Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How things change: Family Language Diagram (updated)

I just updated our family language diagram and was startled by the changes that have occured in only one and a half years! (See the original diagram in the right-hand side bar).
The first diagram was depicting especially the desired situation, while this one is a more concrete and objective picture of what goes really on in our family. Although the Belgianite and myself are returning strictly to OPOL, the circumstances and social interactions are such that all of the other languages are inevitably spoken by us around the kids as well.
The good new is that Milo (now almost 5) and Zeno (just over 2 and 1/2) seem to be developing their main three languages very harmoniously and clealry. I am constantly reassured by Milo's maitresse and by Zeno's day-care personnell about their excellent proficiency in French; their Italian is up to the standards of kids their age, with tiny mistakes every once in a while (past participles, cannott roll the 'r' fully), but similar to their same age Italian counterparts; as for the Dutch, I am the last one to be able to judge, but the Belgianite assures me they are up to speed and have no trouble whatsoever in communicating when in Begium. Milo has been indeed more and more disciplined in addressing his dad in Dutch direclty, even in my presence.
One thing they do not like, though, is us transgressing the rules: they do not like me reading a book in French or Dutch. There are some books they accept in English, though, but for the most part they want Italian from me.

Zeno's meta liguistic awareness is also coming along. Little conversation witnessed yesterday:
Me: "Allora, in che lingua lo volete vedere questo DVD? C'è in Francese, Olandese , Inglese e Spagnolo" (which language do you want to watch this DVD in?)
Zeno: "In Francese! In Francese!" (French)
Milo (whom, up to this point, amused himself by watching this particular DVD in Spanish, for some reason, but is sensistive to his little brother's request): "Sei sicuro, Zeno?" (are you sure?)
Zen: "Si, in Francese" (yes)
Milo: "Ma lo capisci il Francese, Zeno?" (but do you understand French?)
Zeno: "Si, si." (yes)
Milo: "Alla crèche parlate Francese?" (do you speak French in daycare?)
Zeno: "Si, in Francese." (yes)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Multilingualism Literature

SmE from Tampa Bay, Florida as well as Hanna, a young Swedish mum residing in Brussels, have been asking me for books to advise on multilingualism. I don't have a long extensive list, but I did come across some useful sources in the last few years and I'm happy to share them.

When pregnant with my first son, I begun my quest for information on multilingualism, as in France I could not find much support from the childcare specialists nor the pediatricians. Thanks to the Internet, I stumbled across some amazing blogs from other multilingual families. Then we found out about the BBFN, which then produced Multilingual Living magazine. I also corresponded by email with some pediatricians from Canada, Belgium and Switzerland (all multilingual countries). Finally I read a few books. Among all of these sources, I was able to draw some conclusions and come up with some sort of family language(s) strategy, a concept which I think is very important and at the same time should remain flexible, suiting the family evolution.

There are two books that were particularly helpful in the process: the first I read was "Raising Multilingual Children," by Tracey Takuhama-Espinosa; although I found it more taylored for an American readership (whether in the USA or abroad), it offered a very broad and well organized vision of all the elements that can contribute to a successful multilingual child, from an academic/pychologic/linguistics as well as personal point of view (Tracey is married to an Ecuadorian, and with their three children they have lived in the US, Japan, in Ecuador and in Switzerland; her personal experience is very refreshing throughout the book). The book is very pertinent for a bilingual family as well as a multilingual one (trilingual or more). The author identifies specific time windows of opportunities from birth to old age, which should be used purposefully in passing on the family languages; she also introduces variables such as the child personal aptitude, the siblings ranking, gender and even hand use as all having a strong influence on the end result, that is given that a proper strategy, motivation and consistency from the parents have been in place, wisely mixed with the environmental opportunities to strenghten the language skills. Although I never found my particular family scheme quite spelled out in the book, I did retained several notions that helped me considerably throughout Milo's first 4 years.

Another book which was very fulfilling and provided an endeless array of case studies is "The One-Parent-One-Language Approach, Language strategies for bilingual families," by Suzanne Barron Hauwaert. We did choose the OPOL method and if that is your case, this book is THE source on how to apply it, but not only: where did it came from, the pre-school years vs the schooling years, interaction between family members etc. All brillianty supported by surveys and case studies, making it all very accessible and full of common sense. The author is coming out very soon with another book on siblings comunications within multilingual families, which I'm very eager to read.

If you are starting out with your first child, there is a book which I would recommend that has nothing to do with multilingualism, but that has been of immense help to me: "How to parent," by Fitzhugh Dodson, a 1970 classic on pedagogy (I read it in French and I love the prophetic title in the French translation: "Tout se joue avant 6 ans," that is all is defined before age 6). There are a lot of hands on advices on how to anticipate the challenges linked with each age, and how to maximise the potential of the child at each stage. There's a lot of attention to language. And despite the fact that it was written almost 40 years ago, I did not sense at all a generational gap, it all makes perfect sense for our contemporary crazy life.

Another good source of information is the editor Multilingual Matters, which issues a quarterly newsletter called the Bilingual Family Newsletter, collecting several case studies and providing answers from experts. You can dowload a free past issue sample from their site.

Finally, the last issue of Multilingual Living is focused on trilingualism. If this pertains to you, check out Alice Lapuerta's interview to Xiao Lei Weng, author of the lastest book
on trilingualism "Growing up with three languages." Haven't read it yet, but I loved the interview!

Should you readers have any particular book you found helpful that you'd like to share, don't hesitate to write me at multitonguekids@yahoo.com , would love to know what you guys are reading!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tid bits

Zeno (2.8) at his daycare
A little girl tells him:
"Mon cousin s'appelle Ilan" (My cousin's name is Ilan)
Zeno replies: "Mon cousin s'appelle Spider Man!" (My cousin's name is Spider Man!)

Milo (4.10) on the metro

We were flipping through a magazine on our way to a movie when we saw
this picture, illustrating an expo on Darwin and the Evolutionary Theory.

He looks at it curiously, and so I explain him the theory in very simple terms. He looks at me with a smirk and says:" Nooo, non funziona mamma: quest'uomo da piccolo era un
bebé, non una scimmia!" (It does not work like this: this man ,when he was
little, he was a baby, not a monkey!"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's all about trilingualism!

The new Winter issue of Multilingual Living is out and about!
You can subscribe to it on the BBFN website, and learn all there is to know about trilingualism.