are more
important for young people than ever. So how can language teachers get
young people engaged in languages again?
One of the main barriers
for pupils choosing their subject options is a question of relevance.
How does learning French/German/Spanish relate to their lives and how
will it benefit them as individuals? This relevance will be different
for each individual and for each class but it is important that all
language teachers acknowledge this barrier and that they can work within
the confines of the curriculum to enhance the relevance for their
For pupils to successfully learn a language, they need to
have self-motivation and they need to be engaged in what they are
learning. This is difficult to achieve through a focus on the practical
aspects of language learning of vocabulary and grammar, so language
classes in school need to take a broader approach looking at the context
in which a language has developed and is used.
different cultures is a great way of introducing this wider context into
a language lesson but also has wider benefits of broadening young
people's horizons and introducing them to other ways of living. Learning
about, sharing and accepting other cultures in a language lesson breaks
down barriers between different cultures even beyond English cultures
and that of the target language.
Many schools now have
increasingly multicultural student bodies. When looking at the culture
of the target language, compare their traditions to those of the UK and
the cultures from which other class members may originate. Start by
comparing the main festivals and holidays that all young people will be
familiar with like Christmas, Eid, Hanukkah, New Year and Easter. Get
the class involved, asking questions and conducting independent research
to explore other cultures. They can then present their findings back to
the class using the target language wherever possible.
this approach to language learning also opens up the opportunities for
using real artefacts as first hand resources. Language text-books focus
on the tools needed to learn the practicalities of a language and to
introduce the information and skills needed to pass the exam. Access to
real world resources - whether it is traditional foods from the
supermarket, musical instruments, CDs, films, newspapers or online
sources - can really complement the information within text-books
providing up-to-date and relevant context to the language.
also important to look at how language is actually used by people to
communicate. Having a knowledge of vocabulary and grammar is good, but
this is not always enough to effectively communicate the right message.
Using online translation tools will instantly demonstrate that you
cannot always literally translate text, instead the words need to be
read in the context of the whole sentence or paragraph. Similarly, in
conversing with people, language is used in different ways depending on
the setting. For example in the workplace language is more formal but
with friends there will be more colloquialisms and less-formal use of
language. Young people can start to get an understanding of this by
looking at how the language is actually used, not just how it is used in
Learning a language is easier the earlier you begin.
There has been much debate about the role of languages in primary
schools and this is still continuing. Where most young people start to
learn a language is in secondary school. Not only is it harder to get
into the new language, it is at this time where teenagers start to
become more self-conscious, unsure of speaking up in class for fear of
sounding silly or making a mistake. Teachers should encourage
risk-taking in the classroom, encouraging children to just get involved
and give it a go. Try sharing some of the mistakes you made when you
were learning the language and demonstrate how you learnt from it and
improved your language skills to give reassurance.
A good language
lesson should have a balance of each of the four aspects of language
learning - reading, writing, speaking and listening. As with all
subjects teachers should take into consideration different learning
styles. Some students may be really shy about getting involved in
speaking activities whilst others may struggle with quiet reading
exercises. Ensuring that each lesson covers each of the four bases will
help to meet the needs of all learners in the class.
• John Tanner
is head of Languages at Southbank International School. He wrote this
blog with the help of his colleagues Maria Donovan, Fabienne Fontaine
and Gabriela Hudson. Southbank International School is an IB school
based in London. With approximately 70 different nationalities, language
learning and development is a core focus throughout the school.
From The Teacher Network: http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/2011/nov/16/bringing-languages-to-life
By Carla Thomas McCiure, District Administration, Jan 2013
While education research has long suggested that studying second
languages in K12 schools boosts student achievement in other content
areas, the current testing emphases on mathematics and reading has
placed foreign language instruction relatively low on district priority
lists. However, a growing body of research indicates that
second-language learning should be bumped up significantly, as
demonstrated particularly in the following areas.
Cognitive ability. Numerous studies document a
positive relationship between early second language learning and
improved mental processes, including conceptual learning (Archibald,
2006; Robinson, 1998). For example, a recent experiment with 104
six-year-olds found those who spoke two languages were better at
switching from one task to another, an indicator of their ability to
manage attention (Barac & Bialystok, 2012).
(1999) examined the test scores of 13,200 third- and fifth-grade
students in Louisiana and found that those studying a foreign language
performed better on the state assessment in English than those not
enrolled in a foreign language class, regardless of race, gender, and
overall academic performance. Curtain and Dahlberg (2004) noted in other
studies that learning a second language seems especially beneficial to
the academic achievement of children from minority and low-income
College and career readiness. One in four
institutions of higher education requires applicants to study a foreign
language to gain admission, and one in two requires students to fulfill a
language requirement during college to receive an undergraduate degree
Research and data indicate that implementing a foreign language
program that contributes to such improvements in students’ achievement
and preparedness will require schools and districts to do the following:
Establish a sequenced instructional program.
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) recommends sequenced
preK-to-college programs of sufficient strength to help students become
highly proficient in a second language.
Children who receive second-language instruction before middle school
are more likely to speak the language fluently. Further, young children
who master a second language seem more able than monolinguals to master
additional languages later in life. A study of 60 lifelong bilinguals at
age 20 showed they learned twice as many words in an invented language
than other 20-year-olds who spoke only one language (Kaushanskaya &
Kaushanskaya, 2009). Children develop more positive attitudes toward the
target language, speakers, and culture if they are exposed to the
language by age 10. (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004).
Provide time for instruction.
Students who receive as little as 15 minutes of foreign language
instruction daily can make significant progress if instruction is
motivating, appropriately challenging, and allows for creative use of
the language, according to a research review conducted by Archibald and
colleagues (2006). However, the researchers cautioned school
administrators in Alberta, Canada, to be realistic about what to expect
from offering 95 hours of instruction per year for six years, saying it
would not yield “functional bilingualism and fluency in the second
Offer professional development.
Because hiring highly qualified foreign language teachers is a
challenge, ongoing professional development is especially important.
Foreign language teachers need to be up-to-date on emerging
instructional methods, and language drills. The movement is toward
providing comprehensible input, using the language as a vehicle to teach
academic content, and engaging students in authentic tasks. A
comprehensible input-based method that has produced superior results,
when well executed, is Teaching Proficiency through Reading and
Storytelling (Roof & Kreutter, 2010).
Use technology wisely.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL, 2012)
reports that computer-based programs are increasingly used by qualified
teachers to supplement and/or differentiate instruction, provide
practice, and connect students to native speakers of the target
Learning from Other Countries
According to a 2005 Senate Resolution, fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. adults
are fluent in a second language, compared to more than half of the
adults in Europe. Only 7 percent of U.S. adults attribute their
second-language proficiency to schooling, according to the National
Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey (2011). In 2000, the
Center for Applied Linguistics studied 19 countries where
second-language programs are the norm. Common features were: a coherent
framework, strong leadership, designation of foreign language as a core
subject, rigorous teacher education, use of the target language(s) to
teach content, creative use of technology, and support for heritage
languages (Christian, Pufahl, & Rhodes, 2005). DAPo
by Amber Moore | Jan 02, 2013
A new study shows that children begin learning vowels in their native language while still in the womb.
Babies learn language while still in the womb, a new study has found.
Although, previous research said that babies are ready to start learning
language by their first month, the new study shows that children begin
learning vowels in their native language while still in the womb.
The new study by Christine Moon, a
professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University and colleagues
shows that babies, only few hours old, show an interest in foreign
Brain and sensory mechanisms needed for hearing are developed by 30
weeks of gestation. Babies who have ten more weeks to stay in the womb
have the ability to differentiate words from the native language (used
by the mother).
"The mother has first dibs on influencing the child's brain. The
vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks
onto them," said Patricia Kuhl, co-author and co-director of the
Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of
The study was conducted in two different locations: Madigan Army
Medical Center in Tacoma, WA, and in the Astrid Lindgren Children's
Hospital in Stockholm. Infants heard either English or Swedish vowels.
The study included 40 babies, about 30 hours old. While still in the
nursery, the babies listened to vowel sounds in their native tongue and
in foreign languages. Researchers assessed babies' interest in sounds by
measuring the amount of time babies sucked on a pacifier that was wired
into a computer that measured their reaction to sounds.
Babies tend to suck the pacifier longer for unfamiliar voices than
for familiar ones. The difference in the sucking duration shows that
babies have been listening to native sounds in the womb and are familiar
with it, but now are more interested in sounds that are different.
"This is the first study that shows fetuses learn prenatally about
the particular speech sounds of a mother's language. This study moves
the measurable result of experience with speech sounds from six months
of age to before birth," said Moon.
Researchers chose vowel sounds for the study because these are
prominent, and the researchers thought that the babies could hear them
over other noise.
"This is a stunning finding. We thought infants were 'born learning'
but now we know they learn even earlier. They are not phonetically naïve
at birth," said Kuhl.
Researchers have made considerable advances in the fields of psycholinguistics,
second language acquisition, bilingual pedagogy, and multicultural
education. Today, we know a great deal more about the challenges
faced by English language learners and about promising strategies
for overcoming them. One such strategy, bilingual education, has
been the subject of increasing controversy. Although a growing
body of research points to the potential benefits, there are a
number of commonly held beliefs about bilingual education that
run counter to research findings. Based on current research, this
digest clarifies some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding
language use and bilingual education in the United States.
Fallacy 1: English is losing ground to other languages in the
More world languages are spoken in the United States today than
ever before. However, this is a quantitative, not a qualitative
change from earlier periods. Concentrations of non-English language
speakers were common in the 19th century, as reflected by laws
authorizing native language instruction in a dozen states and territories.
In big cities as well as rural areas, children attended bilingual
and non-English schools, learning in languages as diverse as French,
Norwegian, Czech, and Cherokee. In 1900, there were at least 600,000
elementary school children receiving part or all of their instruction
in German (Kloss 1998). Yet English survived without any help from
government, such as official-language legislation.
Fallacy 2: Newcomers to the United States are learning English
more slowly now than in previous generations.
To the contrary, todayÐs immigrants appear to be acquiring
English more rapidly than ever before. While the number of minority-language
speakers is projected to grow well into the next cen-tury, the
number of bilinguals fluent in both English and another language
is growing even faster. Between 1980 and 1990, the number of immigrants
who spoke non-English languages at home increased by 59%, while
the portion of this population that spoke English very well rose
by 93% (Waggoner, 1995). In 1990, only 3% of U.S. residents reported
speaking English less than well or very well. Only
eight tenths of one percent spoke no English at all. About three
in four Hispanic immigrants, after 15 years in this country, speak
English on a daily basis, while 70% of their children become dominant
or monolingual in English (Veltman, 1988).
Fallacy 3: The best way to learn a language is through "total
There is no credible evidence to support the "time on task" theory
of language learningûthe claim that the more children are
exposed to English, the more English they will learn. Research
shows that what counts is not just the quantity, but the quality
of exposure. Second-language input must be comprehensible to
promote second-language acquisition (Krashen, 1996). If students
are left to sink or swim in mainstream classrooms, with little
or no help in understanding their lessons, they won't learn
much English. If native-language instruction is used to make lessons
meaningful, they will learn more Englishûand more subject
Fallacy 4: Children learning English are retained too long in
bilingual classrooms, at the expense of English acquisition.
Time spent learning in well designed bilingual programs is learning
time well spent. Knowledge and skills acquired in the native languageûliteracy
in particularûare "transferable" to the second language.
They do not need to be relearned in English (Krashen, 1996; Cummins,
1992). Thus, there is no reason to rush limited-English-proficient
(LEP) students into the mainstream before they are ready.
Research over the past two decades has determined that, despite
appearances, it takes children a long time to attain full proficiency
in a second language. Often, they are quick to learn the conversational
English used on the playground, but normally they need several
years to acquire the cognitively demanding, decontextualized language
used for academic pursuits (Collier & Thomas, 1989).
Bilingual education programs that emphasize a gradual transition
to English and offer native-language instruction in declining amounts
over time, provide continuity in children's cognitive growth
and lay a foundation for academic success in the second language.
By contrast, English-only approaches and quick-exit bilingual programs
can interrupt that growth at a crucial stage, with negative effects
on achievement (Cummins, 1992).
Fallacy 5: School districts provide bilingual instruction in
scores of native languages.
Where children speak a number of different languages, rarely are
there sufficient numbers of each language group to make bilingual
instruction practical for everyone. In any case, the shortage of
qualified teachers usually makes it impossible. For example, in
1994 California enrolled recently arrived immigrants from 136 different
countries, but bilingual teachers were certified in only 17 languages,
96% of them in Spanish (CDE, 1995).
Fallacy 6: Bilingual education means instruction mainly in students'
native languages, with little instruction in English.
Before 1994, the vast majority of U.S. bilingual education programs
were designed to encourage an early exit to mainstream English
language classrooms, while only a tiny fraction of programs were
designed to maintain the native tongues of students.
Today, a majority of bilingual programs continue to deliver a
substantial portion of the curriculum in English. According to
one study, school districts reported that 28% of LEP elementary
school students receive no native-language instruction. Among those
who do, about a third receive more than 75% of their instruction
in English; a third receive from 40 to 75% in English; and one
third of these receive less than 40% in English. Secondary school
students are less likely to be instructed in their native language
than elementary school students (Hopstock et al. 1993).
Fallacy 7: Bilingual education is far more costly than English
All programs serving LEP studentsûregardless of the language
of instructionûrequire additional staff training, instructional
materials, and administration. So they all cost a little more than
regular programs for native English speakers. But in most cases
the differential is modest. A study commissioned by the California
legislature examined a variety of well implemented program models
and found no budgetary advantage for English-only approaches. The
incremental cost was about the same each year ($175-$214) for bilingual
and English immersion programs, as compared with $1,198 for English
as a second language (ESL) "pullout" programs. The reason was simple:
the pullout approach requires supplemental teachers, whereas in-class
approaches do not (Chambers & Parrish, 1992). Nevertheless,
ESL pullout remains the method of choice for many school districts,
especially where LEP students are diverse, bilingual teachers are
in short supply, or expertise is lacking in bilingual methodologies.
Fallacy 8: Disproportionate dropout rates for Hispanic students
demonstrate the failure of bilingual education.
Hispanic dropout rates remain unacceptably high. Research has
identified multiple factors associated with this problem, including
recent arrival in the United States, family poverty, limited English
proficiency, low academic achievement, and being retained in grade
(Lockwood, 1996). No credible studies, however, have identified
bilingual education among the risk factors, because bilingual programs
touch only a small minority of Hispanic children.
Fallacy 9: Research is inconclusive on the benefits of bilingual
Some critics argue that the great majority of bilingual program
evaluations are so egregiously flawed that their findings are useless.
After reviewing 300 such studies, Rossell and Baker (1996) judged
only 72 to be methodologically acceptable. Of these, they determined
that a mere 22% supported the superiority of transitional programs
over English-only instruction in reading, 9% in math, and 7% in
language. Moreover, they concluded that "TBE [transitional
bilingual education] is never better than structured immersion" in
English. In other words, they could find little evidence that bilingual
Close analysis of Rossell and BakerÐs claims reveals some
serious flaws of their own. Krashen (1996) questions the rigor
of several studies the reviewers included as methodologically acceptableûall
unfavorable to bilingual education and many unpublished in the
professional literature. Moreover, Rossell and Baker relied heavily
on program evaluations from the 1970s, when bilingual pedagogies
were considerably less well developed. Compounding these weaknesses
is their narrative review technique, which simply counts the votes
for or against a program alternativeûa method that leaves
considerable room for subjectivity and reviewer bias (Dunkel, 1990).
Meta-analysis, a more objective method that weighs numerous variables
in each study under review, has yielded more positive findings
about bilingual education (Greene, 1998; Willig, 1985).
Most important, Krashen (1996) shows that Rossell and Baker are
content to compare programs by the labels they have been given,
with little consideration of the actual pedagogies being used.
They treat as equivalent all approaches called TBE, even though
few program details are available in many of the studies under
review. Researchers who take the time to visit real classrooms
understand how dangerous such assumptions can be. According to
Hopstock et al. (1993), "When actual practices . . . are examined,
a bilingual education program might provide more instruction in
English than . . . an 'English as a second language' program." Moreover,
from a qualitative perspective, programs vary considerably in how
(one or both) languages are integrated into the curriculum and
into the social context of the school. Finally, simplistic labels
are misleading because bilingual and English immersion techniques
are not mutually exclusive; several studies have shown that successful
programs make extensive use of both (see, e.g., Ramírez
et al., 1991).
Even when program descriptions are available, Rossell and Baker
sometimes ignore them. For example, they cite a bilingual immersion
program in El Paso as a superior English-only (submersion) approach,
although it includes 90 minutes of Spanish instruction each day
in addition to sheltered English. The researchers also include
in their review several studies of French immersion in Canada,
which they equate with all-English, structured immersion programs
in the United States. As the Canadian program designers have repeatedly
stressed, these models are bilingual in both methods and goals,
and they serve students with needs that are quite distinct from
those of English learners in this country.
Fallacy 10: Language-minority parents do not support bilingual
education because they feel it is more important for their children
to learn English than to maintain the native language.
Naturally, when pollsters place these goals in opposition, immigrant
parents will opt for English by wide margins. Who knows better
the need to learn English than those who struggle with language
barriers on a daily basis? But the premise of such surveys is false.
Truly bilingual programs seek to cultivate proficiency in both
tongues, and research has shown that studentsÐ native language
can be maintained and developed at no cost to English. When polled
on the principles underlying bilingual educationûfor example,
that developing literacy in the first language facilitates literacy
development in English or that bilingualism offers cognitive and
career-related advantagesûa majority of parents are strongly
in favor of such approaches (Krashen, 1996).
Joy Kreeft Peyton, Vickie
W. Lewelling, & Paula Winke
The increasing number of students who enter U.S. schools from homes
where languages other than English are spoken, and the recognition
that proficiency in non-English languages is a valuable national
resource, have generated interest in the field of heritage language
instruction. A heritage language student is "a language student
who is raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken,
who speaks or at least understands the language, and who is to some
degree bilingual in that language and in English" (Valdés,
2001, p. 38).
The fastest growing heritage language population in the United
States is Spanish-speaking immigrants and Americans of Hispanic
descent whose families came from Central America, Cuba, Mexico,
Puerto Rico, and South America. The inclusion of Spanish-speaking
students in foreign language classes places additional demands on
teachers, who may be prepared to teach only speakers of English.
As a result, a growing number of secondary schools, colleges, and
universities in states with large Hispanic populations offer separate
Spanish for Native Speakers (SNS) courses or programs tailored to
the needs of these students.
The Need for Special Courses
Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, the practice of teaching
Spanish to Spanish speakers has achieved wide recognition. During
this period, increasing numbers of students from Hispanic backgrounds
began enrolling in Spanish courses at the secondary and postsecondary
levels. Teachers trained to teach Spanish as a foreign language
to English speakers found themselves teaching classes in which an
increasing percentage or even a majority of the students were not
the traditional foreign language learners that the teachers were
trained to teach (Draper & Hicks, 2000). In some cases, the
Hispanic students were more fluent in oral Spanish than the teacher
was. According to Campbell (1996), the average heritage language
student possesses a level of competence in many aspects of his or
her ancestral language that far exceeds what typical students in
foreign language courses can attain after many years of formal study.
However, there is consensus among foreign language teachers that
these students need to develop other areas of Spanish language proficiency.
For example, many students have an extensive vocabulary in some
contexts but a restricted one in others. Many are unfamiliar with
the formal grammar of Spanish and do not read or write it. The challenges
of teaching Spanish to students who have no experience with the
language are clearly different from those involved in helping students
develop proficiency in a language in which they already have considerable
competence (Bills, 1997).
To fully understand the goals and challenges of teaching Spanish
to Spanish speakers, it is important to understand the diverse backgrounds
of students who participate in Spanish courses and their motivations
for studying a language they already know. Students include the
Third- or fourth-generation U.S.-born Hispanic students considered
to be receptive bilinguals. These students are English dominant
and understand almost all spoken Spanish, but they have limited
speaking skills in Spanish and do not read or write it.
First- or second-generation bilinguals who possess different
degrees of proficiency in English and Spanish. In most cases,
these students have received their education in English and have
developed few if any literacy skills in Spanish.
Recent immigrants to the United States who are Spanish dominant.
Their level of English proficiency, the amount of formal education
they have had in Spanish, and their literacy skills in Spanish
vary (Valdés, 2001).
In all of these groups, language proficiency may vary from individual
to individual. Many students are completely fluent in oral Spanish
(both speaking and comprehending), others speak and understand Spanish
fairly well, while others possess only basic oral skills in Spanish.
In addition, students come from a number of cultural backgrounds
and speak different varieties of Spanish.
Goals of SNS Instruction
SNS courses offer Spanish-speaking students opportunities to study
Spanish formally in an academic setting in the same way that native-English-speaking
students study English language arts. Spanish-speaking students
participate in SNS courses for a number of reasons. These may include
a desire to reactivate the Spanish they have learned in the past
and develop it further, to learn more about their language and cultural
heritage, to acquire literacy skills in Spanish, to develop or augment
academic language skills in Spanish, to enhance career opportunities,
or to fulfill a foreign language requirement. The skills that students
can acquire range from learning grammar and spelling and developing
basic academic vocabulary in Spanish to learning how to critically
analyze a text, write poetry, or acquire new information in different
academic content areas.
Valdés (1997) delineates the following goals of SNS instruction:
Language maintenance. Based on the view that Spanish can be maintained
across generations through the formal study of Spanish, this instructional
goal focuses on grammar, reading and writing, vocabulary development,
exposure to the language and culture of Hispanic communities, and
consciousness raising activities about Spanish language and identity.
Expansion of the bilingual range. The language proficiency of many
bilingual students is not equally developed in their two languages.
For example, they may possess the cultural understanding to comprehend
a particular exchange but be unable to express themselves using
the appropriate vocabulary and grammar. The goal of expanding the
bilingual range moves beyond developing initial expressive and receptive
language abilities to cultivating a much broader command of the
Acquisition of a prestige variety. Many students who participate
in SNS courses speak what may be interpreted as rural or stigmatized
varieties of Spanish. Instruction aimed at teaching students the
prestige or standard variety involves developing metalinguistic
awareness about the differences between the standard and other varieties,
teaching traditional grammar, and teaching when it is appropriate
to use more or less formal Spanish.
Transfer of literacy skills. According to Cummins (1984), language
skills can be transferred across languages in a manner that facilitates
the acquisition of first language skills in the second language.
Peale (1991) emphasizes the need for Spanish-speaking students to
develop not only their oral language but also their literacy skills
in Spanish. In the process, they enhance their English literacy
development as well.
Evaluating the Goals
Valdés (1997) suggests that the initial goal of SNS instruction
was to develop language skills in Spanish speakers that would allow
them to participate in advanced placement courses in Spanish, with
a strong focus on grammatical correctness. She argues that instruction
must move beyond grammar to a focus on teaching students to function
effectively in oral and written discourse, including in professional
SNS educators are also concerned that an inordinate focus on instruction
in prestige varieties of Spanish may harm students by suggesting
that the language they have learned at home and in their communities
is inadequate. Collison (1994) reports the views on this issue of
several leaders in SNS research and education. Francisco Alarcón
(University of California, Davis) points out that many people view
the Spanish spoken in the barrio as inferior. George Blanco (University
of Texas, Austin) suggests that instructors should build on what
students already know rather than trying to replace it. Ana Roca
(Florida International University) believes that SNS instruction
should focus on expanding students' cultural knowledge about their
Hispanic heritage and helping them develop more formal registers--academic
and professional varieties of the language--without making them
feel deficient in the process.
Program Design, Instructional Strategies, and Materials
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, few resources were available
for educators seeking to establish SNS programs or classes or to
work with the Spanish speakers in their foreign language classes.
Teachers generally relied on instructional strategies that they
used with their English-speaking students and on self-made materials.
Recently, more attention has been given to developing programs,
instructional strategies, curricula, materials, and assessments
designed specifically for Spanish speakers. A number of recent publications
provide guidelines and resource lists (see, e.g., American Association
of Spanish and Portuguese, 2000). See also Pino & Pino (2000)
for a description of a 5-year SNS university program, with surveys
for developing learner profiles and determining learner needs.
Some publications focus specifically on instructional strategies
and activities that promote interaction among students, teachers,
and community members (Carrasquillo & Segan, 1998; Colombi &
Alarcón, 1997; Merino, Trueba, & Samaniego, 1993; Rodríguez-Pino,
1994). Roca and Colombi (in press) describe a number of ways that
teachers can promote interaction and facilitate oral and written
activities that build students' academic and professional skills
in Spanish. In her textbook Nuevos mundos, Roca explains how content-based
and thematic approaches that develop students' knowledge in important
content areas (e.g., cultures and civilizations) while developing
their language skills work well in SNS courses.
Numerous textbooks and materials designed for teaching Spanish-speaking
students have become available in recent years, such as Entre
mundos (Alonso-Lyrintzis, Zaslow, & Villarreal, 1996, Prentice
Hall), Nuevos mundos (Roca, 1999, John
Wiley & Sons), Español escrito (Valdés
& Teschner, 1999, Prentice
Hall), Nosotros y nuestro mundo (Schmitt & Woodford,
and Tu mundo (Samaniego, Alarcón, & Otheguy, 2002,
Littell). Many textbook publishing companies now maintain special
divisions for the production and marketing of SNS textbooks and
materials. In addition, many textbook series for Spanish instruction
to English speakers offer supplementary materials, such as workbooks
and readers, for Spanish speakers enrolled in the classes.
The National Foreign Language Center
has collaborated with the Center for
Applied Linguistics to create an annotated bibliography of these
and other Spanish textbooks and materials for Spanish speakers that
are used in K–12 and university instruction. This bibliography will
be online at the Web site of LangNet,
the national portal for language resources, sponsored by the National
Foreign Language Center.
Annick De Houwer
In an increasingly diversified and multilingual world, more and
more young children find themselves in an environment where more
than one language is used. Similarly, with job changes that involve
moving to different parts of the world, parents can feel overwhelmed
by the linguistic demands on them and their children. What can
parents expect of their children? Do parents have anything to contribute
to the process of early language development? Does it confuse children
to learn two or more languages at once? Do children have to be
especially intelligent to be able to cope with more than one language?
People everywhere have strong ideas about children growing up
with a second or third language. These ideas influence how people
interact with their children and how they look at other people's
children. These ideas also influence how professionals such as
teachers, doctors, and speech therapists advise parents of children
growing up bilingually. Sadly, many ideas that people have about
children growing up with a second or third language in childhood
are not of any benefit to these children and may in fact have adverse
effects. One of the purposes of this digest is to dispel some common
myths about children growing up bilingually and to offer suggestions
that can help children to become fluent users of two or more languages.
A bilingual environment is most often a necessity, not a choice
Many discussions of the advantages or disadvantages of early bilingualism
seem to be based on the idea that a bilingual environment is something
that parents choose for their children. This, however, is usually
not the case; young children growing up bilingually are for the
most part doing so because there is no way that they can grow up
monolingually. For example, it may be the case that the child interacts
regularly with monolingual individuals, some of whom speak one
language (e.g., teachers and classmates who speak only Italian),
others of whom speak another (e.g., parents who speak only French).
Other children may grow up in a community where most people speak
the same two languages on a day-to-day basis. The usage rules for
these languages determine when a particular language is spoken.
Imposing changes in these conventions so that all bilingual speakers
in the child's social world would limit themselves to one and the
same language in all circumstances is not only impossible but also
ethically dubious, because it would infringe on individuals' linguistic
Hearing two or more languages in childhood is not a cause of
language disorder or language delay
All over the Western world, there are speech therapists and medical
doctors who advise parents of young children growing up with more
than one language to stop using one of those languages with their
children. Typically, the language to be given up is the language
that is not used in the overall environment. For example, speech
therapists in the United States often suggest that parents stop
using Spanish at home in favor of English, while speech therapists
in Flanders may advise parents to stop speaking English in favor
of Dutch. The common reason for this advice is twofold. First,
it is often claimed that hearing two or more languages will confuse
the child and lead to grave problems in acquiring language. Second,
it is claimed that the acquisition of the main language of the
environment will stand a better chance without competition from
the other language. However, there is no scientific evidence to
date that hearing two or more languages leads to delays or disorders
in language acquisition. Many, many children throughout the world
grow up with two or more languages from infancy without showing
any signs of language delays or disorders. These children provide
visible proof that there is no causal relationship between a bilingual
environment and language learning problems. In addition, there
is no scientific evidence that giving up one language automatically
has a beneficial effect on the other. In fact, the abrupt end of
the use of the home language by a child's parents may lead to great
emotional and psychological difficulties both for the parents and
for the child. After all, language is strongly linked to emotion,
affect, and identity. A 3-year-old whose mother suddenly stops
talking to her in the language familiar to her, particularly if
her mother does not respond to the things she says to her in that
language, may make the child feel emotionally abandoned and totally
lost. Speech therapists who advise monolingualism should then not
be surprised to find that the child in question starts to exhibit
troubling behavior. Should the child recover from this traumatic
experience, there is no evidence that progress in the main language
of the environment is helped by the loss of the home language.
In fact, it has been shown in educational settings that building
on a child's skills in a first language helps the acquisition of
a second one.
Children's use of two languages within one sentence is not a
sign of confusion
Often, it is claimed that small children who are learning to speak
two languages go through a stage of mixing and confusing the two.
The use of words from both languages in a single sentence is cited
as evidence that the child cannot distinguish between the two languages,
but in reality, this is not a sign of confusion. In fact, it has
been shown that the use of two languages in one sentence by mature
bilinguals reveals a great deal of linguistic skill (Romaine, 1995).
It is also true that, while young bilingual children sometimes
use words from two languages in the same sentence, they produce
far more sentences using only one language. This clearly shows
that they are able to keep their languages separate.
The question then becomes, in what circumstances do children use
words from both languages in the same sentence? They do it only
when talking to people that they know can understand both languages
and who do not get upset with them for using such sentences. In
other words, the social context in which children find themselves
determines whether and to what extent they use more than one language
in a single sentence. The same happens with bilingual adults; they
use words from two languages in the same sentence only in sociolinguistic
settings in which it is appropriate.
Children do not just "pick up" a language: They need
a strongly supportive and rich environment
A prevailing idea is that it is very easy for children to learn
a new language and that hardly any effort is involved. However,
learning language, even one, is a process that takes many years.
Languages are very complex. To learn all their complexities, one
needs a lot of life experience. It may not take very long to learn
how to carry on a simple conversation (although it does take monolingual
children approximately 3 years before they can carry on an intelligible
conversation with strangers), but it takes a lot more time to be
able to develop the skill to give a formal speech. The environment
plays an important role in learning to speak. Children learn to
speak only when they hear people talk to them in many different
circumstances. Language development in the early stages depends
crucially on vocabulary knowledge. The more words children know,
the better they will learn to speak and the better their chances
of doing well in school. Book reading is an excellent source of
help in the acquisition of vocabulary. Book reading in any language,
even when a baby can hardly sit up yet, plays a highly supportive
role not only in the learning of language but also in the emotional
bonding between child and parent. Furthermore, it is an activity
that is viewed in many cultures as appropriate for both mothers
and fathers to engage in, and it is an excellent way of introducing
children to aspects of culture that they may not see in their local
Recommendations for parents
Because language in the first 10 years of life is such an important
basis for the achievement of academic and social skills, it is
no luxury to reflect a little more on just what elements play an
important role in learning a language, whether it is one, two,
or more. Although it is not possible here to spell out all the
things that parents should consider when their child is in a situation
where he or she could learn to speak more than one language, the
brief list of pointers below offers some assistance. My advice
to parents would be not to stop at this brief article but to read
some of the material listed in the resource section. Investing
in a child's bilingualism or multilingualism, after all, should
yield a high return. Here are a few basic points that are important
in raising children with more than one language:
Do what comes naturally to you and your family in terms of
which language(s) you use when, but make sure your children
hear both (or all three or four) languages frequently and in
a variety of circumstances. Create opportunities for your children
to use all of the languages they hear. Read books to and with
your children in each of the languages that are important to
Talk to all your children in the same waynot, for instance,
using one language with the elder and another language with
the younger. Language is tied to emotions, and if you address
your children in different languages, some of your children
may feel excluded, which in turn might adversely affect their
Avoid abrupt changes in how you talk to your children, especially
when they are under 6. Don't suddenly decide to speak French
to them if you have only been using English. In this respect,
beware of "experts" (e.g., doctors, teachers) who
tell you to stop speaking a particular language to your child.
If you feel strongly about your children using one particular
language with you, encourage them to use it in all of their
communication with you. Try to discourage their use of another
language with you by asking them to repeat what they said in
the preferred language or by gently offering them the appropriate
words in the language you want them to use. It is no more cruel
than asking your child to say "please" before giving
her a cookie.
Do not make language an issue, and do not rebuke or punish
children for using or not using a particular language. If you
feel your child is not talking as he or she should in the preschool
years, have a hearing test done, even if teachers or doctors
tell you that bilingualism is the cause of any language delays.
Whatever else, follow your own intuition about what is best
for you and your family.
- "Learning two languages confuses a child and lowers his
Old, poorly designed studies done primarily in the United States
claimed to show that bilinguals had lower intelligence than
monolinguals. Newer research has revealed several flaws in the
studies. The most obvious flaw is that the bilingual children were
recent immigrants, with poorer knowledge of English and more stressful
life situations than their monolingual counterparts. Newer studies
with more careful controls have shown that bilinguals are better at
some specific tasks, such as language games, but that otherwise the
differences between bilinguals and monolinguals are negligible.
- "A child should learn one language properly first; then you
can start teaching the other."
As in the myth above, this is an old belief based on flawed research.
Children who learn two languages in a loving, supportive environment
learn them both well. Children who learn two languages in a stressful
environment may have language development problems - but so will
children learning only one langauge in that same sort of environment.
- "A child who learns two languages won't feel at home in
either of them. She'll always feel caught between two
Relatives, friends and strangers will often caution about the
"identity problems" children may develop if their parents insist on
maintaining a bilingual home. The children, they believe, will grow
up without strongly identifying with either of the languages and,
therefore, the groups that speak them. Adults who have themselves
grown up bilingual, however, generally report when asked that they
never had problems knowing what groups they were a part of. Some even
find this concern to be rather bizarre.
Children who feel accepted by both their cultures will identify with
both. Unfortunately it happens that two cultures have such unfriendly
relations that a child who should belong to both is instead shunned by
both. This is not however a specifically bilingual issue.
- "Bilinguals have to translate from their weaker to their
The overwhelming majority of bilinguals can think in either of their
two languages. They do not, as some monolinguals assume, think in one
language only and immediately translate into the other language when
- "Children who grow up bilingual will make great translators
when they grow up."
By no means all bilinguals are good at translating. Nor have any
studies shown that growing up bilingual gives one an advantage or a
disadvantage over those who became bilingual as adults when it comes
to translating. There are many other skills involved, and bilinguals,
just like monolinguals, are too different to allow for easy
There is one important exception here, however. The sign language
interpreters you may have seen on television or at public events are
most often hearing children of Deaf parents, who grew up bilingual.
- "Real bilinguals never mix their languages. Those who do are
Bilinguals sometimes "mix" their languages, leading monolinguals to
wonder if they are really able to tell them apart. Usually, the
problem is not genuine confusion - that is, inability to tell the
languages apart. Far more common problems are interference, when
words or grammar from the one language "leak" into the other language
without the speaker being aware of it - analogous to a slip of the
tongue - or "code-switching", when the speaker more or less
intentionally switches languages for effect - analogous to mixing
jargon or slang in with standard speech.
Many, if not most, bilingual children will use both languages at once
during the early stages of their language development.
Semi-lingualism is a far more serious, and relatively rare, situation
that occurs when a child in a stressful environment is trying to learn
two or more languages with very little input in any of them.
- "Bilinguals have split personalities."
Some bilinguals do report feeling that they have a different
"personality" for each language. However, this may be because they
are acting according to different cultural norms when speaking each of
their languages. When speaking English, they assume the cultural role
expected of them in English-speaking society. This is different than
the cultural role expected of them in German-speaking society, which
they assume when speaking German. The change in language cues a
change in cultural expectations.
- "Bilingualism is a charming exception, but monolingualism is
of course the rule."
No accurate survey of the number of bilinguals in the world has ever
been taken; for fairly obvious practical reasons, it is likely none
ever will be. But it is very reasonable to guess that over half the
world's population is bilingual. Most of those who will read this
live in countries where monolingualism is the rule, but are seeing a
very unrepresentative sample of the world. See the section on
"National versus Personal Bilingualism" on the Politics of
- "Be very careful; if you don't follow the rules exactly, your
children will never manage to learn both languages!"
Some people maintain that "the only way" to raise bilingual children
is to follow one specific pattern, usually by speaking both languages
in the home. Practical experience, on the other hand, has shown that
children learn both languages regardless of the pattern of exposure,
as long as that pattern is reasonably consistent (and perhaps even
that is not a requirement!). More information can be found on the Practical Help
- "You'll never manage to make him bilingual now. People really
can't learn a language after age X."
Language learning is easier the younger you are when you start, and
there are biological reasons why very few adults can learn to speak a
new language with a native accent. However, people can learn valuable
language skills at any age. Establishing a bilingual home when your
first child is born, if not before, is the easiest for all, but it
can be done later if you for some reason must do so.
- From http://www.nethelp.no/cindy/myth.html
Which factors influence language development?
Language development is never a static process, it is rather a
process that is forever evolving. One can compare this to the physical
development of a child, in the first three years the developments are
incredibly rapid. The speed of these developments are influenced by
internal and external factors which play as well a crucial role in the
language development of a child.
Internal factors can be of the following nature:
A motivation to speak well: a child can sense when it must articulate
its needs and will always try till success is guaranteed. When a child
feels that he is able to obtain his wishes even without correct speech,
it then creates a lower level of motivation to perfect his speech.
Illness that affect language development: A child can experience
hearing problems, speech impediments or can have stuttering problems
resulting from illnesses or damage to the inner ear. Other illnesses
which can influence the language development in a child are Dyslexia,
Aphasia or Alexia (reading disability).
External Factors can be of the following nature:
Language Level of the Parents and Teachers: There is a strong
correlation between the language level of the parent and that of the
child. If the parents use an elevated speech pattern this will
positively influence the development level of the child to an above
average level. The same goes for a child in an environment where
Motivation of the Parent and/or Teacher to increase greater
proficiency in the language: It is important for the parent and/or
teacher to convey the meaning of language to the child as a learning
tool, a key to greater comprehension of the world at large, and that one
can also have fun with language.
Internal and external factors play a even greater role in a bilingual
or multilingual environment, especially for language development which
differs from the host country.
The following factors take on greater meaning with children brought up bilingually or raised in a multilingual environment:
- Consistency with the use of one language per parent. For example, the father always speaks German, the mother always Spanish.
- Acceptance of the social environment allowing the child to speak in another language, even if not the host language.
- Acceptance of transitional phases of the child’s environment, for
example, the start at Kindergarten, Primary School or the advancement
towards High School.
There are also external factors which permit the weaker language to
emerge later as the stronger one when one undertakes a move to the
country in which the language is spoken either through familial ties or
work or the enrollment of the child at an international school.
Yet one must not forget though that judging the language level of the
child is only a momentary survey. It is better to have the end goal in
mind which allows the child to develop his potential to the full extent
of his abilities by providing him the environment conducive to that
by: Marsha Rosenberg
idea of raising bilingual children is both appealing and possible for
more and more families these days, and growing up with more than one
language certainly has its advantages in today's global village. Yet
bilingualism really isn't something that simply happens. Raising kids to
be successful in more than one language requires some careful planning
and learning about bilingual language development.
The reasons for
choosing to raise kids with two or more languages are as varied as the
families themselves. Even the word "bilingualism" has different meanings
for different families. For some families, having the ability to listen
in two languages but speak in just one may constitute bilingualism,
while other parents expect their kids not only to be bilingual, but also
literate in both languages. Whatever the goals for developing
bilingualism in each family may be, success appears to depend on whether
a "language plan" has been worked out in advance. Families who take the
time to consider how their kids will develop two languages, and who
make the necessary commitments to bilingual language development, tend
to be more successful in raising bilingual children.
thinking about bringing up your children bilingually, it's a good idea
to clarify your own definition of bilingualism. Language proficiency can
be evaluated in terms of listening, speaking, reading and writing. You
could also add a fifth area of speech and language, in which a person is
able to use one or both languages for reasoning, to your definition of
bilingualism. A person may speak only on language but have listening
comprehension in two languages. Another may listen and speak in two
languages but reading and writing ability in only one.
The term balanced bilingualism is used to describe individuals who possess about the same fluency in two languages, while semilingualism
refers to those who have deficiencies in both languages compared with
monolinguals. These deficiencies could be in a reduced vocabulary,
incorrect grammatical patterns, difficulty thinking or expressing
emotions in one of the languages, etc. Few people are truly balanced
bilinguals in both languages in all situations. One language is usually
dominant. This dominance may be different for listening and speaking or
for reading and writing and usually changes over time.
rate, it's most useful to define for yourself what type of bilingualism
is important and necessary in your family, within your community and
culture, in order to pan a strategy for raising kids with the ability to
use more than one language.
Most of us are able to learn a second
language at any time in our lives. And, thought no critical age for
bilingual language development has been found, kids do tend to develop
more native-like pronunciation when bilingualism begins before
adolescence. Two types of childhood bilingualism have been define. The
first is simultaneous learning of two languages, which tends to be
affect by four key factors:
- The parents' ability in one or
more languages. Some parents speak only one language, the language of
the home, and are unable to speak the language of the school and
possibly of the community.
- The parents' actual use of language
with the child. The parents may have language ability in two or more
languages but have made a decision about which language they speak with
- The language or languages other family members speak
with the child, such as the language spoken between siblings or between
children and grandparents.
- The last factor is the language the child uses in the community.
second type of childhood bilingualism is called sequential or
successive bilingualism. This happens when a child has one established
language before learning a second language, whether in preschool or
later (the age of three usually separates simultaneous and sequential
language learning). Some kids and adults, of course, usually learn a
second language formally through school or language classes.
who take the time to discuss their goals for language development often
see their kids acquire higher levels of language skills in both
languages. Parents need to talk about how bilingualism will be achieved
for their children, looking at what language strategies will be used by
each parent, what is being taught at school, and what areas need to be
emphasized outside of school.
Experts stress separating the
languages to make language acquisition easier for kids. When kids are
learning two languages at the same time parents need to work out
language strategies that emphasize boundaries between the languages. For
- One parent, one language. Each parent consistently
speaks one language while the other parent speaks another language
(usually each on speaking his or her native language to the child and
possibly the common language to each other).
- Both parents speak one language in the home and a second language is used at school.
- One language is used in the home and at school and the second language is used in the community.
- Both parents speak both languages to the child but separate the languages according to speaking situations or alternate days.
is key in early language learning. If you mix languages in the same
conversation, young kids experience difficulty separating vocabulary and
grammar into the appropriate language. The child may learn the "mixed"
language as one hybrid language.
Parents also need to consider
how to strike a balance between the languages. If a child attends school
in one language all day and has only a short time to hear the other
language at home, it's likely the school language will develop more
easily than the home language. Parents have to plan for additional time
spent using the home language in a variety of situations and with a
variety of speakers. Rich language experiences in both languages are
essential for good bilingual development.
The quality of the
language interaction is also very important. The language used shouldn't
be too complex and parents should learn to expand their child's
language as well as give encouragement and approval. Parents need to be
good listeners and good language models by introducing rich vocabulary
and varied conversations. Providing books, music, and even videos in
both language is also important.
Parents should also be aware of
individual difference among children. Each child learns language at his
or her own speed. This is related to a variety of factors, such as:
and mobility. A family that remains in the second language community
for a longer period of time will increase the chances of the child
retaining the second language.
- Relationships within the family
affect bilingual language development. For example, if the father speaks
a different language than the mother, but frequent trips take him away
from home, the child will not learn his language as easily as the
- Attitudes toward each language expressed by the
parents, other family members, the school, the community and especially
the child, will affect the development or one or both of the languages.
Both languages must be given importance and a sense of worth in all
aspects of the child's life. All kids have a need and a desire to
communicate when language experiences are positive and meaningful.
two or more languages truly gives kids so many advantages in life.
Bilingual kids have the advantage of knowing two cultures, of being able
to communicate with a wider variety of people, and of possible economic
advantages in their future. Research has even shown advantages in
thinking skills among bilingual individuals. But deciding to raise
bilingual kids is a decision that should be carefully considered as it
affect children for the rest of their lives. Parents need to consider
the child's self identity, self-esteem, schooling options, as well as
social factors when planning for bilingualism. Becoming bilingual is a
special gift parents can offer their children, but the gift must be
planned and presented with care for it to be well used and appreciated.
by Christina Bosemark
"After we talked, I've spoken nothing but French to my one year
old for close to seven weeks now. All of his new words are French,
and from what I can tell he understands me completely." Not even
two months into her campaign to raise her two children speaking
French as well as English, Sheilagh Margot Riordan in Forida has
noticed a dramatic difference in the progress between her two
children: "My three and a half year old is much trickier. Even
though I speak only French to her, she replies in English, but
I guess that she understands about 70% of everything I say."
Frankly, Sheilagh worries that it's already too late for her
over-the-hill three-year-old to become a fluent bilingual.
In our culture it sometimes feels that if you didn't spring
for ballet lessons at two or violin at three, it's all over. While
there's no doubt that the optimal moment to start learning languages
is at birth, it's not at all impossible to achieve fluency later
in life. The more language interaction you provide, the more
dramatic the progress, and the easier for the child. Even older
children are still kids, and they'll remain chatty and unhampered
by self-consciousness. Still, transitioning into multilingualism
will require motivation; here are several tried-and-true tips.
You know how when you announce that it's bedtime, your kid
says, "Why?" You'll get the same reaction to your new language
program. "Why do I have to say it in Korean if I know how say
it in English already?" This is a fair question, and the answer
needs to be either one of necessity, fun, or flattery. Not much
else will fly. Here are some possible answers: "Because
I/granny/everyone else here only speak Korean." "This book/this
game/this song is in Korean." "Because you did it sooo well
yesterday." "So you can teach it to baby Ethan when he is a big
boy like you." "So you and Kim can have your own secret language."
After the explanation your next step will be to speak only
in the minority language yourself (or nanny, or whoever is
your child's primary language source). When you get confusion
and glazed looks, translate. And, be reasonable; accept replies
in the primary language when you first start out.
- When your child answers back in the community language, say
"Yes," and then repeat the sentence in the minority language.
- If you know your child is able to say a particular word, but
is struggling to remember it, jog her memory by providing the
- Be careful not to dampen her enthusiasm. Don't make speaking
the second language an inflexible rule or something that becomes
onerous. You'll just inspire revolution in the ranks. You might
require adherence to the language rules you've set up if you know
she has the vocabulary - just as you demand 'pleases' and 'thank
yous.' For example, when you're child is asking for a glass of
milk, you can require that she ask for it in the minority language.
But if she's excited about telling you what happened at the circus,
just listen, and then repeat it back in the second language. That
way, you provide her the missing vocabulary in a positive way.
- And, as always, praise endlessly. Even when you are providing
translations or the child has just issued sixteen grammatical
errors in a four-word sentence. In fact, a child simply doesn't
understand if you try to correct her before the age of three.
Instead, just repeat the words correctly (a process known as
modeling). Alternatively, you can make a joke and say, "Oops, that
came out wrong!" Laugh and provide the right way of saying it,
so you keep it playful rather than corrective.
Countless parents have asked me: "So now, how do we stay firm
with our language use?" Once the child has the vocabulary to
understand the second language, sticking to the family language
system is essential -- if you don't, you're back to square one!
Just think of the things you could never let your child do, even
if she begs, whines, and tantrums: things such as riding in a car
without a seatbelt, not brushing her teeth, or crossing the street
by herself. Don't negotiate about using the language any more than
you do about these things, and she will get the picture eventually --
despite the occasional earful. Give it at least six months, and
your persistence will be richly rewarded.
Sheilagh says that she realizes her trouble is well worth it
and has stopped worrying about beginning too late: "Instead of
looking at the things I should have done (speak French since birth),
I am looking at the great achievements we have made so far."