More young language lovers

How do we help kids love language?
How do we help kids love language?

Last week we got to visit some of our friends, and I discovered another young, aspiring polyglot.  His name is Nicholas (funny that the other young language-lover I blogged about is named Nico, short for Nicholas) and he’s 7 years old.  Since he still wakes up at an ungodly hour, his parents bought him Rosetta Stone Spanish for him to work one while everyone else is sleeping.

But Spanish is boring to him because “everyone else” learns Spanish.  He wants to learn something that not so many people are learning, like Norwegian or Aramaic.  (When I asked him if he prefers Ancient or Modern Aramaic, he said Ancient.)  Like me, he prefers the obscure language.

What resources are there?  I recommended Nico’s favorite website, Omniglot.com.  Here you can find trivia about 600 or so languages.  The author has created some silly cartoons in various languages.  There is a lot of information about writing systems, too.  Since Youtube is not safe for kids without adult supervision, Omniglot’s videos are nice to have.

I wonder what becomes of American children who love languages.  Fortunately, his dad loves learning smatterings of languages and delving into the uniqueness of various cutlures.  But I don’t know about other kids.  Our society does not offer them many resources or rewards for following their passion.  How often have you seen a child start speaking a non-native language to someone?  Other than heritage speakers, I haven’t seen it.  Does anyone have ideas to help keep Nicholas motivated?

I also read this article from Language magazine, called “From the Mouth of Babes” (Language, Angelika Putintseva, http://languagemagazine.com/?page_id=23275).  Ms Putintseva is striving to offer an environment for small children to be exposed to and speaking multiple languages in her WorldSpeak Language Center daycares.  The article states that kids can learn and speak Spanish, Chinese, French, Russian, and English.  The education focuses on relationships and daily interactions rather than drills and exercises–the natural way that children learn languages.  Ms Putintseva eventually hopes to expand this into a K-5 school.

I researched the school a bit, and a Russian-speaking friend of mine visited the daycare. Maybe some of the article may be too good to be true.  The article was written by Ms Putintseva herself, so it may not be as objective as it could be.  The school is not large, around 20 or so students, though I don’t know if those numbers are just for one campus or for both.  I’m not sure if the French and Chinese programs are still running.  Some on-line reviews (take them for what they’re worth) complain about moving teachers around between campuses arbitrarily.  The program thus may not be as successful as it appears.

Assuming that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, I am on the balance happy that this daycare exists because we need places for people to socialize in multiple languages, even if just in pockets.  I’m pleased that someone is trying to create an atmosphere where people can learn languages like this.  I believe that something like this for adults is also necessary.  Groups of multilingual folks exist where they socialize in and teach each other languages, but they are not so well known.  They are a hobby get-together, not a widely-available teaching resource.

What are ways that we can get children more comfortable with a multilingual environment?  even fluent in multiple languages? What are ways we can engage those who are already enthralled with languages?

Photo credit: Julie70 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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16 thoughts on “More young language lovers

    1. That sounds cool! I haven’t connected with Nicholas on Skype yet, but that might even be more fun. Thanks for the great idea.

      I know that connecting kids on-line can be sketchy, but if others would like to look into connecting other kids, let’s see what we can do that will be fun and safe.

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  1. Off the top of my noggin: I know that a lot of people look down on TV, but growing up, I was able to watch TV shows and movies in foreign languages. Disney’s Aladdin was a movie I knew well, but being able to understand it in another language was SO cool. My little ones get jealous if I watch a TV show in a language they don’t understand (or read a book in another language) and it motivates them to learn some of the words. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve seen many movies in Aramaic. 😉 Another suggestion would be for their parents to take the kiddos to multicultural events, if they live close enough to any that go on throughout the year, and encourage them to order foods or ask questions in that culture’s language. Having an event to look forward to could be pretty motivating.

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    1. Those are awesome ideas! Thanks. My kids don’t exactly get jealous when I watch Iranian dramas 🙂

      I like cultural festivals. Thanks for the reminder. My kids had a great time at Somali independence day. They really got into it–one even bought a Somali-blue hijab!

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  2. I think it should start with the parents, of course, because parents are the best situated teachers for all subjects, languages included. The influence of a loving parent transmitting knowledge and language will always far surpass the impact of all other resources. But when parents cannot or choose not to teach another language, I believe schools should be the next resource. Schools need to start at the earliest age possible to teach languages and foster a love for languages and cultures different from our own. I applaud the efforts of daycare centers who are starting to catch on to the idea of bilingual or multilingual immersion from the youngest of ages. If more of these daycare centers were available, there would be a higher incentive for both parents and education systems to provide the continuum. Parents who send their children to bilingual daycare will naturally seek a personal or educational investment to follow through with what was started!

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    1. This is such a good comment on a deep level. Parents and other family members have always been the most important teachers for children. This encouraged me even more to make sure I show my kids people who speak other languages and never stop teaching them myself.

      Even though my wife and I work full time, education still has to be the priority.

      Thank you!

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    1. I’m happy to do so. Your succinct description of the lack of motivation on learning languages was on the money IMHO. I also loved the reasons you gave for learning a language. Those reasons are the main reason I have this blog!

      Keep up the good work!

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  3. Having just read this post, my first thought is that you should look into what happens with English-speaking children who are sent to Welsh-medium nurseries/ primary schools, etc, in Wales. There is often a lot of children who do not speak Welsh at the start, and it might be interesting to see what activities, what strategies are employed. I mention them because this is a well established bi-lingual community, with many years of experience in promoting bilingualism in previously monolingual children, and expect there will be a lot of research and tried and tested methods for you to look at.

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    1. Thanks for the tip! This is an interesting place to look for evidence. Do you know how long back Welsh-medium educational environments go back in the UK? I was thinking that in the 60s-80s not so much existed, but I could be wrong.

      Bilingual education is becoming really popular in the US. Spanish, French, and Mandarin are the most common languages. Others try but are less successful, for example, Somali in the Twin Cities. The magazine _Language_ has lots of articles about improving bilingual ed in the US.

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      1. Hmm. I know that the first Welsh-medium school was established in Llanelli in 1947, and over the following ten years around 15 or so were founded, but I really couldn’t tell you much more! The movement took off much more in the 1980s, I think there was some relevant legislation enacted at the time.

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      2. I am bringing up my own children bilingually. I am the minority language speaker at home, while my partner speaks the community language. I make a point of reading with them every day – I read age appropriate stories and so on, but we also read things like packets and recipe books out loud – just hearing the words makes a difference – and they love this sort of thing, they find it funny and try to guess what the next words will be! This could be a fun activity for children learning as a foreign language too

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      3. My children speak English and Greek as their main languages, with a smattering of Welsh and Italian. It does get tiring sometimes for me, as I end up translating a lot of things around me, and when the children were very small, I used to translate their stories, as it seemed pointless buying an extra set of books just to be in another language when there was an average of 3 easy words per page!

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  4. Pingback: Loving Sign Language in coffee shops: Could we do more? – Loving Language

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