Promoting Bilingual Language and Literacy Development among Children and Youth
On Saturday, November 14, 2015, Angela Coşguner held a workshop titled Promoting Bilingual and Literacy Development Among Children and Youth. Angela is a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Psychology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and she enjoys teaching students of all ages and many different nationalities. Most recently, she has taught English language arts to elementary school children in a Spanish-English bilingual program. Her research focuses on language and literacy education, especially second language education and biliteracy development of children and youth.
At this workshop, Angela began by clearing up some common misconceptions about bilingualism in children. For instance, she pointed out that bilingualism is not, in fact, a rare phenonmenon. In fact, she pointed out that it is estimated that around 50% of the world’s population is bilingual, so it is not a rare phenomenon (Grosjean, 2010). In the United States, around 20% of the population speaks another language in addition to English. And the number of school-aged children in the U.S. who are from bilingual homes is expected to increase in the next few years. She also pointed out that bilingual children do not necessarily experience any delay in language acquistion even though they are learning more than one language. Actually, learning two languages activates the brain in special ways—it improves problem solving ability and attention. More importantly, the younger you start learning, the easier it will be (Grosjean, 2010).
Angela then went on to discuss the three major theories of language development: Behaviorist, Nativist, and Socio-cultural. There were some important take-away points from this discussion. We learned that children, regardless of language background, go through similar patterns of development. We also learned that children are natural language learners and need a rich linguistic environment with lots of feedback from others. Finally, we learned that children learn language and literacy through meaningful interactions within their cultural environments.
Angela also provided examples of activities and strategies for supporting bilingual language and literacy at home. One of these examples was bilingual books; you can read the same story in two different languages or even write your own bilingual books. Another was music; you can find songs in both languages about the same/similar concepts or illustrate the songs and rhymes/draw pictures together. Playing was another, as playing is the motivation and vehicle through which children learn language and literacy. She also suggested brainstorming language concepts that kids can learn through playing with different developmental toys.
Below are some more ideas offered by Angela:
Activities for Toddlers 15 months and up:
- Play in the water. Put squeezable objects in the bathtub or a basin, such as sponges or squeeze bottles, along with dump and pour toys (cups, bowls)
- Play with a doll or stuffed animal. The doll can eat, walk, dance, go to bed etc. Include the doll in daily activities or games
- Play the “What’s that?” game. Point to clothing, toys, body parts, objects, or pictures and ask your toddler to name them. If they don’t respond, name it for them and encourage imitation of the words.
- Build with blocks. Count the blocks as you add them to your structure. Sort blocks by color, size, or other features. Use your home language, then English to count and sort.
- Fill a plastic tub with cornmeal or oatmeal and let your child explore. Put cups, spoons, funnels and other containers. Kids can fill, dump, pour and learn about textures and how to use objects as tools.
Activities for Pre-K (2-4 years old)
Help make a “to-do” list.
- Write or draw pictures of things your family needs to do today.
- Read books about going to school. Point to the title of each book, before reading say, “The title of this book is…,” talk about the activities that happen at school.
- Sing action songs together in your language and in English such as “Wheels on the bus,” Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” and “Clean up time,” Do actions together. Move with the rhythm. Watch your child show you the actions.
- Make faces showing different emotions. Can people guess if you are happy, sad, angry, scared? Play this game and say emotions in both languages
- Translate a book together. Find a favorite book in English and translate it to your home language or vice versa.
Here are some links Angela shared:
- No time for flashcards (http://www.notimeforflashcards.com/) - early childhood education activities and ideas
- Talk with me baby-language nutrition (http://www.talkwithmebaby.org/) - milestones and tips for language development
- Açev-Mother child foundation (http://www.acev.org/anasayfa) - supporting early childhood learning and development