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What Every Parent Should Know
About Bilingualism
Yanira Alfonso, EDS
ESOL Teacher
Hopkins Elementary School
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An informative video about how
you can more effectively help
your child in school and a guide
for teachers.
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Introduction
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Video Content:
Relationship between bilingualism and
learning
 Benefits of bilingualism
 Conditions that facilitate bilingualism
 Bilingualism and achievement strategies
 Recommended Readings & References

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Part I: What is the relationship
between bilingualism and
learning?
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Will my child’s performance in
school be affected by being
bilingual?
•
Work with majority language peers in a
majority language classroom
•
Bilingualism is not valued by the school
•
Yes, your child may fall behind in school.
•
Bilingual child’s language has to match the
complexity level of the curriculum
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My child seems to be
underachieving at school. Is this
because of bilingualism?
•
•
•
No. Bilingualism more likely leads to cognitive
advantages than disadvantages.
Under-achievement blamed at lack of exposure of
the majority language is incorrect.
Fast conversion to the majority language may
cause more harm than good.
• Denies the child’s skills in the home language
• Denies identity and self-respect of the child
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Will learning to read in a first
language interfere with reading in
the second language or the other
way around?
No. It greatly helps children to learn to read
in the second language.
 Literacy skills transfer.
 Language boundaries are helpful.
 Dad can read in one language, mom in
another.

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Will learning a second language
interfere with development of the
first language?

No. Definitely not.

Mixing words may occur in young children.

Effects are generally positive.
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If the two languages have
different scripts, will learning to
read and write be a problem?
No.
 Learning to read in a different script helps
learning to read in another language.
 Some skills still need to be learned.
 But some skills still transfer.

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We have just moved to a different
country. Should we speak that
country’s language in the home to
help our children?





No. Artificial switch in language will not help.
Switching country and language difficult for child.
Level of conversation will change.
Conceptual growth of children may be hindered.
Infants or very young, children do not need their
parents to speak to them in the majority language.
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What may happen if the majority
language overtakes the minority
language at home?
•
•
•
•
Much will be lost.
You deny existence of your first language,
yourself, your past, your family history and
traditions.
Heritage, family identity, subtle psychological
processes that hold families in unity, the cultural
cement that holds minority families together, will
be lost.
Loss of the minority language may divide the
family.
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In teaching your child your native
language you transmit:
Something about yourself
 Values
 Beliefs
 Your heritage and the extended family
 You are able to give your child more rather
than less.

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Will my bilingual children have a
problem of identity with two
different cultures?

Maybe.

Important and sometimes problematic issue.

May develop different identities in different
context.
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Books on child care and child
development warn me against
bilingualism. How should I
react?
•
•
Many misconceptions exist.
Find out information from reliable sources where
there is:
• Informed comment
• Expert understanding
• Greater experience and awareness of childhood
bilingualism
• A list of reliable references is included at the
end of this video.
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People around me are prejudiced.
Should we as a family switch to
speaking only the majority
language?




No. It will not change racism, discrimination, and
prejudice.
Bilingualism exists alongside racism, deprivation,
poverty, unemployment and disadvantage.
Good reason to become fluent in the majority
language.
Not at the cost of the first or minority language.
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Should we ensure our child is
educated in the majority language
to aid employment prospects?
•
Opportunity to compete for jobs increases with
majority language skills.
•
In some cases, it increases even more with a
second language in demand by employers.
•
Argument for thorough bilingualism, not for
majority language monolingualism.
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Will my child become equally
fluent in two languages?

Usually, no.

Only a few exceptions exist.

Many bilinguals are stronger in one
language than another.
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Part II: What are the benefits of
bilingualism?
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What are the advantages of my
child becoming bilingual?
Communicate with a wider variety of
people.
 Experience two or more cultures.
 Bridge between generations.
 Bridge between communities.
 Pass on the heritage language of the family.

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Advantages (Cont’d):




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Your child will be able to think more flexibly.
Advantage in social relationships.
Potential for more friends rather than less.
Communicate with grandparents and relatives in
different countries.
Childhood bilingualism widens social, cultural,
and educational horizons.
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Part III: What conditions
facilitate bilingualism in the
family?
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What conditions facilitate
bilingualism in the family?




Children are born ready to be bilinguals and
multilinguals.
Plenty of stimulating language experiences.
Opportunities to listen, speak, read, and write in
both languages.
Quality communication between parents and
children.
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Conditions that facilitate
bilingualism in the family (Cont’d):
One parent one language.
 Child learns one language at home and the
other language in a playgroup, school, or
community.
 Teenagers participate in out-of-school
events in their minority language.

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Conditions that facilitate
bilingualism (Cont’d)


Parents encourage writing, when child can hold a
crayon or pencil.
Writing is developed in stages:
 Squiggles
 Copies letters
 Relates sounds to letters
 Puts sounds together to spell like-words
(inventive spelling)
 Starts writing words
 Starts writing sentences and then stories
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Conditions that facilitate
bilingualism in the family (Cont’d)
Child is taught to read in the dominant
language first and then in the second
language.
 Important to help the child feel a growing
competence in reading.
 The most important thing is that reading be
a pleasure.

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Conditions that facilitate
bilingualism (Cont’d)

Young children

Pick up language very easily.

More likely to pick up appropriate
pronunciation of both languages.
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Conditions that facilitate
bilingualism (Cont’d)
Some children learn to be bilingual faster
than others,
 Depending on:
 Ability and aptitude
 Child’s interest
 Complex number of factors affect the rate
of bilingual development

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What family conditions are less
likely to facilitate bilingualism?
Minority language parent away from the
family.
 All day Majority language nursery or
preschool.
 Early exposure to majority language.
 Teenagers reject minority language.

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Alternatives for working parents:

Minority language weekend school

Minority language nursery school

A family daycare with a (Minority) caretaker

A Minority language family member caretaker
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Part IV: What strategies can I use
to encourage bilingualism and
achievement?
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What can families do to help
their children remain bilingual?
Accept the challenge; Get motivated.
 Have a positive attitude towards
bilingualism.


Recognize that children’s bilingual skills
constantly change.

Make a Family language plan.
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Conversation strategies would
ensure:
Parent language is not too complex.
 Expansion on a child’s attempt to
communicate.
 Plenty of open questions.
 Connection of words with objects to convey
meaning.
 Parent to be a good listener and encourager.

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I am a one-parent family. How
can I raise my child bilingually?

Speak minority language at home.

Speak minority language four days, and
majority language three days.

Use each language in different context.
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Provide richness of language
Establish richness of language experiences
in a variety of situations.
 Develop vocabulary
 Take trips
 Expose your child to music and drama
 Make language enjoyable. It is the most
important factor.

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Use the Mass Media to your
advantage

Watch T.V. or radio, preferably in the
weaker language.

Minority culture as well as language.

Bilingual, bicultural is the goal of
bilingualism.
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Practice the minority language

Visit relatives.

Language school.

Educate your neighbors.

Communicate do not constantly correct.
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Establish language boundaries

Consistent in keeping languages separate.

Have clear expectations about language use.

Avoid excluding visitors

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Explain to them your language rules.
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Correct mixing the two languages
by:
Not criticizing your child
 Not constantly correcting your child
 Not mixing languages yourselves
 Constantly encouraging your child’s attitude
toward the two languages

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When should I begin to teach my
child to read?

The day your child is born.
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What can I do to teach my child
how to read?
Talk to your child and ask questions.
 Buy simple books for your child.
 Teach your child how to value books.
 Teach your child that a book has pictures
and objects.
 Teach your child nursery rhymes.
 Read books to your child everyday.

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Reading strategies (cont’d):

Develop ‘sight’ vocabulary first.
 Using pictures alongside words,
 encourage your child to recognize and
read those words.
 Help your child to recognize words in the
environment.
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Reading strategies (Cont’d)
Get your child to talk about an experience,
while you write it.
 Copy one sentence two times on a card.
 Cut up the words for one of the sentences.
Have your child put it back together.
 Give your child the same story with words
missing.
 Ask your child to write the missing words.

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Reading strategies (Cont’d):
If it feels normal and natural, yes introduce
books in both languages.
 As long as you keep both languages
separate,
 and give equal exposure to both
languages.

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Reading strategies (Cont’d):

Stock up on books in each language.

Explore the internet.

Books in two languages not necessary.
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The most important thing!

READ TO YOUR CHILD EVERYDAY.

Make reading active:
 Elaborate and explain the text.
 Relate the story to your child's own
experiences.
 Ask questions about the story.
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If my child is under-achieving,
what can I do?
•
Educate in minority language to keep up the
academic skills
•
Results will include fluency in the majority
language.
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How do I find out more
information about bilingualism?
•
Get informed by reading
•
Order books through major/university
bookstores.
•
Visit your local and university library.
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Thanks for taking the time to
care! Remember you CAN make
a difference, but START
TODAY!
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Part V: Recommended Readings
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A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to
Bilingualism by Colin Baker
•
1995, Bristol, PA: Multilingual Matters
Ltd. ISBN 1-85359-265-X (hard book)
ISBN 1-85359-264-1 (paper back book)
•
Much of the advice in this video was taken
from Colin Baker’s book. Much more is
included in his book. A book that every
bilingual family should read.
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Foundations of Bilingual
nd
Education and Bilingualism 2
edition. by Colin Baker
•
1996, Bristol, PA: Multilingual Matters
Ltd.
•
ISBN 1-85359-358-3 (hard book)
ISBN 1-85359-357-5 (paper back book)
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Raising Children Bilingually:
The Pre-School Years by Lenore
Arnberg
•
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1987.
•
Provides valuable academic introduction to
aspects of bilingualism relevant to young
children in families, chapters on practical
suggestions and some case studies.
•
Particularly valuable for in-migrant parents
and those in language minority situations.
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The Bilingual Family: A
Handbook for Parents by Edith
Harding and Philip Riley
•
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986
This book has case studies of sixteen bilingual
families and an alphabetic reference guide.
•
Particularly valuable for those families where
there are two majority languages.
•
The book is written by linguists and has valuable
insights from a linguistic point of view.
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The Bilingual Experience: A
Book for Parents by Eveline de
Jong
•
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986
•
This book is a survey of parents and their bilingual
experience.
•
Representing a variety of parental experience, it
lacks in expert advice and a ‘state of the art’
understanding of bilingualism.
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Bilingual Children: From Birth
to Teens by George Saunders
•
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1988.
•
Saunders and his wife raised their sons and daughters in
English and German in Australia. Even though Saunders
was not a native speaker of German, and there was little
support for German speakers in the community, they raised
their children bilingually. From birth, the mother spoke to
the children in English while the father used German.
•
Saunders provides a detailed case study with plenty of
illustrations, much analysis and is regarded as a classic
case study of the development of bilingualism in a family.
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One Parent One Language: An
Interactional Approach by
Susanne Dopke
•
Published by John Benjamins, Amsterdam,
Philadelphia, 1992
•
Represents one recent academic research
study on bilingualism in the family.
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Listen to Your Child: A Parent’s
Guide to Children’s Language
•
London: Penguin Books, 1986
•
For those parents who want to read more about
children’s language development.
Best Seller
•
•
Delightfully written, eminently readable and
highly informative from linguistic and
psychological research.
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Foundations of Bilingual
Education and Bilingualism by
Colin Baker
•
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1993
•
For those who want a comprehensive
introduction to bilingualism and bilingual
education.
•
Written as a foundation-level textbook for
parents, students and teachers.
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Bilingual Family Newsletter by
Multilingual Matters, Ltd.
•
Frankfurt Lodge, Clevedon Hall, Victoria
Road, Clevedon, Avon BS21 7SJ, England.
•
An up-to-date and most valuable source of
information for parents.
•
Write to them for your free sample copy.
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Part VI: References Used to
Create this Video
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References
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
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Baker, Colin. 1995. A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism. Bristol, PA: Multilingual
Matters Ltd.
Baker, Colin. 1996. Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 2nd ed. Bristol, PA:
Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Collier, Virginia (1987). Age and Rate of Acquisition of Second Language for Academic Purposes.
TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 21. No. 4, 617-641.
Collier, Virginia (1989). How Long? A Synthesis of Research on Academic Achievement in a
Second Language. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 23. No. 3, 509-531.
Cummins, Jim. (1994). The Acquisition of English as a Second Language. Kids Come in All
Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL students. Newark, Delaware: International Reading
Association, 36 – 62.
Döpke, Susanne. (1992). One Parent One Language; An Interactional Approach. Philadelphia, PA:
John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Edelsky, Carole. (1986). Writing in a Bilingual Program; Había Una Vez. Norwood, NJ: Ablex
Publishing Corporation.
Fase, Willem, et. al. editor. (1992). Maintenance and Loss of Minority Languages. Philadelphia, PA:
John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Fishman, Joshua A. (1991). Reversing Language Shift. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters LTD.
Hamers, Josiane F. and Blanc, H.A, Michel. (1989). Bilinguality and Bilingualism. New York, NY:
Cambridge University Press.
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References (Cont’d)
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Harding, Edith, and Riley, Philip. (1986). The Bilingual Family: A handbook for parents. New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Jiménez, Robert T. (1994). “Understanding and Promoting the Reading Comprehension of Bilingual
Students.” Bingual Research Journal, 18: 1 & 2, 99-119.
Lee, Patrick. (1996). “Cognitive Development in Bilingual Children: A case for Bilingual
Instruction in Early Childhood Education.” The Bilingual Research Journal. 20 No. 3 & 4, 499-522.
Linse, Caroline, ed. (1991). “Language of Instruction in the Early Years; Language and Cultural
Development of LEP Students in Early Childhood Years.” National Preschool Coordination Project.
San Diego, CA.
National Preschool Coordination Project. (1991). “Language of Instruction in the Early Years; NoCost Study on Families” San Diego, CA: NABE.
Pérez, Bertha and Torres-Guzmán, María E. (1996). Learning in Two Worlds. 2nd edition. White
Plains, NY: Longman Publishers.
Schecter, R. Sandra. (1996). “Bilingual by Choice: Latino Parents’ Rationale and Strategies for
Raising Children with Two Languages.” The Bilingual Research Journal, 20. No. 2, 261-281.
Wong-Fillmore, Lily. (1991). “When Learning a Second Language Means Losing the First.” Early
Childhood Research Quarterly., 6, 323-346.
Zentella, Ana Cecilia (1997). Growing Up Bilingual. Malden, MA. Blackwell Publishers, Inc.
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What Every Parent Should Know About Bilingualism