Language educators in mono-linguistic societies world-wide face a commonly held myth: children are only able to handle one culture and one language at a time. No doubt this is due to the fact that these perceptions are largely formed by adults who have been brought up and conditioned to think in the modes of a one-language, one-culture society. Yet research has shown that children are much more flexible in these areas than most adults would give them credit for.
Children world-wide learn two, three and more languages in their early years and while there may be some short-term developmental delay the long-term benefits from learning other languages is considerable. In the great majority of cases parents are the principle teachers of one or two of these languages and as the children’s main caregivers are ideally suited for the job. Parents, the most prestigious people from a child’s perspective, are the most important factor in molding a child in the pre-school years.
The purpose of this paper is to take lessons learned from bilingual homes and apply them to second language learning at preschool. The core elements discussed will be the benefits of bilingualism and pre-literacy programs in the preschool years. There is no doubt that early literacy gives a marked advantage to children entering into primary school. It follows that the advantage would be double if literacy was promoted in two languages. What this paper seeks to show is that this can be done by using methods taken from successful bilingual households and mimicking them in second language education for preschoolers.
Additionally, by providing early reading and listening activities linking the home and the second language, schools can make use of the one of the most powerful factors in the learning of a second language by preschoolers, parental support. Before these activities are outlined it is essential that we summarize the benefits of pre-reading skills in bilingual households. Discussion and Summary of Research 1. Benefits of Early Reading in Diverse Languages There is no doubt that given the environment and the proper motivational tools young children show an interest in reading and being read to.
Parents who incorporate the reading of stories into a preschooler’s daily activities will see the increased chance of literacy at a young age. Theorists for years have been telling us about the benefits of reading to our child. Mackler (1997) claims that the more enjoyable a child’s experience with early reading the greater is the possibility that they will read with frequency in the future. She states that, “Young children’s self-initiated interactions with print at home are important behavioral indexes of emerging motivations for reading.
Shared storybook reading plays an important role in promoting reading motivations; when the socioemotional climate is positive, children are more interested in reading and more likely to view it as enjoyable” (p. 69). Andersson (1977) concludes that “Parents who read, study, and discuss interesting or important subjects in the presence of their children and who answer their children’s questions create a close relationship with their children, a relationship which older children are quick to adopt with their younger siblings.
” It only follows that if reading in one language to a child is profitable to the child’s future education reading in two languages is even more profitable. Andersson (1977) claims that early reading for children and their parents is an experience that brings joy and self-esteem to a child and that this is doubly so for children who have the opportunity to enjoy literature in two languages. In his study on family reading in two languages Andersson (1977) researched the early reading process of three families.
He concludes that, “far from being a double burden, learning to read in two languages is a double joy, leading to a positive self-image. ” Meier (2003) adds that children being read to in two different languages tend to learn about the distinctive cultures of the two languages. She claims that “From these book reading experiences, many children acquire an extensive book-based vocabulary and absorb important cultural lessons about things like gender roles, family relationships, and the nature of friendship” (p. 242).
She also claims that these early reading experiences help children adapt to the school environment by teaching them to listen quietly and attentively, raising their hand when they wish to speak and remembering their questions until the end of the story (p. 243). One study done on low-income Spanish speaking immigrants and their children showed that reading done within the family helped considerably in expanding vocabulary of Spanish at home with a group of three-year-old children (Akers, Boyce, Cook, Innocenti, Jump & Roggman, 2004, p. 371).
Forty-seven mothers and their three year old children were analyzed while they shared reading time. The conclusions were that their children’s attention was expanded and that conversation and interaction within the family were enhanced (Akers, Boyce, Cook, Innocenti, Jump & Roggman, 2004, p. 383). The most significant change was that the children’s vocabulary was significantly broadened (p. 384). Yet it is important to emphasize that investigation shows that while literacy can improve upon second language learning, bilingualism does not necessarily improve upon literacy.
Bialystok (2002) contends that much of the literature surrounding literacy and bilingualism in fact argues that bilingualism promotes literacy and that this is not necessarily the case. She concludes that the relation between bilingualism and literacy depends to a large extent on certain skills developed by teachers and parents and that in this sense bilingualism at the time literacy begins can result in “an advantage and sometimes a disadvantage for bilingual children. Bilingualism clearly affects children’s development of literacy, but its effect is neither simple nor unitary” (p.
159). 2. Bilingual Families: What We Can Learn Although there is a great deal of literature on the benefits of learning a second language the deep grained fear in mono-linguistic cultures is that learning two languages at the same time is trying for that child. But some theorists claim that language learning for bilingual children is in fact quite the same for monolingual children (Paneque, 2006, p. 171). What is more important for authors such as Paneque (2006) are other factors such as “who provides the language input, or when the second language is introduced” (172).
She adds that while some children may start the process of becoming bilingual at birth other start in their preschool years but that “Either way, both methods of becoming bilingual can be effective” (p. 172). Other studies claim that the fear of slow development caused by bilingualism causes children to know neither of the languages well. Mclaughlin (1995) claims that, in fact, it is uncommon that both languages be in balance. He claims that, “One language typically predominates in use and exposure. When this happens, elements of the other language can quickly be lost. The child can forget vocabulary and even rules of grammar” (p.
4). The author concludes that it is only a question of time before the other language catches up and evens out the results (p. 4). Genesee, Paradis and Cargo (2004) conclude that children are more than capable of learning more than one language, either at the same time or one after the other. While many people focus completely on teaching methodologies authors such as Walqui hold that the psychological side of second language learning is in fact just as important. Stresses and fears brought out in the home and school environment can result in problems for the bilingual child.
Walqui claims that, “While many discussions about learning a second language focus on teaching methodologies, little emphasis is given to the contextual factors—individual, social, and societal—that affect students’ learning. There is no doubt that the success with which bilingual children develop both languages depends largely on two factors: school support and home support. While at home a child may speak one language at school they may speak another. In order for them to become proficient in the home language they must have the support of their family. Walqui (2000) claims that support from family is essential to second language learning.
She states that “Some educators believe that parents of English language learners should speak only English in the home. However, far more important than speaking English is that parents value both the native language and English, [and] communicate with their children in whichever language is most comfortable. ” There are a couple of important conclusions to make on the research done up until this time. The first is that the literature has shown us that the natural process of becoming bilingual can lead to inequalities in the learning of one language or the other at certain times.
The second conclusion is that given the right support by the family and education institutions children can learn both languages to the satisfaction of both. The third is that communication through conversation and shared reading can greatly enhance a child’s vocabulary in either language. What we can take from these three points of bilingualism in preschoolers is that if the same circumstances of sharing and reading with bilingual children are applied to children learning a second language out of the home the possibilities of success would be enhanced. Application of Research
Activities That Use the School and the Home to Promote a Second Language Playschool support, home support and shared reading are the three elements of the program this work will propose to use to develop the second language abilities of preschoolers at an age in which they may learn the basics of literacy in their second language at the same time they do so with their first language. Although there is debate on the language learning window and when it closes Paneque (2006) concludes that early childhood does seem to be the optimal time for language learning.
She claims that it is “when the child’s mind is still open and flexible, and not cluttered with all sorts of other learning, not to mention the society’s views on which languages are ‘prestige’ languages, and which ones are regarded by the society as of little or no importance” (p. 171). Before we go into the particulars of the proposed program first we should mention that it works around the presumption that the first priority to the family of a second language learner is to push their maternal language and excellence in that language.
Indeed, Fortune (2003) states of English speaking students in immersion programs that parents must provided an atmosphere which will enhance their development of the English language. She claims that principally they should read and play games with them that will develop their literacy and vocabulary in English. She concludes that “Research shows that the stronger the development of the native language, the greater the proficiency in the immersion language, so children who enter an immersion program with a strong base in English will succeed more easily than those whose English skills are not as strong.
” What is proposed here is that parents simply use one of the tools of promoting that language, pre-reading skills, to incite their preschoolers to open their mind to another language. So how can pre-reading be incorporated into a family that may not even understand the basics of the language being learned by the preschooler? This can be done by organizing a pre-reading program which connects the home and the preschool. Throughout the year teachers will choose a variety of simple word books that incorporate vocabulary the children have already learned in class.
The teacher will read the story to the children and attempt to encourage their participation on discussing its characters, ideas and plot. Over the course of time they will do various activities that will work with the stories vocabulary and plot. These types of activity will obviously be dependent on the age group the teachers are working with. When the teacher is finished working with the story they will send the project on to its second stage – home discussion. The story will go home with the preschooler where it will be incorporated into family reading but it will not be the parents reading the story but rather the preschooler.
The preschooler will be required to re-tell the story or act out the story as they remember it but by translating it into the families language. The family will be encouraged by the school to ask the child to instruct them on new vocabulary in the outside language. It is through activities like this that parents can help to support the second language by showing pride and accomplishment in what their child has learned up until that moment. Preschoolers in particular will be pleased that they have the opportunity to “teach?? their family. Bilingual books may be used to further help the parents with the activity.
Meier (2003) also provides an outline for choosing and presenting the chosen books that would help preschool and kindergarten teachers gain more interest from their students. She recommends that first and foremost a teacher choose a book that “relates to children’s lives” (p. 248). Secondly she recommends that teachers ask “creative and open ended questions” to stimulate interest in the story (p. 248). Lastly Meier believes that if a teacher makes a book come a live by using props it will garner a far greater interest in the story (p. 248). Summary
It is through pre-reading programs like this that playschool teachers teaching a second language might harness the most powerful factor in a young child’s life, parental support, without disrupting the important mode of communication that is the maternal language. It is undeniable that both the reading and the acquisition of languages are of great educational importance. By combining the two and providing the right support at preschool and at home teachers and parents may be creating an atmosphere where these young children can take advantage of the flexibility their young minds allow them in language learning. References
Akers, J. F. , Boyce, L. K. , Cook, G. A, Innocenti, M. S. , Jump, J. F. & Roggman, L. A. (2004). Sharing Books and Learning Language: What do Latina Mothers and Their Young Children Do? Early Education and Development, 15 (4), 371-386. Andersson, T. (1977). A Guide to Family Reading in Two Languages The University of Texas at Austin Evaluation, Dissemination and Assessment Center, California State University, Los Angeles, http://www. ncela. gwu. edu/pubs/classics/preschool/iii. htm Bialystok, E. (2002). Acquisition of Literacy in Bilingual Children: A Framework for Research Language Learning, 52 (1), 159–199.
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