Notes on Crisfield

Notes on Crisfield

Eowyn Crisfield on Bilingual Education

De Visserschool, October 14 2015
(Notes taken by Julia van Ooststroom)
This talk:
*Why is bilingual education good?
*How to help your children with it.
‘Bilingual’ also includes ‘multilingual’: 3/4/more languages.
People think that children are like sponges, but that is not true. Learning two languages is also for children a lot of brainwork. Because they are not aware of it (think it’s normal to speak more languages), they just do it.
How well a child will learn the 2nd language depends on (1) time, (2) energy and (3) motivation (the personality of the child).
What we call ‘mother tongue’ could also be the language of the father (so the ‘father tongue’). A child can have two mother tongues. If the child learns another language at school, we call it a second language. Usually, the child has one dominant language.
Learning two or more languages is very good and valuable for children: for their thinking, for their behaviour, the job-market, etc.
A child that speaks more languages has the ability to think about language in a different way. He/she is good in thinking about language. It is easier to learn other languages. He becomes an expert in the rules of languages and understanding patterns. Mathematics is also based on rules, so they become better in mathematics too. The social aspect of communication will be more developed: if someone does not understand something, he/she will try to make it clear in another way, in stead of just walking away.
Research shows that adult bilinguals have:
-4-5 years delay of Alzheimer
-better memory
One can have just a communicative goal (child speaks the 2nd language), but also a literacy goal (is able to read and write). If the language is not taught at school, you need to make a plan for that- especially a small community of practice. How much is enough depends on the child, but a guideline is minimum 20% of their time reading and talking to people (watching tv does not count). With 20% a child will only use the language when it is really necessary.
To be fluent, a child needs 30-35% of their time. Not 30% of their school time, but 30% of their life. That means that a child can only learn three languages on this level. It does not mean a child gets a British accent (not even attending the British school).
If a child does not get the 30%, you must find ways to give them more input after school, for example by letting them play in an English football-team. It is important that someone is talking to them personally, not that they just hear the language.
Not only the quantity of input is important, but also the quality. At home there is a lot of repetitive language – it is not very rich (‘eat your broccoli’ 10 times). To ensure good quality you can have good conversations, to read books and to talk about books.
Sheet: picture of a slope. If your child already speaks one language at home (f.e. Turkish), but learns at school a completely different language, your most important job is not to leave one language behind. The language they have from birth: keep it! If they continue with two languages, they will grow and they will have benefits. If a child looses is, it will have development problems. Help kids with their homework with that language from birth. The strengths of the first language pulls up the second and the third language. The better their mother-tongue, the better their Dutch/English or whatever the second language is. So don’t neglect the home-language. The language from birth : critical to keep it going.
If the child learns (a) new language(s) at school that shares the same alphabet as the language spoken at home. How to help your child with reading and writing? Just talk in the home-language and then say it in English or Dutch. When the languages have the same roman script, the child will automatically also learn to read in the home-language. You just need to provide a bit tuition on spelling. It is good for a child to have at least a basic literacy in that home language.
When the home-language does not share the same alphabet, you just start reading/writing when the child is ready for it. It does not matter when, just make sure that the child does not get overload. Important is that the child feels that the home-language has value to him/her. Explain why is has value!
Often two parents use the consistency model. One parent speaks only English, the other person only Dutch, for example. One should also explain to the child why you speak this or that language. Each parent needs to support the other language.
If you want your child to speak extra languages. Make a plan for it. Other people, part of your life (like the baby-sitter), make sure that they know the plan.
The ‘consultatiebureau’ can give bad advice. Also other ‘experts’ like paediatricians often do not know anything about bilingual education. They may say that you should stop teaching one of the languages. The message can be that that language is not good enough for school. When a child makes mistakes in the second language, they often say that the child has a language delay (‘taalachterstand’) as if the child has a problem.  This is wrong. There is only a delay in vocabulary acquisition of that second language, because the child speaks already another language. In stead of giving a negative message, they should give a positive one. A real language delay (‘taalachterstand’) is something else. A child with a delay would also have it when monolingual. Bi- or multilingual children are not more likely to have a delay. So never stop with the home-language. See also my blog-post on this topic.
Bilingual children often mix their languages. That is not something to worry about. It is part of a normal process. It is ok, that is what bilinguals do.
Often bilinguals are not equally good at both languages. That is o.k. too. It is normal that the development goes in phases. One language gets rusty in certain periods (f.e. in holidays).
Explain your child why it is nice to speak the second language. Make it important to them. F.e. That they can play this or that game with the grandparents.
Question from one of the parents: does is help children to watch tv in the second language? Answer: it depends. Sometimes children can watch without understanding and learning the language. If they pay attention to it, they will learn. Apps are better for vocabulary, because it is interactive. There are other ways to integrate English, f.e. to play a game in English, or to speak English at the dinner-table.
People often think that children at the age of kindergarten are best in picking up a new language, but that is not true. Adolescence is the best age.