Bilingual Edge: Book Review

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Bilingual Edge: Why, When and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language

by Kendall King, PhD  & Alison Mackey, PhD

BOOK REVIEW

Source: King, K., & Mackey, A. (2007). The bilingual edge: Why, when, and how to teach your child a second language. New York: Collins

In the first chapter, King and Mackey list dozens if not hundreds of reasons why learning and speaking a second language is beneficial for children. They mention cognitive advantages including creative writing, flexible thinking, metalinguistic awareness (being able to decode different types of jokes, metaphors), cross-cultural understanding, preserving cultural identity for mixed families, building self-esteem and self-confidence and future career opportunities, etc. The authors warn though, in order for kids to enjoy the advantages of bilingualism, they have to be proficient in both languages.

The 2nd chapter debunks all the myths about 2nd language learning and speech delays/cognitive problems. The authors explain that almost all of the myths about bilingualism have one thing in common: they are not based on scientific studies. There’s no scientific study that says bilingual kids mix up languages or become late talkers. This section of the book also argues that monolingual parents can also raise bilingual kids, it’s never too late to start teaching children a second language and grammar mistakes should not be corrected right away. Most importantly, the authors pick up on the popular one-parent one-language method and claim that this is not the only method of raising a bilingual child. They go on to say “Most children go through a period of language mixing. It’s normal! There are many different ways of organizing language in the home, and strict separation of languages is generally not realistic and not necessary. “ (p. 28)

The 3rd chapter talks about how to choose a language to learn. The authors mention that babies are inherently talented in distinguishing subtle differences between similar sounds in foreign languages (e.g. L and R sounds in Japanese or two separate T sounds in Indian) which enable them to learn any language they are exposed to. For parents, who are native speakers of other languages, it is crucial that they should evaluate their language skills from different angles such as if they can do the baby talk, sing lullabies, read bedtime stories in the target language. The book gives many examples where the native speakers felt unsure speaking to their children in their native language other than English because the process looked so strange. This chapter also warns parents that, they should think about their in-laws, problems that emerge when children grow into adulthood. When choosing a language parents should consider languages that are spoken in their neighborhood, potential tutors, nannies, local cultural institutions and so on.

Younger is the better! The 4th chapter tells parents that children can start learning a second language as early as they’re newborns. The authors warn, however, the difference between young and older children is not as big as what everyone thinks. They recognize the existence of “the critical period”, that is, children are better when they’re young but emphasizes that this innate language learning ability does not disappear suddenly after hitting a certain age. They argue that starting early is good not because babies or small children have extraordinary skills but  because it’s easier to control and monitor their progress.“Learning a language from a young  age is advantageous because older children, adolescents, and adults have to deal with higher expectations and more sophisticated social situations while learning a second language.” (p.57).

The 5th chapter is not necessarily about bilingualism or bilingual kids but rather the process of language acquisition in young children. The book reports that first born children are signifincantly better at learning a second language compared with 2nd or 3rd borns. It is mostly because first borns get more attentiton and also have more exposure to their parents’ language whereas 2nd and 3rd children are likely to be exposed to the dominant local language more often. Additionally, gender also plays an important role when it comes to language learning. The study (Bauer, 2002) found that girls are significantly better than boys in terms of vocabulary and comprehension because girls have a longer attention span and their brains mature faster. Another factor that contributes to children’s language learning is temperament or sentivity. Extravert and social kids interact more with other kids thus learn a language faster while introvert kids don’t want to play with other kids and consequently learn a language in a slower pace. Introvert kids should be encouraged by their parents to join playgroups and other kids. Lastly, aptitude (a child’s genetic ability to learn a language) is also very important. Research shows that kids who are good in learning their first language are likely to be more adept in learning another language.

Chapter 6 gives tips about teaching language at home. The Authors state that children whose parents talk to them a lot and interact with them a lot are likely to learn their first language faster and this applies to the 2nd language as well. In mixed-language families parents should not be concerned about their own accent in the second language because it’s definitely better to talk to them with an accent rather than not talking at all. Research also shows that reading to children in their second language boosts their vocabulary. The book also mentions an interesting study (Pearson et al.,1997) which found that children need to be exposed to their second language at least 20% of the time. In other words even if parents talk to their children in the target language about one fifth of their waking time, the children can be proficient in the second language. King and Mackey suggest that one parent one language method might not always work and cause passive learning (the child understands the language but does not speak). They recommend  mixed families to adopt the hot house method where the minority language is strongly supported at home. Additionally native speaking baby sitters, nannies, aupairs, and grandparents can be useful resources to teach a second language.

Chapter 7 & 8 give readers an idea about what kind of materials to use and how to choose a bilingual program. The book mentions talking toys, DVDs, computer games and immersion programs.

The last chapter is about common problems in mixed and bilingual families such as the rejection of the 2nd language. In this case the authors list some good examples that are very inspirational
King, K., & Mackey, A. (2007). The bilingual edge: Why, when, and how to teach your child a
second language. New York: Collins

Some direct citations from the book. Following passages are direct citations from King and Mackey’s book

On page 4 the authors give an example of how bilinguals outperform monolinguals in flexible thing test as follows

“ “How many ways could you use an empty water bottle?” On these sorts of tests, bilinguals tend to produce more answers and also more creative answers. For instance, for the water bottle question, most of us would come up with the obvious answer (“filling it with water”), but bilinguals are more likely to come up with other answers too, like “filling it with sand and making a paperweight.” Overall, bilinguals outperform monolinguals on most tests like these, most of the time. Something about knowing more than one language seems to make children both more creative and what researchers describe as more mentally flexible.”

The authors cite a famous study from one of the most prominent bilingualism researcher, Bialystok on pg. 7: 120 children aged between 5-9 were asked to judge grammatical acceptability of the following 3 sentences

• grammatically acceptable and sensible: In which bed does the baby sleep?

• grammatically unacceptable but sensible: In which bed does baby the sleep?

• grammatically acceptable but not sensible: In which bed does the spoon sleep?

Bilinguals did NOT focus on the meaning ambiguity in option 3 and correctly identified the mistake in option 2. Most of the monolingual kids failed this test.

When it comes to cross-cultural understanding, it was proposed by the authors that , English speaking children who  attend other language classes (e.g. Spanish) are more likely to make friends from different cultural groups and show less stereotyping behavior throughout their lives.

Regarding, the important relationship between culture and language (a.k.a. Saphir Whorf Hypothesis), the authors mention 2 separate words for corner in Spanish: rincón (inside of the corner) esquina.(outside of the corner) and suggest that a kid who knows multiple languages can think differently about how to categorize and think about his/her physical environment. King and Mackey, further strengthen their position with an example from Korean speaking children: “English-learning children acquire nouns (for example, bottle, car) first. However, researchers Gopnik and Choi reported in 1993 that verbs (for example, eat, sleep) are among the first words acquired by Korean children…Korean children tend to perform better on tasks that are related to verbs than English speakers do. For example, Korean toddlers are better at certain verb-related tasks involving tools. But English-speaking children perform better on noun-related tasks, like categorizing objects….Knowing more than one language potentially buys you a wider range of awareness and skills.” (p. 11-12)

King and Mackey explain why bilingualism improves creative writing: “Prominent writers who’ve used their bilingualism to creative advantage include Salman Rushdie, Sandra Cisneros, Isabelle Allende, Arundhati Roy, and Junot Diaz (among many, many others). As German-Japanese-English trilingual writer Yoko Tawada explains, “When you make a connection between two words that lie miles apart, a kind of electricity is produced in your head. There is a flash of lightning, and that is a ‘wonder-full’ feeling.””

“In much of the world, language skills are crucial to business success: For instance, among executives, 100 percent in Hong Kong, 97 percent in Singapore, and 95 percent in Indonesia can negotiate in at least two languages.” Pg. 13

FAST FACTS

THE TOP TEN MYTHS ABOUT SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNING

1. Only bilingual parents can raise bilingual children and bilingual parents always raise bilingual children

2. I’m too late! You have to start very early for second language learning or you will miss the boat.

3. Only native speakers and teachers can teach children second

4. Children who are raised in the same family will have the same language skills as one another.

5. It’s important to correct errors as soon as they appear in grammar and vocabulary (to prevent the formation of bad habits.

6. Exposing my child to two languages means she will be a late talker.

7. Mixing languages is a sign of confusion, and languages must stay separate one-parent–one-language parenting is the best way).

8. Television, DVDs, and edutainment, like talking toys, are great ways to pick up some languages.

9. Bilingual education programs are for non-English speakers.

10. Two languages are the most to which a very young child should b exposed. (pg. 18)

Newborns are able to hear and pick up any of the world’s languages. However, this ability begins to fade at around ten months of age. “(p. 40)

TOP TEN MOST WIDELY SPOKEN LANGUAGES

IN THE WORLD (PERCENT OF WORLD POPULATION) (CIA world fact book )

1. Mandarin Chinese – 882 million
2. Spanish – 325 million
3. English – 312-380 million
4. Arabic – 206-422 million
5. Hindi – 181 million
6. Portuguese – 178 million
7. Bengali – 173 million
8. Russian – 146 million
9. Japanese – 128 million
10. German – 96 million

“It’s never too early for your baby to start learning another language and learning a second language from birth does not lead to confusion. (p. 62)”

TYPES OF BILINGUAL EDUCATION

“Maintenance bilingual education: These programs are to help children become both bi literate. In the United States, students in such programs typically speak a language other than English at home.

Transitional bilingual education: These programs aim to help children transition from their native language for example, Spanish, Cambodian, Portuguese, Arabic) to the language of the majority culture (in the United States, English . Content matter is taught in the child’s first language initially and the child simultaneously receives instruction in English as a second language. Later, the child is moved into classes taught in English for all subjects.

Immersion bilingual education: Students are generally native speakers of a majority language for example, in the United States, this means children are English speakers , and 50 percent or more of the content matter is taught in a second language (percentages vary across schools). The idea is that students are fully immersed in the second language throughout the school day.

Two-way (or dual-language) immersion bilingual education:

These programs aim to help native speakers of a language other than English (such as Spanish) to learn English, while at the same time helping children who already speak English to learn this other language. Children from both language groups are together much of the day, and content matter instruction is delivered in both languages. The goal of these programs is to help promote bilingualism, bi literacy, and cross cultural understanding for all.

(Source: this link doe snot work although listed on King & Mackey, )”

Code-mixing is typically short term phase for children learning two languages. This is perfectly normal and quite common.

Many of the skills that children develop to learn a second language can be used to learn a third. (p.229)

On page 51 King nad Mackey state that Baby Sign language does NOT make babies smarter

Do Baby Signs Programs (Sing Language) Make Smarter Babies? (p.51)

To investigate the question of whether baby signs programs help children acquire language earlier or advance their cognitive development, in 2003 researchers J. C. Johnston and colleagues examined seventeen recent studies of baby signing. Johnston found that the studies did not support the big claims made by the infancy industry, that baby signs help make babies smarter or acquire other languages sooner. Many of the studies they scrutinized only looked at a few children, had poor follow-up (they didn’t look at their language development for long enough periods of time), and little detail (for example, not enough information on how often the parents and children signed), and overall, the industry’s claims went much too far. What’s more, the researchers noted that “parents can be stressed by the challenges of meeting demands of work, caring for a young child, and other family and personal obligations, and experience guilt if they feel they are not doing everything recommended by infancy specialists and the infancy industry.”

Is speaking a minority language (e,g, Spanish) at home is better or worse?

King and Mackey mention a very interesting study which found that it’s almost better to speak the minority language at home (p. 114)

After comparing two groups (group 1: mixed families speaking English at home , group 2: mixed families speaking Spanish at home) “Dolson (1985) found that the two groups performed similarly in terms of (1) English reading skills, (2) oral reading skills, (3) length of time classified as Limited English Proficient by the school, (4) attendance rates, and (5) disciplinary referrals. He found that the children from Spanish speaking homes performed significantly better on measures of (1) mathematics skills, (2) Spanish reading vocabulary, (3) academic grade point average, (4) effort grade point average, and (5) retention. This work strongly suggests that there are important advantages (and no apparent disadvantages) to continuing to use Spanish at home.”

 Creating Good Language Learning Environments for Very Young Children (Ages 0–2) (p. 63)

• Direct lots of rich, meaningful speech toward your child from birth.

• Encourage friends, relatives, babysitters, siblings, and other visitors to speak and play with your child in the second language.

• Engage in interactions that pique your child’s interests—for example, by using attention-grabbing toys, picture cards, or other props while you use the language.

• Build up positive associations by singing and dancing to silly songs, listening to music, and playing games in the language.

• Read stories to your child. Interact both with the book and with your child (for example, by acting out the stories and using funny faces and voices). Keep this light, fun, and brief.

• When you’re looking for child care, find someone who speaks the second language.

• Be enthusiastic and have fun with the language!

How to Create a Good Language Learning Environments for Preschoolers

• Have fun integrating the language as a part of your daily routines. For example, sing morning songs in the language, play alphabet and counting games, guessing games, and have a word of the day.

• Read stories to your child in the language. Keep these light, fun, and brief. Encourage your child to interact with the book and you (for example, together, act out the stories, use funny faces, give voice to the characters).

• Find other children who speak the target language for your child to play with. Make these language dates fun by providing props (treats and toys, musical instruments, scavenger hunts). Children learn a lot from each other. Even finding children a bit older than your child will provide positive “big boy” role models.

• Look for games in the target language, including things like board games and flash cards that encourage interactions.

• Find funny cartoons and characters that use the target language.

• Use crafts as an opportunity to speak and interact in the target language. Consider making cultural learning opportunities out of the craft time as well.

• Play songs in the second language in the car or use headphones on public transport.

• Be enthusiastic and positive about learning the language.

• Don’t be overly focused on perfection or correction, instead focus on what your child has achieved.

(p.67-68)

Language learning process of children (p.59-60)

Birth: Early crying, babies’ attempt to communicate

5 months: Cooing, making sounds like ga-ga, gu-gu

1st birthday: a few words like doggie, milk, dada

18 months~24 months: 2-word phrases such as eat now or baby cry

2 years~: Acquisition of  about 200 new words a month

2.5 years: 3-word sentences such as no want carrots

5 years: Understanding and correct production of grammar

What to do when younger child does not want to speak the 2nd language

“Whenever possible, try to spend at least a little one-on-one time with each child. This can be something as simple as reading a quick story, playing a game, or taking a trip to the grocery store together. Make this a special time to practice language skills. When older children go to school, make the alone time especially language rich for younger children.

• Try to use specific and descriptive words with your children instead of general all-purpose words like thing and do. Elaborate (and repeat).

• Don’t worry about holding younger and older children to exactly the same standards. If the younger child is slower at developing, research shows that they usually catch up.

• If older siblings take on the role of translators for their younger brothers or sisters, encourage them to let the younger children speak for themselves. But also encourage them in their role as language tutor.

• Trust your instincts. You know your children. If one does seem to be progressing significantly more slowly than you think is right, ask a language development professional (like a speech-language pathologist at a local elementary school) about it.” (p. 81-82)

Top Ten Reasons Why Speaking Two Languages Is Cool (p. 242-243)

10. I can have private conversations in my second language.

9. When I told (friend, teacher, neighbor) that I speak two languages, s/he was thrilled/very impressed.

8. I can meet more people from around the world (list of potential places where your child can meet people who speak the second language).

7. Many athletes are bilingual, like Yao Ming, Roger Federer, and Maria Sharapova.

6. I can wear and read clothes that have the print of the second language.

5. Many of my favorite celebrities like Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Lopez, or Yo-Yo Ma speak two languages, or more!

4. I can make more friends (list the names of your child’s bilingual friends here).

3. After finishing school, I’ll be able to get an awesome job that pays more, like………

2. I can help other people communicate who don’t speak two languages.

1. I feel proud and good about myself.

What to do when children reject to speak in the 2nd language (e.g. Spanish)

Cases that worked (from Bilingual Edge p. 244-245)

“• Anna (mother of Javier, age five): “We’ve had the most success using reverse psychology. Javier is super strong-willed and it’s actually helped at times to say to him something like ‘Spanish is only for grown-ups.’ Nothing makes him want to use it more than thinking he can’t.”

• Lucinda (stepmother of Matilda, age four): “Matilda went through phases of responding to us in English when we would use Portuguese with her. We just made a point of continuing in Portuguese. We didn’t switch to English, but we didn’t make a huge deal about it either and eventually the phases passed and she started using more Portuguese again.”

• Fabio (father of Lorenzo, age six, and Alessandro, age four): “I decided to turn speaking Italian into a game. The three of us took turns being the ‘English policeman’ each day. The policeman’s job was to fine whoever was caught speaking English. The penalty was ten cents into a jar. It made sticking with Italian more fun for everyone and really helped—at the end of the month we’d go out for pizza with our earnings.”

• Maria (mother of Samantha, age three): “When Sammy was little I would just pretend I didn’t understand English. She had to use French in order to get what she wanted. As she got older, she realized pretty fast that I understood English perfectly well. I don’t ignore her requests in English now, but ask her to say it in French in the same way most parents ask their kids to say please or thank you. I’ve explained to her that this is our special secret language that only the two of us know, so we want to make sure we practice it.”

• Cristina (mother of Jason, age nine, and Sandra, age six): “Once the kids got to be about four, we instituted a ‘beeping policy.’ Even though Spanish is my second language, my husband (who is from Venezuela) and I decided to make Spanish the only language of our house. Instead of nagging them, or saying, ‘Speak Spanish’ a hundred times a day, we ‘beep’ each other if we are caught speaking in English. The kids love to ‘beep’ us and shout ‘BEEP!’ if they catch me using English with my husband. It’s made a huge difference in keeping Spanish the only language of our house.””

What to do when bilingual kids mix languages (code-switching, a.k.a. code-mixing) (p.184)

• Don’t worry if your child mixes languages—language mixing is a common (and typically short-lived) phase of bilingual development.

• Trust your child is not confused—she may not know (or be able to explain) that she’s using two languages, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that she has two linguistic systems.

• Understand a bit about how and why children mix when evaluating your child’s language use.

• Minority languages may need extra support, and frequent use of both languages together can make it difficult to keep an eye on the support for each language.

• Set realistic expectations for your young learner—there are no perfect bilinguals in the world, and remember that language learning is a lifelong process—it’s never done.

Must-have characteristics of a tutor who can teach children a 2nd language (p. 175)

• A positive attitude toward language learning and learning in general

• Recommendation letters from previous students & parents

• A plan for each lesson they conduct, as well as backup activities

• A philosophy of teaching that places value on active participation of the learner (rather than just lecturing about grammar points, for example)

• Experience working as a tutor or teacher for children or adolescents

• Experience learning a second language him- or herself

• An affinity for communicating with children in same age group as your child

• Some recent coursework or professional development activities in relation to second language education

How do Children Learn?

In Chapter 5 King and Mackey (2007)  talk about the uniqueness of each child and warn parents that they should never push their child to do language exercises in the same with other children because each child learns differently. They explain visual learners, tactile learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners as follows

Children’s Learning Styles and How to Teach Children (King & Mackey, 2007, p. 92)

 

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