What languages other than English do you speak?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sound and Book Spelling

On Tuesday, I created a video of my children about how they use the SOUNDS IN MOTION program to write at their school.  My son Peter (age 6 years, 10 months) showed me a few sounds and told me that he uses sound spelling to write the words.  My daughter Eliza (who is 8 years, 10 months) said that she uses sound spelling to write, but then knows when she is writing a word right or wrong because she remembers the way they look in a book.  Then they taught Rose (3 years, 3 months) how to pronounce the "V" sound.



When my children write, they are also at different stages of development. While Eliza relies on her visual memory to remember book spelling, Peter relies on the sounds (or phonemes) he hears in each sound of a word.  Rose scribbles on paper and "reads" what she has written.  

At home, the children find purpose for their writing. They create dinner menus, dictionaries that introduce their heroes (Peter has been writing about Skylanders - the books, not the video game.), poetry, letters to their friends and grandparents, notes to parents (so that we don't forget what to do), grocery lists, instructions for how to do different things they like, etc. They see themselves as writers and are not (and should not be) detoured by not knowing how to book spell a word. 

Reading works in much the same purposeful way for the children.  We read for fun, but also to find information, to cook, to enjoy the sounds and rhymes in poetry, to learn about people and their lives, etc. 

In short....

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Talk to your Children in English!"

A few months ago, I was buying some breakfast muffins at Samad's on the Upper West Side before getting the kids to school. I had all three of them with me and we were trying to decide what kind of muffins to get. All of a sudden, a very angry woman said to me, "You are in America! Speak English!" The kids wanted me to repeat to them what this woman had said. I told them we would talk about it later. I was still in shock-- not used to this happening so early in the morning! The only comeback I had was "I am going to write about you!" When I tell this story to my friends, they are also shocked and in disbelief. In order to make sense of this comment, some people even suggested that this woman might be "crazy!"
I gave my children a different explanation. I explained that some people might feel left out when not understood, but that we had the right to use the language we use everyday at home. If we had been talking with her, we would have translated. We talked about what the woman said, how it made us feel and the power of words. They had many questions and I didn't have too many answers.

The sad thing is that people's biases, prejudices and stereotypes exist at all levels in all places of the world. The worst part is that these ideas are also found at the decision making levels- people who make and pass the laws also have these prejudices and they make laws unfair and unjust. See for example all the recent laws against immigrants in Arizona and Alabama.

Here is a YouTube video of a Senator making similar remarks of "disgust" at a person who is speaking at Congressional Hearing via translator. The message gets lost because the emphasis is on the language that is being used:



So what are our American rights? Why is speaking in different languages so threatening? If I choose to speak to my children in Spanish, how does it impact the lady at Samad's? Maybe we should view language learning as a fact of life and a never ending process that adds to one's quality of life, rather than hurting it.
The man in this video does speak in English, but he must be allowed to use his native language to express complex issues. I wonder what the Senator would have said if this man would have spoken in English? Maybe then the concern would have been his accent!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

USING language during the Holidays

Last night, the kids built a ginger bread house with Liz, my brother's wonderful girlfriend. She brought over the kit and they set to work. There was all sorts of Christmas fun happening around building this candy house. As you can imagine, it is quite difficult to build a gingerbread house without eating the treats! So we brought out the Nutella, extra graham crackers and "Fruity Snacks" (sticky gummy bears, but made out of fruit) as decoys. The kids were able to build the house while eating treats as well. While the kids and Liz spoke English to one another on this endeavor, I found myself consciously trying to use Spanish to help them build. "Primero, mezclamos el huevo con el azucar..." (First, mix the egg with the sugar) or "Usa la cuchara para poner la mezcla en las galletas..." (Use the spoon to place the mix on the cookies) o "cuidado que derramen esas cosas en el piso!" (careful not to spill those things on the floor!) There was a flurry of discussion about the materials we used and some negotiating about where to put the different parts of the house. I do have to admit that I was the only one using Spanish in the house, but pleased that this fun activity generated much conversation. As Samway and McKeon write: “People learn language because they are in real situations communicating about important and interesting things.” Making a gingerbread house with people we love was definitely important and interesting!


video

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I want it NOW!

Rose just turned 2 last week. Her language has "exploded" - as it is commonly said. Being the youngest of three children she has more world knowledge (and therefore word knowledge) than the other two children did when they were this age. The first time both Eliza and Peter saw a movie, they were 5. I don't think I would have taken them any younger. Last week, Peter (5) and Eliza (7) were invited to see the Muppets and I had to pick them up from the movie theater and had to bring Rose with me. So we saw the last 45 minutes of the movie together. I don't recommend taking young children to the movies-- not just because they shouldn't be watching those screens-- flashing scenes with all those lights, but also because some of it is too much to process.

While Rose seemed to laugh at the "right" moments and recoil when "appropriate," she has also not stopped talking about this experience since, even in her dreams at night. She repeats often: "El señor se calló, boom, se calló!" (the man fell) (repeats the same sentence a few times); or "tevé broke;" (television broke) or "el señor NOW! como Rose." (The man (said) NOW, like Rose). [Rose definitely identified with that part-- she often screams out, "I want it NOW!”] All of the episodes that Rose repeats are the most violent in the movie, particularly when the "bad man" of the movie tries to stop the Muppets from keeping their name and fame.

There has been much written about children and television (see for example, Zimmerman and Meltzoff (2007). Television and DVD/Video Viewing in Children younger than 2 years. in Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.161(5), 473-479.) What is most important is that I was there to watch with Rose (and with Eliza and Peter). We have talked about the movie and what happened. Rose will say, "te acuerdas" (do you remember?). And so we discuss. While it has provided a nice topic of conversation, I will probably not be taking Rose to the movies for the next couple of years.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

On being translingual

Yesterday, my son Peter (age 5) asked me: "Why is it that some words come out in Spanish and other words come out in English when I talk?" Even though he uses mostly English to communicate with me, but often sprinkles his sentences with Spanish. ["mira, mami" (look mami) or "nónde está?" (dónde está?, where is it), or "fraza" (frazada, blankie) and "leche" (milk).] I responded that it is because he is bilingual and has many things to say-- some of which he feels better explain what he is trying to say.

I too "code switch" with them right in mid sentence—depending on whether or not the words I want to use FEEL RIGHT when I say them. In her work, Garcia (http://youtu.be/rVI41CMw6HM) tells us that those of us who are raised in bilingual communities use all our linguistic resources to express what we learn in our environments. Children use language to make meaning of these experiences and draw from a range of resources to do so.

Horner, Lu and Royster (2011) offer a similar paradigm: a translingual approach. They argue that difference in language is not "a barrier to overcome or a problem to manage, but a resource for producing meaning in writing, speaking, reading, and listening.... [it] views language differences and fluidities as resources to be preserved, developed and utilized."

So... adelante!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Languages and Dialects

It is clear that world history of colonialism, segregation/integration have influenced the languages spoken throughout the world. Language is one of the deepest legacies of colonialism.

Creole, for example, is a language of contact— Caribbean Creoles emerged mainly in the context of European colonization around the seventeenth century when millions of Africans were captured in Africa and transported to the Americas to work as slaves on Caribbean plantations.

Consider the possibility that the current low literacy rates in Haiti may be in part due to the fact that children in Haiti do not find a culturally relevant connection in their own schools, where the dominant perception is that French holds higher status and will be better used in the world. Imagine being expected to assimilate in your own home country!

The same power issues are prevalent in the US with regard to languages and dialects not STANDARD. Even those programs that attempt to teach children to speak English while respecting the child's own heritage, culture, and language are being slowly outlawed. After Prop 203 or UNZ initiative (called English for Children) in 2000, in which 63% of voters agreed that English immersion programs replaced bilingual education, academic achievement dropped. One of my students who taught in AZ during the time after the UNZ initiative reported that her students could not concentrate and talked about their fear of being stopped by police officers or having their parents deported.

Colonialism is still alive...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Speech is neuromuscular

Hi Everyone,

Greg raised a very good question during last night's class. He wanted to know about the "neuro" in speech. The diagram that I showed in class diagrammed the SPEECH ORGANS. It did not deal with the brain functions that influence speech.

There is a good book called, The Man who Mistook his wife for a hat" by Oliver Sacks. This book has a series of cases that explain how certain brain impairments affect speech, language and communication. The web site: http://www.bookrags.com/The_Man_Who_Mistook_His_Wife_for_a_Hat will give you summaries of Sack's clinical stories (he doesn't call them studies).

One example of a neuromuscular disorder is dysarthria which is seen in many stroke and trauma victims, but can also be caused by various other diseases and disorders such as Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy. This disorder prevents the muscles in the vocal tract from working properly. It commonly takes place within the oral cavity of the vocal tract and can affect articulation.

Muscle Weakness or Paralysis is one symptom caused by dysarthria. It causes damage in the area of their brain where the lower motor neurons, muscle fibers, and myoneural (myo=muscle) junctions are located. This type of damage causes weakness or paralysis of muscle contractions. This is known as flaccidity and it limits the function of a person's articulators and muscles necessary for speech.

Hope this helps. Please post any more questions or comments about language, communication and speech here.

Karina

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Learning to Talk in one and more languages...


I was born in Peru and at the age of 5 entered an American School in Lima. By the time I came to the United States at 8, I had a foundation in English. I was "immersed" in a school that expected me to speak English, but that had such a large population of Spanish-speakers (mostly from Cuba) that it was "normal" to speak both languages - Spanish and English. This environment helped in my transition to a new country with a relatively new language.

What are some of your experiences learning a language-- your primary language or other languages?

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