Tuesday 8 August 2017

Speech, Language and Bilingualism Live Q and A

Teaching young children a foreign language

Should you follow a curriculum?

No, you do not need to follow any curriculum. If you think about how babies learn their first language, you will know that they learn it by listening to others speaking it in their environment. It is a natural process so try to make the learning of a second or third language as natural as possible also. 

If you can speak the language yourself, you can simply start speaking that language to them. You will find that if they are very young, they can pick it up quite quickly. In fact, babies and young children can learn languages twice as fast as older children and adults. Bilingual children have learnt two languages in the same time a monolingual child learns one language.

If you cannot speak the language to your child, because you are not fluent enough or do not know it yourself, you can introduce it as a foreign language. The best way to do this is through play. Playing is how children learn best so try to add the language into your child's everyday play experiences. Here are some ideas:

Building blocks

When playing with blocks you can talk about the different colours of the blocks, how many blocks you are using to build a tower, how many you are adding or taking away. You can also talk about what type of thing you are building; a house, castle, garden or car.

Play dough

Children normally love to play with play dough. It is such a versatile play resource and you can make your own very easily. There are a lot of ways you can use it for language learning. Again, talk about the different colours and what you can make with them. Cut out shapes. Roll little balls and practise counting them. Make little people, food, cakes; the ideas are endless!

Here are some other ideas for language learning in a fun way:

Should you learn the same topics in each language?

Again, this is not really necessary. You do not need to sit there saying, 'This is car in Mandarin and this is car in Swahili'. You do not need the child to translate from one to the other. The most fluent speakers do not have to translate between languages in their head. When they are speaking in one language, they are usually thinking in that language and any other language they know is suppressed at that time. If you have to translate from one language to another it is a slower process. You really want your child to know what a word or phrase is without using too much brain power, and translating can take quite a lot of effort! Your aim should be for the child to learn language in context, as this is how they will learn meaning and understanding of the language, so again, allow them to learn it naturally as you go about your daily life if possible.

Should you correct a child's grammatical or lexical errors?

No, you should not say to them that what they have said is wrong. If they make a mistake, simply model the correct word or phrase back to them. Do not ask them to repeat it after you. Simply modelling the correct words and phrases to them, will allow them to learn how to use the language correctly. This applies to children learning their first language as well as children learning a foreign language.

When learning another language, it is very common for both children and adults to make mistakes. One common cause of mistakes is language transfer. Language transfer occurs when an element of one language is transferred to another. Language transfer can be either positive or negative. Positive transfer is when an element from one language is correctly transferred to another languages because both languages share this element. An example of positive transfer is cognates. Cognates are words from different languages that have similar spelling and/or meaning e.g. the English word 'house' and the German word 'haus'. On the other hand, negative transfer occurs when the languages are quite different and so it is difficult to transfer elements from one to the other and, therefore, attempts at transfer are incorrect. An example of negative transfer is a Turkish speaker saying 'open the light' instead of 'switch on the light' because the word used in Turkish directly translates as 'open' and not 'switch on'.

Speech sound difficulties

Many children find it difficult to produce certain sounds correctly at some point in their speech development. Sounds are acquired in a particular order. The age of acquisition of these sounds is shown in the chart below.


As you can see, the first sounds to be acquired are /p/, /d/, /h/, /b/, /n/ and /m/ by the age of two. The last sounds to develop are /r/, /z/, /v/ and 'th' sounds which will normally be acquired by the age of seven.

If your child is struggling to produce a certain sound which should have been acquired by their age, there are a number of steps you can take to help them to learn to produce this sound.

1) Say the sound in isolation

This means getting them to produce the sound on it's own.

2) Say the sound as part of a syllable

Once they can say the sound on it's own, they can start to add vowel sounds to it. For example, 'r-aaaa' 'r-eeee'

3) Say the sound in a word

Firstly, see if they can say it at the start of the word e.g. 'red', 'rope'. Then in the middle e.g. carry . Finally, get them to practise producing it at the end, 'r' is not usually produced at the end of a word.

4) Say the sound in a sentence

Practice producing the sound as part of a sentence e.g. I bought a rope, the rabbit hopped away, balls are round.

5) Say the word when speaking or telling stories

The final stage is getting the child to produce the sound in continuous speech. You can ask them to tell you a story or just see if you can hear them saying it correctly in general conversations with them.

I hope you have found this video and information useful. I will be doing a Facebook live Q and A once a week where I will be answering a few of your questions. I can answer questions on any speech and language issue, bilingualism or homeschooling. If you have any questions you would like answered, please head over to my Facebook page and leave a comment on the relevant post or send me a message with the question. Alternatively, leave a question in the comments below.

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