Adding a third language 

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S has asked to learn French. As a language enthusiast myself this is highly exciting. I have been exploring options and information about how to teach a preschooler French. It’s interesting how different it is, learning a language from birth, compared to as a foreign language.

I decided to start with books and invested in a couple of French dictionary style children’s books by Usborne. I’ve also asked my mum (who lives in France) to get us a book of French nursery rhymes with a CD. I will enjoy that myself. I’ve always meant to properly learn the words to ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’.

I also signed S up for some local classes by Lingotot, who run language sessions for 1 to 4 year olds based around fun songs and games. We were supposed to start this week but unfortunately the class was cancelled due to a lack of interest. So it was back to the drawing board.

Then I stumbled across a listing for a French tutor who teaches young children. She plays with children using both English and French and introduces the new language naturally. S loved the extra attention (especially now he has to share me with baby E) and was keen to show her his new room and toys. This seems like a perfect fit for us. We look forward to starting weekly ‘French play’ sessions next week after yesterday’s trial.

We’ve also been trying out a few French cartoons on YouTube including Caillou and T’choupi.

Have you introduced a new language too? I’d love to hear how you’re getting on. Do share any tips.

Welcome baby E

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Baby E is now 7 months old. S has taken well to being a big brother. He loves to greet her when we pick him up from nursery and enjoys making her laugh.  E is much more vocal that S was at this age, making no attempt to roll or crawl. I have a feeling she’ll talk well before S did. They have different characters, E is calmer and more content, and all the sitting down and playing means she’s had a lot of practice using her hands. She now bangs together two blocks and is getting good at picking up smaller items.

So far S continues to talk to her in Spanish most of the time. It’ll be interesting to see how their relationship develops and how it affects their language use as they grow up.

How do your children communicate with each other? Has the language they use together changed over time? Do share your stories.

Avoiding majority language creep

S is now four and a half and a confident communicator in both English and Spanish. Somehow despite my good intentions to provide a (mainly) Spanish-speaking environment at home, I’ve recently realised that we’ve amassed a lot of majority language media. Even though we speak Spanish at home nearly all the media we consume is in English, be that library books, music, YouTube videos or kids TV programmes and DVDs.  The start of 2017 has been a time to try to rebalance things towards our minority language.

  • Books and Magazines:
    • Bristol libraries do stock a few Spanish children’s books so we’ve started to work through them (although we still read regularly in English and borrow English library books too).
    • We have recently subscribed to Caracola, a Spanish children’s magazine for ages 4+.  This will introduce regular Spanish reading materials both fiction and non fiction.
    • We’ve also discovered a new Spanish playgroup called Estoy Aquí within walking distance! Unfortunately it takes place while S is at nursery but I’ve attended a couple of times with E who has enjoyed the music and toys. It will be great to meet more Spanish speakers who live locally and hopefully E will make some little friends. They’ve also started a book swap which I am hoping will take off.
  • Video:
    • I’ve bought a gift set of Disney films with Spanish audio and hope to expand our collection over time.
    • The library also has DVDs for hire at £1 a week. There are a fair few that have Spanish as a language option although there seems no rhyme or reason behind the language options which vary wildly.
  • Music :
    • I usually rely on local radio for entertainment while driving but have decided to make an effort to create some playlists of music in Spanish for us to enjoy together on the way to and from nursery.
    • I have also recently signed up to volunteer at the local library and will be running a weekly Spanish rhyme time. Last week was our first session with 12 parents and children attending. Join us at Knowle Library every Monday from 1.45-2.15 term time only. Ages 0-4. FREE

Do you find the majority language creeping into your home? What are you tips to helping create space for the minority language? I’d love to hear from you.

A little sister on the way

We are delighted to be expecting another baby at the beginning of July.  As well as all of the inevitable changes a new sibling will bring to our little family, it will be interesting to see the impact on our home language dynamics.

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We are currently speaking Spanish at home as a family using the Minority Language at Home method. We originally decided on this technique to ensure S had a high level of Spanish language input.  My husband is the native Spanish speaker and works full-time, whereas I took a years’ maternity leave and then decided to return to work part-time. We felt that the One Parent One Language method would mean English would easily dominate in our situation and luckily we both speak each others languages to a high level so were able to make a choice about our home language.  As well as Spanish input from us at home, S has also had several Spanish babysitters and we speak to his Mexican family regularly via Skype.  As an unexpected bonus we have also been lucky that his nursery has two Spanish-speaking staff members and seven other bilingual children who speak Spanish with one or more parents.

S is coming up to his fourth birthday in September and so far our journey in bilingualism has been quite successful.  In fact despite having initially spoken very little English to S, especially in the first two years, he is equally proficient in both languages, although his vocabulary is slightly weaker in English.  On the other hand he makes more grammar errors in Spanish, often conjugating irregular verbs as if they were regular.  Despite code-switching being common among children of this age, S has generally always been quite clear about which language he needs to use depending on the people he is around and easily makes the switch between the two.

I have read that siblings tend to speak the majority language together, and although S always speaks to me and my husband in Spanish at home, when he plays on his own it is usually in English.  We will be talking to S about him helping the new baby to learn Spanish and encouraging him to speak to her in Spanish too.  I am quite confident that this will work well to begin with, although once he starts school full-time in September 2017 English will no doubt dominate.

I’d love to hear the stories and tips of other bilingual families and the impact of new sibling, especially those doing Minority Language at Home.  Please do share your stories and links to more information. Thanks

En España

In February/March this year we took a trip to Spain to visit some friends.  S is now three and a half and this was his first time in a Spanish-speaking country since he started talking around his second birthday.

We spent a week in total, splitting our time between Cataluña and the Madrid region.  S is now quite confident in his Spanish and gets plenty of Spanish language input at home, via Skype and at nursery so we weren’t expecting great changes from a week in Spain. However at this age I think was important for him to experience a totally Spanish-speaking environment to help him understand that it is a widely spoken language and not just something we do at home.

The most interesting impact was that on returning to Bristol he seems to have suddenly cracked the pronunciation of the rolled r.

The photo below is from inside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Well worth a visit!

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Preschool art and stimulating language through story telling

S has recently started to try to represent ideas and objects through drawing.  He’s been making lines, crosses and circles for a while, from there he moved on to train tracks, magic wands and brooms.  The other day he even drew me the Nazca Lines!   Usually when he wants to draw something more complicated he asks me to do it for him. (The usual request is a witch on a broomstick with a wand).

Instead of just doing it for him, last week I decided to help him to do it himself by suggesting the shapes he could draw to make a witch. This technique worked really well and he was so proud with himself!  Here’s the first witch below (with her wand and broom of course).  PS If you are unsure what’s with the witch obsession – it all stems from this book.
IMG_20151016_103351 (1)So after doing several witches, I suggested we draw some people in the countryside. The resulting picture (below) really fascinated me because it was such a fluid process for him.  As adults I think we see drawings as static objects, whereas S was almost trying to animate his picture. He added things to the drawing and narrated a story a he went along, changing some aspects to adapt to his story.

First he drew the tree, the people, the grass and some small flowers. Then he drew the sun and said it was very hot and the flowers had died.  After that he drew a big rain cloud and lots of rain – which made the flowers grow big and tall.

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What a great way to combine art and story-telling! He used a lot of language in this activity and really took ownership of the drawing and developed it a lot further than my initial suggestion.  He did this drawing a few days ago but has come back to it several times to talk about it excitedly.  It has made be think about how activities that seem unrelated to language actually hold a lot of potential.  Have you done anything similar? As always I’d love to hear your ideas about stimulating use of the minority language.

Building Vocab

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S is now a little chatterbox.  At home he’ll mostly be chatting away in Spanish, with some English along with made up words and sounds mixed in.  Recently he’s been asking me for the English word for the vocabulary he knows in Spanish.  This morning, while we were stuck in traffic on the way to nursery and I was complaining about us being late, he asked, ‘Cómo se llama tarde, Mamá?’, which is his way of asking how to say something in English.

When other children come over to play he’ll switch into English and address me in either Spanish or English. In this case he is mirroring my behaviour as I tend to speak to him in English when we are around other English speakers, but not always!

He continues to make up words in English by applying English grammar and sounds to the Spanish he knows.  For example, when he couldn’t think of the word umbrella, he called it a ‘par-ah’  –  the word ‘paraguas’ without the Spanish sounding endings.

Occasionally he makes something up that does actually exist.  He was playing with his pirate ship with his friend and I heard him say he was looking for a ‘pistol’.  I thought it was strange that he knew this word.  It’s quite old fashioned and I didn’t think we’d read it in any books. Then it dawned on me he was just saying ‘pistola’ without the a!

It’s really interesting how he’s using each language to build the other.