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10 Myths About Multilingual Children

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Every now and then I hear a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about raising bilingual children. Many of these are due to lack of knowledge; some people who live in monolingual environments simply haven’t heard of bilingualism and it’s advantages. This is why parents who raise bilingual or multilngual kids are often criticised even by loving and caring family members and friends.

Lack of knowledge often leads to stereotypes. If you have only met one bilingual toddler, who started to speak late, you may be prompted to think that all bilingual kids start to speak late. If there are several bilingual toddlers in your neighbourhood, you will see that there’s no rule; some speak late, others speak early, yet others are incredible chatterboxes.  Every child has their own pace fore learning life skills, and bilingual or multilingual children are no exception.

Even my own two kids are totally different when it comes to language development. Andrés (5) started to speak late, he only used spare words until the age of 3,5 and mixed Polish and Spanish words in a single sentence.  His speech dramatically improved when we moved from Spain to Poland and after a few months he became fluent in both languages. It was then I introduced English at home; he’s learning very quickly and doesn’t mix languages anymore.

Michał (3) started to speak early, he made complex sentences in both languages when he was 2,5 and he has a wide range of vocabulary. He goes to speech therapist, though, because he doesn’t pronounce words correctly in any of the three languages. He says „gu bob” instead of „good job”, ce papa” instead of „chcę się kąpać”. We joke that our little lazy boy „eats” endings of words like people in Andalusia do 🙂 ; his Spanish sounds Andalusian when he says „ta lueooo” rather than „hasta lluego” .J

What are the most common myths about multilingual children?

1) Multlingualism causes speech delay.

Npe.  Some experts say that multilingual children may start to speak half a year later than their monolingual peers, but it’s not a fixed rule; I met two year olds who were fluent in two or three languages. While toddlers often know fewer words in both languages than kids who just speak one language, many preschoolers and older children have a wider range of vocabulary than monolingual kids and they find it easier to learn and memorize new expressions. So, if your bilingual child has a significant language delay and you’re concerned, don’t neglect that; there are lots of speech problems that are not related to bilingualism or multiligualism at all, and the earlier they are diagnosed, the better. Contact a good speech therapist who is familiar with bilingualism.

Why does everyone say that multilingualism is linked to speech delay? Olga Mecking outlines a few reasons on her blog:

2) If your child starts to speak late, you must drop one of the languages

This stereotype is linked with the previous one and unfortunately it is so widespread among doctors and teachers that I’m surprised that fans of both myths don’t have a dedicated Facebook page 😉  Every now and then I read in different Internet groups that some parents from many parts of the world were advised to drop a minority language “to help the majority language development”.

On her website “Multilingual Parenting” Rita Rosenback explains parents that dropping a minority language is not beneficial for the majority language development and outlines several advantages of keeping a minority language at home.  Bilingual children learn to speak in a different way than their monolingual peers and what may look like a speech delay, is just a different learning pattern. Moreover, speaking a second language gives children coginitive benefits, which will definitely contribute to their intellectual and emotional development.

What may happen if you DO drop a minority language? A few years ago I was working at a language summer camp for teenagers in Spain and one of the teachers’ son spoke no English at all. The boy, aged 15, was enrolled in my class as he struggled with English at school.

Yes, his mum was a native speaker and a great ESL teacher, everyone loved her activities. Yes, she had to pay for an expensive private camp just like the Spanish families. Yes, everyone around, included his friends at the camp, found it weird.

She regretted not speaking English to the boy as he had very superficial relationships with his family in UK. She was worried about his future; economic crisis in Spain forced many young people to seek work abroad. How would her son cope with no English skills?

And why all of that? Because the boy was a late talker and her family doctor as well as her husband’s Spanish family advised her to “stick to Spanish”. I think no more comments are needed here.

3) Speaking multiple languages will confuse a child

People who live in monolingual environments don’t realize that in many countries, like Kenia, Senegal or India, many children hear several languages from birth. There is a regional dialect (or a few of them!), an official language, at school children study in English or French…I have never heard about children from these countries suffering from confusion that affects their school performance and life skills in general.  Have you?

If children hear languages in specific situations (ie. French with Dad, Spanish with mum, Dutch at school, English during special “English time”), they will not get confused. Young children may mix languages, but they will eventually learn that every language has a different system, and that knowledge will help them to study foreign languages later.

But if you already imagine your baby as a future UN translator, read carefully the next points.

4) All multilingual children succeed academically

As one of the mums from “Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children” Facebook group points out, “people think that knowing a second language makes you smarter and better and get disappointed when the kid isn’t the next Einstein”.

Ellen Bialystok, a profesor of psychology from Canada who has been researching bilingual brains for decades admits that her work may be interpreted in a wrong may; bilinguals aren’t more inteligent than monolinguals, their brains differ in the use of executive function. It’s a system that helps the brain to access knowledge or memories when needed. Thus, bilingual kids can be better than monolingual kids at multitasking, decision-making and giving quick and accurate feedback, but it doesn’t mean that they will be better than their monolingual peers at reading, writing, drawing, maths and all the other areas.

My “favourite” comments  at preschool go as following: “Andrés’s drawings are not very advanced; what a pity for him, with his three languages etc…””. “So, he speaks three languages and he only got to say a one-sentence role in the Nativity Play?” And, finally, the one: “When you grow up, you’ll be a translator or an interpreter like your mum, won’t you”?

5) All multilingual children are good at languages and in the future will become language teachers, translators and interpreters

When somebody asks my 5-year old if the’s going to be an interpreter, he makes it clear; no way, he’s going to be a train driver. As for my 3 year old, he’s going to be a train. Yes, you’ve read right. Not a translator, not a language teacher. A train, like Thomas or Chuggington characters.

First of all, not all bilingual children are equally good at languages. Yes, they learn foreign languages more easily, but it is not a rule. One of “Multilingual mums” from Facebook, raised in German and English had a very hard time learning Italian when she lived in Italy and she claims that hadn’t it been for her bilingualism, she would never have learnt a second language. Even between siblings there are differences when it comes to foreign language acquisition.

Then, being fluent in a few languages does not imply a career related with languages. Believe me, in the world there are many multilingual doctors,  business owners, hair dressers and taxi drivers, who didn’t think for a while to become translators. Fluency in English is one thing,  becoming an English teacher is a career choice that requires a few years of training.

But you can be sure that whatever your child’s career choice will be,  bilingualism is always a competitive advantage.  Whether you want to work abroad or work for a foreign company at your home town, languages will broaden your professional opportunities.

And, as my hubby says, our trilingual boys will be able to pick up so many foreign girls on holidays! In a men’s world this is definitely an advantage 🙂

6) To succeed, multilingual families must spend all their time on educational activities.

More than just the “Einstein” sterotype; some people tend to think that multilingual children go to private schools that offer instruction in a few languages and/or are raised by non-working mothers who spend all their time on reading and making crafts with the kids in respective languages. All the crafts of course aim to teach the kids about their heritage culture.  After school the kids have to do homework in the minority language and at bedtime there’s a concert of multilingual lullabies…..And finally each toy, snack and book in the house has cultural/linguistic value and is worth a separate Instagram post.  Such stereotypes make people think that parents who raise bilingual kids are overachieving, nerdy  types, different from “the rest” of society.

A friend of mine who’s expecting a Polish/German baby felt scared when she first took a look on resources for bilngual children on the Web. “I’m not a crafty person and I don’t like books, does it mean that my kids will not become bilingual? Do I need to stop watching The Big Bang Theory and start with Polish classical literature? ”

No way.

My kids go to a local, state preschool within 5 minutes walking distance from my house. We both work full time. Andrés and Michał are noisy, energetic boys who definitely prefer running around and shouting to making miniature Big Ben statues. Their favourite characters are Thomas (the train) and Lightning Mc Queen, not characters from traditional Polish or Venezuelan fairy legends.

Yes, we like baking and reading stories, but not all the time. We’re up to the same mundane  things as other families with young children, the only difference is that we do all those things in three languages. And the truth is that every bilingual family is different; those who love books and those who love movies, those who love being outside and “couch potatoes”; not everyone has to follow the same pattern. The Internet is full of crafts, stories and songs for bilingual children, but it doesn’t mean that all bilingual families use all those resources.

7) Multilingual children are bullied at school for being “different”.

Michał, my bilingual 3 year old likes to play with blocks and little race cars with his friends. He loves chocolate cereals, ice cream and fart jokes and weatrs t-shirts with Lightning Mc Queen.

What is “different” about him? And why would anybody bully him just because at home he speaks Spanish with his Dad and sometimes he speaks English with his Mum?

Bililngual and multilingual children like to play and laugh just like their monolingual peers.  My older son’s best friends in Spain were a Romanian kid, a Colombian/Venezuelan kids, a Brazilian kid and  a  few Spanish kids from a traditional Andalucian family.  All those kids spoke Spanish together, played together by the pool and on the beach, watched cartoons in Spanish together and didn’t differentiate in any way between the Spanish and the foreigners.

All kids are somehow different from one another; some of them have ginger hair, other have a darker colour of skin, yet other wear glasses, and nobody has said that all of them will be bullied at school. Andres’s friends and teachers find it cool when he says Spanish  words for colours or numbers in the class…..and I’m afraid to think of his teenage years, when he will impress girls with “te quiero” … 🙂

8) A parent who doesn’t speak the other language feels left out

A conversation on the way to preschool normally goes like that:

Michał (in Polish, pointing to a car) – Mommy, a blue car! There’s a car!

Me: Yes, a blue car.

Hubby: Si, un coche (Yes, a car).

Andres: Yesterday Karol brought his cars to preschool and we played with them! That was cool!

Hubby:  Jugaste con coches en el cole (Did you play with cars at preschool)?

Andres: Si papi, me gustan mucho! (Yes, I like them very much).

Do you think that he felt terribly left out and their relationship father-son suffered because he didn’t get the word “blue” ? Or because he didn’t understand that the little cars belonged to Andres’s friend Karol? Not really. As Rita Rosenback points out in her  article, parents of young kids often learn alongside their kids and the other parent, who speaks both languages, translates. As kids grow up, translation is less and less needed since older children have enough skills to communicate in both languages. Bilingual kids often translate for their parents.

Moreover, who said that a parent-child relationship is just about a language? It’s also about spending time together, cuddles, giggling, playing….and that language of parental love is universal!

9) Monolingual parents can’t succesfully raise a bilingual child

I’ll present you two kids: Chris and Lucía.

Chris lives in London, his parents are both English. However, Chris’s mum has a degree in Spanish, has lived in Spain for a few years and would love to pass on Spanish to her son. Both parents aggree: Dad will speak with Chris in English and Mum exclusively in Spanish. Chris’s mum is very fluent in Spanish and she feels comfortable speaking that language to her son. The family will also reinforce Spanish with books, TV and playgroups.

How about if Chris’s mum doesn’t feel comfortable enough to speak ONLY Spanish and give up English? Then she can dedicate specific days, weeks or time of the day for Spanish.

Maria Babin, author of the blog “Trilingual mama” changes  a language she speaks with her kids every two weeks. You can read how she has adapted her family language plan to choose what suits best her children.

Lucía lives in Torrevieja, a little town in Spain. Her parents would love to raise her bilingually in Spanish and English,but their English is not very fluent and they can’t afford to enroll their daughter in a private international school.

How does Lucía learn English? Three times a week she spends some time with a British exchange student who lives nearby. They play, they sing songs, they read stories together. Lucía watches cartoons on YouTube and plays computer games in English. She’s often accompanied by her mum; this way they can learn a new language together.

10) There’s only one right way to raise bilingual kids

There are a few approaches to raise bilingual and multilingual kids.

One of them, OPOL (one parent, one language): each parent always speaks to the child in his or her own language

Minority Language at Home: minority language is spoken at home, while majority language is acquired from the community, at school, etc.

Time and Place: another language is used in specific situations and, thus, children associate a change of language with the context rather than with a person.

There are strong advocates of each of this method who claim that their way is the only right way to raise bilingual kids. Not at all.

Imagine an OPOL couple: a Dutch mother and a Spanish father living in the Netherlands. Their children hear Dutch from their mother, extended family, at school, at the playground….while they hear Spanish only from their father, who works full time and only spends evenings with the kids. Shouldn’t there be more focus on Spanish? If the mother speaks Spanish, maybe the minority language could become a family language?

Every family has to choose the method that suits them best and adapt it to their own needs. Do you feel comfortable changing languages you speak to your kids every week or every two weeks? Go for it! Do you want to dedicate just some time for another language, like bedtime stories or activities during the weekend for one language? It’s your choice. Be flexible, and if something’s not working  try another approach.

A language is not a mathematical calculation that has to be done in exactly the same wa to get the right score; it’s all the contrary.  The way we pass a language to our children is linked to our cultures, heritage, personalities and lots of different factors. Let’s embrace it and enjoy our multilingual journey.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to become a Primary Teacher in UK

Did you know that in UK you can be accepted for post-graduate teacher training after ANY Bachelor’s degree? Or that lessons in primary schools may last even 1,5 hour?

What are the requirements to be a primary teacher in UK? What is a school day like?

Our protagonist today is Kamila (30,Poland) who teaches at a primary school near London and will share her story with you!

Teacher

Why did you decide to work as a teacher in UK? 

After I graduated in Poland, I worked as a class assistant at a private school in UK for a couple of months. I enjoyed working with kids and one of my colleagues suggested I could become a teacher at a primary school. My level of English was C1, I had a degree in English Philology and I had studied in Birmingham for a year as an Erasmus student. So, I applied for a Primary PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) program at the University of Southampton.

What are the requirements for foreign students to study the PGCE course?

You must have GCSE passes or equivalent, at grade C or above in English Language, Mathematics and Science. However, if your qualifications are not considered appropriate, you can take a GCSE equivalent at the British university where you’re applying for a postgraduate teaching program.  You also need to pass the Professional Skills Tests before you start training. It is also very useful to have teaching experience.

What is the cost of the program? Is it possible to obtain financial support? 

Back in 2008 the course cost 3,900 I had a scholarship of around 400£, which was just enough to hire a room in a shared flat, so I taught English classes to Poles living in Southampton to earn some extra money. Today the program cost is 900£, but there are different bursaries available.

How is the course organized? Did you enjoy it? 

I enjoyed it a lot. The university offers introduction to the primary curriculum as well as Teaching and Learning, a module that helps you to understand how children learn and how teachers teach.  I also had 3 months of practical training in different schools around Southampton.

Was it easy for you to find a job after the course? 

Yes, it was; in May, when I was about to finish the course, many local schools were sending recruitment leaflets to the university and I started to apply for jobs. I was lucky; I was accepted for the third post I applied for.

How much can a newly graduate teacher earn? How long are working hours?

A graduate teacher earns around £ 21.000 a year; the salary scale rises gradually to £31.000. Teachers who work in London area earn a little bit more. You work long hours, even 50-60 hours a week; remember that there are no course books in UK, so you have to prepare a lot of teaching materials on your own. Normally lessons in UK start at 8 am and finish at 3pm, you have to be at school before the pupils come and often stay there in the afternoon. All the teachers also have to prepare lessons and mark exams at home. Plus after-school activities, parents’ evenings, school trips and all these “extra” things that make you work more hours.

How is an English school different from a Polish school?

As I’ve told you, we use no coursebooks, which means more preparation for the teachers at home. State schools pay for the kids’ school supplies, so parents don’t have to buy notebooks and pens. The only important expense is a school uniform, obligatory in some schools, but parents can also get financial support for that. Thanks to all that help pupils from low-income families in UK don’t have to worry about lack of necessary supplies.

Another difference is that kids in UK schools come from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It’s an amazing experience to get to know the kids’ cultures, and very enriching for teachers.

How old are the kids you teach? 

I teach kids at Key Stage 2, who are 7-11 years old. I teach all subjects, like English, Maths, science…One year I taught kids from year 3 (7 year olds), another year from year 5. Primary teachers can also work with kids at Key Stage 1, aged 5-7.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching?

If you like working with children, teaching is a very rewarding job. You teach them new things, you help your pupils to achieve their goals and believe in themselves.

Are you satisfied with your salary? What are your daily expenses?

I think the teacher’s salary is very good in UK. I live at my boyfriend’s house in a town near London, we spend around £300 each month for bills and council tax. It’s not a very expensive area. My main expense is my car as I drive to work everyday. My salary allows me to have a good standard of living.

Do you hang out more with the English or the Polish?

I made a lot of English friends during the course and we enjoy spending time together. My boyfriend is English, so we hang out a lot with his friends and family. I also have a few Polish friends here,

Do you miss Poland? Are you planning to go back one day? 

I miss my family and friends, but I visit Poland at least twice a year. I’m not planning to go back, I like to live here. I’ve made a lot of friends and I’m happy with my job.

What advice would you give to people who want to work in UK as teachers? 

Try to get as much experience at school as you can; that will help you to see if teaching is the right job for you and if you’re enjoying yourself in the classroom. Experience is also valued when you apply for a post-graduate training. You also need to have excellent English skills; minimum C1 level is required. And, like in any country in the world, to be a teacher you must enjoy working with kids and have a lot of patience.

USEFUL PAGES & TIPS: 

If you’d like to become a teacher in UK and you don’t know where to start, visit the official website of the Department of Education: www.education.gov.uk/get-into-teaching

Are you searching for specific information about entry requirements, training and career development? Visit Prospects: the UK’s official graduate career website.

Would you like to check if the qualifications from your home country are appropriate for a teacher training program in UK? Visit UK Naric site, the national organization responsible for recognizing international qualifications:  www.ecctis.co.uk/naric/

Are you planning to volunteer in a UK school before applying for a teaching job? It is an excellent way to improve your English skills and get experience! You can search for volunteering opportunities on www.charityjobs.co.uk