¿De dónde eres?

English Translation Below:

Por Erica Mirochnik, Creadora de Mamás por el mundo

Mamasporelmundo.com

Facebook.com/Mamasporelmundo

 

Una de las preguntas más frecuentes que les hacen a mis hijos, y a muchos otros niños también es “¿de dónde eres?”

Para la mayoría de los niños esto es algo sencillo de responder. Para los míos es algo más complejo.

La respuesta más común a esta pregunta es que somos del lugar donde nacimos. En el caso de muchas familias como la mía, mis hijos han nacido en un país que no es el de sus padres y en el que tampoco viven en este momento.

Entonces la respuesta se vuelve algo más larga que decir “soy de…” Comienza una larga serie de explicaciones en las que cuentan que sus padres se han mudado varias veces, que ellos han nacido en uno de esos tantos lugares de residencia pero que ya hace un tiempo que no viven allí.

La versión de respuesta corta es decir que son del país de los padres, cosa que muchos mencionan para evitar dar tantos detalles de su vida y la de su familia.

Para muchas familias es prácticamente impensable la idea de haberte ido a vivir lejos de tu lugar de origen. Sin ir más lejos, hasta hace no mucho tiempo, la gente pasaba su vida entera sin moverse de su ciudad o de su pueblo.

Esto hace que comunicarse con gente en otras latitudes sea el primer desafío que enfrentan estas familias que se han mudado. Y no es sólo una cuestión de cuán bien sabes el idioma local, lo importante es pensar como comunicas con quienes te rodean. Pensar si utilizas el segundo idioma meramente para trabajo y cuestiones prácticas o si has podido establecer vínculos que te permiten compartir algo más íntimo de tu vida con tu nuevo entorno.

En los niños sucede de una forma más natural, ya que a través del juego que es un lenguaje en el que se sienten muy cómodos, los niños pueden expresarse de diferentes formas, pero sobretodo utilizan el segundo idioma para interactuar de manera natural.

Los adultos tenemos nuestros propios obstáculos al respecto, a veces reales y a veces autoimpuestos. Creemos que no sabemos lo suficiente o que tenemos un acento muy fuerte, y nos limitamos la capacidad de interactuar. Buscamos muchas excusas por diferentes razones y así nos privamos de uno de los mayores beneficios que tiene vivir en otro país que es conocer la cultura y la gente del lugar.

Entonces volviendo a “¿de dónde eres?”, creo que es importante manifestar tu origen de diferentes maneras y a través de una segunda lengua abrirte a un mundo de posibilidades donde no solo te beneficias tu, sino tu interlocutor.

Cuando un niño cuenta que ha nacido en otra ciudad genera curiosidad, y cuando un adulto lo cuenta puede generar un diálogo interesante.

En ese momento lo que importa es de dónde vienes y a dónde has llegado, más allá de tus motivos. Estas aquí y ahora con todo tu bagaje, es el equipaje que ha venido contigo y del que debes estar orgulloso para poder compartirlo.

 

 

 “Where are you from?”

By Erica Mirochnik, Creator of Mamás por el mundo

Mamasporelmundo.com

Facebook.com/Mamasporelmundo

 

One of the most frequently asked questions that my children, and many other children are asked is  “Where are you from?”

For most children this is something simple to answer. For mine it is more complex.

The most common answer to such a question is that they are from the place where they were born. For international and expatriate families like mine, our children were born in a country that is neither where their parents are from nor the country where they currently live.

Then the answer becomes somewhat longer to say “I’m from …” and thus begins a long series of explanations which explains that their parents have moved several times, that they were born in one of those many places of residence, and that it has been a long time since they lived there.

A shorter version of the answer is that they are from the country of their parents, which is commonly used so as to avoid giving many personal and family details.

For much of society,  it is an unthinkable idea to live far from your place of origin. Without going any further, until not long ago, people spent their entire lives without leaving their town or village.

This makes communicating with people in other latitudes the first challenge faced by these families who have moved. And it is not only a question of how well you know the local language but also how well you are able to communicate with those around you. Think about if you use the second language merely for work and for answering practical questions or if you have also been able to establish language connections that allow you to share more intimate details of your life with those in your new environment.

For children language learning happens more naturally, because already like learning a game, a new language will feel very comfortable.  Children can express themselves in different ways, but more than anything, children learn to interact in the second language more naturally.

As adults, we encounter our own obstacles, sometimes real and sometimes self – imposed. Either, we do not know enough or we have a very strong accent, and we limit our ability to interact. We look for many excuses for different reasons, and by doing so, we deprive ourselves of one of the greatest benefits that come from living in another country– that is the culture and the locals.

Now back to “where are you from ?” I think it’s important to deliver your origin in a variety of ways; and through the use of your second language you can begin to open up a world of possibilities where you not only benefit but also the person to whom you speak benefits.

Curiosity is generated when one learns that a child is born in another city; and when an adult shares this with others, interesting dialogue can develop.

And at that moment, what becomes important is where you come from and where have you arrived, more than motives.  You are here with all of your baggage, it is it the luggage that has come with you and you should be proud to share it with others.

3 Advantages of Hiring a Bilingual Candidate

This post was submitted by contributor: Vanessa Fardi / NEUVOOTeam Leader US/CA/LATAM, Email: vanessa@neuvoo.com.

Having bilingual employees in the workforce can only bring benefits to the company. Studies have shown that bilingual people are good at multitasking and have excellent communication skills. Any company looking to expand or to have global reach should have at least 5 bilingual employees on their payroll. The most common language combination nowadays is English/Spanish. However, Chinese, German and French are languages also being sought after by recruiters. So if you are a job seeker, start looking for the best language school in your neighborhood, and if you are a recruiter or a company owner and you are not yet convinced bilinguals will eventually rule the world, here is a small list of the advantages of hiring bilingual candidates:

  • International reach. Bilingual employees not only know how to speak the language, but, in most cases, they also have knowledge about their native country’s culture, which is always an advantage when dealing with international clients.
  • Translation made easy. Having a bilingual employee makes using localization services a breeze. The staff member could be in charge of proof reading the translation of the content of the website and can assess the localization process. He or she can also adapt the information for what is more suitable in the different regions.
  • Multitasking. A recent study showed that bilinguals can switch between tasks a lot quicker than people who know only one language. Researchers found that people who spoke several languages could process information faster and more efficiently than monolinguals.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to hire a whole lot of bilingual employees! Make sure to use a bilingual recruiter who can test their skills and that will be able to make a decision based on the candidate’s skills. Languages are the future, what do you have to lose?

5 Tips for Using Bilingual Books in the Classroom & Home

Bilingual books are a great resource for bridging two different languages. They offer educators the chance to teach students in the school language while providing a tool for home language development and parental involvement among dual language families.

Studies have shown that supporting a child’s home language is very important for enhancing academic performance, even in cases where the language spoken at school is not the same as the language spoken at home. Children do better in school when their parents read to them, communicate, and engage in daily tasks and activities in the language in which they are most comfortable.

Below are 5 tips on how parents and educators can use bilingual books in the classroom and at home to improve literacy skills and encourage cultural appreciation.

Read bilingual books in English and show students written text in a second language.

Teachers or parents can use bilingual stories to familiarize children with other languages that use the Roman alphabet as well as languages with different letters and symbols, such as Hindi and Korean. This way, children can better understand that written speech and letters have varied forms.

Read a bilingual book in the school language and then read it in the home language.

In addition to supporting a child’s overall language development, reading at home with parents strengthens the child-parent bond and helps the parent teach about their shared culture and language. Teachers can read a book in English at school and then lend it to a child to read at home, or parents with dual-language skills can read the book in both languages.

Read culturally relevant bilingual books.

When educators read multicultural books that show texts from other parts of the world, they are imparting knowledge about various cultures, customs and traditions. This promotes a climate of cultural diversity and tolerance.

Engage children with question and answer sessions and discussion in both the school and home languages.

Bilingual books can offer the chance to discuss the same subjects in two separate languages. Teachers can initiate communication in the school’s language, while parents can do the same in their home language. Children can be sent home with a list of suggested topics for discussion to use with parents at home.

Parents or other volunteers read a bilingual book in the non-dominant language in school.

Teachers can invite parents to participate in reading bilingual books in their home language to the class. The teacher can then read the book in the school language. This enhances the bonds between the class and the family/community. It also makes parents feel welcome and provides an opportunity for them to share their expertise. If parents are unable to come to the classroom, other teachers or community members who know the home language can be invited to read in the second language.

These are just a few examples of ways that teachers and parents can use bilingual books at school and at home. The aim is to build a child’s overall literacy and communication skills, ensure that they are proud of their culture and language, and help them become understanding, multicultural citizens.

 

Author: Anneke Forzani is President and Founder of Language Lizard LLC, which offers bilingual books, dual-language audio products and multilingual resources to teachers, librarians and bilingual families. Language Lizard also provides free multicultural lesson plans to promote tolerance and cultural understanding in diverse classrooms.

 

 

A Bilingual Lifestyle has made us a better Family

Note: This is guest post by Aileen Passariello-McAleer, co-founder of MamaLingua. This post was first featured on MomRising Blog for #bilingualrisers campaign.

I was raised in a Spanish-speaking household. Although I heard Spanish throughout my childhood, I rarely responded in Spanish. I didn’t know how important my language was to me until I got pregnant and decided that I wanted to raise bilingual/bicultural children. I really didn’t think about it in those terms; I just remember telling my husband that I wanted our son to feel connected to my heritage. But it was more than that. I wanted him to understand that the world is not limited to the one that surrounds us day to day, but that there is a world beyond our borders – in different countries, with different customs, and different languages. By learning Spanish, more of that world would be available to him, and he could know it on a more intimate level. I didn’t want my child to live in a cultural bubble; I wanted him to see the world how I saw it.

I didn’t know the challenge I would be facing when my son was born. I remember calling my mom and asking her about basic vocabulary for things around the house, as I narrated to my son. I forced myself to speak only Spanish to my parents to enhance my fluency and recall, and I implemented a Spanish-only policy at home – except when it was just me and my husband.

Raising bilingual children in a monolingual environment is challenging. At one point, my son refused to speak in Spanish. Returning home from school one day he asked, “Everyone in the world speaks English. Why do we need to speak Spanish?” It was at that point that I knew I had two choices: I could allow him to believe that, or I could show him the reality. That night, I told my English-speaking husband what our son had said. The next morning, as we sat down for breakfast, my husband, with his limited Spanish skills, turned to our son and asked “¿Quieres una servilleta?” [Do you want a napkin?] It was at that very moment that my son understood he had something his dad didn’t have – something his dad wanted. While his dad struggled with the language, our son realized he could easily communicate in Spanish. I saw him smile as he answered, “¡Si!” [Yes!]

 

Over the past six years, my Spanish has improved tremendously. My children are bilingual, and one shocking result: so is my husband! My husband has been immersed in Spanish since our son was born. In the house, he hears Spanish being spoken every day and in context. If he ever needs translation, my children usually communicate for me, and he has never complained. Instead, he has embraced our bilingual home and has begun to incorporate more Spanish into our daily routines with our kiddos.

My son has also grown very proud of his ability and always points out when someone is speaking Spanish. I do my best to reinforce his interest. Whenever I interact with someone in Spanish, I always follow up afterward by saying to him, “Wasn’t it nice that we were able to talk to that person in Spanish?”

Sometimes kids will challenge and fight you for things that you want them to embrace. At those times, you have to let them know that you understand their frustration. However, it’s also important to communicate the “why” behind your desire for them to learn, and as I’ve learned, to show them the “why.”

Next year my son will be attending a dual language public school where not only his instruction will be in Spanish but half of the student population will be Spanish speaking dominant as well. This move was very important to us because we didn’t want him to grow up in isolation of the reality of our world. I also believe that in this environment, he will embrace his ability to speak two languages and be able to help students on both sides, those learning English and those learning Spanish.

I’m very proud of my bilingual/bicultural family. It’s taken a lot of hard work and consistency, but I can see the impact it has had on my children. My son knows about Venezuela, where my mom is from; Italy, where his Nonno is from; Mexico, where his cousins live; and if you ask him, he’ll tell you he speaks English, Spanish and Italian.

My daughter is still very young, but Spanish is her language of love. When she meets someone who speaks Spanish, she quickly embraces them in a hug, because for her, Spanish speakers are familia. This summer, we’re taking our bilingual family to Mexico and immersing them in a different bubble – one where Spanish is spoken all around them. I’m excited to see them grow in this experience.

Aileen Passariello-McAleer’s determination to raise a bilingual and bicultural family led her to her mission: to help parents learn basic Spanish or English alongside their child.  As a result, she created an app for parents, MamaLingua, organized by daily activities and routines so that parents can begin implementing Spanish or English phrases throughout their day. The App is currently on sale for the at a reduced price of $1.99. It can be found in the App Store or in Google Play.

A Look Inside an Immersion Preschool

By Aileen Passariello-McAleer, Co-founder of Mama-LinguaMamaLingua_Header_1200

An Interview with Marytere Ciccone, Co-Founder and Program Creator of INIC International Immersion Center

 INIC International Immersion Center is a Spanish-immersion preschool in Austin, Texas. The school’s founder, Marytere Ciccone, has more than 20 years of experience in early childhood education and professional development for teachers. She opened INIC in 2012.

Marytere Ciccone’s career began in Mexico, where she worked with children with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, ADHD, ADD and language delay. When she moved to the United States, her interest in language development broadened. Here in the U.S., Marytere wanted to raise her own children in a bilingual environment, but discovered a lack of resources for bilingual education. At the same time, she observed a loss of language and culture in her new community, where Spanish was not being fostered at home, within the schools or in the community at large.

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From her research and experience in education and curriculum development, Marytere knew that the earlier children are exposed to language, the better the results. As recent studies have shown, young children are wired to learn any language, especially from 0-3 years of age. Pathways that are created during this period of rapid growth continue to develop over a lifetime, and so do the chances of successful language acquisition.

“Teaching children a second language early in life is essential to brain stimulation,” says Marytere. “A second language builds brain circuits and has a major impact on overall cognitive development, logical processes and mathematics.” In an effort to take advantage of this prime period of development, and in response to the need for formal Spanish education for children within Austin, Marytere opened INIC.

Marytere co-authored the programs used in the INIC curriculum, which are based on research that shows neurological development is optimal when there’s interactivity between the right and left sides of the brain. Since each hemisphere is responsible for different processes, the curriculum ensures that children engage in multisensory activities so that whole-brain integration can occur. In early childhood education, this takes the form of integrated sensory, motor and linguistic stimuli. The curriculum is staged to meet the needs of children from 0-6 years of age, and materials are selected according to individual development.

 

In addition to its intensive Spanish immersion curriculum, INIC offers students an introduction to Mandarin. The school also offers Spanish-language summer camps and extracurricular activities, with instruction in swimming, soccer and gymnastics. For Marytere, parental involvement is crucial. “You get better results when parents are involved,” she says.

 While Marytere has met her community’s need for a high quality Spanish language immersion preschool, many parents want to know what to do after INIC. For her part, she’s had success with AISD’s Becker Elementary School and Sunset Valley Elementary School. Her children are enrolled in the schools’ Two-Way Dual Language program, where they study in both English and Spanish. And while Marytere recognizes that every family may not have access to similar offerings, parents who give their children an early start in a second language give a gift that (science shows) lasts a lifetime.

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Be Multicultural and Bilingual

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Summer camps are in full swing and last month my daughter spent three weeks in a Spanish camp learning about Spain’s diverse regions, history and culture.  She loved everything she studied; yet what truly captivated her most of all was the Flamenco music and dance.  She and her fellow classmates learned a few components of Flamenco dance in camp and even made castanets out of cardboard and bottle caps.  Seizing upon this multicultural bilingual opportunity, a few of us took our children to see a live professional Flamenco performance by Flamencura at a local Spanish venue, Malaga Tapas Wine Bar.  Both children and adults were entranced by the impassioned music and beautiful performance.  However, for the children, the experience personally connected and intertwined with their bilingual experience of learning Spanish culture.  The children danced  around their table and my daughter even had a chance to get up on stage with the performers.  With their spirits lifted and their souls enriched, I knew that this experience would stay with them for a lifetime.  In essence, it was one more step in becoming multicultural in addition to bilingual.

As language learners of a second language, it can be easy to simply focus on learning the language and to neglect learning about the culture or cultures of the language.  After all, being bilingual does not in itself mean bicultural or multicultural.  Being multicultural means that you have a more intricate understanding of more than one culture and have the ability to operate easily within each. When you incorporate cultural learning in language learning you then gain a myriad of benefits in addition to those that come from learning a second language.

 shutterstock_106940168The top 5 benefits of being multicultural:

Learning about other cultures…

  • 1. Can help you become a better observer of culture in general.

Becoming an observer and learner of cultures, you gain insight into similarities and differences and can better understand the historical contributions thereof.  I found this especially true for myself.  I grew up in Appalachia Kentucky but spent most of my young adult life in Mexico.  I later married into an Indian  family.  At first glance, these three cultures could not appear more distinct in terms of language, traditions, clothes, music, religious practices, etc.  However, I very quickly recognized many similarities and traditions in each which enabled me to move through each culture with ease.  Not only that,  the more I learned about the cultural traditions and practices in Mexico and India, the better I also understood those of my own heritage culture in Appalachia.  In effect, learning a second or third culture enables you to become a better observer of culture in general by creating context which allows you to distinguish similarities and differences and to better understand the origin of those cultural traditions.

  • 2. Enable you to gain a better sense of self.shutterstock_213678385

Whether the culture you study is your heritage culture or you learn more about your heritage culture from being a better observer of culture, the gain is the same.  By better understanding your heritage culture, you can better connect the historical practices and traditions of the past with that of the present and in turn develop a stronger sense of self awareness. This sense of self  is connected with a sense of pride in who you are and where you come from and the special attributes that bind you and your family with traditions.

This need for a sense of self is innate in everyone and it is made evident at a very early age.  I am a “Texas girl”  may daughter has proudly declared since she was about 3 years of age.  We had never used this term before; it is one she came up with on her own and she has used it to also describe other people with whom she relates to.  I soon came to realize that already at a young age she somehow recognized the English/Spanish and Mexican American infusion of language, food and traditions that are central to our own personal lives in Austin and that may not always be present when we travel elsewhere in the United States.  This statement of who she is clearly had the intended purpose to help define her sense of self.

  • 3. Can lead to greater empathy and tolerance for others.

shutterstock_233858773Learning about other cultures allow us to focus on what we have in common and to better appreciate our differences.  I was reminded of this recently when we attended a family celebration for my husband’s niece’s high school graduation. The celebration was held in the graduate’s home in a suburb in northern Dallas. It incorporated cultural traditions from India with beautiful clothes, food and a large gathering of family and members in the community. When the Euro-American grandparents and the mother of my niece’s soon-to-be college roommate arrived at the party, my husband’s cousins quickly sought me out as the non-Indian representative of the family to talk to them, thinking that meeting someone else from a similar culture may help them feel more comfortable.  Soon thereafter, they sat down next to their daughter to watch the celebrations unfold.  Friends and cousins of the recent graduate stood up and spoke kind words about her.  Afterwards, a dear uncle stood up to say a few words and closed with a prayer of blessing in their native language for his niece’s future success.  While taking part of this wonderful celebration, I could not help but think about the soon-to-be roommate’s mother and grandparents.  For them, this was probably their first time being part of an Indian celebration, maybe even their first time ever to witness practices in a different culture.  And yet, as I sat there, I hoped that they too recognized that beyond the differences in clothes, food, and language, how much both cultures actually share in common – love and fellowship among family and friends, faith and hope for a successful future for the younger generation.  Such recognition is the first step of developing greater empathy and tolerance for each other.

  • 4. Can fuel creativity and innovation.shutterstock_258845798

The infusion of other ideas and experiences enrich our lives and create opportunities for redefining previous notions.  Every time you eat at one of the hundreds of TexMex restaurants in town or listen to popular music on the radio, you partake in the past creative infusion of cultures and traditions.  Yet it is not just creative infusions in food and music that blend cultures and traditions to form new and innovative products.  New philosophies and ideologies also are born and then redefined. Just look at how modern yoga and meditation, which originated from eastern philosophy, have now become common practice in our western culture.  Even the very notion of democracy came from intercultural exchange and dialogue from the past intertwined with our present day ideologies.  As our understanding of community becomes even more global, we will continue to witness a blend of cultural ideas and traditions that will continue to redefine concepts and notions and produce new and interesting ideas and products.  So far some of my new favorites have been Indian Flamenco music and Korean tacos!

  • 5. Can be lots of fun!Flamenco dance_Gabi_Santi

What better way to have fun than to explore new and interesting things, places and ideas.  Learning about cultures and traditions fuels curiosity and creates new and memorable adventures.  Try new foods, music, and clothes, travel and partake in new traditions.  You may be surprised by what you like and what you dislike.  In the process, you learn alot about others and yourself and create meaningful experiences that will stay with you a lifetime.  You never know, you may rediscover your own inner 6 year old and just want to dance!

Bilingual babies are better at detecting musical sounds, research shows

The Conversation

Image 20161104 25319 jyry4

from www.shutterstock.com

Exposing babies to multiple languages can help them detect differences in musical sounds from an early age.

Written by: Liquan Liu, Western Sydney University

Exposure to multiple languages may sharpen infants’ music sensitivity in the first year after birth, new research has found.

Compared to infants learning one language (monolinguals), those who grow up with more than one language (bilinguals/multilinguals) are more sensitive to the subtle pitch variations in language.

To understand whether such sensitivity is specific to language in nature, we further tested monolingual and bilingual infants’ sensitivity to music pitch.

Results showed that infants growing up in bilingual environments are more able to distinguish between two violin notes than their monolingual counterparts.

These findings suggest heightened acoustic sensitivity for bilingual infants. That is, infants’ multilingual experiences may make them better at detecting the small differences in sounds in the ambient environment than monolinguals, whether the sounds are coming from language or music.

It has been shown that speaking a tone language like Chinese will facilitate music perception probably due to the extensive usage of pitch on words in that language. The current research suggests that bilingual experience may yield a similar effect.

Sensitivity to sounds

When a child learns two different languages, they form a more complex, detailed system, with overlapping sounds enabling better comprehension of acoustics in general.

These infants may benefit from their experience of detecting and distinguishing subtle differences between two languages, and transfer this ability to non-speech sound perception, like music.

Infants may also pay more attention to input acoustic details than monolinguals, with the constant switching between languages serving as a frequent exercise for the ears and the brain.

Benefits of bilingualism

The effect of bilingualism is not restricted to the language domain. When bilinguals talk, all languages they know are activated by the brain.

A bilingual’s brain is constantly working on this language suppression and activation process.

Many scholars argue that bilinguals have better cognitive abilities such as executive control. This practice generates life-long cognitive benefits, and makes bilinguals think more adaptively, abstractly, and creatively.

Benefits surface early in infancy. Apart from their heightened acoustic sensitivity to language and music, bilingual infants have also been shown to outperform monolinguals in their:

Are there any drawbacks?

Regardless of anecdotes claiming that children growing up bilingually will have a slower developmental trajectory than monolinguals, researchers have found that bilingual children have the ability to separate their two languages early on, and that their pace of language development is not different from monolingual children given adequate exposure.

Whether it is learning a new language, picking up a language you used to speak, or raising your child bilingually, becoming bilingual may change your perception, cognition, learning and even brain structures.

Liquan Liu, Lecturer in Child development, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bilingual Middle School Programs: Filling the Void

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Austin Independent School District (AISD) has extended the Spanish/English dual-Language program to three middle schools beginning this academic year. The schools are Fulmore MS, Paredes MS and Burnet MS; and depending on space available, all three currently allow for transfers.  This is welcoming news for many of the bilingual students who have completed one of the many dual-language elementary programs throughout AISD.  However, it also addresses a bigger issue–the lack of bilingual educational programs for middle school students.

If you peruse Think Bilingual Austin’s directory, you can find an assortment of preschool bilingual programs throughout the community.  As a child get’s into Elementary school, you are still likely to find a bilingual program to keep your child engaged. Yet, once your child gets into middle school, the options seem to almost disappear.  After-school bilingual programs are few.  If you are lucky, your child’s middle school will offer world language classes.  Yet, these classes are mostly designed for those who have no prior language experience in a second language; and, thus are not ideal for those who have already developed a level of proficiency in the language.  (I even had one mother tell me that her daughter’s middle school would not even allow first year middle school students to take a foreign language class, further delaying her daughter’s chance to keep what she did know fresh).  Moreover, the majority of bilingual programs that do exist in middle schools primarily serve English Language Learners (ELLs) so that they can become proficient in English as quickly as possible. While this is very important; most of these programs are not designed to enable ELLs to also continue to strengthen knowledge and understanding in their native language.

The lack of programs for learning a second languages is seen throughout the United States.  An article published in Forbes, America’s Foreign Language Deficit, highlights the overall decline in investment in secondary language instruction across all educational institutions at a time when the need for students to become bilingual to compete in the global economy is increasing. It reveals the decline in foreign language instruction for middle schools alone went from 75% in 1997 to 53% in 2008.  In contrast, other countries around the world usually begin instruction in a second language in elementary school and continue to increase that instruction during the middle school years; thereby creating proficiency in a second language by the time a student graduates(2).

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Why is Middle School Second Language Instruction Important?

  • Middle school students are at a prime age for second language acquisition.
    • Middle school students are still young enough for immersion based learning to be quite effective.  However, they are also old enough to begin higher analytical thinking about the constructs of the language such as grammatical differences (1).
  • Middle school students begin thinking about their world more autonomously.
    • Students in middle school are at an age when they seek more autonomy in their life while also seeking to better understand how they fit in society and the world around them.  Becoming bilingual and multicultural gives this age group a better grasp of the world and society at large and how they can be a part of it.
  • Perfect time to begin developing needed skills for their future.
    • Studying a foreign language or learning a second language develops important intellectual skills such as creative thinking, problem solving, and effective communication, all of which are transferable skills to other disciplines.
    • Moreover, learning a language in middle school and continuing the study of that language would enable a level of proficiency to be attained by the time the student graduates high school and enters college or the workforce (2,3).

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Why are Middle School Second Language Programs Scarce and What Can Be Done?

  • Reduction in allocated funds. This likely reflects general attitudes by the public and education administrators.
  • Greater public awareness of the importance of bilingual education to better equip our future workforce for the global economy can spur efforts to grow support for such programs and put pressure back on administrators to better fund these programs.
  • An increased reliance on online language courses to teach middle schools. This goes hand in hand with the general lack of funding for foreign language programs.  However, research has shown that technology does not replace personal human interaction in language acquisition.
  • Online language courses can be used as a useful supplementary tool for language learning but not as a replacement.  We humans use so many subtle ques with varying expressions, gestures and tones when we communicate. By learning from personal interaction, we receive more engaging feedback for how to more effectively communicate in a second language.
  • Too many competing interests.  Middle school is a wonderful time to explore different subject areas and interests.  Because second language classes are often offered as an elective, it is forced to compete with so many other areas of interest. Yet, to become proficient in a second language a student must dedicate a considerable amount of time.  With so many options available, studying a secondary language may not be perceived as a worthwhile investment given the perceived more immediate rewards of studying something else.
  • By incorporating second language study into the core units of studies through an interdisciplinary approach, schools can prioritize second language acquisition more effectively (1, 2).
  • Secondary language instruction may be less meaningful.  Unfortunately, most programs in middle schools only offer basic introductory courses for those with no prior language study background.  The instruction of a second language in isolation does not provide a meaningful or purposeful experience for most students.  For those who are already bilingual or proficient in a second language, such classes may feel like a waste of time.
  • To be meaningful, middle school second language programs need to incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to facilitate effective communication of ideas, feelings, understanding and knowledge in both a written and oral format and provide  a scaffolding model for continued language development based on level of proficiency (1).

References:

1) Sandrock, Paul, & Elizabeth Webb. (April 15, 2003). Learning Languages in Middle Schools. National Council of State Supervisors of Foreign Languages.

2) Pufahl, I., Rohodes, N., & Christian, D. (2000). Foreign Language Teaching: What the United States Can Learn from Other Countries.  Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

3) Education Network of the European Commission (2000). The Position of Foreign Languages in European Education Systems (1999/2000). Brussels, Belgium.