Monday, May 31, 2010

Raising a bilingual child

Spreading the word about the benfits of bilingualism is a true passion of mine , even though I grew up speaking only English. My paternal grandparents were from Parma, Italy but it wasn't until I was a student at Boston University that I learned my first phrases in Italian. That was over 20 years ago, and not a day goes by that I don't use my second language-Italian. I think my grandparents would have been proud of me. Unfortunately, when they were raising their children in Boston (including my dad) they were ashamed of their broken English and perhaps believed that using two languages with their children was confusing. However, this is simply not the case. Years of research have proven that knowing more than one language provides myriad cognitive benefits- not to mention it is lots of fun!
Raising a child who is conversant in another language can be accomplished through the use of oral language. However, raising a child who is literate in two languages can be more challlenging. One of the challenges is identifying authentic, engaging literature. Natasha's awesome book- Kolobok- is a perfect example of literature that promotes multingualism on a variety of levels.
I am so thrilled to be a part of Natasha Bochkov's dynamic team of educators. For over twenty years I have taught English as a second language ( ESL) to adults, children, and adolescents in the United States. I have also taught English as a foreign language in Luxembourg and Greece. I am very happy to share my thoughts on second language acquistion and culturally responsive teaching with readers across the globe.


  1. Does your strategy for teaching English as a second language change depending on the cultural/linguistic background of your students, or have you found strategies and ideas for teaching ESL that work well for all students of English, regardless of whether they come from Luxembourg or from Greece? Is it hard to teach ESL if you don't speak the native language of your students? I've always been curious about this. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for your insightful inquiry. I am always mindful of my students' cultural and linguistic background. Research shows that members of certain cultures prefer strategies such as cooperative learning (see the work of Stephen Kagan) while others prefer working individually. I try to learn about the literacy habits of my students and their families. Some families place a high value on the written word while others are gifted at oral storytelling, etc.
    I believe it is important to research the differences in sounds between languages. For example, Japanese speakers struggle with the "l" and "r" phoneme in English due to their language background. In this case, I might create tongue twisters which incorporate these 2 sounds. Language learning should be fun!Also, finding out the basic variables between languages is easier now than ever with the internet.
    Teaching English to students whose language I don't speak is more challenging than when I know the student's language. For this reason, the books we create are excellent ways to use a child's native language as a resource. I speak 3 languages- English, Italian and Greek- but I've studied several others. However, there are thousands of languages so an ESL teacher will rarely know the languages of all of her students. We generally have a strong background in linguistics and multicultural education.
    Hope this helps- please send other questions my way...