So this post is mostly for non-native speakers who are working to improve their skills in the minority language. Or maybe you are a native or near-native speaker but are out of practice or far removed from regular interaction with adult-level (or "high register" as the linguists say) language and you want to keep up your skills/fluency. (Or maybe your child is developing an interest in nuclear reactors or some equally as strange and detailed topic, and you never learned that vocabulary because you moved away from the ml country before that particular conversation ever came up at the dinner table.)
Any ideas about how to do this? Strategies and tips to fit OUR language development into that busy bilingual parenting life? I mean, if we have high expectations for our kids, we need to have them for ourselves, too, right?
Great topic. I was just thinking about how I learn a lot of vocabulary from expanding the ml music we listen to, and even some of the kids' books we read. I also have a few ml friends that I practice speaking with. I have also learned a lot of "kid" words just by speaking with my girls and needing to look things up here and there.
If you don't have many people to practice with, what about checking out a Meetup Spanish language group? Or listening to books on tape in the ml (there should be plenty of options for that in Spanish in the US?) That could be a little more time-friendly.
You didn't discuss nuclear reactors at the dinner table as a child? For shame!
Well, I found books on tape to work wonders, especially when you have an hour commute each way. Now that I don't have the commute I listen to 15-minute podcasts as I go for my daily lunch walk. I found that the intonation is the first thing to go, so the audio input is very important.
For the occasional nuclear reactor I use Wikipedia, usually with my daughter right alongside me. I doubt monolingual parents habitually know the difference between fission and fusion or isotope and ion. So looking that stuff up should carry no shame.
Another useful resource is online communities. My sister at one point was working on Russian by debating everything under the sun on a message board. I use facebook groups for much the same purpose. In facebook, search for [ml language] of [geographical area] and you're bound to find something. Although I doubt geographical area is important. I'm in a Russian children's literature for expats group based out of UK. Their English is occasionally odd, but their Russian is solid.
As an aside, I had the luck of meeting someone in person who has seen my writing online. She said that 6 years ago it was really obvious that I was hanging on to Russian by a thread, but today I seem like the rest of the Russian community. So yay, outside confirmation that my efforts pay off.
My native languages are ML and ml1, my husband's native language is ml2. I have learnt some ml2 as well and try to speak it with my husband as much as possible, but find that for important things and deeper discussions my ml2 skills are not good enough. So we rather use ml1, in which my husband is fluent as well.
To learn more ml2, I have started using Duolingo about a year ago. I really enjoy practising with it, and it has improved my vocabulary quite a bit. I am now working on grammar, since I have always had trouble with verb tenses in ml2.
When I got pregnant, my Spanish was really rusty as I almost did not use it every day. But as I wanted to speak Spanish to my kids, I started to work on waking my Spanish up. It helped a lot to actively start to write again. I searched for a forum of a subject of my interest (twins) and started writing there.The first times I wrote was a big drama to write but slowly it did came back. Also by reading a lot of Spanish (not so many books but mostly blogs with short texts that I could read in between).
When I am in the car without my son, I am listening to news and interview programs in the ml (we do songs, rhymes and games in ml when he is present). I have found a couple and am looking for more (Buenos Dias, America and Radio Bilingue's Linea Abierta, for you Spanish speakers out there). This does mean that I have to give up some time with NPR, to which I am addicted, but it is worth the sacrifice. And now I don't feel as much like commuting is wasted time. And I can keep my adult vocabulary strong.
I am also reading in the ml, trying to switch out my fiction reading in ML to ml. I am reading the Harry Potter books in Spanish. So fun and I am picking up tons of new phrases, which will help L's expression, too. (And now I can say fun things like magic wand and dungeon, which I didn't need to know before I had a kid!) I want to be in good habits so that later L cannot say, "Why do I have to if you don't have to?"
Great question. I read books in my ml (French) as well as listen to podcasts (for learners and natives). The other thing that I did that really helped was to start a story time at the library in our ml. Since I had to do the presentation, read the books, and speak to the parents I got so much more pratice and worked hard to be prepared. I didn't do it with that intention (I started it to benefit my son!) but it's really been great for improving my skills.
I enjoy reading children's novels (to myself!). Since the books are about and for children, the vocabulary tends to relate well and is very colloquial, especially in the dialogues. The problem with adult novels is that they don't necessarily teach me all that much about how to talk with/about/for kids, and as a ml parent, that's exactly what I want to learn!
Also, it was very fun to read books like "Treasure Island" and "The Hobbit" in Yiddish translation, because it was an opportunity to learn all the pirate/fantasy language that you'd never learn in a class or think to look up in a dictionary. I really believe that it's this "colorful" vocabulary which really distinguishes a truly fluent speaker from a "by-the-books" amateur. If you can do all your shopping in the language, but you can't describe a fire-breathing dragon pillaging a village and the army of elves and dwarves that comes to the rescue, or a bunch of pirates hunting for buried treasure and singing pirate songs and making their enemies walk the plank, you're missing a lot... and again, this is the sort of language that I think really enhances one's ability to talk with children, in particular.
The problem is that so many language learning programs really are not oriented towards speaking with children -- they're designed for adult tourists and business-people going to foreign countries, but childhood is so much different (and so much more!) than that.
Sam's post reminded me of one thing I did pretty diligently when I was studying Japanese more actively: I read comic books. I especially enjoyed the popular series featuring the character called Doraemon, a wacky robotic cat, which my kids now enjoy reading, too.
Since comic books tend to consist mostly of dialogue, as opposed to straight prose, they can be particularly useful for advancing spoken language ability. And, of course, the illustrations aid comprehension and can make the reading experience more comfortable.
Just find a fun series in your target language and have an entertaining time as you strengthen your language skills!
Adam Beck is the founder of Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo, and the author of the popular non-fiction book Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability amzn.to/22XKuCt and the humorous novel How I Lost My Ear amzn.to/2EsjVRS, both available worldwide.
I can also highly recommend comic books, have gained valuable vocab from them. Also I have read the Harry Potter series and a few other short novels targeted at kids/teens.
Another thing which I have recently stated doing is reading and looking for more books in Japanese about raising children etc. Obviously in the absence of books, the internet is a minefield of resources, just waiting for you to explore.
As a non-native speaker trying to raise my child to speak the minority language, it's challenging to keep up our own ability to be able to converse with our children. I guess the best action we can take is to set up an environment with maximum exposure to the minority language for both adults and children. Books, music, TV, shopping. I aim to fill my life with Japanese as much as possible.
I agree with sam that reading children's books for your own enrichment can be quite rewarding. My daughter is still rather fussy when it comes time to read any book with me, so I end up reading it just on my own to learn all the cool words that kids get to use. I love reading the dialogue aloud, as it improves both my reading and oral skills.
To keep up my Standard Arabic skills, I like getting the BBC Arabic daily news. (And BBC has this for dozens of languages.) I can listen to the short broadcast summary, then check out the articles that I'm interested in. And I read Arabic novels in the bath. I'm terrible about doing all my reading on my phone, so the bath is a good opportunity to pick up an honest-to-god book and read a chapter. Last night I started "Chicago" (شيكاجو) by Ala' al-Aswany.
But, honestly, I think the things I do for the children are where I learn the most. I first learned Arabic when I was in the military, so we learned words like "United Nations" and "carbomb" before we learned words like "fork" and "pillow" (if at all). So the everyday, children's vocabulary is really where my gaps are, and I'm always learning new words.
I have to admit that since I moved to Latin America, I sometimes feel like crawling into a shell and not having to speak or read a word more than I have to in Spanish! This is because I am so tired after a day at work (which is 80% in Spanish) that all I want to do is go back to what I feel most comfortable with. Which is a shame, as I should be making the most of the fact that I can easily access resources here that would allow me to engage in Spanish OUTSIDE of a work environment (I have the same issue as Karen with a quite targeted vocabulary, although in my case the words tend to be more things like "capacity development", " stakeholders" and "partnerships" haha). I have actually learnt (somewhat to my dismay, as I would prefer that she use the word in English when speaking with me) quite a lot of "childhood" vocabulary from my daughter, who picks it up at creche (rabbit - for Easter bunny - was a big one this weekend!).
So these posts have inspired me to make more of an effort, particularly as we are only here for another 4 months.
And Karen - I really enjoyed "Chicago". It may not be Great Literature, but I tore through it - then read it again some months later, and enjoyed it just as much the second time around!
Since I kicked the ML out of our home, I have switched all my reading, listening and watching to ml2. In fact, I find it very pleasant and regret I don't have any more time for it. After over a decade in ML country, using ML and ml1 on a daily basis, I have missed my ml2 so much. It is so nice to reclaim it, rediscover forgotten words, expressions. I also take a bit of time to look up words that I can't recall (whether when reading or when I get stumped in a discussion with my kids) or for which I want to check the intensity or context, etc. The latter also helps me build my confidence as more often than not, my initial intuitive use of it was correct.
***"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars" - Oscar Wilde***
Post by Dave Hartley on Apr 18, 2017 22:29:58 GMT 9
I think we're so lucky these days that there is such a gold mine of resources at our fingertips! And I think one possible answer to the question "What can we do?" is "As many different things as possible!". I think I've learned that finding ways to converse is perhaps one of the most important areas. Tatyana mentioned discussing topics on Facebook, which is such a great idea. I'm definitely not up to the level of nuclear reactors though! I've been having German lessons on Skype. I found a great German tutor through a really good website called preply.com.
For reading, I've discovered the Kindle! It's so easy to browse and find great books in different languages, and as you're reading you can tap a word and get an instant translation. It also saves the look-ups so you can rehearse them with flashcards. Pretty smart!
I've been doing 'Daddy TV' (Adam's awesome idea of 'cloning'). First I use Google (cheating, I know!) to translate a book for my daughters, and I type it out and print it. Then I video myself reading it! Feels very awkward, but forces me to analyse my own pronunciation, and the vocab starts to sink in!
I have changed every device I use to English (even made hubby change my Windows to an English version) and read only in English. I'd say I think in English more than I do in Spanish.
One page I used before -don't have much time these days, but I hope to as soon as I can stay awake after 10pm, lol- is Conversationexchange.com. It's a site -free- where you can look for someone who's learning your language and speaks the one you're learning. You can speak through different programs (Skype, FaceTime, etc...), meet face to face or write to each other. I used to find the chat software option very convenient.
Nellie, it's no wonder you're tired after a long day at work using a language that isn't your mother tongue!! When I first started using English a lot -not even for work- I wondered why I was so tired all the time. After a while I realized it was because my brain was working overtime speaking a 2nd language. It's hard! So don't be too hard on yourself.
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Angela: So sorry for your loss. She was a great woman. I hope you feel a bit better. Kisses from Spain.
Apr 22, 2018 23:34:43 GMT 9
Mayken: We visited a Loire Valley château yesterday. Our daughter got a kids' activity booklet and we parents got the regular tour booklet in French. She asked for one in German (our ml). When I later asked her why, she said "Because I'm a German-speaker!"
Apr 23, 2018 23:23:36 GMT 9
Nellie: Haha love it Mayken! The best thing is - she is right!
Apr 24, 2018 5:45:09 GMT 9
Mayken: My daughter's ml homework for this week included baking a cake - there's a cake in the story they read, and after each chapter there are questions and tasks, and the current chapter has the step-by-step recipe. She's to bring the cake to school too.
May 1, 2018 23:48:48 GMT 9
Amy: What a nice original homework! Makes such a change from standard homework, and I wouldn't be surprised if kids remember more from it! I like your bilingual school Mayken! Lucky little girl, and lucky Mummy!
May 2, 2018 0:00:43 GMT 9
Mayken: ml cake homework update: About half the class brought cake (8 out of 15), not all of them were the cake from the book recipe, but my daughter's was the most popular. (Maybe because we added food colouring and topped it with chocolate icing and smarties?)
May 4, 2018 5:58:10 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Cake is definitely my favorite kind of homework!
May 4, 2018 11:28:51 GMT 9
Jana: One of the best parts of having kids in bilingual school was getting Mother's Day cards in two languages! (With less-than-perfect spelling in both!) Ha!
May 15, 2018 9:16:08 GMT 9
Amy: (Twice) Lucky you Jana! So nice to read exciting pieces of news like yours!
May 16, 2018 5:46:25 GMT 9
Mayken: I still have that to look forward to, Jana! Mother's Day in our ML country is two weeks later, and the ml teacher goes along with that date. (It was last Sunday in our ml country.)
May 16, 2018 5:58:11 GMT 9
Flir: Adam, uh oh. Time waits for no one. I'm very sorry to hear that. Stay strong man, your kids are looking up to you to give them as much as your parents gave you once. Best wishes.
May 24, 2018 20:11:03 GMT 9