25 November, 2012

Funny glitches

Time does fly! There has been a new boost in our little punk´s vocabulary and construction of sentences in the last 2 months. He uses appropriate terms in the appropriate occasion much more often and he has started to integrate corrections very quickly. He also relates one thing to another, based on previous events, which was less frequent before. Example: “Papi I just fell down LIKE THE MONKEYS” (we sing the song “5 little monkeys jumping on the bed”). He uses this “PAPI/MAMI! -something something-, LIKE -something related-…” structure very often. This occurs in Spanish more frequently than in English, as it´s expected, but transference and parallelisms between the two languages do occur a lot. He also tries to adapt English words into Spanish when he can´t find a Spanish word. The outcome is most of the time hilarious.

He also demands translations of Spanish songs into English and he finds this very amusing, which is a real mind cracker for Papi, who tries his best improvising direct translation that rhyme if possible… Then I have to remember what I just made up because he records it by heart and I know he´ll ask for the exact lyrics in English some other day (big challenge!).

He is more aware of what languages are. He identifies English and Spanish by its name, and we talk about speaking 2 languages and what people do and don´t speak them. I also play with him counting or saying different things in German (I´m far from proficient, just low intermediate), and he finds it really fun too.

Regarding correction strategy, we haven´t changed it along these 2 years. We continue to use a soft approach, that is to say we don´t stop him and say that he is wrong and the right way to say this is XXX… Instead of this we just let him speak and then use the word or expression after him reformulating the same structure or a similar one in the right way, and he understands most of the times immediately what needs to be corrected. Then next time that he uses the same structure he usually gets it right. I think this is because we instinctively use a different tone of voice and pace when we want to focus on something that needs to be corrected.

There are some persistent and very funny bugs that are being really hard to redirect though. For instance, he uses the verb “to give” / “dar” in Spanish in a really strange way. For some unknown reason he adds “TA” before it and then constructs all the grammatical structures placing that particle perfectly. “Te voy a TA dar este coche” / “Mamá me ha TA dado un coche”. Even though we use this verb very often, like in every language as I assume, he stubbornly does this even though we have used it in the right way a moment ago. It´s really funny because this particle doesn´t exist neither in Spanish nor in English, and neither we nor anybody that he has contact with, as far as we know, say that. There are some names also that just don´t go with him. “Víctor” is “Gitor” for him, and that makes conversations so fun.

He is well aware of contracted forms so the “TA” case doesn´t seem to be that he is confusing this with a particle. For example I usually say “I´m gonna give you…” and the like (wanna, gonna, etc, I just can´t help it) and he replies many times with “Papi IS GOING TO give me…”, so it´s clearly not the case. The particle thing happens more in Spanish than English, just as a curiosity.

I take these glitches as part of his development and maybe as a way to reaffirm his personality rather than a speech pathology, but just in case I´ll keep a close eye on this…

What funny glitches have your kids had along the early years? Do you try to correct them or you just go with the flow?

06 November, 2012

Cognitive skills, development and bilingualism

We have had a meeting with our boy´s teacher (kindergarten) to have an in-depth chat about the first months in school. There are 2 main messages that she wanted to share with us:
-       Things we should work on with him:
§  Motor skills: He is slightly behind the average in terms of motor skills, meaning he bumps into things, trips over and falls down more than other same aged kids. There´s nothing to worry about because not all the children develop all their skills at the very same time. That means he is a little bit clumsier than the average, so it´s just a matter of time that he improves these skills, we only have to make sure that he continues to have activities that imply movement, and that´s easy as he doesn´t stand still… ever!
§  Please: He demands things in a very dictatorial style. We need to work on this together with Grandpas. I´m sure though his baby sister will help on this as soon as she arrives. I´m afraid that one way or the other he will perceive that he has to share the center of the universe with another little person.
-       Cognitive skills: He is apparently way beyond the rest of the class in terms of cognitive skills. She gave us some examples that prove that his skills on this area are equivalent to a much older boy. For example, they use a chart with symbols of the different routines that they follow each day until someone comes to pick them up at 5:00pm, so they can understand what´s coming next and have a reference, and some security about what´s going to happen. The teacher says it normally takes the kids half of the school year or the entire course to have this chart down pat. She says he could tell the rest of the class and the teacher what was coming next after only 2 weeks, in 2 languages, so they say they are really impressed. They are working on colors, one each month, so they understand and integrate which things are (let´s say) red in their environment. I certainly didn´t know that they were going to cover this kind of things at his age.  We have by no means trained him on these short of routines, all of the contrary; he has shown a very vivid interest in colors, numbers, and letters since he was as young as 15-16 months old. Now he is 2,5 years old he can easily count up to 20, knows all the colors ,including some that are considered (apparently) tricky, like purple or grey. He also differentiates “dark blue” from “light blue” and all these things he does it in 2 languages.

Actually we have never sat down and thought about it because we didn´t have many references other than cousins, and obviously you don´t conduct an exam every time they get together to compare (so sick!). I don´t believe he is a typical profile of highly gifted individual (Mensa style). Apart from the fact that this is absolutely nothing that we would pursue, I guess that if this were the case he would be doing things like playing the violin and maybe reading faster than us. We just want him to grow happy and healthy, but the fact is that among other 20 same aged little individuals, he´s been reported to be some short of “outlier” in terms of cognitive development. I have also read that sometimes some kids develop earlier in a short period of time but then they slow down the pace and they get balanced within normal parameters according to their age.

I don´t support the idea that bringing up your kids in more than one language will make them automatically smarter than others, as sometimes it might even add more complexity to their lives. I just think it is a way to make them more adaptable and have more opportunities in life, but what if there is a real and direct link between one thing and the other? If this were the case, would that make kids from Belgium, Switzerland or many parts of India automatically smarter than others?
I consider this point really interesting, so this question goes to all of you bringing up your offspring in more than one language:

Have your kids been objectively reported to have any short of advantage compared to same-aged monolingual kids? At what age?
Do you think these differences can be attributed to being raised in more than one language or they only respond to nature?

October Halloween Party: English mode "on"

We have fortunately found a playgroup in Madrid, formed mainly by mixed families (one or the two parents are native speakers of English) and Spanish families with a similar language approach, so I have to admit that I´m more than exited to be able to attend activities in the targeted language, and get the boy exposed to native speakers, as well as lots of children of the same age.
There is at least one activity per month, which is organized by a different committee each time, formed by 4 or 5 families who are in charge of arranging all the details and communicating them to the rest of the group.
The October Committee has organized a wonderful Halloween party last weekend, so we dressed up for the occasion and attended the event, having a whale of a time! There were lots of activities for kids of varied ages, storytelling and lots of yummy things to chew on. Dani was a little bit shy at the beginning, but as time went by he started to interact with kids and adults. I think he didn´t realized about the whole English thing at the beginning, but I can tell by his comments the following days that it caused a very positive impact on him.
We had been talking for weeks about a Halloween party where everyone was going to speak English, and although I think he was a little bit skeptical, he´s been reporting everything that happened, being English an important part of the story. He talks about adults that he met, and kids that he played with in English, even though little communication took place, as he is only 2,5 years old. I think it was a very reaffirming and encouraging experience for all the family. It was also comforting to find other Spanish families (i.e. non-native speakers) with different accents and styles, trying to provide their kids with this wonderful gift which is speaking another language, despite all the mental and non-mental work involved in it. For all this we are really looking forward to attending the next activity. ¿Do you have any playgroups to interact in the targeted language? ¿What impact does it cause in your kids?

Visiting the Fire Department

I happen to have a fireman friend, so as the kid is flipping out lately with all that has to do with trucks, I asked him if we could visit him and have a guided tour to show our little mechanic the guts of the fire department, with a very special focus on the fire engine of course…
He´s been talking about this visit for weeks, so since the moment we got off the car his face said it all. He was exited like never before, eyes open wide in awe, and he could barely stop saying “Papi look! A fire engine, Papi look, a helmet, a water hose!!!!”
They let him see the kitchen, dorms, the bar, the gym and all the facilities. Then we moved outside to see all the equipment, and the vehicles. They even let him ring the bell!! He was absolutely amazed. After this and for about 1 week his favorite bedtime story has been “The Amazing Story of Dani Visiting the Fire Department”, taking the place of Snow White and also The Big Bad Wolf (super hit until now, overall the part of huffing and puffing)… As I was explaining to him all the things we saw during the visit, he reports the whole story in English then translate it into Spanish for Grandpas, so one of the main objectives of the activity was absolutely accomplished!!! Now every time 2 of his little toy cars crash there is an explosion (very educative, yes!!), and the fire engine has to come and put out the fire. Big LOL.