30 January, 2012

2 words sentences and BEING with him:

2 words sentences:
My cute little bilingual man is almost 21months old, but I get the feeling he is taking huge steps! I guess this is just that he´s growing, but oh God! he is growing so fast! People with babies know what I´m talking about. You see him doing things with some difficulty, and suddenly he does the same task but this time is flawless, quick and absolutely under control! And you realize he won´t be this little cute baby anymore, but a little big boy…
This applies exactly the same way to bilingualism. He has recently started to translate (his) words effortlessly. Example:
How does YAYA (granny) say “kitty”? – GATO!
How does PAPA say “gato”? – KITTY!
And then mum in Spanish (she speaks English sometimes too, and he apparently accepts this mixing)
¿Cómo dice PAPA “vaca”? – COW!
¿Y cómo dice la YAYA “cow”? – (V) ACA!!
It´s something amazing and almost magical from a late language learner perspective, how we (people raised monolingual) have to stop and think how to translate something, because our brain connections were made way after puberty, and for him, even though his brain tissue is still completing the early development phase, it has this connections in place already. It looks like everything in his mind has a mirror image and he is getting used to look for 2 corresponding words for each concept… Let me say that PAPA is terrified for not being able to provide the image sometime in the future.
Back to the subject that I wanted to review, he´s started to produce really funny phrases, formed by 2 words (subject+verb), and sometimes 3 words (subject+adjective+verb), like when we get home and wait for the garage door to open, and he says “DOO! OPFEN!” or other times when he uses a quality of the object, such us “ZMALL! or YEYOW! (he is struggling with “L” sound). The only thing is he picks words from either Spanish or English to build the phrases and it´s really difficult to understand if you don´t know him very well. Even though he spends most of the working days either in the nursery (mornings) or at grandpa´s (afternoons), his mum and I are the only ones that understand what he means 100% of the time, and I must say that this is kind of cool.
BEING with him:
I think that trying to raise him bilingually has caused a very good effect in the quality of the time that we spend with him. We are both very focused on the final objective (raise him as a competent user of the 2 languages), we know the possible difficulties that we might go through in the future, we are prepared to be flexible when the time comes and he refuses to speak the language or he seems to be lacking vocabulary in one of the languages, or even more serious issues. I think that apart from the special care and love that any parent has for his/her baby, this extra thing is leading us to try to maximize the time (length and quality) that we spend and actually share with him. Down to the field this is translated into things like getting home, changing our clothes in approx. 10 secs, throwing things up in the air to wherever they fall, and running insanely fast to our little man to spend as much time as we can playing and enjoying his company, even though that means having to tell him NO! to something or give him the “serious look” when he starts a tantrum.
It´s like somehow we dedicate all our available time to BEING with him. I mean there´s nothing wrong with sitting on the coach watching tv or reading a book while he plays with the blocks by himself, but what we usually do is to keep the tv off and play with him, trying to talk and interact as much as possible.
And now being selfish, one of the positive effects as a non-native speaker of the language, is that we have improved our English skills. I have improved the ability to switch languages back and forth, and my vocabulary has been increased, mostly with baby related vocabulary, but also with terms that are sometimes applicable to my daily conversations in English at work. I spend lots of time using the translator and vocabulary apps in my Android phone (God bless smartphones), or checking words and expressions with a couple of native workmates, and this is making a difference. You don´t realize how much of an improvement it is in only 2 or 3 weeks, but if you look back 1 year ago, it´s huge. My wife has noticed also an improvement in her listening and speaking skills, and she says she even finds words sometimes quicker in English than in Spanish, so even if it´s unconsciously, she is integrating most of the things we use at home on a daily basis.  
As an funny example, this is the list of songs that we´ve learnt since the baby was born (we only knew happy birthday to you previously), I don´t know if the title is right, I just wrote something recognizable from the song.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
Over in the meadow
Bingo (the doggy)
The wheels on the bus go round and round
If you are happy and you know it
Row row row your boat
10 little numbers (youtube)
A is for Apple… (ABC song, youtube)
Happy birthday to you
Somewhere over the rainbow (gay, I know…)
Old McDonald had a farm
5 little monkeys jumping on the bed
Ladybird song
5 little ducks were swimming one day
Incey wincey spider
Danny boy (adaptation that I made up for him)
The tale of the sun and the moon
Twinkle twinkle little star
Santa claus is coming to town
The elephant song
The animal sounds song
I love you, you love me (that pink Dino, too sugary)
The duck song
I´m a little Teapot (I look completely gay singing this one)
Head shoulders knees and toes

So the question today would be: what is the impact of raising your baby/ies bilingually on your family/work/life? I´m especially interested in those of you guys who are non-native, live in their homeland and are trying to promote early bilingualism too.

13 January, 2012

How does Papi say it?

Now our little one is 20 months old, he´s started to utter more and more words increasingly. How bilingualism is fitting into the big picture is in my opinion one of the most interesting human processes that one could observe.
He now picks up one animal figure, for example an elephant, and comes to me saying “MPHANT!” (ELEPHANT!). I hold it and talk about how big it is and what a beautiful (and useful) trunk it has and then I say: “Give it to granny and tell her what this is”. Then he goes and says “YAYA!” (Granny) “ANT-E” (ELEFANTE, which is the Spanish word). He clearly distinguishes the E at the end, when he uses this form with all the Spanish speakers, so everyone except ME (I´m trying hard to change this and find more English speakers to talk to. We are considering the “au pair” option). He has started to do this with many words: Kitty, numbers like 4 and 5, hand… In other cases he only utters the Spanish word but shows signs of understanding the English equivalent. E.g. when playing “giving and receiving things”, we say “THANK YOU”, but he uses “ASHIAS”, which is his word to say “GRACIAS”. The typical conversation would be: “could you please give me that doggy over there?-Oh, you are so kind! What do we say when someone gives us something?” and then he goes “ACIAAAAS”. He knows for sure that I always use “thank you”, but has never said anything closer to that, and I think this is because he finds it more difficult to pronounce.
There is another phenomenon that has to do with repetition. He has partially entered this phase and repeats the last word or the last syllables of the last word he hears. Or when someone gives him 2 options to choose, he always says the last option, even though he prefers the first one, and goes rather for it when given the second one. In all this cases I have noticed that it´s more frequent that he repeats Spanish syllables than English ones.
I think the structure of the language has a lot to do here, apart from the obvious fact that the environment surrounding him 85% of the time he is awake is Spanish.  What I mean is that in Spanish we have the “consonant+vowel” structure in most of our syllables, for example CA-SA (HOUSE), VI-NO (WINE). So if I were a baby, I´d probably find easier to repeat those last syllables than other crunchy ones full of consonants one after another. Even though there are monosyllables (CHURCH, PROUD, WRIST…) that look more or less easy for an adult, my kid utters some kind of tong-teeth vibration, which I´m sure is not what he has in his little mind. I´m not sure if this makes any scientific sense, it´s just the results of me observing what I see at home.
What I try to do to compensate this and try to balance things up is to reinforce the English part of everything, even though this means that I end up following my kid everywhere like a parrot. Here are my reinforcement strategies:
-          Every time someone (only with family members) tells something to the kid, I either repeat it in English or talk to the kid about the subject.
-          When we are playing and he uses a Spanish word I normally do 3 things:
o   I try not to say “that´s WRONG, you have to say this other one”, but say “yes you are right, but Papi says…”
o   I continue talking about that like I didn´t hear the Spanish word.
o   If he is asking me for something, like when he wants me to put body lotion in his hand and says “NANO” which means “MANO” (HAND in Spanish), then I´m a little more strict and say “WHAT?” then he switches and says “HAAA” (HAND), or if after the 2nd or 3rd “WHAT?” he doesn’t switch and continues with “NANO”, I stop him for a little moment and say “and how does Papi say that??” then he normally switches.

Please readers if there´s someone out there, share what works for you.