Archive for August, 2012
As a result of globalization, there is greater cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity in our schools. Multilingualism is a growing phenomenon, and schools all over the world are devising strategies to meet the needs of multilingual children. The term multilingual refers to an individual who uses two or more languages, and this is a reality for many of our students.
Most linguists generally agree that there are between 2,500-7,000 languages being used in the world today, depending on your definition of a language, and monolinguals are a minority. It used to be thought that learning two or more languages was detrimental to a child’s cognitive development; however, researchers have found the opposite. Balanced bilinguals and multilinguals, individuals who are highly proficient in two or more languages, demonstrate a higher cognitive proficiency. They usually do better at school, enjoy better employment prospects, and are more tolerant and confident than their monolingual peers.
The acquisition of more than one language promotes intellectual and cognitive development. Research has shown that languages learned at different stages in life are stored in different areas of the brain. As a result, multilinguals stimulate different parts of the brain. Language learners have a better meta-linguistic understanding; they have a greater awareness of meaning and structure in language. They understand how languages are put together, which leads to a better understanding of their first language. Since language skills are transferable, knowing more than one language gives individuals an edge in learning additional languages.
Socially, multilingualism promotes relations between different linguistic and cultural communities. Language is a window into a culture and different ways of looking at the world. Being able to communicate in more than one language means that individuals develop a sense of cultural understanding and a unique perspective available only in that language. This understanding leads to acceptance, tolerance, and a more global perspective.
There are definite advantages to being able to communicate in more than one language. The world is becoming more connected and the ability to communicate effectively and understand cultural differences is an invaluable skill for our global society.
As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. Even if you do not feel comfortable using English, you continue to have a critical role in your child’s education. If you show an interest and value learning, so will your child. Here are a few suggestions to help you:
- Ask your child to explain to you a book, an assignment, or an activity in your home language.
- Talk about it together (showing an interest, but also helping them).
- You can help your child understand a concept in his or her home language.
- Help your child organize his or her books and binders.
- Review your child’s planner
- Stay in contact with your child’s teacher
- Find a quiet spot where your child can work with no interruptions or distractions from a television or computer.
- Find a consistent time for homework.
Learning a language is an exciting and challenging task. Why do some people learn languages faster than others? Each learner and every learning experience is unique, but educators have tried to identify patterns or characteristics of the language learning process. Here are a few of the characteristics of good language learners.
Good language learners are organized. These learners have strategies that enable them organize new information into patterns that will help them make connections and integrate new concepts. These tools provide a framework that helps learners access and retain information, and transfer it to new situations.
Good language learners link new information to prior experience. They connect what they are learning to concepts or experience they already have. Background knowledge creates a context and foundation for new ideas.
Good language learners think about how they learn. They understand how they learn best and adapt strategies that best suit their individual learning styles.
Good language learners are independent. They realize that they are not going to learn a language by sitting in a classroom and relying on the teacher to totally direct their learning. They are motivated to ask questions, read independently, and use language in social settings both in and out of the classroom.
Good language learners are willing to take risks. They are not afraid to experiment and try new approaches to learning. They are not afraid to talk and make mistakes because they understand that this is the best way to learn.
Good language learners are realistic. Learning a new language takes time and effort. Most researchers agree that it takes between 5-7+ years to learn a new language. Good language learners give themselves permission to improve at their own rate of progress. They are patient and persevere.
Good language learners have a balanced approach to communication. They monitor their speech by listening to what they say and watching how their message is being received. They also listen to how other people communicate their ideas. Good language learners are concerned with accuracy and make an effort to use correct forms of the language, but not to the point that it stops them from speaking or writing.
Good language learners have clear goals. They know why they want to learn another language and take advantage of the opportunities they have by actively participating in both the academic and social life of the school.
Adapted from Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen
Our brains are powerful, but they are very energy inefficient. The human brain is about 2% of an adult’s body weight, but it consumes about 20% of our body’s energy. How does the brain get its energy to learn? Well, its primary source of energy is blood, which supplies nutrients like glucose, protein and oxygen. The brain needs about 30 liters of blood each hour, about 720 liters per day. Water provides the electrolytic balance that the brain needs to function properly. The brain needs about 8-12 glasses of water a day for optimal functioning.
Unfortunately dehydration is a common problem in school classrooms, which leads to lethargy and impaired learning. When we are thirsty, there is a drop in the water content of the blood. Because the brain is made up of a higher percentage of water than any other organ, dehydration takes its toll quickly. Students who are dehydrated are sluggish, inattentive, and find it difficult to focus in class. This means that students need to drink more water, more often. Soft drinks, coffee, juice or tea are diuretics and don’t help much. So what you can your child do to boost their brain energy? Drink more water and your child will benefit from the power of H2O.
To improve your child’s learning, send him/her to school with a bottle of water and talk about the power of H2O.
Reading is the key to language learning and reading should be an important part of your child’s daily routines like exercise, brushing his/her teeth, or getting enough sleep. Your child should be reading daily in both his/her mother tongue and in English for about 15-30 minutes. You can help by providing a print rich environment at home with access to lots of different reading materials. It is important that your child choose a book that is not too difficult nor too easy; it needs to be “just right”! How can your child find a book at the right reading level?
Here are a few tips:
• Choose a book that you think you would like to read.
• Open the book to any page.
• Read the text aloud.
• Hold up one finger for every word you don’t know.
• If you have five fingers by the end of the page, the text will be difficult.
• If you have no fingers by the end of the page, the text will be easy.
• If you have three fingers by the end of the page, the book is just right.
Why is it important to maintain and develop your first language?
Research has shown that English language learners (ELLs) in international schools learn English faster and more efficiently if they maintain and develop their proficiency in their mother tongue. If your child has a solid foundation in his or her first language, then he or she will be able to transfer these language skills to English. Encourage your child to read and write in his or her own language at home. It is good to read a vareity of both fiction and non-fiction text in the home language.
It is also important that your child and your family maintain a connection to your own country, culture, family, and friends. The goal is to learn an additional languge, English, but also maintain the mother tongue so that your child can become a multilingual.
As a parent, you can help your child learn English better by…
- Continuing to read and write in your home language
- Talking to your child about what he/she is reading at school in your home language
- Asking your child to retell part of a story in your home language
- Providing reading materials in your home language for your child
- Explaining a new concept your child might be learning at school in your home language
In today’s world so much information requires strong reading and writing skills to access. Literacy skills are critical to success in our modern technological world. Information is easily accessible on the Internet and e-mail and messages are a part of every day life.
Reading is the key to language learning. Educational researchers have found a strong correlation between reading and academic success. A student who is a good reader is more likely to do well in school and achieve higher scores on tests and exams. Researchers have also found a strong correlation between reading and vocabulary knowledge. Students who have a large vocabulary are usually good readers, which are not very surprising, since the best way to acquire a large vocabulary is to read extensively, and if you read extensively you are likely to be or become a good reader!
The more you read, the more exposure you will have to language and the faster you will improve your fluency. It is a good way to expand your vocabulary, learn how different types of sentences are formed, expose yourself to new ideas and ways of thinking, and most of all enjoy yourself. You will probably find that after starting your personal reading program, you will start using new words and language structures more easily. This is because you will just be repeating many of the things you have seen in the books you have read. You will start to feel more confident and comfortable using English and you will be well on your way to becoming a proficient English speaker. These are some of the reasons why you need to dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to reading in English.
Good readers understand the individual sentences and the organizational structure of a piece of writing. They can comprehend ideas, follow arguments, deduce implications and make inferences. They know most of the words in the text already, but they can also use context clues to determine the meaning of many of the unfamiliar words. In summary, good readers can read for a variety of texts for different purposes. This all means that you need to encourage your child to read.
It is important for your child to read a variety of text that includes both fiction and non-fiction; however, it is also critical that your child continue to read in his/her home language. He/she should be reading independently for about 15 minutes every evening.
What can you do at home to help your child?
Provide your child with access to a range of reading materials in English. Reading is the key to language learning. The best way to improve reading ability is to read and it is important that your child read “just right” books that are at his/her reading level. I hope that you will work with me to help your child develop an appreciation and love of reading that will lead them to become lifelong readers.
Provide your child with appropriate dictionaries. One of the most important tools for language learners is their dictionary. Students should have a first language (L1)/English dictionary to be used for translation and an English/English dictionary. Do not worry if you do not have these at home, a computer with Internet access is also helpful. I highly recommend the following website for English definitions: www.ldoce.com. Electronic dictionaries are helpful for translations; however, they should never be used for writing English definitions.
Give support, not pressure. Support and praise your child. Your child is going through a big adjustment academically, socially, and culturally. When learners are pressured they will not perform well in a second language. You want your child to feel comfortable using English. Be supportive of your child’s use of English and remember that mistakes are part of the road to English proficiency.
Encourage your child to take advantage of his/her language opportunities at school. There are students from many different countries at ISM and we recognize that English is the language of inclusion at school.
Be patient. It is important for you as a parent to remember that individuals learn a language at their own rate of progress; however, research has shown that it takes between 5-7 years for most English language learners to catch up to their native speaking peers in their ability to use English for academic purposes.
Discuss with your child topics he/she is learning at school. Show an interest in what your child is doing at school.
Talk about homework. Homework is an important part of our program to review and reinforce the skills we are working on in school. You can help your child by asking questions about homework. Simply asking, “Is your homework done?” is not enough. You want to ask questions that help reinforce your child’s understanding.
Establish good routines at home.
Use your home language. Your child needs to continue to develop his/her first language. Discuss world events and language rich topics in your home language. Through your enthusiasm for language learning, your child will understand its importance.
Sign your child up for activities such as team sports or drama activities. Students benefit from participating in after-school activities where they interact with their peers in English. Studies have shown that students learn English rapidly when they are doing physical activity while speaking English.